Near the transition between the Sierra Mountains and the Mojave Desert is Chimney Peak Wilderness. Located in the southeastern Sierras, the wilderness has a unique beauty with forests of pinyon pine trees and sagebrush. The namesake Chimney Peak looms in the northeast side of the wilderness at 7,994 feet. Chimney Creek and other streams flow through the wilderness, where an abundance of trout thrives. During the spring, wildflowers blossom at Chimney Peak, making for colorful scenery while driving the byway or hiking on the terrain. Chimney Peak Wilderness was designated as a federal wilderness area in 1994 and is 13,140 acres in size. Chimney Peak is part of a larger network of wilderness areas and campgrounds that fall under the 105,000-acre Chimney Creek Recreation Area. Owens Peak Wilderness is located to the east, and Domeland Wilderness can be found to the west. The beautiful Chimney Peak Backcountry Byway is a 39-mile scenic drive where visitors can experience the feeling of being surrounded by wilderness. Dispersed campsites can be found along the byway as well as other roads surrounding the wilderness area for those wanting to stay overnight. The BLM also operates the developed Chimney Creek Campground. Camping is permitted on BLM land for up to 14 consecutive days.
Chimney Peak Wilderness is in Tulare County, California, in the southeastern Sierra Nevadas. The wilderness is about an hour and a half east of the community of Lake Isabella. It can be accessed from CA-178 and Canebreak Road.
Canebreak Road is a graded dirt road. The other roads that serve as wilderness boundaries are unmaintained dirt roads. While the dirt roads leading into the wilderness can be accessed by most vehicles, some of the side roads are more primitive, and high-clearance vehicles are recommended. The roads are generally passable, but after rainfall, some can become muddy.
Dispersed camping is permitted at the wilderness, and there is also a BLM campground with developed campsites. Visitors who don’t mind getting their RV dirty should be able to navigate to the campground and some of the dispersed campsites with few to no challenges. Some dispersed campsites can be found off Chimney Peak Backcountry Byway. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended on the byway.
The Lake Isabella/Kern River KOA makes an excellent home-base for RVers looking for modern amenities as they enjoy the wilderness. The KOA is about 30 miles from Chimney Creek Wilderness, with a drive time of just under an hour. In addition to many RV sites, the KOA offers cabins and tent sites. There are shade trees scattered throughout the campground, providing some relief from the sun.
The RV sites at the KOA all have water and 30-amp electric hookups. Many also have a sewer connection, and those who don’t can use the dump station on-site to empty their rig’s tanks. Many amenities make stays at the Lake Isabella/Kern River KOA both comfortable and entertaining. Both kids and adults will find relief at the pool and splash pad on hot summer days. Guests with dogs can let them play at the campground’s dog park. Other amenities include laundry facilities, WiFi, and showers.
Chimney Creek Campground, often mistakenly called Chimney Peak Campground, is operated by the Bureau of Land Management. The campground is within pinyon pines, grey pines, and oak trees that cast shade and add privacy to an already remote location. RVs can access Chimney Creek Campground but will want to use caution on the dirt roads leading to it.
There are 36 campsites at this BLM campground. Each campsite has a fire ring and a picnic table where campers can gather in the morning or under a starry night sky. Camping at Chimney Creek Campground is primitive. However, the campground does have vault toilets and seasonal potable water. The campground is open year-round though potable water is available only during the summer months.
Chimney Peak Wilderness is a BLM property, and dispersed camping is permitted. Campsites can be found along Chimney Peak Backcountry Byway and off other boundary roads. The dispersed campsites provide campers with an isolated camping experience. With no main roads or other campers nearby, visitors will have a true “away from it all” stay. Those with RVs should use caution on the boundary roads where campsites are located. These roads are best accessed with four-wheel-drive vehicles.
The BLM has a 14-day camping limit on primitive camping. After the 14th day, campers must move to a different campsite at least 25 miles away. Whenever possible, campers should use already established campsites rather than creating new ones. There are no amenities at dispersed campsites, and visitors will need to bring all of the supplies they’ll need, including plenty of water.
There are many hiking opportunities at Chimney Peak Wilderness for visitors to take advantage of. A popular hike in the wilderness is the Pacific Crest Trail. An eight-mile section of this famous National Scenic Trail passes through the wilderness area. Explore this eight-mile section or extend your hike even further.
The Chimney Peak Byway and many of the other primitive dirt roads make for fantastic hiking through the pinyon pine and sagebrush landscape. The trails and roads throughout the wilderness area can be used by equestrians. Equestrians will need to bring feed and water for their horses.
Chimney Peak Backcountry Byway is a scenic route that is popular with those who have a high-clearance vehicle. The byway is a great way to take in the landscape, vegetation, and wildlife. It passes through about 50,000 acres that serve as a transition zone between the Sierra Nevada and the Mojave Desert.
The best route to reach the byway is from State Highway 178. High-clearance vehicles are recommended because the byway road is unpaved and rough in some sections. Hikers, mountain bikes, and equestrians are also welcome along the byway.
Off-road vehicles are permitted on the boundary roads that surround Chimney Peak Wilderness. The bumpy, rough nature of the roads is excellent for both the experienced and those new to off-roading. Some of the side roads are more primitive than others, presenting more of a challenge as you pass by the stunning landscape. The dirt roads may become muddy and soft after rainfall. Take extra caution to avoid getting stuck.
Hunting, fishing, and non-commercial trapping are permitted at Chimney Peak Wilderness. Anglers can fish for trout from Chimney Creek and other streams running through the area. Hunters are attracted to the area for deer, black bear, and other types of wildlife.
Fishing and hunting rules and regulations are enforced by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Ensure you have the proper permits when hunting on BLM land.
You won’t want to forget your camera on a trip to Chimney Peak Wilderness. Surrounded by the mountainous peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and forests of pines and sagebrush, there are many opportunities to capture stunning photos.
Whether you’re exploring the byway, at your campsite, or hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail, the photos will capture a lasting memory of your visit to the wilderness.
Many different types of wildlife are known to the mountainous terrain of Chimney Peak Wilderness. Mule deer, bobcats, mountain lions, and black bears are all common to the area. Chimney Creek has an abundance of trout that make for some lucky anglers. Other visitors may simply enjoy seeing them swim in the clear creek water. Birdwatchers will be delighted to find that many different types of birds, such as warblers, are common to the wilderness.