In the southernmost section of Owens Valley, in the shadow of a young cinder cone volcano, sits one of California’s most unique campgrounds.
Fossil Falls is located about halfway between Ridgecrest and Lone Pine, CA on the east side of Highway 395.
As you’re driving along Highway 395, keep your eyes peeled for Red Hill, a large cinder cone volcano and the sign for the Fossil Falls turnoff.
The roads leading to the campground & trailhead areas are unpaved but suitable for just about any type of vehicle as long as you take it slow.
Fossil Falls Campground is managed by the BLM and has 11 developed sites with picnic tables and firepit grills. Sites 4, 5, 6 & 8 are suitable for RV’s and trailers but the other seven are not.
Campsites are $6 per night with a 14-day limit and are available on a first-come, first-served basis (no reservations are taken). There’s no trash collection, so plan on packing out all of your garbage. A water pump and vault toilet are also available within the campground area.
There’s another vault toilet located within walking distance over near the day use parking area.
After checking out all our options, we decided to go with Site No. 1.
Site No. 1 sits apart from the rest of the sites, so it’s a good choice for those who want a little more privacy or perhaps prefer to have a little more room to spread out.
None of the sites have shade, so keep that in mind if you plan on camping during the warmer months of the year.
Looks like somebody had a long day.
The views from our camp were pretty spectacular.
Another benefit of camping at Site No 1 is the shortcut trail that leads to the day use parking area (hello toilet #2) and connects to the trailhead that leads down to the “falls.”
Interpretive signs near the trailhead.
It’s only .21 miles from the parking area to Fossil Falls.
Don’t forget to sign the register.
The trail begins in a field of volcanic rock.
Looking back towards our camp and Red Hill.
During the last ice age, glaciers formed in the Sierra Nevada.
Meltwater from the glaciers pooled into a large series of lakes and rivers that stretched from the Eastern Sierra to the low-lying basins of the Mojave Desert and Death Valley.
The falls were formed when the river was forced to divert its course over a basalt flow, polishing and reshaping the rock into a variety of unique shapes and forms.
Following the ice age, the area’s climate became increasingly arid and about 4,000 years ago, the river ceased flowing through this channel, thus exposing a ‘fossilized waterfall’. – ROADSIDE GEOLOGY AND MINING HISTORY OWENS VALLEY AND MONO BASIN
The water pump back in camp came in handy after our hike.
Dark skies and restricted airspace (thanks to NAWS China Lake) make Fossil Falls a great place for stargazing. Yeah, I know there’s only one star in the photo but it really was a spectacular night filled with stars and a random unidentifiable light show coming from NAWS.
Sunrise at Fossil Falls Campground.
Little Lake overlook is a nice little side trip to take if you have the time. To get there head back out to Cinder Rd. Instead of turning back towards the highway, turn east (right) and continue on Cinder Rd for about 2 miles. Turn south (right) onto Power Line Road and follow the signs to Little Lake Overlook for about 2.75 miles. Turn west (right) to enter the parking area.
Little Lake is an oasis in the desert with thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds visiting the lake during fall and spring migration. It is also known for the diversity of raptor and swallow species that use the cliffs or forage over the wetland habitat. The interpretive panels provide information on birds, geology, and archaeological history of the Little Lake area. In addition to a large diversity of birds, many interesting native plants grow here. This area was heavily used by Native Americans who mined obsidian in the Coso Mountains to the east. Ancient foot trails traverse the slopes a few miles to the south of here, and lithic scatters are also evident. – California Watchable Wildlife
Red Hill (3952’) is even more amazing the closer you get to it. When molten lava erupted through a vent in the Earth’s crust, it cooled quickly, forming a porous rock called “scoria.” The scoria built up around the vent and formed the cone-shaped hill that you see today. Red Hill continues to be mined for cinders used as aggregate in concrete and cement blocks. Some years ago, local citizens made a successful effort to save the Red Hill from complete destruction by limiting mining to the side hidden from the road.
There’s another interesting area located northeast of Red Hill along Power Line Road.
You won’t find this in JTNP.
Walking up the hill…
…leads to a section that has previously been mined.
Extra bonus points if you can find this grove of Joshua Trees. Happy camping and happy tramping, I hope you find this section of Owens Valley as incredible as I do.