Perched at 4,900 feet in the Greenhorn Mountains amid majestic oaks and huge, cleaved boulders, Oak Flat Lookout in Sequoia National Forest is a point of geographic lucidity. You can see for miles in every direction from its wrap-around deck (perfect for birdwatching and stargazing). Even inside, wall-to-wall windows bestow 360-degree vision. The cab is preserved much as it was, its interior painted Forest Service light green and equipped with a gas stove, sink, lantern, propane heater, and two twin beds (linens not provided).
There’s no water or electricity on site, so pack accordingly. You’ll cherish the on-deck basket pulley system, which lets guests hoist provisions up the tower’s side rather than lug them up a steep catwalk. Dawns and sunsets are spellbinding here, but the night is full of marvels too — whether it’s the sight of Bakersfield glittering below a dustbowl haze, or a full moon bathing the mountains in an ethereal blue glow.
In the morning, prep a hot breakfast and head down Badger Gap Trail just yards south. This lightly used, 11-mile mountain biking path rambles through oaks, chaparral, and lichen-flecked boulders before tracing the slopes of heavily grazed meadows (where cow pies abound) and eventually descending to Delonegha Creek.
Rental season runs April 15 until the end of November. $75/night. Book a reservation at recreation.gov. This popular site fills up fast! If Oak Flat is booked up, check for cancellations, or reserve up to six months in advance. The booking window is August 22, 2016, to February 21, 2017.
From Los Angeles, take the I-5 and CA-99 north to Bakersfield and then head east on CA-178. After roughly 12 miles, turn left onto Rancheria Rd., which reverts to dirt and winds up into oak woodland. Follow for 10 miles. Finding the unmarked turnoff to Oak Flat is a bit tricky, but it is distinguishable by a thick-beamed gate at right painted light green. A high clearance 4WD vehicle is strongly recommended for this final stretch of rough road. Dog-friendly but not recommended due to steep staircase.