Where Is Dispersed Camping Allowed In California
Broadly speaking, dispersed camping is permitted on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and United States Forest Service in California. There are of course nuances to this, but you can expect that dispersed camping is allowed on BLM land or in one of the states national forests unless it is explicitly prohibited.
More detail on dispersed camping in National Forest and on BLM land in California are provided below:
US Forest Service Dispersed Camping in California
The US Forest Services manages a staggering 18 National Forests within California as well as two additional that span the California-Oregon border. This is the most national forests of any state, and a great opportunity for those looking to find dispersed campsites.
One notable National Forest to mention here is Angeles National Forest, located just outside of Los Angeles. Given the close proximity to an urban area and the number of visitors, dispersed camping is not allowed in Angeles National Forest. Dont fret though, the remaining 17 National Forests all permit it in some capacity!
For more information on the specific rules surrounding dispersed camping in each of Californias National Forests, weve provide the list below with links to the relevant rules and regulations:
Things To Consider Before Van Camping
- Make sure you have the right gear Even though you will be camping in the shelter of your van, its still a good idea to make sure you come prepared.
- Bring entertainment Camping by itself can be a ton of fun, but if you are bringing kids, always bring something to keep them occupied.
- Be ready to do a lot of cleaning Van camping is great, but it can get messy, especially in beach locations. Living in the same space that you are eating and sleeping can be challenging. If you are always cleaning as you go, you can avoid a messy camper van.
- Have plenty of charging available Being stuck in a campsite without your GPS or phone is a disaster. Making sure that your camper van has plenty of charging sites can help you avoid being left in the dark while you go off the grid.
- Safety Like with any camping or wilderness outing, safety should always be the number one concern. Following any rules that a campground has will help to contribute to your security. Also, knowing the type of wildlife that lives in the area will help you plan your security and where you should store your food and belongings.
Blair Valley Campgroundnear Joshua Tree National Park
Both primitive and tucked away, with incredible views of the night sky, Blair Valley Campground acts as an ideal stopping point when visiting Joshua Tree National Park. The area is expansive so you dont have to worry about camping feet away from someone else, but dont venture too far in if you have a heavy rig or low clearance, as the roads can become sandy to the point of impassable.
Climbers can find sandstone routes nearby, while hikers and mountain bikers will be delighted by the number of trails. Theres very little shade, so pack a canopy or tarp to create some for yourself. Bring enough water to sustain your visit and pack out anything you packed in.
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Camping In California: Los Alamos Campground Pyramid Lake
The close proximity of Los Alamos Campground to the city of Los Angeles makes this a popular weekend escape for city dwellers. There are 90 individual family campsites dotted around the hillside above Pyramid Lake as well as three group campsites that can accommodate up to 30 people. Although there is no electrical hook-up for your RV, the campground does offer the usual picnic tables and grills as well as clean toilets and running water. Pyramid Lake is exceptionally good for fishing and a fish-cleaning area is provided. You can enjoy birdwatching, rent a boat , go kayaking or jet-skiing, or go for a hike or cycle along various trials.
Los Alamos Campground, Hard Luck Rd, Lebec, CA 93243, Phone: 661-248-6725
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Clear Lake State Park
The park is at 5300 Soda Bay Road about a 10-minute drive northeast of Kelseyville. The park is popular for those who enjoy water activities. Clear Lake covers 68 miles of surface area and is the states largest natural freshwater lake.
There are four campgrounds Lower Bayview, Upper Bayview, Cole Creek and Kelsey Creek. Kelsey Creek is open all year round. For a map of the campgrounds, click this link. There is hot showers and flush toilets. There are no water or electric hookups. Maximum length for trailers and RVs is 35 feet. To reserve a campsite go here.
Clear Lake has been designated the number 1 bass fishing lake in the US by numerous professional bass fishing organizations. So maybe you ought to bring a pole and try it. There is also a boat launch to make it convenient to get started.
You will also want to check out the aquarium in the visitor center that showcases some of the fish species that live in the lake. Other activities you can enjoy at the park include swimming, hiking, biking, wild life viewing or just relaxing on the beach.
The park staff holds interpretive and educational programs at the Educational Pavilion. There are campfire programs in the evening and morning nature walks.
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Volcanic Tablelands In Bishop
About:Volcanic Tablelands is just north of Death Valley National Park. It offers spots for any size rig. However, the road is a little bumpy, so we recommend scouting the area first if you have a low clearance RV.
You get a wonderful view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains here, and the town of Bishop and its conveniences are just a short drive away.
Hermit Valley Campground Stanislaus National Forest
Deep within the Stanislaus National Forest is the Hermit Valley Campground where the area is covered by large sequoia trees with pine needle floors. It is usually quiet during the weekdays but can get very busy during the weekends, especially in the mid-summer because it is largely shaded.
There are plenty of outdoor activities available in the surrounding areas. You can bike, fish, or hike the many trails here. You can also hike to Yosemite National Park towards the south if you are feeling more adventurous.
- Nearest town : Markleeville, CA
- Map coordinates :G4Q2+CR Markleeville, California, United States
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What Is Dispersed Camping
Dispersed camping is camping in an area designated for camping that has no services or amenities, like bathrooms or potable water. It is a space where you can camp, as long as you bring everything you need to be self-sufficient. Not only do you have to bring everything you need in, you must take everything you use or create out, including garbage and human waste. Dispersed camping takes a significant amount of preparation and practice, and is therefore more common and successful with experienced campers.
Rocky Point West Campground
Located at Eagle Lake just outside of Susanville, California, Rocky Point West is a quiet campground with no amenities. Boating is allowed in the lake during high water periods, but it is not recommended during low water periods as the bottom is shallow.
There is a small camp store, restrooms, and shower station at the Eagle Lake Marina nearby.
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Free Campgrounds In California And How To Find More
If theres one thing better than camping, its free camping, especially in a wooded or beachfront area. In California, a state known for its areas of natural beauty, theres enough free camping to keep you bouncing around for months or even years.
While most national parks dont offer free camping, look for Bureau of Land Management or United States Forest Service land on the outskirts, where the perfect free camping in California site awaits you. For last-minute camping, you can use The Dyrt PROs Offline Maps and Map Layers to find free camping near you. These features will show you public lands where you can camp for free whether or not you have service or wifi!
Best Secluded Camping In California
Before embarking on your camping adventure, please check the California Department of Parks and Recreation website for information and updates regarding the status of campground openings.
California has some of the most beautiful campsites in the country, but getting a reservation can be a nightmare, with the reservation system usually booked months in advance. Three of these require reservations and the other seven are first-come first-served and rarely visited. All ten are great campsites that will earn you membership into what author Tom Stienstra calls the 5 Percent Club: pristine, quiet spots where less than 5% of campers camp.
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Big Sage Campground Modoc National Forest
This campground is situated in the Big Sage Reservoir area, which spans thousands of acres. The area is surrounded by juniper woodland and sagebrush, and home to birds such as bald eagles, grebes, gulls, hawks, and herons. Many National Geographic bird shows have been filmed here in the past.
You can also hike around the reservoir and if youre lucky, you can spot deers, elks, and mustangs. So remember to bring your camera with a telephoto lens.
- Closest town : Alturas, CA
- Map coordinates :H9HC+W5 Alturas, California, United States
The 20 Best Places To Camp In Southern California
Southern California is so full of diverse landscapes that theres something to please even the pickiest camper in your crew.
From radiant beach sunsets, to high mountain pine forests, to boulder-strewn deserts, the Golden State is home to some seriously epic overnight locales.
As the home of two national parks , several mountain ranges, a handful of national forests, and dozens of world-famous beaches, SoCal has cemented its place as an outdoor lovers paradise, one that locals and international visitors flock to each year.
But, with so many different options and landscapes, choosing the perfect campground can feel like a chore.
Weve narrowed down our favorite sites into one big list, separated into full-service campgrounds and more rustic dispersed and backcountry options. Feel free to scroll past the developed campgrounds section if you know theyre not your scene.
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Glass Creek Campgroundnear Mammoth Lakes
Image from The Dyrt camper Amber D.
When youre looking for free California camping or boondocking, it doesnt get much better than Glass Creek Campground, just outside of Mammoth Lakes. With 66 spacious campsites, you can easily pull through a 45 motorhome or trailer for a three-week stay near Mammoth and the June Lakes District.
Once you arrive, self-register at the kiosk and then settle in! Theres wildlife in the area, so be bear aware of your food and other belongings. And with no water on site youll want to pack in enough to reduce your trips into town. Plenty of trails lead out from the campground for convenient day hikes.
Alder Creek Dispersed Camping In The Sequoia National Forest
Alder Brook Dispersed Camping is a thickly forested campsite with vault toilets and a creek nearby if you want to remain in Sequoia National Forest but arent interested in the OHV region. Although campground use is limited and first come, first served, be aware that tight fire regulations are in place during the summer when the temperature soars and the environment gets dry. Before you travel, determine your chances of toasting marshmallows by visiting the USFS website.
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Willow Creek Road Dispersed
Willow Creek Road Dispersed Camping is located in the famous Big Sur area of California.
With views of the ocean and lots of wildflowers during the spring, this is a must-stop spot. Open year-round, five camp spots can fit an RV up to 30 . There are no amenities and little cell service, but it is one of the best free escapes with an ocean view money can buy.
If you must have cell service, invest in an RV cell booster. They can really help you get connectivity in remote areas.
- Address: Willow Creek Rd. / FR 23S01, Big Sur, CA 93920
Leo Carrillo State Park Campground
Why you should camp here: Sycamore trees offer shade and privacy at this 135-site Malibu beach haven.
- Reservations accepted: Yes
- Campsite type: Tents, RVs
- RV hookups: Yes , dump station available
Enjoy your morning cup of Joe oceanside at this ever-popular beach campground nestled into the heart of the Malibu coastline. This large campground offers two rings of well-spaced sites with chaparral shrubs and leafy sycamore trees for added shade and a little privacy.
The area also provides easy access to several hiking trails leading to magnificent viewpoints along the Santa Monica Mountains. Of course, you could just skip the hike and opt to feel the sand between your toes or take a dip in the ocean .
Leo Carrillo also features amenities galore for the lucky few who camp here. Token showers, flush toilets, drinking water, fire rings, picnic tables, and even a dump station can all be found here. Did we mention its pet friendly?
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Needles Point Dispersed Camping
Needles Point is situated just outside of Sequoia National Park. This dispersed camping spot is accessible only by high clearance vehicles, during warmer seasons.
It offers lots of shade under the trees and a quiet place to camp.
Needles Point Dispersed Camping is ¼ mile from Needles Lookout trail that provides excellent views of the area.
There is no cell service, which makes it the perfect getaway. Also, please remember this is bear country, food should be stored appropriately.
- Address: Forest Route 21S05, Ponderosa, CA 93265
How To Find Dispersed Camping In California
Given the propensity of public land, finding a dispersed camping in California can be a relatively straightforward affair. With a little knowledge of where to look, experience navigating forest service roads, reading USFS maps, and camping in remote locations, it should be relatively straightforward to find dispersed camping in California.
When searching for a good campsite ourselves, we prefer to use a combination of several online apps/websites along with publically available USFS/BLM maps.
Our favorite resources are below:
- Freecampsites.net Our go to resource for finding free camping in the US. Simply enter your desired location and filter through the results.
- The Dyrt An app that lets you filter for free and dispersed campsites.
- Campendium A website and app that allows you to see user reviews for campsites and campgrounds across the country.
While these apps and websites are a good starting place for finding dispersed campsites in California, we always cross reference the information with public agencies maps and resources. The best resource for this is often reaching out directly to the relevant USFS Ranger District or BLM Office in the area youd like to camp.
The National Forests in California have an excellent interactive MVUM finder published by the USFS for Region 5 which allows you to select the exact MVUM you need for a given area. Check it out below to get a sense of the various maps available:
Other California Free Camping Ideas
My favorite free campsites discussed above are just the tip of the iceberg for dispersed camping in California. Dont limit yourself to them and expand your search with the following tips:
- Use Apps Dispersed camping apps like iOverlander, FreeCampsites.net, and FreeRoam are great tools to find additional free campsites near you.
- Consider Parking Lots Im a big fan of camping in store parking lots as a backup when I cant find a good dispersed campsite for the night. Walmart and Cracker Barrel are two options .
- Try Casino Camping Even better than store parking lots is camping in a casino parking lot. Many casinos in California welcome boondockers, although you usually need a self-contained vehicle . Casino camping is often free.
- Online Maps Are Helpful Find your own dispersed campsites with the help of Gaia GPS or just plain old satellite view in Google Maps. I like Gaia because it lets you turn on USFS and BLM overlays, so you know 100% your campsite is on public land.
- Visit a Ranger Station Always visit the nearest ranger station to the public land you plan to camp on. Not only will they provide information on current conditions, but most have paper motor vehicle use maps as well. Ranger will also provide recommendations on nearby dispersed campsites when asked.
- Stealth Camp as a Backup Im not personally a very big fan of stealth camping, but learning the ins and outs is smart just in case you need to hunker down in a city on your trip.