Camping Near Yosemite

Yosemite Lake View Camp Sites

Camp Near Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is a top destination, all year long. California masses converge on the sacred valley each summer, so expect more as the buses keep rolling in. Plan a Yosemite trip before Memorial Day weekend – or after Labor Day weekend, for less people.

Camping close to Yosemite National Park without being inside the park boundaries. The scenery and wildness doesn’t stop in the back country. There are numerous National Forests surrounding the popular National Park, so much public land has been set aside for these recreation purposes. Granite-lined mountain meadows, dense forests, raging creeks, wildlife and real seclusion. Plenty of great paved back roads, dirt roads and camping options in the Sierra Nevada.

CAMP OUTSIDE YOSEMITE NP, WHY?

No campground reservations needed, cheap or free, less crowds, less noise. More freedom, more privacy, more nature.

Hundreds of developed, small campgrounds can be found around Yosemite. A few private RV resorts, cabin rentals, lodging on the main highways. Primitive style camping is considered “camping outside of developed campgrounds”. USDA National Forests usually allows open-camping within the forest boundary – with a required camp fire permit. Sometimes wildfire danger is too extreme, so they often ban campfires in dry conditions.

YOSEMITE: SOUTH HWY 41

SIERRA NF @ Fish Camp, CA

East side of Highway 41:

West side of Highway 41:

Lakes West of Yosemite NP:
Stanislaus National Forest

all Lakes near Yosemite

Gold Country @ Mariposa, CA

Gold Country Foothills – listed below are valley reservoirs. Oaks, dry hills, which can can be super hot in summer.

 

camping

YOSEMITE WEST Highway 120

Camping near Highway 120

  • Sweetwater Campground
  • Lost Claim Campground
  • The Pines Campground

North side of Highway:

  • Lumsden Campground
  • Lumsden Bridge Camp
  • Middle Fork Campground
  • Cherry Lake Campground
  • Hetch Hetchy Reservoir (NPS)

camping

highmeadows

See all Lakes near Yosemite Park

lakes near Yosemite hiking

YOSEMITE: EAST Highway 120

Tioga Pass on Hwy 120 (elevation 9410′) is only open during summer months. Generally June through October. Always check road conditions before your trip.

Lakes @ Tioga Pass
High elevation meadows, aspen groves, snowmelt lakes. Just east of Yosemite National Park border. Inyo National Forest

leeviningcamps

Lee Vining Canyon @ US 395
Inyo National Forest

  • Cattleguard Campground
  • Moraine Campground
  • Boulder Campground
  • Aspen Grove Campground
  • Big Bend Campground

 

Mono Maloy

MONO LAKE, CALIFORNIA

BLM Sand Dunes

dumontdunes

Sand dunes are popular spots for tourists, travelers, RVers and off-roaders. Death Valley National Park has many large areas for dunes, Mojave National Preserve has the Kelso Dunes.

Fortunately, those places do not allow driving on the dunes, which is exactly what the off-road boys want to do. Sand flying, motors screaming, music blasting, bon fires blazing and no silence found until the wee hours of early morning.

Autumn, Winter & Spring are the busy months for ‘froaders in the deserts, since summer temps can soar into triple digits heat daily.

Camping out near “the dunes” is usually a big, freaking, free-for-all, outdoors with the latest in motorized toys. Recreation Vehicles encircling bonfires (camp formation for a large group), toy box haulers, trailers, families, and maybe a massive BBQ setup.

OHV (off highway vehicle)
Vehicular Recreation Area

California BLM Desert Sand Dunes

luxurycamper

Below is a list of California Sand Dunes overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.

Arroyo Salado / Ocotillo Wells
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 10 mi. west of Highway 86 on Highway 78. Rolling hills and sand washes. Designated “Open Area” consisting of 4,800 acres. Adjacent to Ocotillo Wells Vehicular Recreation Area. Near Split Mountain, Anza Borrego Desert

Dumont Dunes Mojave
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 30 mi. north of Baker on Hwy 127, off Dumont Dunes Rd. Steep and tall sand dunes. Designated “Open Area” of 8,150 acres. South of Death Valley National Park.

Dumont Saabaru AWD

Dumont w/ the Saabaru AWD

Glamis / Gecko Road
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Holiday weekends = NUTS!! Approximately 22,000 acres. Located 25 mi. east of Brawley on HIGHWAY 78. Sand Dunes. Designated “Open Area” Danger: Adjacent to military bombing range.  Contact the El Centro BLM

Imperial Sand Dunes / Buttercup Valley
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Approximately 11,000 acres. Located 10 mi. southeast of Niland on the Niland Glamis Rd. Sand Dunes are designated “Open Area”. Watch for closed area boundary at south end of area. CA Highway 78 near Brawley.  Contact the El Centro BLM

Mojave El Mirage / Shadow Mountains
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 10 mi. west of Adelanto on Crippen/El Mirage Road. Dry lake Bed. Heavy use area. many non-motorized and motorized recreation – including aircrafts. Area consists of 24,000 acres.

Olancha Dunes OHV
Highway US 395 @ jct 190
Thousands of acres w/ open camping, located 5 miles from Hwy 395. In between Eastern Sierra range, Olancha & Death Valley National Park. Contact the Ridgecrest BLM

Plaster City / Yuha Basin
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
South side of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. 15 mi. west of El Centro. Located on county Highway S-80. Consists of 41,000 acres of rolling hills and desert flats. Military bombing range north of area is closed to entry.   Contact the El Centro BLM

Sand Up Close and Personal
Superstition Mountain
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 15 mi. NW of El Centro via Highway S-8, Huff, and Wheeler Roads. Varied terrain consisting of 13,000 acres; dry lakes, badlands, rocky mountains, and sand dunes. Military bombing range north and south of area is closed to entry.   Contact the El Centro BLM

Rasor OHV Recreation Area
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 45 mi. northwest of Barstow, CA on Rasor Road. Sand washes and dunes, mesquite thickets. Designated “Open Area” consisting of 22,500 acres. Contact the Barstow BLM

Rice Valley Dunes
Motorcycle, 4WD, ATV, Dune Buggy / Sand Rail
Located 5 mi. south of Rice Valley off of Highway 62. Access is Santa Fe Road. Sand dunes. Designated “Open Area” consisting of 3,770 acres. Area of little use. Danger: Contaminated with unexploded ordinance.

Road to Kelso Dunes

Road to Kelso Dunes

BLM open camping hiking camping RVs 4WD

see also California Coastal Dunes at Oceano: Pismo Dunes


Kern Flats Camping Free

chamise flat

Dispersed Camping Kern River

boondocking
primitive camping
undeveloped sites

KERNVILLE, CA

Located north of the small community of Riverkern and south of the Johnsondale Bridge, numerous flat camp spots adjacent to the rivers edge can be found.

johnsondale bridge @ KERNAnt Canyon Dispersed Area
Brush Creek Campground
Calkins Flat Dispersed Area
Chamise Flat Dispersed Area
Chico Flat Campground
Corral Creek Campground
Springhill Dispersed Area

 

Kern River Road
Sierra Way in Kernville travels north along the Upper Kern River & becomes Mountain Hwy 99 – which eventually connects with the Western Divide Highway in Giant Sequoia National Monument.

California NFS Kern RVing kern campgrounds open camping

truckcamping

Dispersed Camping Areas along the Kern River

Open Year Round! These FREE camp areas are called dispersed camping sites. No pavement, no picnic tables, no bathrooms, no piped water. Portable toilets & trash bins may be available in the busier summer months. Campfire permits are required for all campfires, BBQs, and camp stoves. Fire restrictions are common in extreme dry conditions. 14 day limit on camping.

Mountain Biking Kernville kern hiking fishing Kern snow Kern

camping, fishing, kayaking, mountain biking, rafting

Many flats are signed w/ small brown signs, while others are not. Some are actually flat and easy to access, while others are steep, eroded dirt trails unsuitable for RV travel.

Kelly’s Hole, overgrown, unknown, well-known or burnt beyond recognition? Roads End is no more.

Camp sites listed on this page are dispersed camping areas around the Kern River Area. Not all camp spots are listed, cuz many are unnamed. Bring your GPS to mark your favorite camp sites and you can arrive in the dark, late at night, anytime, (avoiding city traffic after work).

chamise pre-wildfire

Several spots known as “dirt flats” are easy accessible right off the pavement of Sierra Way. Primitive river camping, fishing spots and raft launch areas north of town. Vault toilets might be available during busy summer months, but you’re on your own the remainder of the year. Bring a shovel and take a hike, away from the water flow. And if that sounds like too much work for a potty break, maybe you are not cut out for the primitive kinda camping style. No garbage service either: pack it in, pack it out.

Wildflowers are abundant in the Kern Canyon nearly every Spring season (April & May), which is a popular time to enjoy this region. Autumn brings minimal fall colors to this dry, desert mountainous landscape, but the fishing is decent at that time of year.

campfiresCAMPING OUTSIDE OF CAMPGROUND means you must obtain a free fire permit from the local rangers. Sometimes these dispersed spots are fire-safe areas, and you are allowed to have camp fires. Other times campfire restrictions are in place w/ wildfire dangers too extreme and no fires are allowed, anywhere. (Not even inside a developed campground!)

Kern RV spot

river Kern WILDERNESS NOTE: The USDA National Forests web site states that “Camping and campfires within 25 feet of the water’s edge is prohibited due to the Wild and Scenic Designation”, but that doesn’t seem to stop some from setting up right on the fragile rivers edge. Doubtful that this rule is being enforced by the rangers, but consider yourself warned unless they start to get serious about this restriction. Many believe that the free camping along the Kern river is destroying it, so don’t be surprised if these areas get closed or barriers placed at the flats.

Caulkins FLAT has some new boulder barriers put in place which prevent cars from reaching certain ideal camp spots (right at the waters edge). Tough luck. Now we have to hike more.

California rivers

kern flat camping

Upper Kern River
North of Kernville, CA

all camps below listed from south to north

ALL CAPS = developed campgrounds managed by US Forest Service, w/ links to Kern River Campgrounds. California NFS

HEADQUARTERS CAMPGROUND (NFS)

Both Halfway & Thunderbird used to be dispersed camps, but they were converted to reservation-only Group Campgrounds by the National Forest in 2014

Chico Flat
2500′ elev
Just south of Hospital Flat Campground.
This camp area is known as “Chico Flat Campground” on GoogleMaps.

HOSPITAL FLAT CAMPGROUND (NFS)

Corral Creek
3200′ elev
Hike to Corral Creek Beach & Picnic Area.
This camp area is known as “Corral Creek Campground” on GoogleMaps.

Spring Hill
This camping area is marked as “Upper Springhill Campground & “Lower Springhill Campground” on GoogleMaps.

GOLD LEDGE CAMPGROUND (NFS)

Ant Canyon
Just north of Goldledge Campground, along the Upper Kern River.
South of Salmon Creek; Hike to Salmon Creek Falls.

Chamise Flatchamisespot
12 miles north of Kernville, CA
This camping bluff could be the most forested of all the ‘kern flat’ camping areas, but river is a short hike down a very steep cliff. Fishing is excellent in this stretch.

Calkins Flat
15 miles north of Kernville, along the Upper Kern River. Just south of Fairview (McNalley’s). Sign at the location reads a different spelling of “Caulkins Flat”. Kayak and rafting put-in spot. One of the best sites for large groups. Area is also known as simply “Lower Campground” on GoogleMap.

free kern river camp

FAIRVIEW CAMPGROUND (NFS)

LIMESTONE CAMPGROUND (NFS)

Brush Creek
3600′ elev
Just south of Sherman’s Pass Road turnoff. This place also serves as a Day Use Area, where Brush Creek meets the Kern. Kayaking put in spot. Popular fishing area. Large open dirt parking lot with a vault toilet.

 

 

California rivers

Lower Kern River
Southwest of Kernville, CA

Lake Isabella has some shoreline camping with wide open access to the lake. Paradise Cove perhaps?

Historic Keyesville – “off-roaders camping paradise” along the river, but no swimming is allowed due to the extremely dangerous section of river. OHV trails lead (west) down river for many miles. Dirt bikes love the rugged boulder-scapes and steep hills. FREE camping; BLM Kern.

SANDY FLAT CAMPGROUND (NFS) – open all year long!
elev 2300′

HOBO CAMPGROUND (NFS)

Remington

Remington Hot Springs can be a zoo at times w/ the amount of people who love to stop here. A busy dirt parking lot, right across from the Remington trailhead sign. Many vehicles park here daily for day hikes, hot springs, fishing – and people also like to camp out, although camp sites are on slopes (not ideal), only a few and they fill up fast (before sunset).

Total Escape TIP: The very best camps at Remington are actually the ones you hafta hike down to. Less than a half mile down to the rivers edge to find a private mini beach. Pack light and arrive prepared to walk several miles (back & forth, several times).

Old Kern Canyon Road parallels Sierra Highway 178 and sits well above the river, so any flat spots you find will have great views w/ minimal river access.

Lower Kern River

Lower Kern River has very limited camping options.

What is Camping?

Old Timers Berry Creek

Basically, what is Camping?

4x4 camping RV camping car camping primitive camping backpacking cabin camping

BLM camping State Park camping National Forest campgrounds National Park camping

An overnight stay out-of-doors.
Sleeping out under the stars.

Air bed, cot, tent… or just a tarp on the ground.
Perhaps A Mountain Cabin Rental. Your choice.

From a luxurious cabin in the mountains, to a small clearing in near a meadow with a stream nearby – with just a backpack, the idea of “camping” is always a bit different for each person. Roughin’ it for free in the wilderness, or on the backroads; Or pay dearly for the price of real amenities, while on vacation.

Camping Out on Back Roads

Various types of Camping in California:

type of
camping
average
cost per nite
brief description – what to expect
modern cabin $150 – $400 just like a hotel room, full kitchen, phone, internet, TV, real furniture
rustic cabin $60 – $180 bare minimum, beds, kitchen sink, electricity. maybe a bathroom
tent cabins / yurts $50-100 wood floors, canvas walls, sleeping cots. reservations accepted. (very popular)
RV/motorhome rental or own all creature comforts on wheels, lots of luxury. camp the back roads.
camper shell own it mini motorhome on the back end of a pickup truck. smaller than RV
RV campground $30- $70 50+ sites, lots of facilities & families w/ RVs. reservations accepted
developed campground $25-50 usually 30 – 100 sites, paved stalls, facilities. toilets, piped water maybe. plenty in our camping section. (very popular)
small campground $10-25 less than 25 camp sites, pit/vault toilets if any. plenty in our camping section
primitive car camping free way-out-there camp spots w/ dispersed camp sites, for the rugged self-contained, self-sufficient camper; access via dirt back roads.
SUV/ 4×4 camping usually free remote spots on long, steep, bumpy dirt roads; dispersed camp sites in secluded areas. 4 wheel drive may be needed
walk-in campsites low cost or free camp sites that require you to physically haul your camp gear from a parking area to the camp spots, ranging from 1/8 mi. walk to a 1 mile hike
backpacking free / wilderness permit ultimate in seclusion, bring it all on your back, on foot into the wilderness & enjoy trail camps
River Beach Campground

Trinity River Camping, Douglas City, CA

yellowpost

SO CAL CAMP FIRES – Yellow Post Campsites are remote camping spots in secluded areas, in a designated fire safe clearing. Camp FiresNo facilities such as toilets or showers. Maybe a picnic table & fire rings, if you’re lucky. Southern California forest have these kinda spots & do require you to have a campfire permit & double check on fire restrictions.

Tent Cabin Rentals

Canvas Tent Cabins & Yurts

these are half way between roughing it in a tent on the ground & having a mountain cabin. Yurt rentals are very popular in California!

National Forest Service Rangers wildlife

Deck w/ View

National Forest Fire Lookouts
& Historic Cabins

deluxe-tent-cabin

Tent Camp Yosemite Valley

Camping California Back Roads

22S12 – Sequoia NF

open camping

Big Meadow: Forest Road# 22S12 – Sequoia National Forest

Take Sierra Hwy. N of Kernville, past Fairview & over the Johnsondale bridge; Right turn on Sherman’s Pass Road & drive up to a signed intersection (near a snow gate). NOTE: This area may not be accessible during winter months.

Turn right on Big Meadow Road, aka Forest Service Rd# 22S12. This is a very long road which is paved for the first few miles. 22S12 becomes a graded dirt road, suitable for horse trailers; it forks off to other smaller dirt roads, as it progresses through the forests & dead ends back by Cannell Meadow. The main routes are passenger car accessible, but some of the smaller dirt roads can get quite bumpy. A truck or SUV would be advisable to explore these secondary routes. Certain areas have suffered from wildfires 2000-2002.

Big Meadow Sequoia

Horses & equestrian camping are very popular in this region. There is also a fair amount of backpackers heading into the Domeland Wilderness and mountain bikers looking for premium backcountry rides, away from the crowds at the Kern River.

NFS developed Horse Meadow Campground can be found on the right via road# 23S08. Located at 7400′ elevation w/ 41 spots, in the forest. Trailhead to Salmon Creek leads directly from camp.

SPUR – side routes include:

  • #23S14 Cherry Hill – a few camp spots near creek & a meadow with views at the very end
  • #23S41 Poison Meadow
  • #23S13 Salmon Creek
  • #22S07 Big Meadow – loop road around the “Big Meadow”. Plenty of primitive camp sites around Big Meadow, but they are the first ones to fill up during a popular summer weekend. The region is perfect for backpackers or day hikers wanting to access Manter Mdw. & the Domelands Wilderness.
  • #24S13 feeds the last stretch of road to Rattlesnake Meadow. Taylor Creek near 24S43, features numerous waterfalls leading to the South Fork of the Kern River
  • #24S12 Cannell Meadow & Pine Flat. The Cannell Meadow National Recreation Trail runs thru here, from Big Meadow down to Kernville, CA.

North Meadow

Sequoia National Forest

Sequoia National Forest MAP

DOME LAND Wilderness MAP

Nearby towns include: