Bishop, California is often considered the gateway to the Eastern Sierra. This small town has a stunning backdrop of the soaring peaks of the Sierra, and is surrounded by a plethora of public land. Whether you’re here to hike, climb, soak in the hot springs, or any other activity, rest assured that there are tons of free, dispersed camping opportunities available.
We’ve saved you the trouble of sorting through all the rules, regulations, and various public lands to present the top dispersed camping areas near Bishop, CA. We’ve also give you some general information if you want to find your own, off the beaten path campsite.
Let’s jump in.
Bishop, California Dispersed Camping Guide
- Dispersed Camping Near Bishop
- The Basics
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Dispersed Camping near Bishop, CA
The following section includes our top dispersed campsites near Bishop, California. Dispersed campsites here are located in both Inyo National Forest as well as on BLM land. For a good introductory primer check out our California Dispersed Camping Guide.
Our favorite resource for finding areas where dispersed camping is permitted near Bishop and in the Eastern Sierra in general is the map created and maintained by the Eastern Sierra Sustainable Recreation Partnership. This map shows areas where camping is prohibited, shaded red, to make it easy to know where you can camp.
If you’re looking for other dispersed camping in the region, check out some of our other camping guides in area:
- Mammoth Lakes Dispersed Camping
- Inyo National Forest dispersed camping
- Death Valley NP dispersed camping
- Joshua Tree dispersed camping
- Dispersed camping near Yosemite NP
- Sequoia National Forest dispersed camping
- Lake Tahoe dispersed camping
Finally, if you’re interested in finding more dispersed campsites in the area, check out our guide to the best dispersed camping apps to help you find your next campsite.
Find Your Next Dispersed Campsite
Our online video course will teach you everything you need to know to find your next free, dispersed campsite.
Learn how to find the best campsite locations BEFORE you head out. No more showing up to crowded sites with all the spots taken!
In this course, we’ll show you how to research free, public campsites, read USFS maps, locate public land, and plan your next dispersed camping trip.
- How to find areas that allow free, dispersed camping
- How to use public maps to narrow down your search
- How to use online apps to identify where camping is permitted and view the surrounding terrain
- How to view your exact location in relation to camping opportunities when you’re out looking for a site – even without cell phone service!
- Confidently plan your next camping trip
If you’re after incredible mountain views and excellent bouldering opportunities, then it is hard to beat the Volcanic Tablelands dispersed camping area. Located on BLM land just a short distance from Bishop, this is a popular place for boondockers and climbers of all types.
There are a number of pull outs on the dirt roads that lead south from Casa Diablo Mine Road, all of which have unobstructed views of the Sierra. The price for those incredible views is that wind will be a near constant companion, which can be pretty unpleasant given how sandy the area is.
However, the benefits far outweigh the cons to camping here in our view, and that is doubly true for anyone looking to checkout the nearby Sad Boulders climbing area. The road leading to Volcanic Tablelands is passable in most vehicles, but be prepared to take it slow as the washboard surface can be extremely jarring.
There are no camping services at Volcanic Tablelands, so you’ll need to bring all of your own water and pack out all of your trash. Given the rocky/sandy surface of the camping areas, we highly recommend a portable toilet as well.
The Buttermilk Road dispersed camping area is located west of the town of Bishop, and nestled right at the base of the Sierra mountains. There is a patchwork of land ownership here, so it is essential that you consult a map to be sure you are on Inyo NF land. Don’t be dissuaded by the no camping signs on the road in, as these only apply to the land managed by the LA Department of Water and Power.
This is a popular camping area for climbers, as there is some excellent bouldering in the area. Most of the campsites are clustered around the main climbing/parking area, although if you drive further back there are additional spots. The road isn’t great, so this isn’t recommended for those with a trailer or large rig.
Silver Canyon Road
Silver Canyon Road is located northwest of Bishop, near the area of Laws. There is a sliver of BLM land just past the museum in Laws and before you get to Inyo National Forest that makes a good spot to dispersed camp. The road is dirt, but is passable by most vehicles.
Silver Canyon Road isn’t a good option for those with larger rigs as most of the sites are tight and there isn’t a good place to turnaround. As the road continues west into Inyo National Forest it becomes narrower and you aren’t likely to find any good campsites.
Pay attention to if you are on public land or not in this area, as you’ll pass through property controlled by the LA Dept of Power & Water, which prohibits camping on its property. However, as soon as you cross onto BLM land, camping is allowed. A good GPS map like Gaia GPS or the excellent Eastern Sierra Sustainable Recreation Partnership app/website should make it easy to determine if you are on BLM land.
As with most sites near Bishop, the views of the Sierra are incredible!
Pleasant Valley is another dispersed camping area near Bishop where it pays to have a GPS app to tell you when you are on public land. You’ll be close to both the Inyo County run campground as well as a BLM campground here, but there is a small dirt road that leads to free, dispersed camping as well.
To find it, take Highway 395 to Pleasant Dam Road, and continue on it for just under 1 mile. Here, you’ll come to a left turn that takes you to the Pleasant Valley Pit campground. Instead, turn hard right onto a dirt road and continue on it for ~.25 miles. This is BLM land where camping is permitted. The map link above shows the main camping area, but put your Google Maps on satellite view to see the road and other campsites in the immediate vicinity.
There isn’t room for more than a few tents or cars here, but it will work in a pinch should the other campsites in this guide not work for your situation. As always, be sure to pack out all of your trash, consult a map to ensure you are on public land, and practice Leave No Trace camping principles.
Owens Gorge Road
Owens Gorge Road is located north of Bishop in an area popular for its abundance of natural hot springs. The camping here is relatively secluded and the views back towards the Sierra are nothing short of stunning. Most of the campsites are located south of Benton Crossing Road, where a convoluted network of Forest Service Roads exist.
Take your time and explore a bit before settling on a campsite, as there are some true gems to be found. Road conditions vary quite a bit once you are off the paved road, so take your time and don’t take any unnecessary chances if your vehicle isn’t up to it.
There are also some excellent campsites on the eastern side of Crowley Lake, located on BLM land, and near Wild Willy’s Hot Springs. More on that below.
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs is a fun place to dispersed camp just up the road from Bishop. The entire region is full of secluded, natural hot springs that are great for a soak after a long day of skiing or hiking, with Wild Willy’s being one of the more popular spots. Being located on BLM land, dispersed camping is permitted in both the parking lot as well as some of the adjacent roads.
For those looking to camp in the parking lot, you’ll be best served with a van, trailer, or other self-contained rig rather than tent camping. If you do have a tent, check out some of the roads that you can turn off of just before the parking lot as there are quite a few smaller campsites perfect for tent camping.
Don’t expect much privacy or quiet, as this is a very popular place to visit and camp. However, a soak in the natural springs is well worth it for many.
This is a very fragile ecosystem that sees a lot of use, so please be sure to pack out all of your trash, leave your site in better shape than you found it, and practice Leave No Trace camping.
Find Your Next Dispersed Campsite
Learn how to find the best campsite locations BEFORE you head out. No more showing up to crowded sites with all the good spots taken!
Easily identify camping areas
Find free camping on public land
Use offline apps to locate sites
Learn through video tutorials
Now that we’ve covered some of our favorite spots for dispersed camping near Bishop, let’s dive into some of the information you’ll need to find your own campsite.
There is public land controlled by both the US Forest Service as well as the Bureau of Land Management surrounding Bishop, and each has its own set of rules and regulations to be aware of.
Permits, Rules, and Campfires
For campsites in Inyo National Forest, you won’t need a permit, however, that doesn’t mean you can simply show up, pitch your tent anywhere you like and call it a day.
There are many areas within the Inyo that prohibit dispersed camping, and knowing whether your campsite is in one of those areas is essential.
Luckily, through an amazing organization called the Eastern Sierra Sustainable Recreation Partnership, it is incredibly easy to determine where camping is allowed. The ESSRP has created an interactive map, accessed below, which shows the areas of the forest that permit camping, and those that do not.
Be sure to check it out before you are out looking for a site. They even have an app that can be used offline so you can check a specific site in the forest to be sure camping is permitted.
Additionally, there is a patchwork of land ownership around Bishop, with large swaths owned and managed by the Los Angeles Power & Water Department, which prohibits camping on their property. Get a good GPS app, such as Gaia GPS, which has an excellent public lands map layer to determine what type of land you are currently on.
Finally, it is important to check the Forest Service Alerts & Notices page for the most up to date on any current closures or other happenings that may impact your ability to camp.
Other helpful dispersed camping rules that broadly apply to Inyo National Forest include:
- Keep your campsite small.
- Use existing sites when available.
- Pick a site where vegetation is absent.
- Do not camp within 200 feet of a water source.
- Store food in a bear-proof container
- Only have a campfire if it is permitted, and always be sure it is completely extinguished.
- Practice Leave No Trace principles – more on that below!
For Bureau of Land Management land in the area, you’ll follow a similar set of rules. The Eastern Sierra camping map referenced above covers BLM land, so it is best to refer to that when looking for dispersed camping on BLM land around Bishop.
For more in-depth information, the Bishop Field Office of the BLM offers the best point of contact.
California has a permit system for any campfires on federal lands and private property owned by another person, which of course applies to the dispersed camping areas outside of Bishop.
The state has seen nearly endless devastating wildfires over the past several years, so fire restrictions should be top of mind before you consider having a campfire.
This permit program applies to all dispersed camping in California, so please ensure you have a campfire permit by completing the form below:
Even with the campfire permit system, it is critical to check current fire bans and conditions before having a fire.
We can’t stress this enough as being a responsible forest user is essential to preventing wildfires and preserving our incredible forests!
What to Bring
You shouldn’t expect any amenities when dispersed camping near Bishop so you’ll need to come prepared to be self-sufficient.
- Coleman Camping Stove – This classic piece of gear is perfect for cooking up deluxe campsite dinners.
- Portable water container – Most of the camping areas included in this guide do not have a potable water source. As such, a portable water container is essential.
- Cooler – Keeping food and drinks cool is critical when camping. We can’t recommend Yeti enough!
- Map – We prefer downloadable GPS maps via the Gaia GPS app. You can get 20% off your annual membership here.
Our dispersed camping checklist has everything you need.
Want to know the essentials for your next camping trip?
Our dispersed camping checklist has all the camping essentials plus specific items for dispersed camping.
Leave No Trace Dispersed Camping
One of the most important considerations when dispersed camping is to follow Leave No Trace principles. The wilderness here is fragile and it is our responsibility to minimize our impact and keep these areas open to future campers.
Here are the seven principles of Leave No Trace camping:
- Plan Ahead & Prepare: Have an idea of where you’d like to camp and always be sure you are camping in an area that permits dispersed camping.
- Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces: Never camp on fragile ground or create a new campsite.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack out all of your trash and bury human waste away from water sources. Ideally, carry out human waste or use a portable toilet.
- Leave what you find: Never take anything from your campsite. Other than trash of course!
- Minimize campfire impacts: Never create new fire rings and only have fires if permitted.
- Respect Wildlife: Properly store food at all times and be aware of the area’s wildlife.
- Be considerate of Other Visitors: Pack out your trash, don’t be loud, and leave your campsite in better condition than you found it.
Have a great trip!
That’s it! We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a great dispersed camping trip near Bishop, California.
Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!