The Death Valley region including the stunning namesake National Park covers an expansive swath of land in south-central California. Famous for its world record setting high-temperatures, Death Valley is also home to a wide array of ecosystems and stunning natural beauty.
Whether you’re looking to camp in the National Park itself or somewhere on the adjacent public lands, there are tons of dispersed camping opportunities to pitch your tent for free and explore this vast region.
Keep reading to explore all of the options for free, dispersed camping in Death Valley and find the perfect campsite for your next trip.
In this Post
- The Basics
- Dispersed Camping in Death Valley
The following sections contain all the basic information you’ll want to familiarize yourself with before setting out to dispersed camp in Death Valley.
The area known as Death Valley encompasses both the National Park (which has developed campgrounds as well) and the surrounding wilderness, so you’ll find several public agencies that have jurisdiction over dispersed camping regions, outlined below:
- Death Valley National Park: Managed by the National Park Service, free camping is permitted within the park boundaries in certain areas.
- Bureau of Land Management: The BLM manages most of the land surrounding the National Park. The California Desert Field Office oversees the majority of this land.
- US National Forest Service: Inyo National Forest and the White Mountain Wilderness Study area are north of Death Valley.
The map below gives a sense of each of these regions so you have an idea of which agency is best to contact for specific dispersed camping information:
What to Bring
Dispersed camping, especially in a climate like Death Valley, requires a certain level of preparedness to ensure you have a successful trip. You won’t have access to the amenities of a developed campground, so it is important 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 – None 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.
- Portable Toilet – This may be a new concept for some campers, but it’s a great way to ensure you leave no trace in the backcountry.
- Pop-up Canopy – The sun in Death Valley can get intense! You won’t find much shade in this landscape, so we recommend bringing a portable shade structure to create your own!
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.
Permits, Fees, and Campfires
Depending on where you end up dispersed camping, the permit requirements will differ quite a bit. In general, here is what you can expect:
- Death Valley NP Dispersed Camping Permits: Permits are NOT required to dispersed camp within Death Valley National Park. However, they are free and strongly recommended. Get a free, backcountry camping permit here.
- BLM Land Permits: There are no permits required for dispersed camping on BLM land in Death Valley
- USFS Permits: Permits are not required for dispersed camping on USFS managed land.
Generally speaking, dispersed camping is permitted unless expressly prohibited on BLM or USFS land. For a good overview on the rules and regulations for dispersed camping, our California Dispersed Camping Guide is the perfect place to start.
The Inyo NF, California BLM, and Death Valley NP websites all feature helpful guides on the rules, regulations, and key information you should be familiar with before planning your own dispersed camping trip.
In general, these rules are consistent with the dispersed camping regulations that are in place for most national forests across the country, which we have outlined below:
- Do not camp in areas near trailheads, picnic areas, or developed campgrounds.
- Keep your campsite small.
- Use existing sites and fire rings when available.
- Pick a site where vegetation is absent.
- Do not camp within 200 feet of a water source.
- Dispersed camping is generally limited to 14 days within any continuous 30 day period.
- 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!
One extremely important regulation for would-be dispersed campers to be aware of is California’s Campfire Permit system.
Given the horrible fire seasons California has been experiencing recently we highly discourage you from having a campfire while dispersed camping in Death Valley.
In fact, campfires are prohibited within Death Valley National Park for dispersed campers.
However, if you’re camping in the National Forest or on BLM land and do choose to do so when it is allowed, you’ll need to ensure you have the proper campfire permit described below.
California has a permit system for any campfires on federal lands and private property owned by another person. 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.
Given this and prior to having a campfire please check current restrictions and secure the necessary California Campfire Permit. This permit is required for any type of campfire on public or private land in the state. You can learn more and request a permit below:
Leave No Trace Dispersed Camping
One of the most important considerations when dispersed camping is to follow Leave No Trace principles. This will minimize your impact and ensure your campsite can be enjoyed by future visitors. 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.
Dispersed Camping in Death Valley
The following section contains our top dispersed camping areas both within the National Park as well as just outside it. You’ll find a variety of locations and campsite features, so we hope you find something that fits your needs.
In addition, our Death Valley dispersed camping map below gives an overview of each site’s location with a full description included in the following section. Enjoy!
Looking for more camping opportunities in the area? Check out some of our helpful guides below:
- Death Valley National Park Camping: Complete guide to camping in the National Park.
- Joshua Tree National Park: Everything you need to know about camping in and around Joshua Tree.
- Joshua Tree Dispersed Camping: Specific advice on dispersed camping near Joshua Tree.
Free, Dispersed Camping within Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park permits free, dispersed camping along many of the park’s backcountry dirt roads. This is a great opportunity to explore the park off the beaten path (literally!) and spend time where few visitors every see.
Campers are strongly encouraged to obtain a voluntary Wilderness/Backcountry Use Permit.
These permits are not mandatory, but they are free and will give the NPS important information about your trip and planned campsites.
Camping along Death Valley’s dirt roads is generally permitted throughout the national park. However, there are a few exceptions to this intended to help minimize the impact on some of the high visitor areas of the park.
Here are our top picks for backcountry, dispersed camping in Death Valley NP:
Echo Canyon Road Dispersed Camping
Echo Canyon Road is one of the most centrally located roadside camping areas in Death Valley. This popular camping area is situated just a few miles south of the Furnace Creek area. High-clearance vehicles are a must and 4WD is recommended. The road beyond Echo Canyon is only for the most experienced and well-equipped off-road drivers.
Hole in the Wall Road Dispersed Camping
Located just south of Echo Canyon Road, Hole in the Wall Road is another great option for dispersed roadside camping in Death Valley. It is four miles to Hole in the Wall, a 400′ deep gap in the stunning ridgeline.
Cottonwood Canyon Road Dispersed Camping
Water: Occasionally, but don’t plan on it
Cottonwood Canyon road is a rough and rugged 4WD road located just north of Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley. The road is famous for the small stream lined with Cottonwoods located at the end of the road. High clearance vehicles with 4WD are a must.
Racetrack Road Dispersed Camping
For those who want to visit the famous and mystifying ‘moving rocks’ of Death Valley’s Racetrack, a camping trip on Racetrack Road is the perfect opportunity. This road is notorious for causing flat tires, so be sure you’re prepared! Also, no sedans or RVs permitted and be sure to not drive on the lake bed itself.
Warm Springs Canyon Road Dispersed Camping
Warm Springs Canyon Road is located in the southern section of Death Valley National Park and only requires a high-clearance 2WD vehicle for the first 10 miles or so. This is a great option for dispersed camping for those who are not equipped with a serious 4WD vehicle.
Free, Dispersed Camping outside Death Valley National Park
If you’re looking for dispersed camping outside the boundaries of Death Valley National Park you’re likely to end up on BLM managed land. There are fewer regulations for camping here, but always be sure to Leave No Trace and help leave your campsite in better condition than you found it.
Our top sites for dispersed camping near Death Valley are below:
Titus Canyon Road
Titus Canyon Road is located just outside of the eastern entrance to Death Valley National Park near the town of Beaty, NV. This is BLM land, so dispersed camping is permitted along the road. There is one large camping area as well as some smaller pullouts that can accommodate smaller set ups.
This is the definition of dry camping as you won’t find any water sources or shade nearby, so come prepared.
There are a few additional dispersed campsites outside of Beaty that make a convenient place to spend the night before exploring the park as well. The town itself is small, but does have some basic services such as gas stations, a Family Dollar, and a few restaurants should you need anything.
The Alabama Hills are famous for their iconic views of the Sierra, excellent climbing, as well as some of California’s best dispersed camping. You’ll be close to both the eastern Sierra as well as Death Valley here, making this a great location to spend a few nights exploring the area.
Located on BLM land, dispersed camping here is very popular. Given that, it is incredibly important to practice Leave No Trace principles and always leave your campsite in better shape than you found it.
The BLM has recently updated the rules for dispersed camping at the Alabama Hills to minimize impacts and keep the area open.
Moving forward, the BLM will establish several designated dispersed camping areas. This includes restricting the west side of Movie Road to day-use only and the implementation of a free permit system for camping. Please do not set-up outside of these as you’ll risk a fine and potentially damage this sensitive ecosystem.
There are no services for campers dispersed camping at the Alabama Hills, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve brought enough water and are prepared to be self-sufficient!
Casa Diablo Mine Road
Our final recommendation for dispersed camping near Death Valley is located northwest of the park, just outside the town of Bishop, CA. Here you’ll find Casa Diablo Mine Road which has several good campsite pull outs along its length. There are a handful that can accommodate larger rigs, and even more for those in a tent or smaller set up.
As you’d expect in the Death Valley region, there is no water source at Casa Diablo so you’ll need to bring everything you need.
Bishop is just a short drive away and has anything you might have forgotten.
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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 in Death Valley.
To summarize, here are the key points you need to know:
- Dispersed, backcountry camping is permitted within Death Valley NP.
- This is only allowed in certain areas, and a free permit is highly recommend.
- The surrounding National Forest and BLM land also have several dispersed campsites available.
- Be sure to check with Inyo NF or the California BLM to confirm camping is permitted
Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!