Mammoth Lakes is set deep in the Eastern Sierra and is a great base to explore the surrounding wilderness as well as take in some mountain town vibes. However, you don’t need that expensive ski condo to enjoy a stay in the area, as there are tons of free dispersed campsites just outside of Mammoth Lakes.
A mix of high-alpine terrain, adjacent desert landscapes, and semi-arid conditions provide for ample opportunities for dispersed camping in the adjacent Inyo National Forest and BLM land.
We’ve broken down everything you need to know to dispersed camp near Mammoth, including the rules & regulations to be aware of, fire restrictions, and of course some of the top locations to pitch your tent or park your rig.
Mammoth Lakes Dispersed Camping Guide
- Dispersed Camping Near Mammoth Lakes
- The Basics
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Dispersed Camping near Mammoth Lakes, CA
The following section includes our top dispersed campsites near Mammoth Lakes, California. A majority of the campsites are located in Inyo National Forest, with a few located on adjacent BLM land.
Be sure to read additional details in the following sections around where dispersed camping is permitted in the Eastern Sierra before settling on a campsite.
Our favorite resource for finding areas where dispersed camping is permitted near Mammoth Lakes 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. We recommend consulting it for any dispersed camping trip in the region.
If you’re looking for other dispersed camping in the region, we recommend starting with our California Dispersed Camping guide. Then, check out some of our other camping guides in area:
- Bishop, CA 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
- Inyo National Forest 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.
Mammoth Scenic Loop
If you want to camp close to the town of Mammoth Lakes, then look no further than the dispersed camping available along the Mammoth Scenic Loop. The road connects the town of Mammoth Lakes (and associated ski area) to Highway 395 down in the valley. The road itself is paved, and there are tons of Forest Service roads on either side as you make the ~9.5 mile trip between Highway 395 & Mammoth Lakes.
Many of the sites can accommodate larger vehicles and trailers, and these tend to be closer to the main road. The further back you get the rougher the roads tend to be, and the more privacy you can expect.
Do keep in mind that this is a very popular dispersed camping area, so leaving your site better than your found it is essential. Although campfires may be allowed seasonally, we don’t recommend having one here. It just isn’t worth the risk.
Owens River Road is located in Inyo National Forest, just off of Highway 375 and down the hill from Mammoth Lakes. Dispersed camping is permitted almost immediately off the highway, with numerous sites available on both sides of the road.
There are dozens of small pullouts off the main road that lead to small and secluded campsites. Most of these can be easily accessed by a variety of vehicles, including some sites for larger rigs.
The main road leads back to the developed Big Springs Campground, but you won’t want to head that far back. Inyo National Forest has defined area within its boundaries that specifically prohibit dispersed camping, and once you have reached the Big Springs Campground, dispersed camping is no longer permitted.
You can see the areas where dispersed camping is prohibited in red below, with Owens River Road highlighted yellow:
As you can see on the map above, there are tons of small offshoots from Owens River Road. This is where the best campsites can be found.
Many sites are tucked back deep in the trees, giving a bit of privacy in an area that is very popular with dispersed campers. To get a sense of what camping here is like, check out the video below:
Laurel Springs is a wonderful small dispersed camping area just outside of Mammoth Lakes. This is a good option for tent campers looking for dispersed camping. There are 6 – 8 sites here that offer a bit of privacy and are only a short drive up Sherwin Creek Road to Mammoth. Access is also relatively straightforward from Highway 395.
There is some confusion around whether or not camping is permitted here, as you’ll see several signs posted on the way in prohibiting it. However, these signs are all posted on LA Dept of Water & Power property, and not in Inyo National Forest. If you consult the Eastern Sierra Camping Map you’ll find that there is a sliver of property within Inyo where dispersed camping is allowed, see below.
Your best bet is to compare your GPS coordinates with that map, or use something like the Public Lands layer on Gaia GPS to confirm you are in the National Forest. Please do not camp on the LA Water property as you will be ticketed and asked to leave.
Laurel Springs is best for smaller set-ups and tents, as many of the sites are too small for larger rigs.
The Mono Mills area is further from Mammoth than other options, but it has tremendous views looking west back towards the Sierra. Campsites can be found near the Mono Mills Historic Site, just south of Mono Lake. Sites are located both north and south of Highway 120, and many have excellent views of the Sierra as well as Mono Lake.
Depending on your vehicle’s capabilities you’ll either have the ability to explore a bit further back on some of the Forest Service Roads or you’ll want to camp closer to the highway. Either way, the sites are relatively secluded and offer a decent amount of tree cover.
This is a great location for exploring the eastern Sierra, or venturing into Yosemite National Park via the east entrance.
There is no water or restrooms in this area, so you’ll want to come prepared to be self-sufficient.
Owens Gorge Road
Another option down in the valley and a bit further from Mammoth for dispersed camping is Owens Gorge Road near Crowley Lake. 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.
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
Wild Willy’s Hot Springs is a fun place to dispersed camp just down the hill from Mammoth. 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.
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Now that we’ve covered some of our favorite spots for dispersed camping near Mammoth Lakes, 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 Mammoth. There are slightly different rules & regs for each, which we discuss below.
Permits, Rules, and Campfires
Most of the camping near Mammoth will be located in Inyo National Forest. You won’t need a permit to dispersed camp anywhere in Inyo National Forest, 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 the Inyo, 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 Mammoth.
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 near Mammoth Lakes.
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 Mammoth Lakes 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 Mammoth Lakes, 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!