Sequoia National Forest is one of California’s true gems. Consisting of a vast expanse of wilderness that protects the forests namesake Giant Sequoia trees as well as towering granite peaks, fast flowing rivers, and six unique Wilderness Areas. The national forest preserves nearly 1.2 million acres and is a top destination for outdoor lovers around the world.
Camping opportunities are abundant in Sequoia National Forest, and our favorite way to experience this one of a kind ecosystem is on a free, dispersed camping trip. There are plenty of opportunities to pitch your tent or park your trailer in Sequoia National Forest, and we’ve created this guide to help you find your perfect dispersed campsite.
Keep reading to learn how to be a responsible camper and to find some of the best dispersed camping Sequoia National Forest has to offer.
In this Post
- The Basics
- Dispersed Camping in Sequoia National Forest
The following sections contain all the basic information you’ll want to familiarize yourself with before setting out to dispersed camp in Sequoia NF.
First, it is important to have a basic geographic understanding of Sequoia National Forest. Unlike many national forests, Sequoia is split into two non-contiguous areas with Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park between them. The map below gives a good overview:
The national forest is then broken into three distinct Ranger Districts. These Ranger Districts are often the best place to get information on dispersed camping, current conditions, and what to expect during your visit.
Contact information for each is available below:
What to Bring
Dispersed camping 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 – 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.
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Our dispersed camping checklist has all the camping essentials plus specific items for dispersed camping.
Permits, Fees, and Campfires
Dispersed camping is broadly permitted throughout Sequoia National Forest and generally speaking you do not need a permit to camp here. If camping is not permitted, it is typically notated by signage explicitly stating that camping is not permitted. For a good overview on the rules and regulations for dispersed camping, our California Dispersed Camping Guide is the perfect place to start.
The Sequoia NF website also contains a helpful guide 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 Sequoia National Forest.
However, if you 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, and applies to all areas of Sequoia National Forest. You can learn more and request a permit below:
We can’t stress this enough as being a responsible forest user is essential to preventing wildfires and preserving our incredible forests!
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 Sequoia National Forest
The following section contains our five favorite areas for dispersed camping in Sequoia National Forest.
In addition, our Sequoia National Forest dispersed camping map below gives an overview of each site’s location with a full description included in the following section. Enjoy!
The Kern River flows through the heart of Sequoia National Forest and provides a unique option for dispersed camping. Rather than traditional dispersed camping where you might find a lone campsite off a forest service road, the Kern River features nine designated dispersed campsites. These site can typically accommodate several groups and all feature restroom facilities seasonally during the summer months.
Although there are no dedicated water sources at any of the campsites, you can always filter the Kern River or simply come with all that you’ll need. These sites vary in location, river access, and nearby recreation opportunities, so we recommend reading our Kern River Dispersed Camping guide for a helpful overview.
Here is a list of the nine dispersed campsites along the Kern River in Sequoia National Forest:
- Black Gulch South Dispersed Camping
- Chico Flat Dispersed Campground
- Corral Creek Dispersed Campground
- Springhill Dispersed Camping Area
- Old Goldledge Dispersed Campground
- Ant Canyon Dispersed Campground
- Chamise Flat Dispersed Campground
- Calkins Flat Dispersed Area
- Brush Creek Dispersed Campground
Ten Mile Road Dispersed Camping
The Ten Mile Road dispersed camping area is located in the northern section of Sequoia National Forest near Hume Lake. Ten Mile Road connects the main highway to the lake, and just past the developed Ten Mile Campground you’ll find a large area for dispersed camping. The area can accommodate several groups and even a few larger vehicles.
The main attraction in this area is Hume Lake which features hiking trails, boating opportunities, and of course great fishing.
There are several smaller forest service roads that branch off Ten Mile Road that have good dispersed camping options if you’d like a bit more seclusion.
All of the campsites in the area are dry so you’ll need to bring your own water here. There are also no restrooms, so please dispose of human waste properly.
Hanning Flat Dispersed Camping Area is located on the east side of Lake Isabella in Sequoia National Forest. This is a large, flat, camping area that can accommodate quite a few camping setups, including RVs and trailers. It is possible to access the water from here, although with the receding shoreline that has been prevalent in recent years it is becoming more difficult.
There is no shade at Hanning Flat so we highly recommend bringing some sort of shade structure, especially during the warmer summer months. One of the perks of camping at Hanning Flat is that you are close to services in Kernville making it easy to stock up on camping supplies.
The main activities in the area are on Lake Isabella or the Kern River. You’ll find good hiking, boating, climbing, and fishing all within a short drive, making Hanning Flat a good place to spend a few nights and enjoy the area.
It is important to practice Leave No Trace camping here as there are no restroom or trash facilities. Please pack it in/pack it out and leave your campsite in better condition than you found it.
Big Meadows Road Dispersed Camping
Restrooms: Vault toilets along the road.
Located in the northern section of Sequoia National Forest near both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is Big Meadows Road. This winding forest service road has access to several excellent dispersed campsites as well as a few good developed campgrounds. The first good dispersed camping area is about 1 mile off the main highway and is followed by additional pullouts as you continue further into the national forest.
This is a popular place for dispersed camping as many of the park rangers for the nearby national parks suggest it to those looking for free camping. As such, you’ll want to arrive early on summer weekends to give yourself the best chance at securing a campsite.
There are dumpsters and pit toilets in the area, although they aren’t located directly at any of the campsites. Several of the pullouts along Big Meadows Road can accommodate smaller RVs and trailers, although the further back you head the rougher the road gets.
This is a popular place for both hiking and camping, so please be sure to practice Leave No Trace principles and leave your campsite in better condition than you found it.
Restrooms: Vault toilet available
Our final option for dispersed camping in Sequoia National Forest technically isn’t in Sequoia National Forest at all. The Keysville Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) is technically on BLM land adjacent to the Kern River and Lake Isabella. However, if you’re looking to explore Sequoia NF, this is still a very convenient free place to camp.
There are campsites available on both the north and south sides of the Kern River here so you can choose what suits you best. Both sides are easy to access and can accommodate large rigs and trailers. The north side has a bit more room and vault toilets, but also tends to get more crowded.
You won’t find solitude here as all the campsites are close together and quite popular, but you can’t beat the location for exploring nearby trails or Lake Isabella.
The camping area is also quite close to town, so stocking up on camping supplies or even grabbing a bite to eat is easy accomplished here.
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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.
Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!