Yosemite National Park is one of American’s most iconic landscapes. The soaring heights of El Capitan and Half Dome are the main draws here along with beautiful valleys and stunning vistas. Snagging a campsite at one of park’s campgrounds is notoriously difficult, though. Rather than stress over the overbooked park campgrounds, why not set-up camp at one of the great dispersed camping options near Yosemite?
There are thousands of acres of National Forest surrounding the park, making it a perfect destination for those with a sense of adventure and willingness to look for great campsites.
We’ve created this Yosmite National Park dispersed camping guide to help you filter through your options, understand the regulations, and find the perfect campsite for your next trip.
Let’s get started.
Yosemite Dispersed Camping Guide
- The Basics
- The Best Dispersed Camping Areas Near Yosemite National Park
- Hardin Flat Road Dispersed Camping
- Evergreen Road
- Summit Camping Area
- Goat Meadow Trailhead and Snow Play Dispersed Camping
- Owens River Road
- Mono Lake & Sagehen Meadows Campground
- Virginia Creek Camping
- Green Creek Road
The following sections contain all the must know information you need to plan a successful dispersed camping trip near Yosemite National Park. This includes everything from when to camp, what to bring, campfire regulations, and more.
This is the essential info before you head out!
When to Dispersed Camp Near Yosemite National Park
The camping season at Yosemite is generally limited to the summer months of May – September. Outside of those months camping may still be possible, but you’ll need to come prepared for snow and cold weather.
During the peak summer months of July and August is when you’ll find the park and surrounding national forests the most crowded. Be prepared for long lines to get into Yosemite and plan to arrive early to any of the dispersed camping areas in this guide to secure a site.
For those with a bit of flexibility September can be a wonderful time to plan a dispersed camping trip near Yosemite. You’ll find the park much less crowded and have your pick of camping areas.
What to Bring
As you’ll read below, most of the dispersed campsites near Yosemite are fairly remote and lack the services you’d expect at a developed campground. As such, you’ll need to come prepared to be self-sufficient.
While we’re sure you’ll already have the essentials like a great tent, sleeping bags, and camp chairs, below are some of our favorite items specifically for dispersed camping near Yosemite National Park:
- Map: A good map is essential to making sure you are on public land, exploring the area, and learning more about your surroundings. We recommend this National Geographic version for a good overview of the park.
- 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 dependable water access. As such, a portable water container is essential.
- Cooler – Keeping food and drinks cool is critical when camping. We can’t recommend Yeti enough!
Permits, Fees, and Campfires
One of our favorite things about dispersed camping is the lack of need for any permits or fees to be paid. Dispersed camping near the Yosemite is generally the same, with the lone exception being California’s Campfire Permit System, discussed below.
For all of the campsites in this guide we always recommend contacting the relevant USFS or BLM office where the campsite is located to confirm current conditions, camping options, and any closures. Contact information is below:
- Stanislaus National Forest (West of Yosemite)
- Inyo National Forest (South/East of Yosemite)
- Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest (North/East of Yosemite)
- Sierra National Forest (South of Yosemite)
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.
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!
Pets are generally welcome at most of the dispersed camping areas included in this guide. However, it is important to note that there are strict pet regulations inside Yosemite National Park:
- Pets are permitted in developed areas (parking lots, paved roads, campgrounds)
- Pets are not permitted on trails, in wilderness areas, in public buildings, etc.
Given these rules we encourage you to consider leaving your pet at home when dispersed camping near Yosemite, especially if you plan to go into the park.
Leave No Trace Dispersed Camping near Yosemite
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 Near Yosemite National Park
The following section includes our top sites for dispersed camping near Yosemite National Park. We’ve included dispersed camping options on all sides of the park so you’re sure to find something that suits your needs.
In addition, our Yosemite dispersed camping map below gives an overview of each site’s location with a full description included in the following section. Enjoy!
Hardin Flat Road Dispersed Camping
Distance to Yosemite: 4.3 miles to Big Oak Entrance
The most popular dispersed camping near Yosemite is likely Hardin Flat Road, located just a short drive from the Big Oak Entrance Station on the west side of the park. This is a great place to camp as there are many sites the further back on Hardin Road you head. Note that the Hardin Road connects on both ends to Highway 120/Big Oak Flat Road, and you can find campsites from either entrance.
There are no services here and there is not a water source either. However, you’re relatively close to civilization and there are a few RV and developed campgrounds nearby. This is an excellent area to camp if you plan to visit the Yosemite Valley and take in the wonderful Half-Dome views.
Hardin Flat does get fairly crowded during the summer months, but there are quite a few campsites scattered along its length. The road is passable by most vehicles, although we wouldn’t recommend it for RVs or larger trailers.
Evergreen Road Dispersed Camping
Distance to Yosemite: 4.1 miles to Big Oak Entrance
If you arrive at Yosemite from the west and find the Hardin Flat area full or are just looking for a quieter experience, we recommend heading up Evergreen Road to find a few good dispersed sites. Evergreen Road intersects with Highway 120 just past the Rush Creek Lodge and heads up into the National Forest.
Campsites begin to appear about 3 miles up the road, with many of the best sites located on Forest Service Road 1S03. There are several small dirt roads that lead to secluded campsites, so do a little exploring to see what you can find here.
Evergreen Road is passable by most vehicles, although you’ll want 4WD if you plan to explore back in the national forest a bit. There are no services or water here, so you’ll need to come prepared with everything you need to be self-sufficient.
Distance to Yosemite: 8.3 miles to South Entrance
Located south of the park in Sierra National Forest you’ll find the Summit Camping Area which provides great dispersed camping near Yosemite. This is a designated camping area by the USFS, so you can rest assured that camping is permitted here. However, don’t confuse this area with a developed campsite as there are no services or water available.
The Summit Camping Area is close to Fish Camp and will be a convenient dispersed camping option for anyone approaching Yosemite from the south. Do keep in mind that the road here from the highway is quite rough, so 4WD is highly recommended. That being said, there are reports of Sprinter vans making it here.
The combination of an off the beaten path location and 4WD road to reach the campsites makes Summit Camping Area a great option for those looking for a less crowded dispersed area near Yosemite.
Goat Meadow Trailhead and Snow Play Dispersed Camping
Distance to Yosemite: 1.5 miles to South Entrance
For an easy and convenient option for dispersed camping near Yosemite National Park look no further than the Goat Meadow Trailhead/Snow Play parking lot just off Highway 41. While this isn’t the typical dispersed camping found deep in a national forest, this trailhead parking lot is just 1.5 miles from Yosemite’s South Entrance.
This is also a great option for those traveling in an RV or larger trailer as the parking area is fairly large and can accommodate quite a few set-ups.
Although this is also a trailhead, you won’t find any restrooms or water source here so please come prepared. Additionally, plan to pack out all of your trash even if you find a dumpster there. This isn’t mean to serve campers, so isn’t emptied frequently enough to serve everyone who stays here.
Owens River Road Dispersed Camping
Distance to Yosemite: 29.7 miles to Tioga Pass Entrance
Heading to the east side of Yosemite National Park you’ll find the convenient and easily accessed Owens River Road dispersed camping area. This large section of Inyo National Forest is just off of Highway 395 and makes a perfect place to spend the night beore heading into Yosemite via Tioga Pass.
Owens River Road is popular with the RV crowd given how close it is to the highway and how many larger sites there are. While this is great if you’re camping in a larger rig, it does mean that the area tends to fill up on busy summer weekends. Plan accordingly and arrive early if planning to stay here!
There are no services here, although the Crestview Rest Area is just opposite the highway from the camping area and has restrooms and water.
Mono Lake & Sagehen Meadows Campground
Distance to Yosemite: 18 – 25 miles from the Tioga Pass Entrance
The Mono Lake area has several good options for free and dispersed camping near Yosemite. Your first option here is to find a dispersed campsite on the road that circles Mono Lake. There are several pullouts/campsites off the Highway 120 that make for a good overnight spot in addition to camping being permitted along the shore.
Additionally, if you continue past Mono Lake and head south along 120 you’ll eventually come to the Sagehen Meadows Campground. This free campground feels more like dispersed camping than an actual campground, so makes a great place to spend the night for those who prefer a more spread out camping experience.
Regardless of what you choose, the Mono Lake area is well connected to the east side of Yosemite National Park via the Tioga Pass Entrance.
Virginia Creek Camping
Distance to Yosemite: 28 miles to Tioga Pass Entrance
Restrooms: Vault toilets at both campgrounds
Virginia Creek and Virginia Lake Road in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest has several great dispersed camping opportunities. There are two formal campgrounds along the road, Upper Virginia Creek (15 sites) and Lower Virginia Creek (22 sites). These are primitive, free, campgrounds so don’t expect many services here, although both do have vault toilets.
In addition, dispersed camping is common along the Forest Service Road that connects both of the campgrounds. Be sure to check with the USFS before dispersed camping here though, as there has been talk of regulations changing in recent years.
Regardless of which option best suits you needs you’ll be just under 30 miles from the Tioga Pass Entrance to Yosemite here. This is a popular place to camp, so please be sure to practice Leave No Trace principles and pack out all of your trash.
Green Creek Road Dispersed Camping
Distance to Yosemite: 40 miles from Tioga Pass Entrance
Water: No, but may be able to pull from the creek.
One valley north of the Virginia Creek area described above is Green Creek Road, a less visited dispersed camping area near Yosemite. These creekside campsites are clustered in a semi-circle just off of Green Creek Road and back up to a creek of the same name. Although it is a bumpy ride to get here, many campers report being able to pull a trailer here.
You’re a bit further from the main attractions in Yosemite here, but that also means that you can expect a quieter camping experience with fewer crowds.
Green Creek Road is a true gem so please be sure to take care of the area and leave your campsite in better condition than you found it. Camping this close to water means you need to take extra precautions to dispose of human waste to ensure this area remains open for future campers.
Travertine Hot Springs Dispersed Camping
Distance to Yosemite: 38 miles from Tioga Pass Entrance
One final option for dispersed camping near Yosemite that deserves a mention is the BLM land around the Travertine Hot Springs. You’ll be quite a distance from Yosemite here, but the opportunity for dispersed camping near some excellent hot springs might just be enough to make this worth while.
The Travertine Hot Springs are located just outside of the town of Bridgeport and dispersed camping is permitted on the dirt road that leads from town to the springs. However, camping is not permitted in the actual parking lot for the hot springs.
The campsites here aren’t much more than dusty pullouts, but you do have easy access to services in Bridgeport and the road is passable by RVs and small passenger vehicles.
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 Yosemite National Park.
Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!