Dispersed Camping Just Outside of Mammoth Lakes

Jun 07, 2022

If you’re looking for a more rustic car camping experience (think: no bathrooms, no trash cans, no running water, no campfire rings) dispersed camping might be an option for you. Dispersed camping is recommended for experienced campers who understand the principles of Leave No Trace and who want to Camp Like a Pro.

Before you set out on a dispersed camping trip, please make sure you read the regulations below so you can understand how to legally dispersed camp in the Mammoth Lakes area.


Dispersed Camping vs. Camping in a Campground

Since there are no services for dispersed camping, the experience is quite a bit different from camping in an established campground. If you’re a first-time camper, we recommend booking a site in an established campground on recreation.gov. In an established campground, you’ll have access to all of the amenities a campground provides and you’ll be able to learn more about Leave No Trace principles (how to take care of the land you recreate on) in an area that is equipped to handle more human impact than dispersed camping areas.

For campers who do decide to dispersed camp, you will need to be self-sufficient for your trip. Here are the extra ways you’ll need to prepare for a dispersed camping trip that you may not need to think about when camping at a campground:

  • There are no bathrooms in dispersed camping areas. This means you will need to fully understand how to properly take care of business when “nature calls.”
  • Bring your own water. Unlike in established campgrounds, dispersed camping areas don’t have access to running water. You’ll need to pack enough for your entire group for the trip. Or you may filter water from a natural source (just make sure you’re camping at least 200 feet from water sources).
  • Take all of your trash home with you. In established campgrounds, visitors have access to trash cans. Not the case in dispersed camping areas. Any trash you bring or make during your trip (beer cans, leftover food, dog poop, used toilet paper,  etc.) all needs to leave the campsite with you when you go. Some options for disposal include dropping your trash at a dumpster when you go into town or bringing your trash home with you to dispose of there.
  • Bring proper food storage. If you plan to dispersed camp in bear country (think: forests in and around Mammoth Lakes) you will need to bring a bear canister so you can safely store your food. Just like in established campsites, where you are required to store food in bear boxes, you should make sure you understand the regulations around food storage before you choose to dispersed camp in the area.
  • Drive and camp on established roads only. Unlike in established campgrounds, where you are assigned a campsite upon arrival, dispersed camping areas don’t have designated sites. But that doesn’t mean you can just invent your own campsite. When dispersed camping, you should only drive on established dirt roads. Your vehicle should be at the end of a road or pulled completely off the road on a dirt pullout. Never block a road or drive over plantlife when dispersed camping.
  • Do not camp on land that is not designated for dispersed camping. Campgrounds make it pretty easy to understand where you are allowed to set up your tent and where you are not. While dispersed camping may sound like you can “camp anywhere,” there are still rules for how and where you can legally dispersed camp. You are responsible for researching the regulations for the areas you are visiting before you go so you understand where dispersed camping is permitted. Camp Like a Pro with the Eastern Sierra camping map, which shows where you are NOT allowed to dispersed camp in and around Mammoth Lakes.
  • Know the campfire regulations at the time of your trip. Campfire regulations are different for dispersed camping than they are for established campgrounds, and fire regulations change throughout the season. If you plan to build a campfire or use a barbeque or camp stove in a dispersed camping area, you must obtain a campfire permit from a Forest Service, BLM, or CalFire office. You must have a shovel and a container of water (for drowning the fire). Clear an area at least 5 feet wide all the way around your fire ring down to mineral soil. During times of high fire danger, campfires are prohibited; always check with the local fire office or ranger station for fire restrictions.


Where Dispersed Camping is Allowed Near Mammoth Lakes

Dispersed Camping Areas

Most of the land surrounding Mammoth Lakes is publicly owned, which means dispersed camping outside of an established campground is allowed throughout much of the area. In dispersed camping areas, adjacent lands may be managed by different organizations. As you travel throughout the region, the rules for dispersed camping may change. The best way to know where dispersed camping is NOT allowed is to use the Eastern Sierra camping map. The U.S. Forest Service page about dispersed camping also goes into more detail about land ownership and usage.

Choosing a Site for Dispersed Camping

Once you’ve researched an area where you can legally dispersed camp, you’ll need to choose a spot to camp. The U.S. Forest Service recommends dispersed campers “look for an area at the end of a spur road or a pullout that is clear of vegetation and has a hard, compacted surface.” You should always stay on established dirt roads and camp at least 200 feet from lakes or creeks.

NOTE: The above rules for dispersed camping do not include wilderness areas. If you plan to backpack into a wilderness area to camp, you will need a wilderness permit, issued at an Inyo National Forest visitor center, such as the Mammoth Lakes Welcome Center.



Dispersed camping in the areas surrounding Mammoth Lakes is allowed year-round. However, snow and ice make many dirt roads impassable during winter and spring months, and camping in below-freezing temperatures takes additional. preparation. Be sure to check the weather and have a backup plan before heading out to dispersed camping areas. 

The length of time you are allowed to stay in a dispersed camping area depends on the organization that manages the land where you plan to dispersed camp. Check the U.S. Forest Service dispersed camping page and the BLM dispersed camping page to learn more about each organization’s regulations about length of stay for dispersed camping.



If you are dispersed camping in an RV in Mammoth Lakes proper waste disposal is still crucial. These campgrounds and RV parks offer dump stations for RV camping in Mammoth Lakes:

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Camping in Mammoth Lakes