Many people enjoy the solitude and primitive experience of camping away from developed campgrounds and other campers. Dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground. Dispersed camping means no services, such as trash removal, tables, or toilets. There are extra responsibilites and skills that are necessary for dispersed camping. Camping rules and regulations apply to make your experience safe, and to keep the natural resources scenic and unspoiled for other campers.
Most of the land in Inyo and Mono counties is publicly owned. Dispersed camping (camping outside of designated campgrounds) is allowed throughout much of the area. If you plan to backpack into a wilderness area to camp, you will need a wilderness permit, issued at Inyo National Forest visitor centers. If you wish to camp outside of developed campgrounds/sites, there are a few things you need to know:
Land Ownership: The three major land-owning agencies in the Eastern Sierra are the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the City of Los Angeles. Dispersed camping is allowed on most Forest Service and BLM land. However, camping is prohibited on land owned by the City of Los Angeles.
Maps: Anyone planning a dispersed camping trip should invest in a copy of the Inyo National Forest map, which depicts land ownership as well as roads, streams, trails and other features. The map also shows “restricted use areas” where dispersed camping is not allowed.
Restricted Use Areas: Certain high-use recreation zones, including those along paved roads leading into the mountains, are not open to dispersed camping (see Inyo National Forest map). Dispersed camping is not allowed in the following areas: Horseshoe Meadow, Onion Valley, Big Pine Creek, Bishop Creek, Rock Creek, McGee Creek, Convict Lake, Mammoth Lakes, Reds Meadow Valley, June Lakes Loop, Lee Vining Canyon, Lundy Canyon, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, and any research area.
Owens River: All land along the Owens River is owned by the City of Los Angeles, and is closed to camping.
Length of Stay: On Inyo National Forest land, you may camp up to 28 days per six months on any one ranger district (there are 4 ranger districts on the Inyo –Mt. Whitney, White Mountain, Mammoth, and Mono Lake). Always check with your local ranger station.
Locating a Dispersed Campsite: 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. These sites might have a primitive fire ring. Stay on established roadways; do not drive off-road to camp. Try to select a campsite at least 100 feet from lakes and streams.
Campfires and Fire Permits: If you plan to build a campfire or use a barbeque or camp stove, 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 least 5 feet wide all the way around your fire ring down to mineral soil. During times of high fire danger, camp fires are prohibited; always check with the local fire office or ranger station for fire restrictions.
We boondocked in Inyo National Forest just last weekend, September 27-29, and it felt like we had the place to ourselves. The location was incredible, there were fellow boondockers around, but not too close, and it felt like we had the place to ourselves. There is no water on site that we found, but we knew that going in. Our rig was 58' long and we had no issues getting in or out. We enjoyed Jeeping on the trails in Inyo National Forest, and we enjoyed the peace and quiet. We will be back.
Without a doubt one of the best boondocks of the trip. The exact coordinates are: 37.924790, -119.033893. There is a large pullout (soft gravel) that loops around. Excellent view of mono lake and the east entry into Yosemite. There are no fire rings at this spot and the conditions are dry, dry, dry so caution is in order. We lit no fires, only the stove in the rig. Wild life abounds and the evenings are super quiet. We boondocked several sites and found this one to be the one to pass on info about as it is just too cool. Happy dispersed site hunting!
We spent a total of 6 days out in the Inyo national forrest, outside of mammoth lakes. There are hot springs scattered through out the forrest. Clothing optional. If your clever and or smart enough to find them your in for a real treat. The driving can get rough on some of the roads but for the most part our mini van handled it well. We met all kinds of people in different springs while camping. It was great fun.
The dispersed camping is all over the place. No amenities. Well a hot spring is the ultimate amenity if you ask me. Carry in carry out. Use only existing fire pits. Good luck on the hot spring hunt.