Dispersed Camping

Often referred to as "Boondocking," "primitive camping" or "dispersed camping," this type of camping is done anywhere on the forest outside of a developed campground. There are no services, and you must practice Leave No Trace ethics.

Leave No Trace Online Course

Choosing your camp spot:

  • Do not camp in the Restricted Recreation Area Boundary, typically where there are developed campgrounds and paved roadways.
    • ‚ÄčTo see where these areas are, explore this interactive map, thanks to the Eastern Sierra Sustainable Recreation Partnership.
    • Download the Inyo National Forest map (North or South) for $5 each on the free Avenza app. Pay attention to the red-lined restricted recreation area boundary and see exactly where your "dot" is -- no cell service needed -- on the Avenza app.
      • Please note: you will be subject to a citation if you camp inside the Restricted Recreation Area Boundary (36 CFR § 261.58(e)).
  • Download "Camp Like a Pro" (apple or android compatible) for all public lands in the Eastern Sierra.
    • No need for cell service! Pay attention to shaded red areas that restrict dispersed camping.
  • Navigate the old-fashioned way:
  • When you find the perfect spot:
    • Be sure to camp on a cleared, durable surface with no vegetation.
    • Stay on established roads, and do not drive off-road to camp.
    • Select a campsite at least 200 feet from water.


  • Obtain a California Fire Permit, and check Fire Restrictions before you go: Forest Orders.
  • Use a portable stove or fire pit that uses gas/liquid/jellied fuel and has an emergency shut-off valve in case it gets tipped over.
  • If wood or charcoal fires are allowed (typically in winter or late spring):
    • Do not build in high winds.
    • Clear the area around the fire 10 feet of flammable material.
    • Never leave fire unattended.
    • Drown it in water until it is cold to the touch. We recommend bringing a 5-gallon water jug just for this purpose.
    • Buy it Where you Burn It . Use only dead and downed wood for your personal campfire use for that trip. If you want to collect more, you must obtain your Woodcutting Permit far ahead of time.
  • Do not burn any food or trash.
  • Please note: you will be subject to a citation for having illegal campfires or not following campfire ethics (36 CFR § 261.52)

Stay Limits 

  • On Inyo National Forest land, you may camp up to 14 consecutive days at one location and up to 28 days per calendar year on the Inyo National Forest.
    • After 14 days, you must move at least 10 miles away from that location.
    • This equates to two, 14-day trips allowed per year on the forest and must be at least 10 miles apart. If you camp only a couple of days at a time, this would equal more frequent trips throughout the year that add up to a total of 28 total days.
  • Occupying the campsite for the purpose of residence is illegal (36 CFR § 261.10(b))


  • Be Bear Aware
  • Store food and trash securely inside a heavy-duty locked cooler, bear resistant container, and inside a vehicle. There are no bear boxes in dispersed camping areas.
  • Do not leave food or any other scented items inside your tent.
  • Washing dishes:
    • If you must dump your grey water, strain the food from it and scatter the water at least 200 feet away from camp and other natural water sources.
    • Do not bury food bits and scraps. It will attract bears and they will dig it up.
    • Use small amounts of biodegradable soap.
  • Please note: you can be subject to a citation for improperly storing your food (36 CFR § 261.58(cc)), or leaving your trash (36 CFR § 261.11(d)).

Using the bathroom

  • RV’s and camper vehicles:
    • It is illegal to dump your black water on public lands (36 CFR § 261.11(d)). Toxic waste must be disposed of at the appropriate facility.
  • Tent campers:
    • Either pack out your waste or bury in a 6-8 inch hole 200 feet away from water and trails/roads. How to make a “Cat Hole”
    • If you are in a large group, dig a long but shallow latrine. Remember to fill it in before you leave. Waste buried six inches deep will decompose more quickly than a deeper hole. 
  • Do not leave toilet tissue. This is considered littering.
  • Camping with stock:
    • Scatter animal manure for quicker decomposition. 

General Safety Tips: 

  • Bring emergency supplies: First aid kit, map, compass, flashlight, knife, waterproof fire starter, shelter, whistle, warm clothing, high energy food, water, water-purifying tablets, insect repellant.
  • Know how to perform CPR and basic first aid. 
  • Check the weather report before you leave home.
  • Check for hazards at your campsites: hazardous trees and terrain, flood prone areas, poison oak, ant beds, etc.
Respect Wildlife
  • Observe wildlife from a distance. 
  • Do not follow or approach animals. 
  • Never feed or leave food out for animals. Feeding wildlife is harmful to their health, alters natural behaviors and exposes them to predators and other dangers. Ultimately, this causes animals to harm people.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home. Leashing is not required in non-developed areas of the forest, but we still recommend it for safety reasons.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating nesting, raising young or winter.

Before you go home
Walk through your campsite looking for any litter (yours or not!), misplaced gear, and know that you are leaving it cleaner and more natural than it was when you arrived.