Dispersed Camping Information
Most of Tahoe National Forest is open to camping free of charge which is referred to as “dispersed” camping. Dispersed camping is prohibited in certain areas, generally within a ¼ mile of major highway corridors, in the Lakes Basin Area (Sierra Buttes), near Prosser, Boca, Stampede, French Meadows, and Sugar Pine reservoirs, and other locations. Please see the full list of areas where dispersed camping is not allowed below.
Maps and staff are available at most Tahoe Forest Service offices to assist visitors in finding a suitable spot.
Not being in a developed campground means that there will not be certain conveniences:
- Water Quality: Be prepared to bring your own drinking water or have a water filter. Lake, stream or spring water may be contaminated.
- Human Waste:Proper disposal of human waste is crucial. Human waste can spread disease, lead to contaminated water supplies, contaminate soils, attract wildlife, and spoil a dispersed camping area for future users.
- Portable eco-friendly human waste disposal systems which allow you to safely "Pack It Out" are commercially available and recommended. As a last resort, choose a spot at least 200' away from water sources and dispersed campsites, dig a small hole at least six inches deep, and cover it when you are through. Seal your toilet paper in a bag, pack it out, and dispose of it properly.
- No trash service - Pack It In, Pack It Out
- Maximum stay limit for camping is 14 days per District. Please remove all your equipment and garbage when you leave.
The beauty of the natural vegetation around your campsite is probably why you chose it. Keep it healthy and growing by not cutting anything down, not putting nails into trees, and treading carefully along meadows, streamsides, and other sensitive areas. Keep your vehicle at least twelve feet from designated roads and trails to prevent resource damage and to adhere to Travel Management Regulations.
When you pick your spot, make sure that it is at least 200 feet away (about seventy paces) from streams and lakes, to help protect streamside vegetation, and prevent water degradation and sedimentation. Dispersed campsites must be outside the boundary markings of developed campgrounds and dispersed camping closure areas.
There are many fine camping spots you can reach on Tahoe National Forest motorized routes and trails, but some routes may be rough, steep, or narrow and not suited for low-clearance or for large recreation vehicles.
Camping Near Roads
- According to our Travel Management regulations, motorized vehicles cannot pull off farther than 12 feet from a motorized route or trail to park. Anything further may result in a violation of the MVUM (the map that displays our Travel Management regulations). You can access our MVUMs and read more about the MVUM here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/tahoe/maps-pubs/?cid=fseprd638275.
- The Tahoe National Forest MVUM also contains many short routes that we call ‘spurs.’ These spurs are specifically designed to allow dispersed campers an opportunity to drive down and camp at the end –thereby providing motorized access further from a main road
- For more info on closed areas and/or setbacks from highways, see the areas where dispersed camping is not allowed (below).
Camping Near Water
- While dispersed camping is generally allowed, ‘resource damage’ is a violation. Therefore, if camping near a stream, river, or lake causes resource damage –such as altering sensitive streamside habitat, crushing plants, or creating water quality issues –it is prohibited.
- At all times, please adhere to Leave No Trace (LNT) Ethics. LNT, a National Forest Partner, has established The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace which provide an easily understood framework of minimum impact practices for anyone visiting the outdoors. One of these principles is to travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Generally, stream and lakesides are not ‘durable surfaces.’ Thus, the Tahoe National Forest recommends camping 200 feet from water sources to allow for habitat regeneration and wildlife use.
- Another LNT Principle is dispose of waste properly. We generally refer to this as Pack-in, Pack-out –but there’s a nuance when it comes to human waste.
- Proper disposal of human waste is important to avoid pollution of water sources, avoid the negative implications of someone else finding it, minimize the possibility of spreading disease, and to maximize the rate of decomposition.
- The TNF recommends the use of ‘cat holes’ to dispose of human waste properly. To dig a cat hole, follow these steps:
- Select a cat hole site far from water sources, 200 feet (approximately 70 adult paces) is the recommended range.
- A small garden trowel is the perfect tool for digging a cat hole.
- Dig the hole 6-8 inches deep (about the length of the trowel blade) and 4-6 inches in diameter.
- When finished, the cat hole should be filled with the original dirt and disguised with native materials.
- Pack out all toilet paper or other products
Areas Where Dispersed Camping is Not Allowed
American River Ranger District
Sugar Pine Restricted Use Area – camping and fires
Big Reservoir Restricted Use Area – camping and fires
Red Star Ridge Camping Restriction
French Meadows Restricted Use Area – camping and fires
North Fork Restricted Use Area – camping and fires
Sierraville Ranger District
Jackson Meadows and Austin Meadows Restricted Use Area – camping and fires
Yuba River Ranger District
South Yuba Restricted Use Area – camping
Fuller Lake Restricted Use Area – camping and fires
Oregon Creek Restricted Use Area – camping and nudity
Bullards Bar Restricted Use Area – camping and fires
North Yuba Restricted Use Area – camping, fires, parking