Death Valley is unique among national parks when it comes to dispersed camping.
It’s one of the only national parks in the country which allows dispersed camping – albeit only in certain areas – inside its borders. It’s also home to several free primitive campgrounds.
An abundance of nearby BLM land and national forests give campers even more options for free camping while visiting the park.
Below, I explain what you need to know about dispersed camping both in and near Death Valley National Park to help plan your trip.
Related Post: Where to Go Dispersed Camping in California
Please always follow the Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping, especially packing out all of your trash, including human waste.
Best Free Campsites Near Death Valley
Jump down to the free campsite you want to learn more about:
Or, browse the area’s offerings with our Death Valley dispersed camping map below (skip down to learn more about dispersed camping in Death Valley National Park itself).
Campfires are always prohibited while dispersed camping in Death Valley National Park. A free California campfire permit is required in national forests and on BLM land outside the park when fires are allowed.
My Favorite Free Campsites Near Death Valley
Let’s start with a look at the best free campsites near Death Valley. They are located just outside the park’s borders, mostly on BLM land.
The Pads (East Side)
“The Pads” is an interesting little place for boondocking on the east side of the national park near Death Valley Junction.
It’s located just south of Highway 190 about a half hour from Furnace Creek and consists of two to three dozen concrete slabs to camp on.
I believe the area is the remnants of an old trailer park which once housed the employees of a nearby mine and their families before falling into disrepair long ago.
It’s not clear who actually owns the land but people have been free camping here for over a decade without problems. The police regularly patrol the area (and the campsites are visible from the highway).
The Pads is ideal for RVs, trailers, and vans though tents are also welcome. Do note though that there are no bathroom facilities here – your rig must be self-contained or you must pack out your waste.
The concrete slabs (which act as makeshift marked campsites) are fairly well-spaced apart but don’t expect a ton of privacy. The incredible desert views and proximity to the national park more than make up for it though.
Alabama Hills (West Side)
Alabama Hills has long been one of the best places for dispersed camping near Death Valley National Park.
These measures were recently put into place due to an influx of dispersed campers to help minimize the human impact on this incredibly popular destination.
You can only camp in areas marked with a sign with a tent symbol. No camping is allowed in areas marked with a sign with a tent symbol with a red line through it (such as to the west of Movie Flat Road, a once popular dispersed camping spot) or in day-use areas.
Despite these regulations (and the slightly longer drive to Death Valley than from other nearby dispersed campsites), camping at Alabama Hills is well worth it thanks largely to the absolutely stunning views of the Sierra Nevada, including Mount Whitney.
* Learn more about the new Alabama Hills Management Plan.
Furnace Creek Road (East Side)
Furnace Creek Road is just minutes from Death Valley National Park.
Also known as Furnace Creek Washington Road and Furnace Creek Wash Road, it spans an 8.5 mile stretch between Highway 178 (Jubilee Pass Road) and Highway 127.
The road is unpaved yet well-maintained. It’s passable by all vehicles, but proceed with caution after heavy rains. The numerous dispersed campsites are best suited for tents, passenger vehicles, and vans, but several sites can accommodate RVs and trailers.
Although these campsites are quite close to the southern reaches of the national park, including the Ashford Mill Site, it does take a little over an hour to reach more popular attractions, such as the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.
Like almost all the dispersed campsites in and around Death Valley, the best things about camping along Furnace Creek Road are the privacy and natural beauty. It’s incredibly peaceful here with scenic views in all directions.
Casa Diablo Road (West Side)
Come to Casa Diablo Road for the views, stay for the incredible peacefulness.
Also known as Casa Diablo Mine Road, these remote California dispersed campsites are located just north of the town of Bishop between Highway 6 and Highway 395.
Although it’s separated from Death Valley by the Inyo Mountains, the national park is still just a relatively short drive away, especially to the remote Eureka Dunes area, but it’s also not terribly far from the much more popular Panamint Springs area.
Casa Diablo Road isn’t terribly rough, but do expect moderate washboarding. The campsites here are best suited for tents, vans, and passenger vehicles, but a handful of sites will accommodate small to medium RVs and trailers.
Like I mentioned above, the snow-capped mountains in the distance and the overall peace and quiet are the main reasons to stay here.
Vanderbilt Pond (sometimes called Bombo’s Pond) is another great spot for free dispersed camping on the east side of Death Valley.
While it’s actually just over the border in Nevada (near the town of Beatty), it’s still only about an hour drive to the Stovepipe Wells section of the national park.
The camping area is little more than a large open area, similar to an unpaved parking lot, near the pond with plenty of room to spread out. The ground is quite level with few obstacles (other than a few sandy sections), making this an ideal spot for boondocking in RVs and trailers.
Smaller vehicles, especially those with high-clearance, might be able to find a little more privacy on one of several rough pull-outs. I don’t believe you can drive all the way around the pond, but adventurous campers often get their rigs at least halfway around the backside.
Vanderbilt Pond is located just off Highway 95. This makes it extremely convenient for visiting Death Valley but does mean that it’s far from private with a good amount of highway noise.
What About Dispersed Camping in Death Valley National Park?
As mentioned above, dispersed camping is allowed in Death Valley National Park.
It’s one of the only national parks I’m aware of that allows dispersed camping inside of its borders.
However, you can’t just set up camp anywhere you like. Dispersed camping in Death Valley is outlawed anywhere on the valley floor as well as along all paved roads and any unpaved roads marked as “day-use.”
On unpaved roads where dispersed camping is allowed, you must be at least one mile from a junction with any paved road before setting up camp.
Wilderness boundaries start 50 feet from the center of unpaved roads, so it’s important to park right on the shoulder of the road and set up camp as close to the side of the road as possible.
A few of the best places for dispersed camping in Death Valley National Park include:
- Echo Canyon Road
- Hidden Valley Road
- Hole in the Wall Road
- Hunter Mountain Road
- Lemoigne Canyon Road
- Lippincott Road
- Marble Canyon Road
- Saline Valley Road
- Trail Canyon Road
- Tucki Mine Road
- Warm Springs Canyon Road
Dispersed camping is outlawed for the first 8 miles of Cottonwood Canyon Road, but is allowed after that.
Free permits are required for roadside dispersed camping along Cottonwood Canyon Road, Echo Canyon Road, Hole in the Wall Road, and Marble Canyon Road.
Pick up your free permit (only available same day or one day in advance) in person at either the Furnace Creek Visitor Center or the Stovepipe Wells Ranger Station.
Roadside dispersed camping in other areas of the national park does not require a permit, although they are still recommended as an informational aid.
With over 700 miles of backcountry roads, there’s a ton of room to find a private dispersed campsite in Death Valley, especially if you have 4WD and high-clearance.
Just remember that off-roading isn’t allowed and to stick to previously-used campsites whenever possible. The desert environment is extremely fragile so it’s important to treat it with respect.
The National Park Service provides more information on backcountry roadside camping here – including where it’s not allowed.
This Death Valley Backcountry & Wilderness Access map is another invaluable resource for dispersed campers.
Although dispersed camping in Death Valley is free, do note that you still must pay the park entrance fee to access these campsites.
Related Post: Where to Go Dispersed Camping in Nevada
Other Free Campsites in Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park has several free campgrounds in addition to its many dispersed camping opportunities.
Although these campgrounds do not require a camping fee, you must still pay the park entrance fee to access them (the same goes for free dispersed camping within the national park).
Five free primitive campgrounds (Eureka Dunes Campground, Homestake Campground, Mahogany Flat Campground, Saline Valley Campground, and Thorndike Campground) are also located within the national park.
These are all first-come, first-served with limited amenities. Always pack in your own water and be prepared to pack out your own trash. Homestake has no bathroom facilities (you’ll need to pack out human waste) although the others have vault toilets.
All of Death Valley’s primitive campgrounds have unpaved access roads. Some are extremely rough. Both high-clearance and 4WD are a must. All-terrain tires and actual 4X4 experience are necessary to access several of the campgrounds, especially Homestake.
In addition to rough roads, many of these primitive campgrounds are at high elevations. This means they’re often inaccessible because of snow during the winter.
Related Post: My Favorite Apps to Find Free Campsites
Let Us Know If You Have Any Questions
Death Valley is hands-down one of the best national parks for dispersed camping.
Unlike the vast majority of national parks in the United States, roadside dispersed camping is allowed throughout much of the park.
And that’s not to mention the variety of dispersed campsites just outside the park – or the free primitive campgrounds within the park.
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