Dispersed camping near Yosemite is my favorite way to enjoy this beautiful part of California.
Although dispersed camping isn’t allowed within the national park itself, a ton of options are available in nearby Humboldt-Toiyabe, Inyo, Sierra, and Stanislaus national forests as well as on BLM land near Mono Lake on the eastern side of the park.
Here are my personal favorite free dispersed campsites near Yosemite to help you plan your next trip.
Related Post: My Favorite Free Dispersed Campsites 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 Yosemite
Jump to the free campsite you want to learn more about:
Or, use our Yosemite dispersed camping map to browse the area’s best free campsites.
A free campfire permit is required to have a campfire in California (although campfires are banned for much of the year, especially at dispersed campsites).
My Favorite Free Dispersed Campsites Near Yosemite
You can’t dispersed camp in Yosemite itself – but here are five great dispersed camping options available just outside its borders, all a relatively quick drive to the national park.
Goat Meadow (South Entrance)
Dispersed camping near Yosemite just doesn’t get any more convenient than Goat Meadow.
Centered around Goat Meadow Trailhead (also known as Goat Meadow Snow Play), these free campsites are located just off Highway 41 at the end of Mt. Raymond Road.
It takes just 10 minutes to reach the South Entrance and a little over an hour to reach Yosemite Valley and many of the national park’s most popular attractions.
Goat Meadow is possibly the best spot for free boondocking near Yosemite. The access road is well-maintained and the trailhead parking area is flat and spacious (some is even paved) with ample room for even the largest RVs and trailers.
A forest service road continues past Goat Meadow (accessed just before the parking lot), although the gate is often closed. Several campsites are located along this road (and spur roads), although they’re only accessible to passenger vehicles. Don’t take an RV or trailer up here.
My favorite dispersed campsites in this area are located several miles down this forest service road near Forest Road 5S43 (Star Lake Road) which can also be accessed from Highway 41 out of Fish Camp.
Summit Road and Chowchilla Mountain Road on the opposite (west) side of Highway 41 out of Fish Camp are also filled with free dispersed campsites, including a handful in an area informally known as Summit Campground.
Hardin Flat Road (Big Oak Flat Entrance)
Hardin Flat Road is a super convenient place to camp for free near Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat Entrance.
Located west of the national park just off of Highway 120, there are at least a dozen campsites here. Most are better suited to passenger vehicles, although a few will accommodate small trailers and RVs.
Because of the small number of campsites and the proximity to Yosemite (just 15 minutes to the Big Oak Flat Entrance and a little over 45 minutes to Yosemite Valley), Hardin Flat Road is quite busy with minimal privacy, especially in the summer months.
Another negative of dispersed camping here is the proximity to several private homes. You must make sure you’re in the national forest before setting up camp. Don’t camp on private property, including near driveways.
Although this is one of the most convenient free campsite near Yosemite, especially if you’re arriving from Groveland, I personally prefer to camp elsewhere due to the lack of privacy.
Several rough dirt forest service roads lead off of Hardin Flat Road and have additional dispersed campsites as does the area near Lumsden Bridge Campground (although the road now ends at the former Lumsden Bridge before crossing the river to the campground).
Hardin Flat Road is one of those dispersed camping areas that will likely be either closed down completely or limited to designated dispersed campsites in the near future due to heavy use, the closeness to Yosemite, and its proximity of several private homes.
Owens River Road (Tioga Pass Entrance)
Owens River Road is my personal favorite place for dispersed camping near Yosemite.
Located east of the national park, between Lee Vining and Mammoth Lakes, the free campsites here are just a half hour to an hour drive to the Tioga Pass Entrance.
In addition to the convenience, I love how much room there is to spread out. Countless dirt side roads splinter off from Owens River Road, almost all with dispersed campsites of their own.
Boondockers rejoice – this is a great spot for RVs and trailers of all sizes. Those in the biggest rigs should look north about one mile in after the turn off from Highway 395 (near the GPS pin shared below) for the most flat and spacious campsites.
Prefer to camp in a developed campground rather than in a dispersed campsite? Big Springs Campground, just off Owens River Road, is a completely free campground with 26 campsites.
Do note that, while the Owens River is nearby (and accessible in some places), it’s illegal to camp by the river because the land is owned by the City of Los Angeles.
Rattlesnake Canyon (Tioga Pass Entrance)
Rattlesnake Canyon is another great spot for dispersed camping on the east side of Yosemite near the Tioga Pass Entrance.
North of Lee Vining and Mono Lake, these free campsites are just north of a hairpin bend in Highway 395 near the Mono Lake Vista Point.
I believe this area is known as Rattlesnake Canyon (or Rattlesnake Gulch), although I don’t remember the turn off onto the dirt road from Highway 395 being marked. There are about a half dozen decent spots total with one of the best campsites on top of a small rise and the other a small loop pullout.
The dirt road isn’t terribly challenging and is passable in any passenger vehicle as long as you stick to the first mile or so. However, I personally wouldn’t attempt to take anything but a small trailer here. This isn’t a good spot for RV boondocking.
Rattlesnake Canyon has awesome views of the Sierras in the distance. Some campsites also have views of Mono Lake. The sunsets and sunrises here are awesome as is stargazing at night.
Most of the surrounding area is also BLM land, so don’t be afraid to explore side roads. Here are the coordinates of a couple other nearby dispersed campsites I like: 38.175056, -119.178194 and 38.168861, -119.150167.
Merced River Recreation Area (Arch Rock Entrance)
Even though camping at Merced River Recreation Management Area is no longer free, I wanted to include a cheap option for camping near Yosemite’s Arch Rock Entrance.
This BLM-managed area has three small campgrounds that each cost only $10 per night (or just $5 per night if you have an America the Beautiful Pass). All the campsites are first-come, first-served only.
Because you must cross a suspension bridge to access these campgrounds, the Bureau of Land Management doesn’t recommend coming in a trailer over 18 feet long or in a large RV.
It takes roughly 45 minutes to an hour to reach Yosemite’s Arch Rock Entrance using Highway 140 from these three campgrounds.
Remember that dispersed camping isn’t allowed within the Merced River corridor.
Is Dispersed Camping Allowed in Yosemite National Park?
No, as mentioned above, dispersed camping isn’t allowed in Yosemite.
Stealth camping isn’t allowed either and is heavily enforced. Rangers check trailheads, parking lots, and road shoulders on a nightly basis for those sleeping inside their vehicles.
Definitely don’t try to dispersed camp or stealth camp in Yosemite itself – just look for legal free camping outside the national park.
Luckily, as I’ve outlined above, an abundance of free dispersed camping can be found in surrounding national forests and on BLM land.
Check out our guide to dispersed camping in national parks for more info.
Yosemite is bear country. It’s extremely important to store your food correctly and always practice proper bear safety.
Related Post: My Favorite Free Dispersed Campsites Near Lake Tahoe
Let Us Know If You Have Any Questions!
These five dispersed campsites are my favorite free campsites near Yosemite.
But, like always, they’re far from your only options. There are a ton of other dispersed campsites in the surrounding area if you explore a little on your own. The best (i.e. the most private and often the most scenic) can only be accessed with 4×4 and high-clearance.
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Advance entrance reservations were required in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Yosemite no longer requires reservations to enter the national park (as of 2023).