Dispersed Camping in California

I decided to take up camping as a hobby last year, prompted by the need for camping gear that I had already started to collect when attending festivals such as Burning Man, Symbiosis, and the Oregon Eclipse festival in 2017.

Designated Campsites

In the past I’ve used Google Maps to find green areas occupied by National or State parks that include campsites. During the winter time it’s not too hard to make reservations for these sites, however they’re in high demand during other seasons, and you have to make reservations by Wednesday that week if you want to have a campsite available that weekend.

Taken from Wikipedia: Campsite

In the United States, many national and state parks have dedicated campsites and sometimes also allow impromptu backcountry camping by visitors.


Another option I found for camping is to reserve spaces on private land through Hipcamp or Glamping Hub. I have yet to do this because typically it seemed more expensive than I was willing to pay for. I’m fine with $30 per a night, but I’m not paying $80+ a night to rough it on someone’s land, unless they’re providing a Yurt or something to really make it worth the experience.

Dispersed Camping

It’s also possible to camp on public lands in what is called dispersed camping, wild camping, boondocking, or dry camping.

What’s great about this is that it’s free, with no reservations required, and usually provides you with the solitude you can’t find at parks.

This type of camping is available on land managed by agencies such as the:

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, and little or no facilities; such as tables and fire pits, are provided. Some popular dispersed camping areas may have toilets.

In most cases you can camp where ever you’d like, unless it’s posted otherwise. However its best check with the agency managing the land before you pack up and setup camp. Call ahead to find out the following:

The following guidelines apply to dispersed camping for most sites, either as enforced rules or ettiquette:

Motor Vehicles

Some agencies limit where you can camp if you’re parking a car, truck, or recreational vehicle (RV), and thus you may need to follow a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) when deciding where to setup camp.

Locating Sites

Look for forest service roads or BLM roads. Forest service roads are labelled using names such as “Forest Rte” (Forest Route) or “NF-###” (National Forests). BLM roads are often hubs for dispersed campsites and line major roads that run through public lands.

The brown road signs with yellow lettering usually suggest that you’re entering public land. You can look for the green areas that signify public lands on Google Maps.

The following links will help you find dispersed camping sites