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11 Free Yosemite Camping Spots You’ll Love | 2020 Update
Camping at Yosemite National Park is a great American tradition. From the majestic falls to the Tioga Pass, over four million outdoor enthusiasts visit this park each year.
With so many tourists, finding a great campsite inside the park can be challenging. Additionally, private campgrounds located outside the National Park are pretty expensive.
That’s why we’re sharing this list of 11 free campsites around Yosemite. These sites are first-come-first-served, which means no reservations needed. Also, we’re giving you lots of options because you’ll need a backup plan if one of these free campsites is full.
Yosemite Camping Checklist | What to Bring?
There are a few things to consider before planning your camping trip to Yosemite. Free camping, also know as boondocking or dry camping, involves a little more preparation.
These free campsites usually offer no services. That means you’ll be responsible for your electricity, water supply, waste collection and overall comfort. Whether you’re van-camping, tenting or RVing – this checklist gives you a good starting point.
- Water: At the very least, bring multiple jugs of drinking water. If you’re in an RV, fill up the fresh tank before setting up camp.
- Electricity: There are a few options for staying charged while camping at Yosemite. For tents & vans, having a portable battery station (like a Goal Zero) will keep your electronics charged without draining your vehicle battery. For RVers, carrying a small inverter generator is your best bet. Solar power doesn’t work well in Yosemite due to the amount of trees.
- Food: Stock up before you make the trip to Yosemite. There aren’t a lot of great grocery options near the National Park.
- Trash Bags: Bring a couple trash bags with you. If you have extra bags, pick up the campsite and leave it better than you found it!
- Bathroom: While some campsites have a vault toilet, always come prepared with another option. For tent & van campers, we recommend bringing a small cassette toilet. RVers – make sure your black tank is empty before arrival.
- Camping Stove: You’ll need a way to cook your dinner. We recommend one of these top propane camping stoves for your culinary arts!
- Camping Chair: It may seem obvious, but you won’t want to forget a quality camping chair. Here are 11 camping chairs we love.
- Additional Comforts: Sunglasses, sun block, bug spray, maps, hammock, pocket knife, binoculars, umbrellas, first aid kit.
Now that you’re ready to go camping, let’s share the 11 best free Yosemite camping spots!
Each free campsite we feature will include the ideal camping style, the miles to Yosemite Visitor Center (this is deep inside the park, miles to a park entrance will be much closer), and an overall Yosemite Camping Vibes score.
Let’s dive in!
Glass Creek Campground
Ideal For: Tents, vans & RVs
Miles to Yosemite Visitor Center: 91 miles (lots of weaving backroads)
Why You’ll Love It: Glass Creek Campground is located in the Iyno National Forest, adjacent to Yosemite. The campground provides picnic tables, fire rings and vault toilets. You can also bring ATVs & UTVs to the campground.
It’s been reported that Glass Creek is big rig friendly – Class A RVs have been able access the campground and find parking. There are also bear boxes onsite. This is extra important if you’re tent camping!
What’s the Word: A recent reviewer on Campendium says, “This place is amazing. If y’all like Ponderosa Pines and cool breezes, this place is for you. Plenty of room for everyone. There are 50 spaces just in this campsite along and plenty more within a few miles. The restrooms are closed in the off-season”
Yosemite Camping Vibes: 6.5/10 Extra amenities, near Mammoth Lake and Free!
Ideal For: Tents, vans, small RVs (the road in is narrow with many sharp curves).
Miles to Yosemite Visitor Center: 69 miles (south of Yosemite, located in the Sierra National Forest)
Why You’ll Love It: This free campsite will remove you from the hustle & bustle of Yosemite tourists and give you a clear view of the night sky. Additionally, there are vault toilets and trash receptacles available onsite.
Remember to bring your fishing pole, because we hear there’s great fishing at Redinger Campground. Make sure to check local guidelines if a permit is needed.
We can reiterate this enough – scout ahead if you’re in a larger rig. We don’t want you to get your motorhome stuck on the road leading to camp.
What’s the Word: Morgan on Campendium says, “The reviews saying the road into the site is crazy are both right and wrong. I have a relatively small 20ft van. Has zero issues with narrowness or curves. It is in poor condition though. I averaged 10mph for about an hour on the road in. I get very little Verizon signal here. Only with booster do I get 4glte occasionally. In and out. Not sure how other reviews had such good reception.
Yosemite Camping Vibes: 7.2/10 Peaceful & away from the crowds!
Sagehen Meadows Campground
Ideal For: Tents, vans & small RVs (the road has low hanging branches and narrow stretches)
Miles to Yosemite Visitor Center: 97 miles (located near the east entrance)
Why You’ll Love It: This is another wonderfully-quiet campsite. Even though it’s 97 miles from the visitor center, it’s only 35 miles to Mt. Dana hiking trails which mark the eastern boundary of Yosemite.
Sagehen Meadows provides a vault toilet, but offers no other amenities. If you’re RV camping, make sure to spread out. There’s plenty of room at this site.
What’s the Word: Chris on Campendium says, “…it’s an easy 2wd road and there’s a turnaround loop at the very end so no issues turning your rig around if you have a trailer. Although this is a dispersed camping area there are 3 obvious “sites”, the 2nd and 3rd most distant from the paved road are obvious as you near the end of the dirt road.”
Yosemite Camping Vibes: 7.9/10 Easy to access and room to spread out!
Green Creek Road
Ideal For: Tent & Vans. Small RVs and Trailers should scout it out first.
Miles to Yosemite Visitor Center: 103 mile (only 23 miles to nature-features in east Yosemite National Park)
Why You’ll Love It: You can camp creekside and enjoy beautiful forest views. Green Creek Road camping will most likely be available, as its not a very well known site.
You’ll also see a lot of wildlife at this campsite. Keep in mind, there is no cell connectivity onsite. You may be able to receive signal with a directional cell booster, otherwise it’ll be an off-grid camping experience.
What’s the Word: Jeneric Ramblings on Campendium says, “Green Creek Road is unpaved and has minor washboards and a few larger rocks but is wide and we could easily (if slowly) get our 29′ Class A down here. Once you are a mile or so away from Hgwy 395 there are numerous small pull-out sites with informal fire rings and many are scenic and beautiful.”
Yosemite Camping Vibes: 6.3/10 Far from the visitor center, close the nature!
Nelder Grove Campground
Ideal For: Vans or tents. RVs & trailers might be able to access the campsite, but the road in is steep and bumpy…scout it out before driving a large trailer or motorhome.
Miles to Yosemite Visitor Center: 53 miles to visitor center. This campsite is located south of the visitor center.
Why You’ll Love It: Rather than being on the east side of the National Park, Nelder Grove Campgroud sets you up on the southern border of Yosemite. There are multiple pull-offs to set up camp, some are located along a stream.
If you like camping in secluded, quiet sites…this spot may be just what you’re looking for.
What’s the Word: Hannah on Campendium says, “If you get there before dark to look around this should be a peaceful off the grid camping spot. There was a porta-potty. We had no service with AT&T. It’s about a 20 minute drive off the main road but overall this is a good launching point for Yosemite.”
Yosemite Camping Vibes: 6.9/10 Very secluded, not heavily trafficked.
Lower Deadman Campground
Ideal For: Tents, Vans & RVs – large motorhomes may be able to fit…scout it out first
Miles to Yosemite Visitor Center: 94 miles (campsite is located east of the Visitor Center)
Why You’ll Love It: Lower Deadman Campground is another beautiful creekside campsite. The community of campers here is great, as well.
While it may not be the most secluded site, it’s far enough off the beaten path that touristy campers won’t visit. Your neighbors will have the same desire to connect with nature as you do!
What’s the Word: Digby on Campendium says, “This is a nice little out of the way USFS free campground. Not too far off 395 but far enough to keep the crowds away. Each site has picnic tables plus a fire ring and there are a couple bear boxes too. No potable water but there is a small creek right next to the campground and there are vault toilets.”
Yosemite Camping Vibes: 7.4/10 Great community of campers & a few amenities!
Travertine Hot Springs Dispersed
Ideal For: Vans, Tents (4X4 recommended)
Miles to Yosemite Visitor Center: 100 miles (only 15 miles to Eagle Peak)
Why You’ll Love It: Hot springs, baby! You can’t camp right next to the hot springs, but you can get pretty dang close. We hear that the springs are “clothing optional”…so visit with an open mind 😜 Travertine Hot Springs is a must visit for hot spring enthusiasts.
What’s the Word: Throwrocksfar on Campendium says, “round sunset a sheriff came through, seemingly just to check things out, and they were fine with us camping there. There were other people too in tents and a small RV (someone even slept on their sleeping bag on the ground but I wouldn’t recommend that because there are some mosquitoes and early morning you can hear coyotes)”
Yosemite Camping Vibes: 8.4/10 Hot Springs for the win!
Big Springs Campground
Ideal For: Tents, vans, trailers & RVs
Miles to Yosemite Visitor Center: 94 miles – located east of Yosemite
Why You’ll Love It: Big Springs Campground has large sites, a nearby creek, clean bathrooms and a quiet vibe! What more can you ask for in a free campsite?!
The road in can be rough. Even though large rigs have successfully camped at Big Springs, we always recommend scouting out the site in advance.
What’s the Word: SantanaRVing on Campendium says, “Free, large sites, easy to get into with 35ft 5th wheel. No water or Trash…Busier on the weekends. Close to lots of site seeing in the area, ATV trails, Free water at the rest stop on 395 just a couple of miles away.”
Yosemite Camping Vibes: 7.2/10 Cleans & quiet!
Glass Flow Road
Ideal For: Tents & Vans
Miles to Yosemite Visitor Center: 88 miles
Why You’ll Love It: This is an easy to access spot for cars & vans. There’s even reported cell service for Verizon & T-Mobile at Glass Flow Road.
There are no amenities onsite, but you’re close to the east Yosemite entrance and other nearby attractions.
What’s the Word: Side on Campendium says, “Stayed here overnight with a group car camping and tent camping. A nice, established fire pit is there, but for reference since you’re on National Forest land, you will need a permit that’s easy to get online (also check fire restrictions for the area). There are multiple flat areas in the camping area, with plenty of shade.”
Yosemite Camping Vibes: 6.8/10 Cell connectivity & great for group camping!
Ideal For: Vans (4x4s)
Miles to Yosemite Visitor Center: 143 miles (way south of visitor center, National Park entrance is closer)
Why You’ll Love It: The views at Buttermilk Road are amazing! Secondly, cell connectivity has been reported strong enough for those with remote work jobs. However, the road in is challenging for most vehicles.
This site is not recommended for RVs or 2wd vehicles.
What’s the Word: TheGalavan on Campendium says, “The road in is long and rough. I’m in a van and wouldn’t recommend anything other than sturdy vans or truck campers way up here. It isn’t level, but I was able to get close enough. There aren’t a lot of spots for larger rigs and they were all full the whole time I was here.”
Yosemite Camping Vibes: 8.2/10 Amazing views and lots of privacy due to hard-to-access location!
Ideal For: Tents, vans, trailers, RVs
Miles to Yosemite Visitor Center: 130 miles, south of visitor center.
Why You’ll Love It: If you have a larger rig, and can’t access some of the other spots, this site might work for you! We’ve heard Class As and 5th wheels can camp at Pine Creek (scout it out first). There is no cell service, though.
You can camp near the creek if theres a spot open. Additionally, there are toilets available nearby.
What’s the Word: Bedoin Boondockers on Campendium say, “This is such a special and remote campsite for not being too far off the beaten path. Great access—road is a little crumbly and campsites could be slightly uneven but our 27’ class A rig fit fine. We parked in the middle of more of a “group” site and had plenty of space, good clearance for our height from branches and easy to maneuver.”
Yosemite Camping Vibes: 6.7/10 Farthest from visitor center, but good basecamp for larger rigs.
Trip Routing to Yosemite National Park
Trip planning to Yosemite National Parks is essential. The west is known for its terrifying mountain passes and narrow roads.
With RV Trip Wizard you can get a much better understanding on what to expect for travel day. After spending a big amount of money on an RV, you don’t want to run into a low hanging bridge!
We use RV Trip Wizard to route our cross country trips. With tools like budgeting, fuel planning, and avoiding low hanging bridges, we can easily travel safely through the USA.
You can also avoid steep passes, tolls and tunnels when you select the appropriate filters. Give RV Trip Wizard a try!
The Best Free Camping in the Entire USA
We love camping across this amazing country. And, we really love it when its free. Here’s our list of the 20 Best Free Campsites in the USA.
If you haven’t tried free camping before, also known as boondocking, take a look at our beginners guide to boondocking filled with everything you need to know to get started.
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