Is Camping in Yosemite Free? (The Truth)


Recently I went camping in Yosemite National Park, but before I went I did some research on all of the campgrounds located within the park. One thing that was on my mind during this research was if there were opportunities for free camping in Yosemite.

So, is camping in Yosemite free? There are no free developed campgrounds located within Yosemite National Park. However, backcountry camping in Yosemite National Park can be done for free with a free wilderness permit. There is also free camping available nearby to Yosemite National Park.

While none of the campgrounds located within the park are free, there are still opportunities for finding free camping nearby to the park. The surrounding National Forests provide your best opportunity for free camping.

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Free Camping In Yosemite

If you want to go camping for free within the National Park then you are going to have to do some backcountry camping. Backcountry camping is commonly referred to as backpacking. Backpacking is the only way you can (legally) camp for free in Yosemite National Park. Backcountry camping can only be done in the Yosemite Wildnerness, and in order to stay overnight in the Yosemite wilderness, you will need to obtain a wilderness permit.

Free camping in the backcountry of Yosemite does not come without its limitations and regulations. You will want to carefully study this page on the National Park Service’s website before going backpacking in Yosemite. Luckily, the wilderness permits are issued free of charge (which is rare) However the number of permits issued is limited per trailhead.

The wilderness permits are issued partially (60%) on a reservation basis and partially (40%) on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you make a permit reservation then you will have to pay a fee for it. You will want to carefully study this page about wilderness permits in Yosemite when planning an overnight backpacking trip in the park.

Free Camping Nearby Yosemite

If you want to go to Yosemite and camp for free (legally) without backpacking then you are going to have to camp nearby outside of the park. There are two National Forests nearby that have opportunities for free camping. All campgrounds listed here are under 100 miles from Yosemite Valley.

Lumsden Campground

Lumsden Campground is a first-come, first-serve campground located in the Stanislaus National Forest. The campground is located about 45 miles from Yosemite Valley, so it is quite a drive to get to Yosemite, but that’s what you get for free. The campground does not recommend that RVs or trailers use this campground. For complete information on this campground, you can visit the U.S. Forest Service website here.

South Fork Campground

South Fork Campground is located in the Stanislaus National Forest. The campground is about 46 miles from Yosemite Valley. The campground does not recommend that RVs or trailers use this campground. For complete information on this campground, you can visit the U.S. Forest Service website here.

Lumsden Bridge Campground

Lumsden Bridge Campground is located in the Stanislaus National Forest. The campground is about 47 miles from Yosemite Valley. The campground does not recommend that RVs or trailers use this campground. For complete information on this campground, you can visit the U.S. Forest Service website here.

Redinger Campground

Redinger Campground is located in the Sierra National Forest. The campground is about 69 miles from Yosemite Valley. The campground has a maximum vehicle length of 25 feet. For complete information on this campground, you can visit the U.S. Forest Service website here.

Whiskey Falls Campground

Whiskey Falls Campground is a first-come, first-serve campground located in the Sierra National Forest. The campground is located about 70 miles from Yosemite Valley and is closer to Wawona in Yosemite. There are 14 campsites at this campground and usage is “light”. For complete information on this campground, you can visit the U.S. Forest Service website here.

Hartley Springs Campground

Hartley Springs Campground is located in the Inyo National Forest north of Mammoth Lakes. The campground is about 88 miles away from Yosemite Valley and closer to the Tuolumne Meadows area in Yosemite. There are 25 campsites and the usage is “medium”. For complete information on this campground, you can visit the U.S. Forest Service website here.

Glass Creek Campground

Glass Creek Campground is located in the Inyo National Forest north of Mammoth Lakes. The campground is about 90 miles away from Yosemite Valley and closer to the Tuolumne Meadows area in Yosemite. There are 66 campsites and the usage is “heavy”. For complete information on this campground, you can visit the U.S. Forest Service website here.

Big Springs Campground

Big Springs Campground is located in the Inyo National Forest north of Mammoth Lakes. The campground is about 94 miles away from Yosemite Valley and closer to the Tuolumne Meadows area in Yosemite. There are 26 campsites and the usage is “heavy”. For complete information on this campground, you can visit the U.S. Forest Service website here.

Lower Deadman Campground

Lower Deadman Campground is located in the Inyo National Forest north of Mammoth Lakes. The campground is about 94 miles away from Yosemite Valley and closer to the Tuolumne Meadows area in Yosemite. Don’t get this campground confused with “Upper Deadman Campground since that one is much further away. For complete information on this campground, you can visit the U.S. Forest Service website here.

Is Dispersed Camping Allowed Inside Yosemite?

Dispersed camping is not allowed inside of Yosemite National Park. Dispersed camping is known as driving off the main road and finding a place to camp for free without any facilities. Dispersed camping is often referred to as free camping, wild camping, or primitive camping. It is commonly done in National Forests, however, many National Parks prohibit doing this (including Yosemite). 

At the same time, you may not sleep in your car in Yosemite unless it is at your designated campsite (except for camp 4 since it is a walk-in campground). If you want to go dispersed camping nearby Yosemite then your best options are the nearby National Forests. Yosemite is bordered by both by the Stanislaus National Forest and the Sierra National Forest. Both of the national forests surrounding Yosemite allow dispersed camping. If you want to learn more about dispersed camping then I recommend you read this article that I wrote which is a complete guide to dispersed camping.

How Much Does It Cost To Go Camping In Yosemite?

The cheapest campground in Yosemite is at Camp 4, which is $6 per person. Camp 4 is located within Yosemite Valley and is primarily used by hikers and climbers. The most expensive campground in Yosemite is a tie between 7 campgrounds at $26 per night.

CampgroundFees (Lowest To Highest)
Camp 4$6 Per Person
Yosemite Creek$12
Porcupine Flat$12
Tamarack Flat$12
White Wolf$18
Bridalveil Creek$18
Hodgdon Meadow$26
Crane Flat$26
Tuolumne Meadows$26
Wawona$26
Upper Pines$26
Lower Pines$26
North Pines$26

Campground prices in Yosemite are very reasonable, especially given the park’s popularity and location in California. The Reservable campgrounds are extremely competitive, especially in Yosemite Valley. Most campgrounds in the valley are reserved as soon as they are made available (6 months in advance) during the peak season.

Luckily, many of the campgrounds within the park are also first-come, first-serve which means there are no reservations at some of the campgrounds. If you need some awesome tips for getting a first-come, first-serve campsite then you should check out this article that I wrote. For complete information on campground inside of Yosemite, see the National Park Service website.

Related Questions:

Can I sleep in my car in Yosemite?

You can sleep in your car at a designated campsite in which you are occupying in Yosemite, but you are not allowed to sleep in your car in day-use areas or disperse camp in your car within Yosemite National Park.

Are there wolves in Yosemite?

There are no wolves living in Yosemite National Park. However, Coyotes are abundant in the park and seem to grow large in the area. If you think that you saw a “wolf” in Yosemite, what you are actually seeing is just a large coyote.

My Favorite Camping Gear

  • Air Mattress: click here to check out my favorite on Amazon.
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  • Sleeping Pad: click here to check out the one I love on Amazon.
  • Sleeping Bag: click here to see the one I recommend on Amazon.
  • Camping Stove: click here to see the best camping stove on Amazon.


Zachary Smith

Zach is an avid outdoorsman that loves going camping with his Prius every chance he gets. He also regularly enjoys hiking and fishing. When he's not outside you can probably find him writing about it on this website. See his full bio here

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