Camping in Eldorado National Forest

Dispersed or Campground Camping? Eldorado National forest has it all.

The Eldorado National Forest is a great place to go camping if you are looking to escape Urban lifestyle or you just want to escape the crowds of some its most used recreational areas. Its climate and topography offer a wide range of recreational opportunities, including hiking, fishing, camping and cross-country and downhill skiing.

It is located one hour from the metropolitan area of Sacramento , and two to three hours driving time from the San Francisco Bay area. The Forest therefore plays a vital role in the environment, health and well being of over seven million people.

The Eldorado National Forest is also situated near the original California gold discovery site on the American River at Coloma, and still boasts numerous gold-bearing rivers and streams.

If you like to camp away from it all, but you prefer to drive there in your car, the Eldorado national forest have just what you are looking for. April 1 each year the annual winter closure of dirt roads in the National forest ends and dispersed camping season becomes much easier to pursue.
Most of the land in the National Forest is open to camping free of charge which is referred to as “dispersed” camping. Visitors can camp just about anywhere in the National forest, unless specifically prohibited*. Maps and staff are available at most Forest Service offices to assist visitors in finding a suitable spot.

Dispersed Camping is not for everyone. No Designated Toilets, no Neighbors (hopefully), no one to help if trouble arrives. However for those who enjoy the wild & scenic areas where they can get away from the crowds and formal structures in society, dispersed camping is the perfect summertime event for the family. we personally like Hammock Camping.

We are asked regularly here at the magazine for good spots to go dispersed camping. My classic comeback is, you know that dirt road that you pass every time you go …. (insert location of choice)? Well if turned onto that road and it is considered Forest Service land, its probably a great place to find you next favorite camp site.

Wrights Lake Eldorado National Forest20180922_174613
Wrights Lake Eldorado National Forest

Eldorado National Forest Access Roads

Eldorado National Forest Road Network for Recreation is extensive and provides campers and recreationalist many opportunities to explore new areas. For updated or current road condition in Eldorado click here

Eldorado National Forest also helps manage and maintain the Desolation Wilderness Recreational opportunities. Providing resources, permits and managing a volunteer crew that helps clean the wilderness area. Rules for Desolation Wilderness are separate and different in many cases for recreational opportunities. For example Fires may be allowed seasonally in Eldorado National Forest, but are forbidden and illegal in all of Desolation Wilderness.

Dispersed Camping Basics


Are you a Tent Camper, Hammock Camper, Car camper or RV Camper? The answer to this question will not only help you with supply lists but location options.

  • Food & Water
  • Fire Wood – Fire Permit (Free) & fire starter- don’t rely on burning scrap wood from forest floor. bring fire wood if possible.
  • First Aid Kit – Band-Aids, Insect repellants, sun Screens etc..
  • Clothing layers. Temperatures in the National forest in most place will have dramatic Temp changes from Day to night.
  • Soap and cleaning supplies
  • Towels
  • Shovel
  • Toilet Paper – Biodegradable
  • Garbage Bags. – Leave No Trace! Commit to it or stay home, the forest does not need your crap.

Don’t forget the seating. You don’t really want to sit in the dirt all weekend do you? Folding table and chairs make experience all that more comfortable.

Tarps, Mosquito Nets

Weather can be unpredictable, so bringing a tarp that can be hung for shelter from a afternoon thunderstorm. Mosquito nets can also help pride an area that is insect free. We love hanging our tarp over an area we call camp kitchen then hang a mosquito net around that area so the food are is insect free.

Not being in a developed campground means that there will not be certain conveniences:

  • Maximum stay limit for camping outside of a developed campground is 10 days per district/per calendar year. Please remove all your equipment and garbage when you leave.
  • Water Quality: It is best to bring your own water. Lake, stream or spring water may be contaminated.
  • Human Waste: Proper disposal of human waste is important. Leaving human waste in dispersed camping areas can spread disease, lead to contaminated water supplies, contaminate soils, attract wildlife, and spoil a camping area. Portable eco-friendly human waste disposal systems which allow you to safely “Pack It Out” are commercially available and recommended. As a last resort, choose a spot at least 200′ away from water sources and campsites, dig a small hole at least six inches deep, and cover it when you are through. Seal your toilet paper in a bag, pack it out, and dispose of it properly.
  • No trash service – Pack It In, Pack It Out
  • The beauty of the natural vegetation around your campsite is probably why you chose it. Keep it healthy and beautiful by not cutting anything down, not putting nails into trees, and treading carefully in meadow-like areas. Keep your vehicle on designated roads and trails to prevent resource damage. Vehicles must be parked within one vehicle length of the edge of the surface of a designated road or trail.
  • When you pick your spot, make sure that it is at least 100 feet away from streams and lakes, to help protect streamside vegetation, and prevent pollution. Dispersed campsites must be outside the boundary markings of developed campgrounds.
  • There are many fine camping spots you can reach on paved and well-graded dirt roads, but there are some rough, steep, or narrow roads that are dangerous for the family car or for bulky recreation vehicles. Make sure the road you plan to take is safe for your kind of vehicle by first talking it over with Forest Service staff.

Extra Notes for Eldorado National Forest Lakes


Campfire Permits

You may want a campfire for cooking, enjoying its warmth, and roasting marshmallows.
For campfires, stoves, lanterns or barbeques used outside a campground or recreational
vehicle and some developed campgrounds, you need a campfire permit.
The permit is free, valid for a full year from January 1 to December 31, and may be obtained in person from Forest
Service, Bureau of Land Management, or CAL FIRE offices. Your responsibilities for building and putting out your fire safely are
explained on the campfire permit. 36 CFR 261.52(k) PRC 4433.
You can obtain a campfire permit online at .

Eldorado National Forest Managed Camping Areas

Here is a complete list of locations for those choose Camping Eldorado National Forest Via Developed Campground.

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