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Inyo National Forest Camping Guide

Sprawling across a vast acreage where deserts and mountains collide, Inyo National Forest in Bishop, CA, offers some of the most majestic views and numerous camping opportunities you’ll ever find. This highly-trafficked national forest is popular for day visitors and campers alike…and for good reason!

We’re here to help you plan your Inyo National Forest camping trip the right way, so you can take time to enjoy all this stunning forest has to offer. Read on to learn about camping options, what to bring, and more.

A view of the mountains at sunrise or sunset inside Inyo National Forest.

What Is Inyo National Forest?

Inyo National Forest is the most visited national forest in California. Its name derives from a Native American word meaning “Dwelling place of a great spirit.” Many visitors have found this an apt name, as a visit to Inyo National Forest proves refreshing for the spirits of campers and day visitors alike!

This national forest boasts 2.1 million acres, which encompasses both Mt. Whitney–the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States–and the Age of Methuselah, the oldest tree in the world at over 4,800 years old.

This park is also home to nine wilderness areas, two wild, scenic rivers, 70 campgrounds spread over four ranger districts, over 1,000 miles of hiking trails, and much more.

A bristle cone pine tree at Inyo National Forest.

Where to Stay at Inyo National Forest

Inyo National Forest camping opportunities are plentiful and varied! Most campgrounds are open and closed seasonally, with a few available year-round.

When planning your Inyo National Forest camping adventure, you should be aware that seasonal dates are an estimate that may be affected by early or late snowfall and the amount of snowpack during any given year.

Snow on the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Inyo National Forest.

Best Camping Spots

There are four ranger districts located within Inyo National Forest. Each one offers its own many distinct campgrounds. There are 70 campgrounds to choose from. Each has its own rules and maximum stay limits, ranging from a single night (backpacking campsites) to up to two weeks (standard campgrounds).

There are several Inyo National Forest camping locations that can accommodate cabin campers, large groups, and equestrian campers as well.

Mammoth Ranger District

The Mammoth Lake Ranger District includes the Mammoth Lake and Red Meadow Roads areas. Between the two areas are an array of over a dozen campgrounds. Many of these campgrounds are rustic and known to have much bear activity. RV camping opportunities are available in the Mammoth Ranger District.

Mono Lake Ranger District

The Mono Lake Ranger District boasts home to the titular Mono Lake area and the June Lake Loop with its highly coveted swimming beach. Many free, no-reservation campgrounds exist in this area, such as Big Spring and Deadman’s Lake.

View of Mono Lake on a sunny day.
Mono Lake.

Mt. Whitney Ranger District

The Mt. Whitney Ranger District sports some of the most picturesque Inyo National Forest camping opportunities. It lies near Mt. Whitney itself, with several camping areas within this ranger district–Onion Road, Kern Plateau, Horseshoe Meadow, and the Whitney Portal.

These campgrounds sport a variety of different options, such as the Horseshoe Meadow Equestrian Camp, a walk-in campground at Cotton Pass, and many first-come, first-served campgrounds.

White Mountain Ranger District

There are four camping areas in the White Mountain Ranger District: Bishop, Big Pine, White Mountains, and Rock Creek. These campgrounds offer a variety of Inyo National Forest camping opportunities, including walk-in, RV, tent, and even some cabin camping.

Booking and Fees,

Between the four ranger districts which house the Inyo National Forest camping opportunities, there are a wide variety of costs. Some are paid per night. Others are completely free. Some can be reserved ahead of time, such as group camps and some individual campsites, and some are first come, first-served.

Always be sure to check the reservation and booking fees of your preferred campground before you embark on your Inyo National Forest camping adventure! You can find these at the website by searching for your preferred campground (you can also obtain wilderness permits at this website).

What to Bring

Due to the often rugged conditions in this national forest, as well as the vast wildlife presence and especially frequent encounters with bears, campers at Inyo National Forest should always come prepared. Having the proper camping equipment can define the outcomes of your Inyo National Forest camping experience.

A tent campsite at sunrise or sunset.

Campers should always ensure they have proper gear, such as tents, sleeping bags, etc. Depending on the time of year and the conditions of your trip, having a thermal sleeping bag that can withstand the elements may be a crucial asset.

Since Inyo National Forest camping sites vary on the availability of drinking water, you will also want to consider having a water filter in case your drinking stock runs out during the trip. A well-stocked first aid kit is also a must, as well as wildlife repellant and scent-proof storage for all food and scented items such as deodorant, sunblock, etc.

Before striking off on your Inyo National Forest camping excursion, take time to check that all of this gear is in good repair. You want to ensure nothing is expired in your repellents or first aid items and ensure no rips, tears, mold, or mildew have compromised your camping gear.

Being mindful of the time of year you have planned for your Inyo National Forest camping trip, you will need to pack season-appropriate attire. This includes good, sturdy hiking boots for those who plan to walk the countless trails in the national forest.

Folks staying near June Lake will also have the option of swimming at the campground swimming beach. Be aware of water temperature and bring appropriate swim gear for little swimmers, including water safety gear. Boaters should also bring safety attire to wear when out on the water.

Your Inyo National Forest camping trip might be when you see a bighorn sheep.
A bighorn sheep.

As mentioned, wildlife is quite plentiful in Inyo National Forest. For the best and safest viewing experience, in addition to wildlife repellent, be sure to pack along some binoculars so you can get a glimpse of the forest’s natural inhabitants up close, from afar!

Speaking of repellents, a good insect repellent is also a great idea when camping in any national forest–and Inyo National Forest camping excursions are no exception. Sun protection of choice is also a great asset to have on hand; if you prefer not to use sunscreen, consider various hats and loose long sleeves and pants to help protect you from the sun.

Things to Do at Inyo National Forest


View of a meadow leading to mountains in Inyo National Forest.

Over a thousand miles of trails intersect and spider across this national forest, from rugged caldera hikes to casual lakeside strolls. And those are just the day hiking opportunities! Inyo National Forest also provides backpacking opportunities, where campers can hike out with their gear packed along and camp in the wilderness at designated points along the trail.

Each ranger district has its own network of trails. So, wherever you choose to stay, be sure to look up the trail list from that district!

Water Recreation

View of a waterfall inside Inyo National Forest.

Several of the ponds, lakes, and rivers in this national forest allow for boating; some motorized, some not. Swimming is limited to the designated swimming beach in the June Lake Loop campground.

Inyo National Forest also offers two different subsets of fishing: lake and pond, and river and stream. You will find diverse types of fish within these different bodies of water. The most common, however, are all different types of trout.

Other Recreation

There are countless recreational activities to enjoy in this national forest. Some include horseback riding, bicycling, hunting, rock climbing, and scenic driving. There is also a bevy of winter sports you can enjoy here, such as skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, mushing, and snowboarding.

Wrapping Up the Inyo National Forest Camping Guide

Closeup of a pinecone on a rock with snowy mountains in the background.

Excited to kick off your Inyo National Forest camping adventure? Be sure to visit our Camping Gear page and stock up on all the best camping essentials before you hit the road. This will help ensure you have everything you need for a memorable camping experience!