Ultimate Guide to Dispersed Camping in Nevada

Why go dispersed camping in Nevada? There are gorgeous scenic lakes and fantastic red rock formations with solitary roads running in a vast desert with not much more than tumbleweeds. Nevada is not only desert but has lush oases, lakes, clear creeks, stunning, otherworldly red rock formations, and much more

Below I will list some of my favorite dispersed campsites in Nevada.

Representing the state containing Area 51, where gamblers and foreigners consume over 30 tons of shrimp every day in Las Vegas, and that holds the title as the US state where by far the most nuclear tests took place, Nevada is a curious place you don’t want to miss out on.

Overview of Nevada Free Dispersed Camping

RV camper in Nevada

Speaking of wildlife, curiously enough, Nevada is home to one of the slowest and fastest creatures in the US – the desert tortoise and the iconic roadrunner.

The famous Looney Tunes cartoon’ Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner’ was based on this deceptively quick and aggressive bird. The cartoon’s well-known red rock desert scenery closely reflects what Nevada looks like in real life.

Nevada roughly translates to ‘snow-covered‘ as its name derives from the Spanish word ‘nieve,’ which stands for snow. The term refers to the famous Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, known for its high-altitude evergreen trees, clear mountain lakes, and many hiking trails.

Other than these, Nevada is well-known and beloved for its deserts, lonesome roads that run through them, and a rich verisimilitude of free dispersed camping options.

The Best Dispersed Campgrounds in Nevada

In the passages below, I will describe the best-dispersed campgrounds in this part of the US.

Mack’s Canyon Dispersed Camping

Mack's Canyon dispersed camping area near Mt Charleston
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: busy

Featuring no toilets and no potable water, Mack’s Canyon dispersed camping can be an excellent option for anyone interested in pitching their tent in the scenic Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

At less than an hour from Las Vegas, this campground can be a great starting point for a local exploration effort. Setting up a tent on this patch of land can acquaint you with the beautiful surrounding Nevada nature and some local points of interest, such as Mt. Charleston. 

Alternatively, you can visit this campground on the weekends and use it as a one-of-a-kind weekend getaway.

Thanks to the tall pines surrounding this campground, a large shade provides a calm mini oasis against an otherwise hot desert-like terrain.

Besides the excellent camping opportunities, Mack’s Canyon is well-known for its superb hiking options and mountain biking trails. If you are still looking for free sites at this campground, you can find several fantastic spots along the nearby Champion Road.

This road is easy to reach and is generally negotiable for most vehicles if the conditions are alright. That said, approaching this destination onboard an RV can be challenging, as the terrain can get rough at certain sections.

Optimally, you should tackle this road if you’re a proud owner or a renter of a 4×4 off-roader vehicle.

If you are a fan of camping in National Forests, see our guide to free dispersed campsites in California as well.

Lovell Canyon Dispersed Camping

Red Rock Canyon Entrance near Lovell Canyon
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: high

The Lovell Canyon campground encompasses two different campgrounds that combine into one – the ones with sites that disperse along the canyon road and those that are a tad farther away, where you can enjoy more of a private camping experience.

The higher elevation makes this campground different from the other sites in this area. As a result, the temperatures in Lovell Canyon are markedly more extraordinary than at many other similar places.

There are many excellent hiking areas near Lovell Canyon. Given the high altitude, you can expect a hiking experience that’s markedly more challenging than what you would otherwise experience on some of the other trails in this region.

Red Rock Canyon, Natural Conservation Area, is a significant attraction near Lovell Canyon. This region gets more than two million visitors annually, so expect big crowds if you decide to detour and visit this place.

Although Lovell Canyon Campground boasts a relatively high visitor frequency, it’s also true that the individual sites are rather well-spread so you can have some privacy.

In terms of amenities, you won’t find anything at this campground, but you can get some supplies in the nearby town of Pahrump.

If you like camping among beautiful red rock formations, check out our guide to dispersed camping areas in Arizona and our guide to free dispersed camping in Utah as well.

Berry Creek Dispersed Camping

Town of Ely near Berry Creek Nevada
  • Map
  • Toilets: vault toilets
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: low

Offering a unique creek-side camping experience that will make you feel like you’re in the middle of an oasis, Berry Creek campground is spacious, features beautiful nature and fresh spring water, and sits within the scenic Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

Regarding amenities, there are no toilets here, nor is there a source of potable water (You can fetch water from the creek, provided you remember to bring a water filter because creek water may not be safe to drink unfiltered). 

Some additional activities you can pursue while stationed at this campground include biking, fishing, and hiking. Also, horseback riding is big around these parts. Winter sports are a significant attraction, too – but only during the cold months.

When amassing the necessary supplies, you can restock them at the nearby town of Ely. The campground is under the jurisdiction of the Ely Ranger District Office, where you can get info about the current state of campgrounds. Also, you can learn more about various other activities you can engage in around these parts, including fishing, hiking, and bicycling.

Lastly, the road leading to this creek could be in better condition. Getting to the campground means crossing the stream several times, so there are other courses of action than coming here in an RV. Also, towing a trailer will make the over-creek passages quite tricky. It would help if you have a high-clearance 4×4.

Water Canyon Dispersed Camping

Stream in Water Canyon, Nevada in the Winter
  • Map
  • Toilets: vault toilets
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: high

Representing one of northern Nevada’s most notable recreation areas, Water Canyon is a rugged and picturesque destination that spreads along the canyon’s upper reaches. This elevated terrain, sometimes over 2,000 feet, gives this campground a unique scenic setting.

A lush area surrounding a stream is at the canyon’s bottom. On either side of this small creek, you will find gorgeous aspen and cottonwood trees, giving the room a lot of shade and unique freshness.

Water Canyon dispersed campground is part of a broader Water Canyon Recreation Area that looms over Winnemucca, the only incorporated city of Humboldt County, Nevada. You can get supplies or even book a flight at the local airport.

The great thing about this canyon campground is that it has a handful of additional excellent activities you can do.

Hiking and mountain-biking represent significant attractions, as the trails themselves are exciting and challenging, plus there’s an immense reward for anyone who reaches the top, as you get to experience some of the most fantastic views anywhere in the world once you’ve reached the apex of the canyon.

ATVs are also a big deal here, with plenty of excellent trails you can explore if you’re a four-wheeler motorhead.

Mill Creek Dispersed Camping

Flower fields around Battle Mountain, near Mill Creek Nevada
  • Map 
  • Toilets: vault toilets
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: medium

Comprising twelve individual campsites, each with its picnic table and a fire ring, Mill Creek dispersed camping is a place you want to take advantage of if you’re interested in finding a campground with a rich and fascinating history and breathtaking nature.

Originally, Mill Creek was a territory reserved for the Civilian Conservation Corps campground established during the Great Depression. Since then, it has been known for its tall trees and oasis-like status in an area otherwise known for its canyons and red rocks. In 2017, however, a great fire destroyed most of the trees. So, sadly, no shade trees, but this also means fantastic views in every direction.

The vast-open area around this campground provides a great place to rest after a demanding and exciting day of exploring the region. When the night falls, you can enjoy one of the most relaxed starry nights anywhere in the US, with no obstacles around you.

Some other remarkable curiosities about this place include the vicinity of quite a few OHVs, and biking and hiking trails, so if you’re a cycling or hiking aficionado – Mill Creek can represent a fantastic basecamp for further exploration.

A minor downside that can throw a rather odd spanner in the works of an otherwise fantastic Mill Creek-based camping trip would be – crickets. During the summer months (and mostly around July), the entire area gets overwhelmed with crickets, so you can catch little to no sleep during the night – Unless you fancy a cacophonic choir of thousands of crickets chirping in unison.

The road to Mill Creek is solid gravel, so arriving here in an RV is recommended.

Stewart’s Point Dispersed Camping

Stewart's Point at the turquoise Lake Mead in Nevada
  • Map
  • Toilets: vault toilets
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: medium

Situated on the banks of scenic Lake Mead, Stewart’s Point is a campground with some fantastic, Discovery Channel-worthy photo ops, with vistas of the lake’s water level all around you.

The sites themselves are, for the most part, relatively flat, and there is a vault toilet at the campground entrance. Besides this commodity, you won’t find a reliable source of potable water anywhere nearby, so bringing your supply is essential.

A high-clearance vehicle is desirable, although you’d make it just as well with a low-clearance one if you drive extra carefully. Certain sections of the road can get particularly bumpy.

You can access the Stewarts Point campground free of charge, but the trick is that this campground sits within the territory of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. You would need a special permit to get into this part of the park.

The fees vary depending on what part of the recreation area you plan to visit. For example, an annual vehicle fee is $45, while a 7-day one is $25 per vehicle, $20 for motorcycles, and $15 for individuals. You can find more information at this link here.  

Government Wash Dispersed Camping

Government Wash at Lake Mead in Nevada
  • Map
  • Toilets: vault toilets
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: high

Representing another fantastic area that overlooks Lake Mead, Government Wash is a campground in the Las Vegas Bay area with many excellent hiking and fishing opportunities.

For example, the hiking trails around Lake Mead come in two difficulty levels – easy and moderate. Whatever your preferred test level, one thing is for sure – the scenery you will encounter along the way represents some of the most beautiful desert terrains you can find anywhere in the world.

The diverse ecosystems containing tumbleweeds, creosote, yucca, and greasewood plants, as well as some Joshua trees at higher elevations, combined with gorgeous rock formations of all nuances, from beige, to bright red and green, make this place a joy, even if you’re standing on a trail and taking it all in.

An occasional gecko, a pronghorn sheep, and some tough-to-spot gophers make this place an even more exciting terrain if you’re into wildlife photography or just having fun exploring the desert.

Government Wash is an hour from Las Vegas, so you can always stop by to get your supplies. The terrain here is mostly flat as it surrounds the lake. If you fancy arriving at this place onboard your RV or some similar vehicle with relatively low clearance, you can rest assured that you won’t have any problems with the approach. As you get closer to the lake, the road gets progressively more rugged.

Last but not least, while camping at the Government Wash campground is free, entering Lake Mead requires a small fee, so keep that in mind if you plan on visiting this place.

Spencer Hot Springs Dispersed Camping

Spencer Hot Springs with a snowy mountain in the background
Photo by greatlettuce via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: high

Possibly the only free dispersed campground in the region with natural (as well as some constructed) thermal pools, Spencer Hot Springs is a place that didn’t get its name for no reason.

As long as you’re at least 100 yards from a water source, you can camp at this venue to your heart’s content, as Spencer Hot Springs sits within the jurisdiction of the BLM. That said, due to the immense popularity of this place, you should expect big crowds – especially during the weekend. A workaround solution would be getting here during the weekdays or simply during the off-season.

Since hot springs are unique and delicate, it is essential to pack all your waste (especially organic) and dispose of it far away from the springs and campground.

For history and archeology enthusiasts, there is a special treat in the area. The imposing Toquima cave (previously named Toquima cave campground) harbors ancient Shoshone pictographs carefully inscribed in the walls by the natives of this region. 

Dating to circa 600-1300 CE, these pictographs represent some of the oldest visual cues to the lives of prehistoric Shoshoneans – a tribe that used to inhabit the Nevada desert millennia ago.

Jarbidge Wilderness Dispersed Camping

Overcast sky at Jarbidge Mountains
  • Map 
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: medium

The gorgeous and, at times, mysterious Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest hides within its borders one of the most impressive free dispersed camping gems you cannot afford not to visit if you like beautiful woodland regions with tall mountains.

The great thing about Jarbidge Wilderness is precisely the word that its name carries – you get to experience the wilderness with plenty of dispersed camping spots in every nook and cranny of this diverse natural setup.

The catch with Jarbidge Wilderness, though, would be getting there.

To enter the road to this place, turn from Highway 93 and onto Three Creek Road. The long dirt road is not in a precisely stellar condition, but it’s still manageable for most vehicles – even low-clearance ones.

An exciting curiosity in this general region would be the Jarbidge ghost town – a place you must visit if you appreciate Old West heritage and stories. 

As for the campsites themselves, you will find them on either side of the main access road into this town. There are excellent sites before and after the city, so it’s worth driving up and down a couple of times to see what’s in store regarding camping. 

Illipah Reservoir Dispersed Camping

Beautiful sunset over the Nevada Desert
  • Map 
  • Toilets: pit toilets
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: medium

Representing a BLM region where dispersed camping is a significant attraction, Illipah Reservoir Recreation Area is an excellent option for boondocking for RV and trailer enthusiasts.

At 45 minutes from the town of Ely, Illipah Reservoir is a place you want to take advantage of, especially if you’re into wide open spaces where finding a camping spot is a piece of cake at all times.

That said, a possible downside to this area would be that there are quite a few visitors to it, and finding a good spot that doesn’t have campers surrounding it can be challenging. Unless you arrive early and avoid peak season.

The sites at Illipah Reservoir are flat and spacious, each with a fire ring, a picnic table, and a sun shade. While you will get little privacy at Illipah, you will get plenty of gorgeous views of the surrounding nature everywhere you turn.

Not only does the reservoir contribute to the site’s beauty, but it can also be an excellent option for fishing. The water freezes over in the winter, so you can try your hand at some ice angling.

Where Can You Camp in Nevada?

Campers playing frisbee next to the Colorado river in Nevada

Finding a dispersed campground in Nevada is relatively easy.

The vastness of the greater Nevada region and many woodland pullouts and underground hideouts among trees within the secretive and scenic Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest gives more than enough camping options, whatever your terrain and environment of preference.

The region has three prominent land management authorities – BLM Nevada, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Service, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area Service.

Dispersed camping is allowed in all these areas, but the rules differ slightly depending on your location.

BLM Campgrounds Nevada

Van camper parked next to a picnic area in the Nevada desert

Most of the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) areas in Nevada are open for dispersed camping. Some sites can seasonally be off-limits, so it’s essential to inform yourself of the current situation before heading into any BLM-controlled area in Nevada.

You can find exactly what parts of Nevada under BLM jurisdiction are available for camping and what isn’t using this map.

The BLM camping guidelines for Nevada are the same as for any other campground that BLM oversees:

  • You cannot occupy one site for more than two weeks at a time (within 28 days)
  • Following ‘Leave no Trace’ rules is strongly recommended.
  • It’s essential to check the current fire restrictions before heading out.
  • Dumping black or gray water on public lands is strongly prohibited.

In general, the BLM’s mission in Nevada consists of overseeing its vast territory, managing wildland fires, and maintaining and managing the significant burro and wild horse populations. BLM also regulates various recreational and other activities such as festivals, competitive events, etc. For example, the world-renowned Burning Man and the Black Rock Desert.

So, if you plan to combine camping with other excellent cultural or exploratory excursions, consider camping on BLM land. 

Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Dispersed Camping

Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada

Made out of several more minor forests that cover large swathes of eastern California and Nevada, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest is where dispersed camping is reasonably well-established as a favorite pastime of local visitors.

The forested area spans 6.3 million acres, so there’s more than enough space to explore.

Generally, you shouldn’t set up a dispersed campsite close to developed campgrounds, picnic areas, recreational buildings, or water sources.

Look at the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Motor Vehicle Use Maps to find the best campsites. These maps represent the intricate web of forest service roads with gorgeous pullouts that can make fantastic campsites.

Lake Mead Recreational Area Dispersed Camping

Hills surrounding Lake Mead in Nevada

Right at the border of Nevada and Arizona, Lake Mead Recreational Area encompasses a whopping 1.3 million acres – a large expanse of wilderness that includes Lake Mead and Lake Mohave.

Finding great spots around these gorgeous scenic lakes is about navigating the winding backcountry roads.

The pullouts along these roads are where all the best sites with the best views usually are.

To get acquainted with the intricate road network of this area, check out the MVUMs issued by the official.

Takeaway

All in all, whether you’re in it for the deserts, long roads that run through fantastic & scenic red rock formations, or you fancy pitching your tent next to a gorgeous mountain lake, Nevada is a US state that will certainly not disappoint.

Whether you decide to pitch your tent on BLM territory, within the national forest, or elsewhere, you can rest assured that Nevada will provide you with all the beauty and natural wonders you can hope to explore and enjoy.

Leave a Comment