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Car Camping in Lake Tahoe (6 Free Spots)

Where Can You Car Camp in Lake Tahoe?

I came up with my favorite free camping sites as well as the most popular campsites in Lake Tahoe below!

6 Dispersed Camping Spots Near Lake Tahoe (Free)

Dispersed CampingReservation?Cost
Tahoe National Forest First-come, first-servedFree
Scotts Lake Dispersed Camping First-come, first-servedFree
Bear Lake RoadFirst-come, first-servedFree
Granite Chief WildernessFirst-come, first-servedFree
Loon Lake Dispersed CampingFirst-come, first-servedFree
Luther Pass Dispersed Camping Area First-come, first-servedFree
Lake Tahoe

1. Tahoe National Forest

Most of Tahoe National Forest is open to camping free of charge. Dispersed camping is prohibited in certain areas, generally within a ¼ mile of major highway corridors, in the Lakes Basin Area (Sierra Buttes), near Prosser, Boca, Stampede, French Meadows, and Sugar Pine reservoirs, and other locations.

Maps and staff are available at most Tahoe Forest Service offices to assist visitors in finding a suitable spot.

U.S. Forest Service

Sagehen Creek Campground is a popular dispersed campsite located inside of Tahoe National Forest due to its amenities such as vault toilets and driveway campsites. Most of the other dispersed camping spots on this list are located in the forest as well.

Visit this page to see where you can NOT camp in Tahoe National Forest.

2. Scotts Lake Dispersed Camping

Situated within the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, this area for dispersed camping is conveniently reachable directly from Highway 88/Carson Pass Highway. Scotts Lake is located about 20 minutes south of Lake Tahoe.

Scotts Lake gives more of a campsite feel despite being a dispersed spot. Most sites here have a driveway and a fire pit. This campsite can accommodate any size car you might be camping out of!

Keep in mind, that this site has no facilities or services. Also, be sure to arrive early as spots fill up quickly!

3. Granite Chief Wilderness

Granite Chief Wilderness

The Granite Chief Wilderness was designated a Wilderness area in 1984 because of its pristine nature, natural beauty, and primitive, non-motorized recreational opportunities. This 25,680 acre wilderness offers beautiful valley meadows and spectacular 9000 foot granite peaks.

The Dyrt

The Wilderness area is west of Lake Tahoe. You can camp anywhere in Granite Chief Wilderness which is not private land.

There are some specific guidelines and regulations to be aware of while camping on this land:

  1. Wilderness Permits: No wilderness permit is required for overnight visits to the Granite Chief Wilderness​​.
  2. Restoration Areas: Certain areas have specific restrictions. For instance, in the Five Lakes Basin, camping, fires, and stoves are prohibited within 600 feet of any of the lakes. Additionally, around the Whiskey Creek structures, these activities are prohibited within 250 feet​​.
  3. Campfires: Campfires and gas stoves are permitted with a valid California Campfire Permit. However, restrictions may apply during high wildfire danger periods​​.

4. Loon Lake Dispersed Camping

The most popular dispersed sites are on the west side of the lake, just past the Northshore Campground on Ice House Rd.

Another option at Loon Lake is the Pleasant Campground which cannot be accessed by car but I still thought to add it to the list.

Loon Lake is very crowded in the summer and there have been several closures recently so you’ll definitely want to check on Eldorado National Forest to double-check that the area is open.

5. Luther Pass Dispersed Camping Area

Luther Pass Dispersed Camping Area is a mix between an actual campsite and a dispersed camping area south of Lake Tahoe. Luther Pass has free sites to camp at but the amount of sites is very limited, so it is recommended to get there early to snag a spot.

They are one of the only dispersed camping sites that offer pit toilets as well as bear boxes.

I put this one on here last as the sites are actually hike-in, but still wanted to add this spot to the list as the parking lot is extremely close to the sites.

6. Bear Lake Road

Also located in Tahoe National Forest, Bear Lake Road is a bit tougher to reach in treacherous weather conditions (hence why it’s last on the list) but is super isolated and provides a ton of space to set up camp. Not to mention, the beautiful views of mountains and tall trees.

Bear Lake is located closer to Lake Tahoe on the west side.

Keep in mind, that this site has no facilities or services.

4 Campgrounds Near Lake Tahoe

Campground by The Lake Yes$45/night
Tahoe Valley CampgroundYes$60/night
Lake Tahoe KOAYes$97/night
D.L. State ParkYesStarting at $35/night

1. Campground by The Lake 

Campground by the Lake, located in the heart of South Lake Tahoe, offers a serene camping experience near the shores of Lake Tahoe and the popular Lakeview Commons at El Dorado Beach. This campground, situated at 1150 Rufus Allen Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA, provides campers with various amenities and easy access to nearby attractions.

The camping season runs from May (weather permitting) through the end of October.

  • The campsites at Campground by the Lake include BBQs, fire rings, and picnic tables.
  • For convenience, coin-operated heated showers and restroom facilities are available within the campground

You can make reservations here.

2. Tahoe Valley Campground

This campground is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, combining the serene ambiance of the forest with the presence of Lake Tahoe.

Each site is equipped with standard amenities, ensuring a convenient and enjoyable camping experience. Not only are you equipped with the standard amenities, but there is hot water, picnic areas, laundry facilities, and even a swimming pool.

One of the highlights of Tahoe Valley Campground is its proximity to Lake Tahoe, offering easy access to a variety of water-based activities such as swimming, kayaking, and fishing.

In addition to water sports, the campground is a gateway to numerous hiking and biking trails. These trails range from easy, family-friendly paths to more challenging routes for experienced hikers, all offering a chance to explore the diverse flora and fauna of the Tahoe region.

3. Lake Tahoe KOA

The Lake Tahoe KOA is strategically located to offer easy access to the stunning Lake Tahoe, renowned for its crystal-clear waters and picturesque mountainous backdrop. The campground’s location makes it a perfect base for exploring the surrounding areas, including nearby towns and natural attractions.

Car Camping Sites: The campground offers specially designed sites for car camping. These sites typically come with a parking space for your vehicle and a separate area for setting up a tent. This arrangement provides the convenience of having your car close by for storing camping gear, food, and other essentials, while still enjoying the outdoor experience.

Amenities: Lake Tahoe KOA offers various amenities to make your car camping experience comfortable. This includes clean restroom facilities, showers, and often a camp store for basic supplies. Some sites may also offer electric and water hookups, adding an extra layer of convenience for campers.

Recreational Activities: Lake Tahoe is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, and the KOA campground is perfectly situated for a range of activities. Campers can enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and swimming in the lake during the warmer months. The area is also known for its scenic trails that offer breathtaking views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

4. D.L. State Park

There are over 100 sites at D.L. State Park. The park is located on the west side of Lake Tahoe and features deep blue waters, lush forests, and granite cliffs.

It’s situated at an elevation of about 6,200 feet, offering campers not only a serene environment but also spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains.