Free Camping in Lake Tahoe: Campgrounds & Dispersed Camping

There are plenty of free camping opportunities in Lake Tahoe.  This comes with a giant however.

Established Campgrounds

Nowadays there is only one free campground in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

luther pass campground

Luther Pass Campground

The Luther Pass Campground is 15-20 minutes south of South Lake Tahoe, along Highway 89.  The campground sits behind the Big Meadow trailhead and is open May to November.

There are 15 sites spread out enough to give you good privacy, all with tables, fire rings, and food storage.  The campground also has a vault toilet.  Because Luther Pass Campground is free and along the Tahoe Rim Trail, it can fill up quickly, especially on the weekends. Vehicles longer than 20′ not advised due to tight, curving roads.

Dispersed Camping

star lake
Star Lake, Tahoe Rim Trail near Kingsbury. Photo John Peltier

Tahoe Rim Trail

The Tahoe Rim Trail is the best option for free dispersed camping in the Lake Tahoe Basin.  The 165-mile trail follows the crest that defines “the basin”, but there are enough trailheads that you can reach most areas of the trail within a day.  This map shows all of the Tahoe Rim Trail trailheads and a few selected campsites.  You can camp almost anywhere along the trail; further details can be found on the map page.

mt rose wilderness
Rifle Peak, Mt. Rose Wilderness. Photo John Peltier


There is technically only one Wilderness area in the Lake Tahoe Basin with free dispersed camping.  Mt. Rose Wilderness is in North Lake Tahoe and contains the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Granite Chief Wilderness is just outside of “the basin” but is close enough to be considered in Lake Tahoe.  It also has free dispersed camping.

According to the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, you may also camp anywhere within the Meiss Backcountry Area and the Mokelumne Wilderness.  These areas are just outside of the Lake Tahoe Basin, about 30 minutes south of South Lake Tahoe.

Desolation Wilderness is everyone’s favorite wilderness area, but there is a permit fee due to the popularity.  You may want to consider springing for the $5 to camp in Desolation Wilderness – it’s well worth it!