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Free Car Camping near Carson Pass: Intro to the Car Camping Section | High Sierra Backpacker

Free Car Camping near Carson Pass: Intro to the Car Camping Section

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 26 April 2011

Free Car Camping in the Sierra Nevada

My focus in this forum is on free Car Camping opportunities in the National Forests along the Sierra Crest. You're welcome to use this forum to post up your own pages or supplemental information about your own favorite car camping spots in the Sierra, regardless of if it is a free National Forest site, or is in a high-fee state, federal, or national park.

There are five mountain passes carrying trans-Sierra Highways crossing the Sierra Crest of interest to us from the North Shore of the Tahoe Basin to the Yosemite Boundary. They are Highways 80, 50, 88, 4, and 108. (road conditions) We're not going to count the southernmost and highest of the three here, because there is nothing free about Highway 120 (map), the Tioga Road, across the Crest.

As I continue South constructing more trail guide we'll encounter more info about the State, Federal, and and National Forest paid and free car camping in proximity to the high altitude trails between Lake Tahoe and Mount Whitney.

It's a gas!

You must register to post up your own pages in this, and the other forums.

This means we're going to explore the free car camping along Highway 88 near the Carson Pass, the camping on the fire and recreation roads all over the top of Higway 4 near Ebbetts Pass, and seek out the amazing seasonal hunting camps that've been set up for many more generations than us Westerners been here, along Highway 108 near Sonora Pass. These are our main free car camping sites along the Sierra Crest, as they're at the top of all the tran-Sierra highways, which both the PCT & TYT cross in the North Sierra. South of Sonora Pass there is only one more trans-sierra pass, the Tioga Pass, and there is absolutely no free camping in Yosemite!! And there's no more trans-Sierra highways South of Tioga Road.

But, there are lots of car campgrounds in Yosemite, though you have to pay 20 bucks to get into the Park itself, and then a daily fee that sits around 25 dollars a night, at least.

The deal is that car camping on National Forest Lands is free, and each of these Northern Sierra mountain passes has neat free car camping spots in their near vicinity. Though camping is typically free, the requirements for year-round fire permits have been spreading across all regions and seasons over the last twenty years, since the Sierra has begin seriously drying out and burning up.

As the trail guide progresses South Down the Sierra Crest we will also explore the access roads and steep trails accessing the Eastern Sierra South of the Tioga Pass at Lee Vining, and as we look West at the long, deep, and steep Western "foothills" running up to Sierra Crest through Sequoia and Kings Canyon, when we look West at the long Western approachs to the South end of the Sierra Crest South of Muir Pass (map).

Carson Pass Free Car Camping West of Carson Pass on Highway 88

There is excellent free car camping around Carson Pass. The Carson Pass Car Camping notes and a map are located on the Carson Pass Trail Guide Page.

To sum them up quickly, there are a series of fine sites on the dirt road heading to Woods Lake on the West flank of Carson Pass. Check out this map of the Carson Pass Region.  Note the "Dirt Road" label on the road map below the hiking map. These arrows point to exactly the points where the free car camping sites are located.

Families send out "early" parties to set-up and reserve these fine sites long before the major holiday weekends roll around.


East of Carson Pass on Highway 88: Access to Blue Lakes

On the East side of Carson Pass both Blue Lakes and Forestdale Creek roads lead to the Blue Lakes. Access points to both roads are marked on the google road map below. Forestdale Creek Road is a dirt road located just a bit South of Carson Pass, accessed just South of Red Lake. The paved Blue Lakes Road sits a couple of miles West of the junction between Highway 88 and 89.

Our car camping sites are located off a dirt road that tracks along the series of Lakes South of Blue Lakes. The Tamarak trail head gives us access to this road that sits off the South side of the Blue Lakes Road one mile above where Blue Lakes Road reaches Lower Blue Lake.

This means that prior to dropping all the way down to the Upper Blue Lake on Blue Lakes Road we see a left turn to the Tamarack Trail Head. A nice dirt road leads out to the Southwest side of  the Tamarack trail head, and passes by the South shores of the series of lakes that the PCT is passing around the North shores. Our dirt road stretches out down to Wet Meadow Reservoir.


Tamarack trailhead can also be reached through the Forestdale Creek Road. Note that Forestdale Creek Road is unpaved, and leads to Upper Blue Lake, while the Blue Lakes Road is paved, and leads to Lower Blue Lake. It has a steep section at the top that freaks a lot of folks out...

Forestdale Creek Road  is mis-labeled on the USGS map as "Blue Lakes Road." Nonetheless, note the different locations and different characters of the two road options you can use to drive out to Blue Lakes on the google map below, and on this topo hiking map. Forestdale is more exciting than the Blue Lakes Road.

Getting over the top, steepest segment of the road Southbound  gives some of the two-wheelers problems. I've watched a few freaking out as I hike into and out of the upper elements of Forestdale Creek. It's entertaining, watching them crawl too slow to maintain good traction. Sometimes you need a little speed... to go faster than you freak out!

Follow Forestdale Creek Road over the Forestdale Divide down to Upper Blue Lake where we meet the end of the paved Blue Lakes Road. We get on and follow the paved road to where it begins climbing to depart Blue Lakes, and we follow it a mile up towards Highway 88 up to the Tamarack trail head turn-off on our Right, or South side.

If we do use these sites, we clean up our mess, and hopefully we will clean up from previous piggish car campers who were not civilized enough to clean up after themselves...

I am hesitant to reveal all the access points to get a car deep into the Sierra that I am aware of. Evidence indicates that most people who find my trail guide are excellent quality backpacker folk who will use this information wisely. So don't burn down or trash the forests during your car camping excursions in the Sierra.

Drop me a message through the link below, or hit me up personally, and I'll hook you up with a nice series of  Free car camping sites across the Sierra. But I'm not liable for the quality of the roads, or the dangers inherent in car camping in the Sierras. Read my disclaimer carefully!

If you have any questions or comments about these locations, hit the comments link below. If you have information about car camping locations in the Sierra Nevada, Register to post your own stand along pages about your favorite car camping spots.

 Happy Trails!

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