Visiting the Salton Sea is always an interesting experience. It’s a 45-mile long, 20-mile wide inland sea created by accident, but one that now offers 130 miles of shoreline for you to explore.

Be wary that this isn’t your typical beach vacation though. As while you can perform a vast range of activities on or around the water, including kayaking, fishing, birdwatching, hiking, and boating, you can’t swim in it due to the toxicity of the water that has happened over the years. However the area is fascinating and you’ll find abandoned towns, off-grid communities and lots more if camping here.

You’ll also still find a range of great campgrounds around the entire sea, and dispersed camping at Salton Sea is something many people enjoy too.

As we know this area so well, we’ve put together everything you need to know about camping at the Salton Sea in one place.

Right here we’ll show you the best campgrounds and why they’re worth visiting, as well as explain the rules around dispersed camping at the Salton Sea and where you can do it. We even share our favorite hiking trails in the area and more!

So read on to begin your Salton Sea camping adventure!

CONTENTS:

  1. The Best Campgrounds at the Salton Sea
  2. Dispersed Camping at the Salton Sea
  3. Campfires at the Salton Sea
  4. The Best Time to Camp
  5. Scenic Salton Sea Hikes
  6. Birdwatching at the Salton Sea

The Seven Best Salton Sea Campgrounds for Fun, Views & Adventure

There are a range of campgrounds on the shoreline and surrounding areas of the Salton Sea, ranging in price. But luckily most are very affordable and have all the essentials that you will need while camping, including toilets, showers, and drinkable water.

The Salton Sea State Recreational Area provides some of the best access to the Salton Sea and has developed campsites, including Headquarters, New Camp, and Mecca Beach Campgrounds. It also has less developed areas like Corvina Beach, Salt Creek, and Bombay Beach Campgrounds, all in all totaling 1,600 campsites for you to book online.

On top of that there’s several fantastic private campgrounds and RV parks with great access to the Salton Sea as well as comfortable amenities and facilities.

Here’s a run down of what we believe are the best Salton Sea campgrounds, why they’re worth visiting, and what’s close by to each:

Salton Sea camping

Salton Sea campground

1. Corvina Beach Campground

Corvina Beach Campground is located right on the shoreline of the Salton Sea and has some of the best sunset views and mountain views of any of the local campgrounds. Which in itself is one of the main reasons to stay there.

It’s one of the more basic campgrounds in the Salton Sea Recreational Area and the entire area is compressed dirt and gravel. in our opinion it’s a good spot for tents and RVs that don’t require extensive facilities but do want to be as close to the sea as possible.

You will also have direct access to the Salton Sea shoreline right in front of you, and can go wading, kayaking, walking along the huge stretch of beach, and even go hiking or biking in the local area and see the local wildlife, including great birdwatching opportunities.

Amenities and Facilities

Each campsite provides a picnic table and fire pit. In addition, you have access to free cold showers, pit toilets, and fresh water is available so you can fill up your containers.

What’s Close By

Corvina Beach is not close to much, but the solitude provided by this quiet campground allows you to enjoy the Salton Sea without huge crowds and noise disturbing you. However there are train tracks nearby, so you may see or hear trains passing by at certain times.

A short 12-minute drive away is the Dos Palmas Preserve, which provides a huge range of different habitats and environments that you can hike through to experience everything the region has to offer. You’ll be able to see the local wildlife and all of the interesting trees and plants that have been preserved on the 750 acres of land there.

The Important Info

Rates: $10 per night

Address: Grapefruit Blvd, Mecca, CA 92254, United States

Salton Sea camping

Salton Sea campground

2. Silver Sands RV And Camp Resort

Silver Sands RV and Camp Resort provides long-term living, as well as daily and weekly campsites primarily for RVs that have full hookups. It’s located just a 4-minute drive from the Salton Sea beach area and provides a community feel for your trip or extended stay in the Salton Sea.

For being so close to the Salton Sea and everything the area has to offer, the prices are exceptionally low, at $192 per week or $250 for the month! You can also get an RV there, rather than bring your own.

Silver Sands RV and Camp Resort is the perfect place for people looking for a longer Salton Sea experience as well as the chance to mix with a community of friendly locals.

Amenities and Facilities

You’ll have access to laundry facilities, showers, bathrooms, and even a well-maintained pool!

What’s Close By

The Salton Sea is only a four-minute drive away, so you’ve got easy access to everything the area has to offer, including walking along the beach, kayaking, launching your boat to go fishing, or enjoying other water sports.

You’ll find the Red Earth Casino just down the road if you want some air-conditioned gaming. The casino also offers a convenience store for snacks and cheap gas to fill up your RV.

The Important Info

Rates: $30 per night

Address: 88610 State Highway 86 Thermal, CA, 92274

Salton Sea camping

Salton Sea campground

3. Salt Creek Beach Campground

Salt Creek Beach Campground gives you direct access to the Salton Sea shoreline in an undeveloped campground within the Salton Sea State Recreational Area. The entire area is compacted dirt and gravel, including the pads for your campsite.

Like other campgrounds along the shore, you get fantastic views of the sunset and mountains. The campgrounds are less busy than some of the more expensive options, so it’s perfect for relaxing in a tranquil and serene environment.

This Salton Sea camping option is open to RV and tent campers, though as a tent camper, ensure you have padding for the hard ground. RVers should also ensure that they’re mostly self-sufficient.

Amenities and Facilities

Each site has a compacted gravel slab with a picnic table and fire pit. You’ll have access to cold showers, and pit toilets. Fresh water is available, so make sure you have water jugs or containers.

What’s Close By

Many visitors to the campground visit Salvation Mountain, so the campground is an excellent spot before or after visiting the mountain and the Slab City area.

Salvation Mountain is a huge folk-art sculpture created from numerous styles of artwork and mediums; it’s Christian-based with biblical sayings and writing and is considered a significant piece of artwork that is now being preserved.

Close by is also Slab City, which is an interesting lawless unincorporated area filled with artists and people looking to live off the grid. It’s an interesting place to visit, with a number of campgrounds and hostels available, though most prefer to only visit the area for the day.

The Important Info

Rates: $10 per night

Address: CA-111, Niland, CA 92257

4. New Camp Campground

New Camp Campground provides 25 standard campsites within the Salton Sea State Recreational Area; it’s ideal for tent campers and suitable for RVs. It’s one of the developed campgrounds within the park, so it provides better facilities and amenities but that also means it tends to be busier.

This is the campground closest to Varner Harbor so it provides easy access to the water for your boats, kayaks, and other recreational activities on the Salton Sea. You will also have easy access to the Salton Sea fishing jetty if you want to fish from shore.

Amenities and Facilities

Some of the campsites at this Salton Sea camping ground offer full hookup with water, power, and sewage, but make sure you select one of those as some of the sites are also dry for tents or self-contained campers.

Provided are flush toilets, hot paid showers, and water for tent campers so you can take water to your site with your own container. There are also trash bins to get rid of all your rubbish, so you won’t need to hold on to any of it.

There is also a camp store on site that provides some of the essentials, such as snacks and water. The store rent out equipment like kayaks so you can get out on the water too.

You’re also right by the park headquarters and visitor center, which provides tokens for the showers, information about the local area, and an interpretive information area to learn about the history and other features around the Salton Sea.

What’s Close By

New Camp Campground is the perfect place to set up by Varner Harbor if your plans are to get out on the water and explore the Salton Sea. The camp store will rent you kayaks, or if you’ve got your own boat, there is easy access to launch it.

If you’re looking for something a little different, the International Banana Museum is a short walk up the road from New Camp and provides a unique experience with over 25,000 banana-related items and exhibits to keep the kids entertained!

The Important Info

Rates: $20-$30 per night

Address: 99620 Tripoli Dr, Mecca, CA 92254

Salton Sea camping

Salton Sea campground

5. West Shores Marina and Campground

West Shores Marina and Campground provides an excellent location for RVers to visit the Salton Sea with all the amenities and features you’d expect. There is a dedicated loop for tent campers too, so they can enjoy the benefits of a more feature-rich campground as well.

There are 108 full hook-up sites for RVers and 30 dry sites for tent camping. You get access to the marina if staying at this Salton Sea camping option, and you’ll be on the west side of the sea, which is much closer to local shops and services, as well as restaurants. That’s always a bonus.

If you don’t have your own RV but want to experience RV living while at the Salton Sea, there are RVs for rent that cost $95 per night.

Amenities and Facilities

West Shores provides laundry facilities, flush toilets, and hot showers. You’ll find a cafe and bar in the campground, and you can get Wifi within the campground too!

If you need to rent an RV, you can. And you can also store your own RV on-site. Propane is available for purchase on-site too.

What’s Close By

West Shores Campground is located on the western shore of the Salton Sea, so is close to a large range of restaurants, stores, and other facilities in town.

You’re also close to Indigo Dune Buggies and Steve’s ATV Rentals if you want to experience a fun excursion out into the desert to zoom around. You can even visit some of the local sand dunes to try your luck climbing them in your dune buggy.

The Important Info

Rates: $25 – $49 per night

Address: 559 Sea Garden Ave, Thermal, CA 92274

Salton Sea camping

Salton Sea campground

6. Bombay Beach Campground

Bombay Beach Campground is the furthest undeveloped campground within the Salton Sea State Recreational Area. It provides undeveloped campsites but is close to the local Bombay Beach community.

You get fantastic views of the sunsets and mountains here with easy access to the Salton Sea. But you also get the convenience of being close to a small town, so you can walk and pick up any items you may need or grab some food without having to drive anywhere.

Amenities and Facilities

Amenities and facilities at Bombay Beach Campground provide the basics with chemical toilets, cold showers, and freshwater available.

What’s Close By

One of the best features of this Salton Sea camping ground is the Bombay Beach community which is within walking distance. The commuity provides stores to get snacks, drinks, and other essentials.

You’ll also fine the Bombay Beach Drive-In movie theatre there, which looks like a post-apocalyptic movie itself with old cars and graffiti left there to add to the atmosphere!

You can also explore the Bombay Beach ruins, which is a town that has been abandoned and is now a tourist attraction with art exhibited throughout.

The Important Info

Rates: $35 per night

Address: Unnamed Road, Niland, CA 92257, United States

7. Bashford’s Hot Mineral Spa Campground

Bashford’s Hot Mineral Spa Campground provides 143 full hook-up RV campsites and a number of tent campsites. It’s located just back from Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea and has naturally heated thermal hot mineral pools for you to soak in during your trip!

The mineral pools are filled from a naturally heated reservoir that’s 530 feet below the surface; it comes up at around 150 degrees but is cooled down to around 98 to 102 degrees so that you’re not cooked while bathing!

Bashford’s Hot Mineral Spa is the perfect place to relax in the sun, get energized from the mineral pools, and still have access to explore the Salton Sea, but in much more comfort than many other Salton Sea campgrounds.

Amenities and Facilities

There are six mineral pools for visitors to enjoy, as well as a heated freshwater pool and jacuzzi.

You’ll also find flush toilets, laundry facilities, picnic areas, card rooms, pool tables, horseshoe courts, fire rings, and Wi-Fi is available throughout the campground.

Propane is available for sale, and there is a dump station for your RV.

What’s Close By

You’re only a 10-minute drive from Bombay Beach, which gives you excellent access to the Salton Sea shoreline to explore and enjoy. You can also try your luck at fishing for whatever fish may be left in the Salton Sea, though anything you catch must be thrown back and can’t be eaten due to the toxic water.

Bombay Beach is also an interesting town to explore; it’s mostly a ghost town with many homes and RVs, along with stores that have been abandoned for decades. You can drive the streets or walk around and explore what’s left of the town after decades of decay. Remember to take your camera.

However, be careful as some residents do still live in the upper part of the town so don’t just wander into houses! You may find opportunities to buy local art from the remaining residents too as the town has recently started to become an artists mecca, so it’s well worth a visit to explore the buildings but also the art.

The Important Info

Rates: $45 per night

Address: 10590 Hot Mineral Spa Rd, Niland, CA 92257

Dispersed Camping at Salton Sea: Everything You Need to Know!

Dispersed camping at the Salton Sea is permitted on most land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (USFS), which includes many of the state and federal forests along with a range of other areas, including:

  • Imperial Sand Dunes are a fantastic day trip to explore huge sand dunes and allow for boondocking on the BLM land.

  • Slab City is an alternative lifestyle off-the-grid community; it’s free to camp there, but some online reports label it as unsafe. So it may not be a great location for the general camper. Maybe visit on a day trip first and get a general feel of the area first.

There are a range of wide-open spaces that many boondockers use around the Salton Sea area. As long as you’re not impeding anybody’s private land and following public land-use rules, you’re likely to be left alone in most areas. Or worst case scenario you’ll be asked to move. (Recommended: The Rules Around Dispered Camping in California).

Most dispersed camping doesn’t require camping permits, though in some cases you may need a wilderness permit, but some rules must still be followed, including:

  • Don’t camp near trailheads, recreational areas, or developed campgrounds
  • Keep your campsite as small as possible
  • Use existing campfire or fire ring areas
  • Build your campsite in an area without vegetation
  • Don’t camp within 200 feet of a water source
  • Dispersed camping in the same area is limited to 14 days within 30 days.
  • Get a campfire permit
  • Take away whatever you bring to the campsite

California Campfire Permits: The Rules Around Campfires at the Salton Sea

California has a year-round campfire permit requirement for any dispersed camping, and when at a campsite, you can only build fires in the designated areas of the campground.

You need to check the Salton Sea and surrounding areas to see if there are any campfire bans during your visit.

If there isn’t any, you can apply for a California Campfire Permit Application here.

While it’s called a campfire permit, it’s essentially a permit with restrictions on any type of open flame, including BBQs, lanterns, stoves, or anything else that you may be lighting. So you need this permit to do any of those.

By obtaining a campfire permit, you agree to specific terms around your use and management of the fire, including:

  • Clearing a space at least 5 feet around the campfire from flammable materials.
  • Have a shovel and adequate water available to help build and extinguish the fire.
  • Have a responsible adult watching the fire at all times.
  • Extinguish the fire with water every night
  • You also need to follow specific campfire building and extinguishing procedures.

There are severe fines and potential prison time for anybody not following the campfire permit rules or anyone who starts a fire that gets out of control.

The Best Time to Camp at the Salton Sea

Camping at Salton Sea is possible year-round, and most Salton Sea campgrounds are open for the entire year. However, the best time will depend on what type of camping experience you want.

The high season for tourists is between October and June, as the temperatures are more manageable and will allow you to experience everything that the Salton Sea and surrounding areas have to offer.

Tent camping may not be comfortable in the summer heat, so you’d want an RV with air conditioning instead if you’re visiting during the summer months. You can also rent an RV from a number of the local RV parks.

Our Favorite Scenic Hikes Around the Salton Sea

Many people will stay close to the Salton Sea shoreline and hike or casually walk along parts of the 130 miles of varying shoreline areas. You’ll have an opportunity to enjoy the sunrise and beautiful sunsets on your stroll.

However, for the more adventurous, there are a range of hiking trails in and around the Salton Sea area that range in difficulty, but most people should find something at their level.

Just remember that you need to be prepared for the hot sun, bringing sunscreen, hats, and plenty of liquids to stay hydrated.

Some of the more interesting hiking trails that you can easily access from the Salton Sea include:

Bat Caves Buttes is the only cave hiking in the area. It’s a 3-mile long, moderately challenging trail and should take most people just over an hour to complete.

The Ironwood Nature Trail is a 2 or 4.5-mile hike that starts at the Salton Sea Visitor Center for a 2-mile round trip to Mecca beach, but if you want to keep going, it takes you on a 4.5-mile round trip hike to Corvina Beach. It’s an easy trail with limited elevation, so most people should be comfortable doing either option.

Ladder Canyon Trail is a 4.5-mile moderately difficult hike that should take you around 2 hours to complete the full loop. It provides an excellent hike, with opportunities for birdwatching and even rock climbing. There are great views and an interesting if not challenging trek over the ladders.

Calcite Mine Slot Canyon Trail is a 3.7-mile moderately challenging hike that should take you around 2 hours out and back. You can make your way through a slot canyon and explore the various rock formations and then hike to the top for excellent views of the Salton Sea and badlands surrounding.

Badlands Viewpoint is a challenging hike in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park but provides fantastic views from the top. You can also explore the rock formations and canyon for many hours.

Sheep Hole Oasis via the Hidden Springs Trail is located right near the North Shore of the Salton Sea. The trail is a 2.9-mile moderate hike, though it does require some scrambling over rocks to reach the top, but the views once you get there are fantastic, looking back to the Salton Sea.

Imperial Wildlife Area is a great place to hike and explore the 4,000 acres of reserve across multiple trails, and you’ll have an opportunity to see all kinds of wildlife. However, this area isn’t just for hiking and is a popular hunting area too, so be careful where you decide to hike and follow all trail signs.

Rock Hill Trail is an easy 2-mile hike that should take you less than an hour to complete, though the scenery may keep you on the trail for must longer. It’s an excellent birdwatching trail to see many of the local birds, so keep your eyes peeled and your binoculars out.

Birdwatching at the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea area is home to a huge range of birds year-round; roughly 400 different bird species can be found using the Salton Sea at various times of the year.

It’s considered one of the best birding locations in California, partially due to the large water area and range of different habitats in a small area. It’s also been designated as an Audubon Important Bird Area of global significance.

Some of the typical birds you’ll spot on your bird watching adventures are geese, pelicans, gulls, ducks, grebes, a range of shorebirds, as well as woodpeckers, Towhees, Burrowing Owls, Bitterns, Sandhill Cranes, Verdins, White-faced Ibis and many many more.

Another important aspect of the Salton Sea is that it’s part of the Pacific Flyway and a critical stopover for many migrating birds between November and May. It’s estimated that there are four million birds using the Salton Sea during the winter months, which is the highest concentration of anywhere in the United States.

One of the best locations for bird watching and only a short drive from most Salton Sea campgrounds is the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Nature Wildlife Reserve which is perfect to spot the migrating birds during the winter months.

However, any of the locations surrounding the Salton Sea, especially the southern end, including hiking trails and simply walking on the shoreline, will provide excellent birdwatching experiences.