As one of the sunniest U.S. states with iconic canyons, spectacular mountains and raging rivers, Nevada is full of natural sights ready to be discovered. And we believe dispersed camping in Nevada is one of the best ways to experience and enjoy them!
Thankfully, dispersed camping in Nevada is legal and free on publicly owned land – such as areas under Bureau of Land Management control. Which makes camping a fantastic way to explore the ‘Silver State’.
We explain the rules for dispersed camping in Nevada in this article, along with the rules around campfires. Finally we share some of our favorite places for dispersed camping in the state. So read on and let your adventure begin!
Dispersed camping in Nevada: The rules and where you can and cannot camp
In our opinion, there’s nothing better than camping. It’s a chance to get back to basics, enjoy nature, and separate yourself from the hustle and bustle of 21st century life. It also allows you to experience some of nature’s best views for free.
The fantastic thing about Nevada is that dispersed (primitive) camping is allowed and legal, as long as you are camping on state ground and adhere to a few simple guidelines. We outline those further down.
Land looked after by the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and other state institutions will be publicly owned. Typically any areas that are green on Google Maps are also publicly owned. A great state map, such as this one, could help in finding camping spots too.
Keep an eye on contours as the more spaced out they are on a map, the flatter the ground will be. Maps can also help pinpoint potential water sources to camp nearby.
Just be aware that there are a few areas where dispersed camping in Nevada is forbidden:
- You are not allowed to camp in or near paid campsites (you must be at least one mile away), trailheads, or recreation areas
- You are not allowed to camp within 100 meters of a water source (springs, rivers, water catchments etc).
- Areas that specifically state ‘closed to camping’ or similar are forbidden
- Campers are asked to not camp in the middle of a clearing or meadow, and to make any campsite hidden so not to spoil the landscape for other people.
While you can camp almost everywhere else, the Bureau of Land Management has also made dispersed camping areas that are often situated beside popular hiking trails. These exist in the hope of encouraging free campers to camp in the same place, and therefore reduce the impact on the environment.
If you’re interested in primitive camping within one of these, it’s best to contact the regional office of the area you are visiting to ask for locations.
How long are you allowed to camp in state areas?
Legally in Bureau of Land Management Areas you can camp for two weeks at a time within a 30 mile radius during a 28-day period. What that means, is that you may camp within a 30 mile radius for two weeks, either all in one block, or spread out across a 28-day period. This is perfect for hikers who will move camp a few miles at a time.
The regulations are slightly different in state forests. In these areas you may camp for 16 days at a time in the same spot, but then you must move at least five miles to a new camp site. You can only camp for 16 days at the same spot per 30-day period.
Furthermore, if you are a group of 75 or more people you must gain a permit to camp in a US state forest – you can get that by contacting the local district office. There will be no fee.
Being a responsible camper
Once you’ve found your camping spot, make sure you leave your pitch the way you found it, and minimize waste. When going to the toilet you should do it at least 100m from a water source (such as a river or lake), and use a trowel (like this folding one) to bury human waste at least six inches underground. Take any tissue paper back home with you – use a ziplock bag to keep it sealed.
There are many different water sources in Nevada, but remember to always have plenty of water on you when camping and walking. A space-saving collapsible water bottle would be a good purchase. But do ensure that water from any undeveloped source is safe by treating it. That means heating it until it comes to a boil, or using water purification tablets/filter.
Campers are asked to abide by the seven principles of leave no trace – they can be seen here.
With bears roaming Nevada’s public land, you must take steps to avoid attracting them to your campsite. We advise:
- If you have a vehicle nearby, store food there rather than in a tent.
- Use a bear box or bear canister to store food, rubbish, and anything with a scent.
- Don’t pitch your tent near where food is being stored.
- Never approach any bear, regardless of its size
- Don’t spray anything with a scent
Dispersed camping in Nevada: The rules around campfires
Wildfires are a huge problem in Nevada, which is the driest state in the US with an average of just nine inches of rainfall a year!
As such, campfires are often restricted. To find out where fire restrictions currently exist, visit the Nevada Fire Info page by clicking here. You can be fined $5000 and imprisoned for six months for ignoring fire restrictions.
If fires are restricted, dispersed campers are only allowed to use propane-type camping stoves with an ‘On’ and ‘Off’ switch or knob.
When restrictions are not in place, state authorities ask campers to only build fires in a grill, fireplace, a campfire ring in a campground, or an existing fire site. You must never use alive wood to fuel a fire, but rather use wood that is on the ground or dead.
Instead of building campfires, state authorities prefer campers to use stoves and cookers as they greatly reduce the risk of wildfires. We’d recommend using a storm cooker, then you can cook knowing that the fire is contained. We believe the best ones on the market are Trangia storm cookers.
Some of the best dispersed camping spots in Nevada
One of the most rewarding aspects of dispersed camping is discovering your own perfect spots. Places hidden in nature where you can be fully immersed in Nevada’s spectacular landscape.
However if you don’t know the region you are camping in, it’s good to know a few of the best places. Below are some of our favorite camping spots in Nevada:
- Charleston Peak: This gorgeous area in the Spring Mountains has some great multi-day hike options so is perfect for camping and hiking.
- Gold Strike Canyon: Not only is this canyon a great hiking spot, there’s also hot springs here making it the perfect place to relax in the evening after a day’s walking.
- Red Rock Canyon: This iconic spot combines shimmering red rock with raging rivers. The canyon is a fantastic place for starry nights.
- Great Basin National Park: This famous Nevada region is known for its ancient pine-covered forests and jaw-dropping landscape. Its remote location means it remains little visited compared to other Nevada areas.