Mammoth Lakes Campgrounds

Wednesday, June 8 (cont’d)

After the fun day at Rock Creek, I come home to the most unique sunset I’ve ever experienced. As last light hits the White mountains, a band of clouds overhead turn soft white, like a beacon. The band extends from north to south.

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The white fades with the sun and I think that’s the end, but then the band lights up again, this time in orange. The orange blossoms into peach, gold, purple, pink, and red: a wave of fire undulating across the sky.

No, colors have not been edited in any of these photos

Saturation and color have not been touched in any of these photos, this is the real deal

Lake Crowley is aglow with reflected color.

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To the north the band spews out of the top of a peak in the Sierra, like an eruption of cotton candy. What a sunset!

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Thursday, June 9

I’ve hit the dry-camping jackpot. Between Mammoth Lakes and June Lake, CA along 395 there are four, yes, four free National Forest campgrounds to choose between – all within a few miles of each other. Today’s mission to scout out all four so tomorrow I can tow Cas straight to the best one.

Campground #1: Big Springs

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This campground has the least amount of dirt road driving but is a good distance from 395, the spur road is paved all the way out to the entrance so for those who like a smoother drive with less highway noise, this is the winner (campground itself is dirt though).

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Many sites are large enough for big rigs and some could fit multiple big rigs, but many sites butt right up against each other. Still, if you park in the middle of your site there will be decent separation.

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Pit toilets, bear box, picnic table, firepit, partial shade for most sites this time of year (open forest) but would be mostly shaded when the sun is lower in the sky, 21 day stay limit, average of 2 bars of Verizon signal. Was about 1/3 full when I toured.

Campground #2: Lower Deadman

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This campground was the farthest from a paved road, about 2.5 miles down a spur from 395, road was in good condition though. There’s an Upper and Lower Deadman campground, on opposing sides of Deadman creek. I couldn’t figure out how to get to the Upper though.

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The sites here are the smaller, a few could fit Cas and Bertha hooked up together (35 feet) but not many. The creek is small and I imagine it dries up later in the summer. None of the sites are right on the creek, but there’s a turn-around loop that goes right to the water.

The creek is there, look closely

The creek is there, look closely

Pit toilets, bear box, picnic table, firepit, mostly shaded sites (denser forest), 14 day stay limit, average of 3 bars Verizon signal. Was only one camper here when I toured.

Campground #3: Glass Creek

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This campground is the closest to 395, about a quarter-mile down a dirt road.

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Large sites, nearly all are suitable for a big rig and decent separation. This campground is popular with the ATV crowd and was quite noisy when I toured. I assume there must be a creek nearby but I didn’t stay long enough to find it.

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Pit toilets, bear box, picnic table, firepit, partially shaded sites (open forest), 21 day stay limit, average of 4 bars Verizon signal. Was nearly full when I toured.

Campground #4: Hartley Springs

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This campground is 1.8 miles from 395 down a dirt road, and the road was in the worst shape of the ones I toured (1 lane in spots with erosion), but large fifth wheels still made it up the hill, I wouldn’t attempt towing here when it’s wet though unless you have 4-wheel drive.

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Huge sites, nearly all suitable for more than one big rig and good separation. All of these campgrounds are over 7,000 feet, but this one is at the highest elevation approaching 8,000 feet. There is some ATV activity here. If there’s a spring I haven’t found it, but there is a forested ridge behind the campground.

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Pit toilets, no bear box, picnic table, firepit, most sites partially shaded – some mostly shaded, 14 day stay limit, average of 3 bars Verizon signal. Was 1/4 full when I toured.

It’s hard to follow and act like last night’s sunset. But tonight’s certainly isn’t bad.

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Friday, June 10

And the winner is? Hartley Springs Campground, with Big Springs a close second. Lower Deadman is too forested for me to get solar power and Glass Creek was busier than I prefer. It’s a short drive from Crowley Lake to Hartley Springs and I’m ensconced in my new camp (site 16) and all set up well before noon. I choose 16 because it’s the most open, I get full sun on my solar panel for about 8 hours a day.

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And it’s a good thing I arrive when I do. Strong winds roar through the pine in the afternoon, a novel sound after all the desert camping. Looking closer at the trees, it strikes me that there are three different kinds of pine tree here. Perhaps one of you readers is good at identification.

Click for larger image

Click for larger image

There is no sweeping view, surrounded as it is by forest. But it feels cozy and sheltered. All in all, a fine place to call home!

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Are you a working RVer? Escapees/Xscapers has a survey out for folks who work from the road. They’re gathering information about what working RVers find important and would appreciate your input to help make the club a better resource. The survey only takes about a minute and is quite painless. You can find it here:, thanks for your participation!


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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Joanna Fridley on June 18, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    I love your site and the beautiful pictures make more inspired then 67 I am doing it against every ones belief of what I should do i have always been passionate about MY NP& I am just doing it. I will never regret decisions I have made…only those I put off .
    I am so greean….a ‘bear box’ is for trash?
    How about you do a book of all the free camping and or boondocking? What you find at the different sites…Exact locations and maybe bars for cell..and a vocabulary in back for us greenhorns…
    I would certainly pay so as to not burn battery looking up past guess is others would as well..on the road we have to watch that….just sayin…Thank you for your hard work..joannafridley

    • Becky on June 19, 2016 at 9:56 am

      Hello Joanna and welcome to IO, glad you’re enjoying my blog. 🙂

      A bear box is for food and trash. Sometimes bears will break into tents and vehicles (less so RVs) to get at people’s food that they bring camping. You put your tasty smelling stuff in the bear box and it’s bear proof so the bear can’t get in, and then they’re not trying to break into your home or vehicle.

      Someone’s already written that guide actually, the Frugal Shunpiker’s guides to boondocking. Everyone I know who uses them likes them: Although I find my boondocking sites using free websites, more about that here:

      Take care!

  2. Dawn in MI on June 16, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    I have never seen a sunset like that. Stunning. So glad you got it recorded and shared it with all of us.

    • Becky on June 16, 2016 at 3:19 pm

      It’s a product of the way the air flows over the mountains I think, quite unique. 🙂

  3. Sue Ann Jaffarian on June 16, 2016 at 11:57 am

    Becky, I “met” you when I came across the interview video on Technomadia. Now I’m a follower. I’ll be full-time RVing when I retire and love your blog with it’s very useful information. Thanks for sharing!

    • Becky on June 16, 2016 at 3:18 pm

      You’re welcome Sue, glad you’re enjoying IO. I hope your transition to full-timing when it comes is smooth and painless. 🙂

  4. Ernesto Quintero on June 15, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    Becky you hit pay dirt on a fantastic sunset! Be safe.

    • Becky on June 16, 2016 at 3:16 pm


  5. Dale on June 15, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    I have camped many times in the Inyo and Stanislaus National Forests as base camp to Yosemite National Park but never knew about these campgrounds. Many of the places I used to boondock in the Stanislaus have been closed because of the fires a few years ago. Thanks so much for the info.

    • Becky on June 16, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      You’re welcome Dale, glad you found this helpful. I always choose free when it’s available. 🙂

  6. Kent on June 14, 2016 at 9:03 pm

    What a great report! Thanks.

    The branch/tree on the right. Red Fir maybe? Looks like some type of fir to me anyway.

    • Becky on June 16, 2016 at 3:13 pm

      It does Kent, or maybe Spruce of some sort. Thanks.

      • Kent on June 17, 2016 at 12:11 pm

        Strange people like me carry a copy of “Botanical Latin” in their EDC. Just in-case.

        We don’t understand people who don’t lose sleep at night wondering about some plant they can’t quite ID..

        Kidding… But!

        Here’s a little quicky primer on firs, spruce and pine by Steve Aitken in “Fine Gardening”

        “Telling the difference among conifers can be tricky. To me, they are all Christmas trees. But calling them such doesn’t really mark me as a discerning gardener. There is, however, a quick way to tell these three common conifers apart.

        Look for the number of needles that come out of the same spot on a twig. If a twig bears needles in groups of two, three, or five, you can safely call it a pine. If the twig carries its needles singly, it’s a good bet you’ve got a fir or a spruce. Pull off a needle, and roll it between your fingers. If it feels flat and doesn’t roll easily, it’s a fir. If the needle has four sides and, thus, rolls easily between your fingers, it’s a spruce.”

        Inquiring minds need to know! 🙂

        • Becky on June 17, 2016 at 8:34 pm

          Interesting! Well the one on the right does have single, flat needles so Fir does make sense.

  7. Maria on June 14, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    Ok. What is a bear box???

    • Becky on June 16, 2016 at 3:12 pm

      A metal container that is bear-proof, for putting food in while camping. More applicable to tent campers than RVers, although still useful if you’re the kind of person who stores food of any sort in your vehicle as bears have been known to break into cars.

  8. Julianna on June 14, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    Those were awesome. I couldn’t find what the temperature was. Thanks for the pictures… the sunsets were absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to experience RV life! !

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 8:33 pm

      It sure is a great way to live Julianna, I hope your transition to RVing is easy and painless. You’re welcome and I’m glad you enjoyed this post.

  9. pamelab on June 14, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    Hi, Becky –
    Lots of good information and wonderful, gorgeous, fabulous photos of sunsets!!!
    Thank you for your super duper blog. I always enjoy reading it and seeing your photos.
    Happy Travels.

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 8:31 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Pamela! You’re welcome of course and I can’t wait to hear about your adventures when you get on the road. 🙂

  10. Sunny Shores on June 14, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    I miss national parks in the US. Once I’m stateside, I”m so tempted to do something like this. Living vicariously through ya’ll for now though ^_^

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 8:30 pm

      If you do plan to do a tour of the National Parks Sunny, I highly recommend getting the $80 interagency annual pass (you can pick it up at any national site you visit). It gets you into every national park, monument, seashore, etc. for a whole year, a great deal if you plan on visiting more than 3 as most National parks are charging at least $25 now.

      In the meantime, thanks for following along and I’m glad you’re enjoying IO. 🙂

  11. Laura on June 14, 2016 at 2:13 pm


    As a very new subscriber to your blog, this is my first post. What a treat. I have learned of your existence from various other blogs and I have to say I am so glad I signed up. Thank you so much for the inspiration. We love this area and will be back for our free two week stay someday!

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 8:26 pm

      Hello Laura,

      Welcome to IO and I’m glad to see you here! 395 is a fantastic route for camping and I’m very glad I had the opportunity to travel it this summer. Yes, when you come back this way you should definitely check out these campgrounds. Take care.

  12. Rene Kipp on June 14, 2016 at 11:04 am

    Wow, four free boondocking campgrounds in the same area. Years ago we rode our motorcycle to June Lake for a weekend excursion. We stayed in a rental cabin since there was another couple with us. That is such a gorgeous area. I’m sure you’ll find lots of fun hiking options. AWESOME sunset photos!!
    Rene Kipp recently posted..Has It Really Been 26 Years!?My Profile

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 8:24 pm

      It’s rare to find this many free options in one spot Rene, for sure! Doesn’t look like it happens anywhere else along 395.

      June Lake is beautiful, more on that next post…

  13. Judy Blinkenberg on June 14, 2016 at 10:31 am

    Those pictures are Awesome! I’m saving your amazing information! Thank you so much!!
    Judy Blinkenberg recently posted..Quilt AlongsMy Profile

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      You’re welcome Judy! Glad you found this helpful.

  14. Sandy on June 14, 2016 at 10:09 am

    Your photos took my breath away! Can’t wait to get all my business done on the East Coast and get the heck out of this money sucking side of the country.

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 8:21 pm

      Well, if you’re really looking for cheap RVing I’d avoid California for the high fuel and food prices Sandy, but the eastern side of the state does have some great free camping options. 🙂 Safe travels and happy trails.

  15. Peggy on June 14, 2016 at 9:36 am

    Great photos and campground report! Thank you for your posts, I always look forward to them. Be safe.

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 8:19 pm

      You’re welcome Peggy, thanks for reading.

  16. Paul on June 14, 2016 at 9:34 am

    What a stunning sunset! I am putting those spots on my list 🙂
    Without seeing the growth habit of the trees, the first two could be:
    Jeffrey pine – Pinus jeffreyi
    Western Yellow Pine/Ponderosa Pine – Pinus ponderosa

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 8:18 pm

      Yes Paul, 395 is definitely worth a visit!

      I know those two pine grow in the area so it’s perfectly possible.

  17. Tuan on June 14, 2016 at 7:52 am

    Hi Becky,
    Your sunset pictures are absolutely stunning, great job. Did you have to buy any type of annual California camping pass to camp for free at these sites? Thanks.

    “The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.”

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 8:17 pm

      Glad you enjoyed the photos Tuan. Nope, I did not have to buy a pass for the free campgrounds, although if you want to have a campfire of any sort (including grilling) you do need a permit for that in California no matter where you camp it seems.

  18. Roger Bohnke on June 14, 2016 at 7:30 am

    Thanks for sharing. Those sunset photos are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Some wonderful campsites you found there as well!

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 8:13 pm

      All I had to do was point the camera and click the button, mother nature did all the hard work Roger. 🙂

      Yeah, I love me some free camping…

  19. Lee on June 14, 2016 at 5:58 am

    Incredible sunset photos! Always enjoy your posts.
    Lee recently posted..Meet Miss Georgia (aka Curious George)My Profile

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 8:09 pm

      Glad you’re enjoying them Lee, thanks for following along.

  20. Jim on June 14, 2016 at 3:28 am

    Those are beautify sky colors. I’m going to say the pines are Ponderosa, White and Lodge Pole pine.

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 8:02 pm

      Yeah that sunset was something else! Sounds good to me Jim, I wonder if there’s a visitor center somewhere around here where I can figure out for sure…

  21. JoanneG on June 13, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    All your campground information for this area is incredibly useful-thank you! Love your blog!

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 8:01 pm

      You’re welcome Joanne, thanks for reading!

  22. Alvin Tosh on June 13, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    Great campground reviews
    Love the cell coverage report too.

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 8:00 pm

      You’re welcome Alvin. Since the entirety of my income requires a phone signal right now, it’s something I’ve been paying very close attention to, haha.

  23. Jodee Gravel on June 13, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    Well I can’t imagine a more beautiful and unique sunset! What a wonderful gift – thank for sharing your good fortune with us. Your size and set up certainly give you the greatest opportunity to find great free sites. If I were traveling solo I would definitely downsize, by a lot 🙂
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..From Rivers to SpringsMy Profile

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 7:49 pm

      Crowley Lake has a few spots that can fit big rigs and so did most of these campsites I toured, you guys could fit. 🙂 It’s more a matter of the driver’s comfort level on bumpy roads and tight spots, which I know would make me nervous.

      Glad you enjoyed this Jodee, take care!

  24. Park Kitchings on June 13, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    Becky…..great sunset pictures and thanks for the heads up on the campsites. I’ve seen the signs numerous times when going up 395 but never stopped. Next time for sure.


    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 7:45 pm

      You’re welcome Park, glad you enjoyed this. And yes, any of these 4 campgrounds is worth a visit in my book, it’s hard to argue with free!

  25. Jeff on June 13, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    Big Springs has always been full to capacity, nice to see that a spot might be open for us. A note to your readers … there’s lots of altho Deadman is easy to get to and has a back roar into Mammoth it also had lots of Sumac when I was there. Keep the pets on a short leash!

    Enjoy your stay at Hartley Springs, looking forward to your reviews of the area.

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 7:43 pm

      I saw 2-3 open spots when I went through Big Springs Jeff, I imagine it’s the kind of place you want to show up on a weekday to ensure a spot.

      Thanks for sharing.

  26. Ron on June 13, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Great campground reviews and spectacular sunset photos.

    • Becky on June 14, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      Thanks Ron.

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