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Camping in the Eastern Sierras (BLM land)

BLM Camping - The Basics

Ever since my dad told me that it was possible to camp on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land about a year ago, I have been dying to go. The BLM holds a variety of land types and offers campsites that are either minimally developed or just undeveloped land. In campsites of the former type, there is likely to be a restroom or two, and there is generally a nominal fee for overnight use. On the other hand, undeveloped lands require you to, yes, poop in a hole, but are normally free and much more isolated (since people seem deterred by the lack of facilities). Because there are no park rangers or facility maintenance people, make sure to PACK IT IN AND PACK IT OUT! 

Since we have dogs that don’t really enjoy being around people, we opted to camp on more secluded land.  Here are the two main (logistical) things you should know before camping on any BLM land:

1. You need to get your campfire permit. Don’t worry it’s free. Print it out and keep it with you. Also, make sure to also check any fire advisories to know if you can have a campfire in your area.

2. Camp in a pre-existing campsite. To limit disruption to the local environment, camp in a site where someone has camped before. These primitive campsites can normally be found by locating stone fire rings.

BLM Camping - Getting to Coyote Flats, Eastern Sierras

When I was researching where we could go, I knew that my husband and I wanted to go somewhere with trees (we live in a desert region and wanted a change of scenery). Through my countless Google searches and consultation of BLM and 4×4 adventure forums, I discovered a place called Coyote Flats. From where we live in Southern California, you just take the US-395 north until you need to turn left onto Schober Ln in Bishop, CA. Then you just take this road for….a while. You can just enter “Coyote Flats Campground” into your Google Maps, and it will get you there.

 If you have any sort of off-roading/ATV vehicle, this 4×4 part will be a lot quicker for you than it was for us in our 2005 Titan. The entire 4×4 portion of the trail runs about 21 miles, I believe, but there are various primitive campsites along the way, if you don’t want to or can’t drive the whole length. We definitely brought supplies in case of a popped tire, but miraculously, we didn’t get one. With all of the rocks we had to pass over and the precarious positions of the truck, we have absolutely no idea of how all the tires remained intact. These photos show the type of terrain we had to cross, so you know what to expect.


To be honest, I took all of these photos on our way out of the campsite. On the drive in, I was holding onto the handle inside the truck and frantically praying to the tire gods that we would make it to the campsite in one piece. By the time we got to a campsite I liked (about 18-19 miles in?), we were both drenched in sweat from being terrified and holding our breath with every lurch of the truck over another large rock.

Side note: When you reach the signs with maps of the Inyo Forest on them, you’re ~1/2 to 2/3 of the way through the 4×4 trail.

BLM Camping - Setting Up Camp!

We chose a campsite with a large flat area surrounded by trees. It was a ways away from the road, so we felt comfortable letting the dogs run around freely. We didn’t see any cars, but we did see a couple of ATV groups heading up to nearby lake during the duration of our camping trip.

It got really cold, really fast once the sun went down (we were there in mid-September). We had a roaring fire going, and our younger dog had a jacket on but still was shivering unless he was in my lap under my warmest jacket. When we woke up, the dogs’ water bowl, which had been inside the tent, was frozen and the car said it was 22 degrees!! Brr!!

BLM Camping - Enjoying Our Leisure Time

Once the sun came up, it warmed up quickly and we didn’t even need jackets after about 9AM. The dogs had fun playing fetch and Ty and I played cribbage, uno, and read books.

Funnel Lake

On the third day there, we hiked about a mile to a nearby lake. We first came across a very small body of water, more like a pond. Thinking this was Funnel Lake, we were pretty disappointed. 

But then Ty said he needed to use the bathroom, so I took the dogs with me to explore ahead, and after another 5 minutes of walking I spotted the REAL Funnel Lake. It was much bigger and much bluer than the algae-filled pond that we had just seen.

The dogs quickly alerted to me some nearby deer, and when Ty came back, he had some fun fishing for a little while.

It ended up being too cold at night for our dogs, so we left earlier than we had planned. Still, though, this was one of the best camping trips I have ever been on. We were able to relax, and so were the dogs as we had no other people anywhere close to us. If we had gone on this camping trip a month or two earlier, I think the weather would have been just perfect! I would definitely recommend Coyote Flats to anyone looking for an isolated getaway and a place to use their 4×4 capabilities.

Happy holidays and happy new year! -B.H.

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2 years ago

Nice photos, B. Now I want to go camping!!
And that’s a pretty sweet Ducks hat Ty is sporting. Wonder where he got that… 😉

Sandra dominguez
Sandra dominguez
2 years ago

The photos of your dogs from behind made them look like wild turkeys walking away!