Some of the most geographically interesting and visually beautiful areas of California are the deserts, and the best way to experience the desert is to camp there. Many areas of Bureau of Land Management land do not require camping permits for self-contained "dry" camping. Contained fires are allowed in many areas. Off-road vehicles are allowed on established trails and in some open areas, for more details see Off-road vehicles in California.

No matter what others have left behind, practice Leave No Trace - pack it in, pack it out. In fact, you're encouraged to clean up other people's messes if at all possible.



All supplies should be brought because obtaining supplies in the region can often be pricey. The desert can be a desolate and unforgiving land, always bring more than you think you will need. Campfire barbecues and fresh fruit are certainly treats for which you will develop a new found appreciation. And typically, as car camping is the desired approach, you can bring in almost all that you need.

A couple of suggestions for meals:


  • Cereal and milk
  • Oatmeal (for cold mornings)
  • Fruit
  • Bagels
  • Coffee or tea and 'greens'
  • Hard boiled eggs


  • Sandwich with plenty of nice cold veggies like cucumbers and tomatoes.


  • BBQ chicken, pork chops or steaks
  • Bell peppers, onions, zucchini, tomatoes (best prepared in a covered tin)
  • Corn on the Cob, and regular or sweet potatoes (wrapped in foil and placed on the edge of your fire)
  • Ramen
  • A hearty soup

A nice touch to wind out a long day of exploring is to cook with your campfire.

  • Try to stick to an existing fire ring and modify it into a 'key hole' shape(kinda like a circle with a square attached). The whole idea is to have one part where you burn your logs and another attached section that you can push the hot coals that you will cook with into.
    • If you're in a rocky region, make a circle with the larger rocks and with some shorter flatter stones make the cooking section. If need be, use some smaller stones to prop up the larger ones or fill gaps to make the structure stable.
    • If you're in a relatively moist soil environment (some seasons this is the case!), create the same shape by digging it into the ground. A shovel is obviously best, but an ax can be handy for this and for breaking down firewood also.
  • Place a grill over the square section and as the logs begin to burn down into coals, push them under the grill. If you don't have a grill handy, a simple foil pan can work fine as long as you don't get it too close to the coals.
  • An all-steel kettle can be placed over this portion of the fire ring to boil your water.

Beef jerky and the road also go well together as long hours on the journey need a bit of flavor. Notable is a small shack on US Highway 395 simply named 'Fresh Beef Jerky' in Olancha. Its $20 for 3 packs, but it's freshly made and quite frankly the best jerky around. There are plenty of pickled vegetables and free samples also.



Bring plenty of water. A standard rule of thumb is 2 gallons per person per day. Of course this can be partially substituted with fruit juices or gatorade, but make sure that you have more than you think you'll need, particularly if it's your first time venturing in. Sodas do not hydrate you!

You may also need water for an overheating radiator.

Stay safe

See also: Dehydration, Sunburn and sun protection

The desert can be a brutal and unforgiving place. You should be prepared to be fully self-reliant.

  • Hydration:
    • Since proper hydration is a major concern, it is recommended to follow the general rule of bringing 2 gallons of water per day per person.
    • Drink even when you do not feel thirsty.
    • When hiking, carry a gallon of water for each day plus extra in case of an emergency.
    • Store extra water in your car.
    • Carry water even if you are only planning to explore a short distance from your car.
    • Consider adding powder or tablet electrolytes to the water you consume.
  • Dress for success:
    • Wear a hat with a brim and light-colored, lightweight clothes.
    • Pack warm, wind-proof clothes in case the wind picks up or the weather cools.
    • Wear sunglasses and sunscreen, lots of sunscreen.
    • Unless your clothes are rated for blocking UV radiation, it's a good idea to put sunscreen under your clothes, too. A T-shirt or other thin shirt doesn't provide enough protection to prevent sunburn.
  • Carry "a flare & a spare":
    • Ensure that your car is in good working order – service stations are few and far between.
    • Carry a spare tire, a jack, and some flares.
    • Carry boards to place under tires in case you hit a sandy trap (see below).
    • 'Fix-a-Flat' can be a lifesaver along with jumper cables.
  • If you hit a sandy trap...
    • Shift down and keep moving.
    • If you get stuck, do not spin your wheels; it will only dig you in deeper.
    • Try going in reverse.
    • If going in reverse does not work, place boards or carpet scraps under your tires.
    • If you cannot get out, stay with your car.
    • Do not leave your car unless you are certain that help is close by.
  • Know where you're going:
    • When hiking, always carry a topographic map and compass.
    • Take a compass reading before beginning your walk, and look for landmarks to guide you back.
    • Let someone know where you will be and when you will return.
    • Pay attention when traveling back roads; they often branch and divide.
  • Other tips:
    • Avoid flash floods by keeping out of narrow canyons and washes when there is a chance of rain.
    • Abandoned mines may have hidden shafts, and old buildings in ghost towns may collapse; be careful. Most mines, even those appearing to be abandoned, are private property, no trespassing allowed.
    • Gas: when the sign says "Next gas 50 miles," you'd better know you've got enough to make it before you pass the pumps! Never go lower than a quarter tank.
    • When camping in the southernmost regions of California, be aware that the areas are used as transit paths for migrants and are also patrolled by the US Border Patrol.
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