Is Camping at the Salton Sea Safe?

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A large body of water in the middle of California’s southern desert looks apocalyptic at first glance. It’s called the Salton Sea, and ghost towns surround its coast, not far from thriving cities in Coachella Valley. So is Salton Sea camping a thing? And is it safe?

Keep reading to learn what this mysterious sea is and if it’s dangerous. We take a look at its history and fill you in on where you can camp near it. 

About the Salton Sea 

The Salton Sea is a shallow and highly saline body of water in southern California, just south of I-10, entering Coachella Valley. It’s one of the largest inland seas and lowest spots in the world at -227 ft below sea level.

In 1905, a spring flooded the Colorado River, which created the Salton Sea over 18 months. Engineers were able to stop the flow in 1907. But what was left was a 45-mile long and 20-mile wide body of water. 

Outdoor enthusiasts flocked to the area to boat, swim, beach, and do Salton Sea camping. But it became increasingly saline, which has reduced the type of fish in the Salton Sea. Today, you can find Tilapia in the sea.

Is the Salton Sea Toxic? 

The Salton Sea is polluted. It’s becoming more shallow with a receding shoreline due to high air temperatures and toxins. According to GreenMatters, the mud in the sea contains toxic chemicals, including chromium, zinc, lead, and pesticides blow into the sea from nearby agriculture. These chemicals are dangerous to marine ecosystems and humans. 

GreenMatters contends engineers could restore it with water pumped from the Sea of Cortez to cover the exposed sediment and clean the Salton Sea. But the California government isn’t addressing the problem with plans or funds. So for years, the Salton Sea sits toxic and without much marine life.

Pro Tip: If you want to explore California, but a polluted lake isn’t your style, read How to Find the Best Free Camping in California for other options.

An aerial shot of the Salton Sea looking green against the white shoreline.

Can You Go Swimming in the Salton Sea?

The Salton Sea is not safe for swimming because of its toxicity. Boating, kayaking, and fishing are permitted, but we recommend discretion. The California Parks and Recreation Department has closed areas such as Varner Harbor due to the decreasing water levels.

Can I Camp At Salton Sea? 

Salton Sea camping is allowed. There are campgrounds located around the body of water. And while the towns around the sea seem like ghost towns, you’re likely to find campgrounds populated.

Salton Sea camping can be an adventure you’re sure to hear stories about. Besides the spooky vibe, there are a lot of great hikes nearby, as well as Coachella Valley and Joshua Tree National Park. 

Keep in Mind: California is known for some severe winds. If you plan on visiting this state, be sure to read up on if Is It Safe to Drive Your RV When It’s Windy?

A girl overlooking the Salon Sea outside of her camping spot.

Where to Camp

There are five ways to enjoy Salton Sea camping. Let’s take a look at the options and their locations.

1. Salton Sea State Recreation Area 

Address: 100225 State Park Rd, Mecca, CA 92254

The Salton Sea State Recreation Area has various campsites around the sea. There are full hookup RV sites near the headquarters in Mecca, California, and developed sites at New Camp. You can also camp at Mecca Beach, Corvina Beach, and Salt Creek.

2. West Shores RV Park

Address: 559 Sea Garden Ave, Thermal, CA 92274

West Shores RV Park is on the shores of the sea in the almost deserted town of Salton City. While Salton Sea camping, the RV park offers full hookup sites, and you can get weekly and monthly discounted rates. In addition, the campground has bathrooms, showers, a laundry facility, and an on-site cafe.

3. Oasis Palms RV Resort

Address: 90123 81st Ave, Thermal, CA 92274

Oasis Palms RV Resort has a pool, spa, and activities. It also has WiFi, laundry facilities, tennis courts, a club room, and it’s dog-friendly. There are full hookup and partial hookup RV sites.

4. Bashford’s Hot Mineral Spa

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

Bashford’s Hot Mineral Spa features six natural mineral water baths, a heated pool, and a heated jacuzzi. Their RV park has 143 full hookup sites. It also has a laundry facility, propane, dump station, and a community fire ring.

5. Fountain of Youth Spa RV Resort

Address: 1500 Spa Rd, Niland, CA 92257

The Fountain of Youth Spa RV Resort is an adult community. It offers RV sites with full and partial hookups. The resort has three hot spas, one natural mineral spa, four private soaking tubs, a saltwater pool, a chlorinated pool, and steam rooms. In addition, it has bathrooms, showers, various outdoor activities, a hair salon, and a cafe.

So, Is Camping at the Salton Sea Safe?

Salton Sea camping is safe, as long as you don’t go swimming in the sea. Also, you might want to turn one of the campgrounds on our list into a regular stop because the prices are hard to beat.

Camping near the Salton Sea is some of the cheapest rates you’ll find in California. Due to its reputation and the water’s toxicity, the camping fees are reasonable compared to nearby Palm Springs. 

A view of the Salton Sea at one of the many camping areas.

Visit This Unique Camping Destination at Least Once

You’re likely to get a kick out of visiting the Salton Sea and learning about its history. Consider trying Salton Sea camping at least once to see what you think. You may just keep coming back year after year. 

Have you camped by the Salton Sea? If so, let us know about your experience in the comments below.

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4 comments
  1. We camped at the Recreation area I. The late spring on our way to Joshua Tree. It was well worth the stop and an interesting area. The sunset was spectacular and the full hookups worked out well and inexpensive as you note.

  2. I have not camped at Salton Sea, however, every year I drive by it going to boondock in the desert area of Borrego Springs. The Anza Borrego desert is filled with amazing places to see and hike!! It’s definitely worth the trip!!
    Mina

  3. In the cooler months, West Shores RV Park and the surrounding beach, which is free to boondock, you’ll find a substantial group of powered paraglider pilots. It’s a bit noisy due to their two-stroke engines buzzing aronud the skies, but if you’re in to things that fly, it’s a beautiful thing.

  4. There is SO much to see and do around the Salton Sea. There are abundant opportunities for legal off roading, with Ocotillo Wells SVRA and the Truckhaven Hills on the western side of the sea. Traveling around the area is like walking back in time. On the east side you can see massive geothermal projects that are awe inspiring. Salvation Mountain is a must see destination, and is less then an hour from Salton City. The area is rich in agriculture, and there is an incredible history to be found. It is one of my favorite places on earth.

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