Parks, campgrounds, and public lands that offer free camping

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Created by Roadtrippers - August 23rd 2022

Between gas, food, and admission to attractions along the way, travel isn’t cheap. Finding ways to make your money go further means your trip can go a little further, too. Camping for free might not be the most glamorous option, but it’s got a certain romantic appeal to it.

Photo of Windust Park

5262 Burr Canyon Rd., Pasco, WA, US

Windust Park

Free camping is available at this first-come, first-served campground from mid-May until early September. Campers won't find water, electric, or sewer hookups, but there is a dump station available. It also has picnic tables and fire pits/grills at all sites as well as flush toilets and a boat launch.

National Forest Development Road 6370, Estacada, OR, US

Round Lake Campground

Take Forest Road 6370 to the east end of Round Lake to find this lightly-used campground with six sites and two pit toilets. It's in a great location a short drive from Bagby Hot Springs and the Opal Creek Trail.

Photo of Glass Creek Campground

570 Glass Creek Rd., June Lake, CA, US

Glass Creek Campground

Glass Creek Campground in Inyo National Forest has 66 free first-come, first-served campsites. They're all large and can accommodate RVs up to 45 feet, although there's no water or hookups here.

Hwy 180 Petrified forest rd, Holbrook, AZ, US

Crystal Forest Museum & Gifts

Next to the iconic Crystal Forest Museum & Gifts are two campgrounds. One is free, the other across the street has electric (20 amp), which costs an extra $10. This is a particularly lucky find, as there's no camping inside nearby Petrified Forest National Park. Make sure to arrive while the gift shop is still open—as a bonus, it sells bottled water.

Photo of Diablo Canyon Recreation Area

Old Buckman Rd, Santa Fe, NM, US

Diablo Canyon Recreation Area

Since Diablo Canyon is a BLM site, you know the odds of it having free camping are high. It has four walk-in tent sites and four car camping sites, but little else; you won't find restrooms or trash cans, so remember to pack out your garbage.

Just north of Yellowstone in Custer-Gallatin National Forest is the free Palisades Campground. It can get crowded on weekends and holidays, so get here plenty early, as there are no reservations. Bring bear-proof canisters in case your site doesn't come equipped with them.

Photo of Reva Gap Campground

SD-20, SD, US

Reva Gap Campground

On the Custer side of Custer-Gallatin National Forest in South Dakota is Reva Gap Campground. It has restrooms and eight sites, and is generally less crowded than Palisades.

Photo of Wind Cave National Park

26611 US Highway 385, Hot Springs, SD, US

Wind Cave National Park

The northwest corner of Wind Cave National Park allows off-trail hiking as well as backcountry camping; you just need to pick up a free permit at the visitor center. No fires or pets are allowed, so remember to bring in water and self-contained fuel stoves if you want to cook. Note that all backcountry campsites must be at least 1/4 mile from and out of sight of any road. Campsites must also be 100 feet away from any trail or water source.

I-76 E, Akron, CO, US

Prewitt Reservoir

Technically Prewitt Reservoir is only free if you have a Colorado fishing or hunting license, but considering that the reservoir is stocked with walleye, saugeye, channel catfish, wipers, and black crappie, it's worth picking up a fishing license to stay here and enjoy a day on the water.

1918 W American Blvd., Muleshoe, TX, US

Ray & Donna West Free RV Park

If you're traveling through west Texas in an RV, Muleshoe's Ray & Donna West Free RV Park will be a welcome stop. RVers can get access to water, sewer, and electric (50 amp) hookups for 3 free days here. You can stay longer with a permit, which will cost $25 a day.

Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest allows free dispersed camping in areas all across the forest. You'll be camping without any amenities, and the Forest Service highly suggests you educate yourself before trying out dispersed camping, especially if you've never done it before.

Photo of Rocky Springs Ghost Town / Campground

Natchez Trace Milepost 54.8, MS, US

Rocky Springs Ghost Town / Campground

Rocky Springs is an absolute gem of a find. Not only is it free, it's just off the gorgeous (and popular) Natchez Trace and alongside a ghost town. There's a trail to a waterfall nearby as well. The campground, which is located at mile marker 54, is primitive, with restrooms that are open seasonally and limited cell service, but it's not a bad little place to spend the night.

There are two other free campgrounds along the Trace as well, making it ideal for those looking to roadtrip an iconic route on the cheap.

3199 NE Highway 315, Altoona, FL, US

Ocala National Forest

Ocala National Forest has three areas that allow free dispersed camping: Davenport Landing, Trout Lake and Little Lake Bryant. Check to make sure the sites are open and if there are any fire restrictions in place before you plan to camp out.

Photo of Congaree National Park

100 National Park Road, Hopkins, SC, US

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park allows for free backcountry camping. You just have to grab a permit from the Harry Hampton Visitor Center. For a unique backcountry camping experience, try canoeing to a site; you just have to remember to set up 100 feet away from any sources of water.

10 Lower Pine Bottom Road, Waterville, PA, US

Tiadaghton State Forest

Pennsylvania's Tiadaghton State Forest has a site with restrooms, drinking water, and trash cans that campers can state at for the low, low cost of absolutely nothing. Call ahead to make sure that permits aren't needed and that there are no restrictions; parts of the forest are a fragile ecosystem and require management.

Green Mountain National Forest has the free dispersed backcountry camping but hikers will find tent platforms and established shelters they can use as well. You may have to share them, but there are a few along the Appalachian and Long Trails here.

Michigan is an incredible destination for outdoor recreation, and the free, no-permit-required dispersed camping at Huron-Manistee National Forests sweetens the deal. Just keep 400 feet away from the lakeshores and 200 feet away from any other bodies of water, and obey all "No Camping" signs.

Photo of Hoosier National Forest

Tower Ridge Road, Heltonville, IN, US

Hoosier National Forest

Hoosier National Forest's dispersed camping is quite similar to other national forests. Hoosier is a lovely little spot located along the way to and from tons of destinations: Louisville, Indy, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and even Chicago are within about a 4-hour drive (or less).

Photo of Mammoth Cave National Park

1 Mammoth Cave Pkwy, Brownsville, KY, US

Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park is more than just the massive subterranean cavern for which it's named. The land above the cave is just as beautiful, and contains 13 lovely backcountry campsites. You just need to pick up a permit from the visitor center (at least 15 minutes before it closes) in order to stay the night.

Banner Photo Credit: Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash


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