Most people do not know that camping is available, many times for free, outside of designated campgrounds on most public land. In general, you can camp anywhere in a national forest unless posted otherwise. Individual forests might have their own restrictions, so it is always best to check with them before setting up camp. The same thing goes for BLM land.
Camping In The Wild
It is called dispersed camping. When you disperse camp, you are on your own. The only thing provided is an un-designated patch of land. You have to bring everything that you will need and pack out everything that you brought. You will have to deal with your own poo by burying it or packing it out with you. In addition, there will not be any drinking water supplied. There might be a spring or body of water near by. In that case, you will want to filter it before drinking. or cooking.
Reservations cannot be made for dispersed camping. It is first come, first served.
If possible, I suggest scouting out the area before you try to drive your large RV to it. That way, you will know what to expect. It’s no fun driving 10 miles into the forest to find a locked gate and no where to turn your 40′ motorhome or trailer around. If you are in doubt and can’t scout, call the ranger’s office and ask about the conditions.
Dispersed Camping Guidelines
Each area has it’s own set of rules. It’s best to contact the individual agency for specifics. As an example, here are the guidelines from Colorado’s San Juan National Forest
- All dispersed campers should follow the ideals of Leave No Trace and practice the concept of Pack It In – Pack It Out.
- Generally, overnight camping is NOT allowed at trailheads, picnic areas, day-use parking areas or any other areas that don’t allow overnight parking.
- You may not travel more than 300 feet from a designated road (see MVUM below)
- When using a dispersed camping area, the general rule is to be a minimum of at least 100-200 feet away from any road, trail or water source.
- Dispersed campers are only allowed to stay a maximum of 14 days in any 30-day period.
90% of the time, the only dog restriction when you are dispersed camping is that they need to be under your control at all times.
Finding Dispersed Campsites
We recommend using our website, http://freecampsites.net as we make it really easy to locate dispersed camping in your area. We have maps, gps coordinates, pictures, and user submitted reviews.
Contacting the agency who manages the area you are interested in is also a great way to find campsites. They are on location and know the current conditions.
You can also go out on your own and try to discover “unknown” wild campsites. If you decide to go it alone in a national forest, make sure that you have their most recent Motor Vehicle Use Map. They also show where dispersed camping is allowed along with areas that it prohibited. Why MVUMs? Since the Travel Management Rule for the U.S. Forest Service was implemented in 2005, the forest service has closed many roads to vehicular travel. The rule requires each national forest or ranger district to designate those roads, trails, and areas open to motor vehicles. Designation will include class of vehicle and, if appropriate, time of year for motor vehicle use. A given route, for example, could be designated for use by motorcycles, ATVs, or street-legal vehicles. Once designation is complete, the rule will prohibit motor vehicle use off the designated system or inconsistent with the designations. Designations will be shown on a motor vehicle use map. Use inconsistent with the designations will be prohibited. The rule requires each national forest or ranger district to designate those roads, trails, and areas open to motor vehicles. The MVUM can usually be obtained at a local ranger station. They are provided free of cost. Many times you can download them in PDF form from the individual forest’s website. Learn more about MVUMs: http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/ohv/
Google Earth and satellite maps are also a tremendous help. You can use them to zoom in on an area and locate campsites without even leaving your house. Often times, you’ll even see other people camping.
Other Lands for Dispersed Camping
Most states have lands that are managed by the state’s Fish and Game Commission. These are usually called Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). Many allow you to camp. There are a good number of states that allow camping on State Trust Land. State Forests might also be a good bet in your area. There are only a handful of states that have State Parks with dispersed camping. Some utility companies allow it on their land. Privately held conservation lands might also permit dispersed camping. All of these options vary from state to state and each owner might have a different set of rules.
Welcome to the world of free camping! I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. If you are self sufficient and want a more natural experience then you wont be disappointed.