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32 Best Free Camping Sites

Stay the night outdoors without spending a dime. These no-fee campgrounds and hidden spots are free and completely legal

Mandy Ferreira

It’s easier than ever to find a free place to camp thanks to sites like Campendium and Freecampsites.net. In addition to the unforgettable campgrounds below, you can go dispersed camping for free on public lands throughout the United States and Canada. Just remember to check that you are not on private land, inside a fee campground, and/or within 200 feet of any water source like a lake or stream before staking down your tent.

You can camp on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service land for up to 14 days in most places. Whether you go off the beaten track or stick with the free campgrounds below, it’s crucial you follow the seven Leave No Trace principles to reduce your impact, protect the environment, and keep the animals and humans in the area safe.

Humpback whales breaching at Glacier Bay

Alaska

Bartlett Cove Campground, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

There aren’t many other places where you can fall asleep to the sounds of whales. This walk-in campground has (much needed) bear-proof food storage containers, fire pits, free firewood, and a small warming shelter. nps.gov/glba

Galbraith Lake Campground, Arctic Region

The 30 campsites here are all that’s left of what was once a glacial lake that filled the entire Atigun Valley. The site is near the Atigun Gorge and the western edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. No amenities; blm.gov

Lower Skilak Lake Campground, Kenai Peninsula, Southcentral

This popular campsite inside the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. With 14 sites, toilets, and a boat launch, it’s one of the more developed campgrounds in the park. fws.gov

Otto Lake, Healy, Interior

Located just two miles south of Healy and within driving distance of Denali National Park & Preserve, this summertime gem is right on the shore of Otto Lake. If all the spots are full, free dispersed camping is allowed along the Denali Highway or you can snag a paid site at one of the other campgrounds in the area. No reservations; travelalaska.com

British Columbia

British Columbia is home to some of the most gorgeous free camping in the West. In addition to allowing dispersed camping on most public land, there are more than 1,200 Forest Service Recreation campsites (many are free). Most are accessed on unpaved service roads and don’t have hookups or running water, but you can’t beat the lake- and riverside spots or the views of the mountains.

Dinner Rock, Powell River

This maintained campsite has 13 spaces and a paved access road. Picnic tables overlook the Malaspina Strait. Boat launch; toilets; no potable water; sitesandtrailsbc.ca

Seton Dam Campground, Lilllooet

It’s hard to believe that this 45-site campground is free. In the late 1800s the area was full of gold miners hoping to strike rich. Now it’s home to a reservoir with hiking trails and plenty of rainbow trout to keep you busy. Drinking water; picnic tables; fire rings; no reservations; bchydro.com

Jones Lake, Chilliwack

Those who can make it in–the road is notoriously poor, even in the summer–can enjoy mountain biking without the crowds and a peaceful free camping site overlooking the reservoir. The road is an active logging route that’s best left for 4×4 vehicles with a high clearance. Check road conditions before leaving. Vault toilets; picnic tables; no reservations; bchydro.com

Squamish Riverside Campsite, Squamish

This riverside campground is a favorite spot for fishing. There are only nine sites, so be sure to head out early when the fish are biting. Vault toilets; fire rings; no garbage service; sitesandtrailsbc.ca

Washington

Liberty Recreation Site, Liberty

Camp along a bubbling creek in the Cascade Mountains. This campground is open yearround, but snow can make it difficult to access. The trails in the area are excellent for snowmobiling or warm-weather hiking. The 15 sites rarely fill up, but summer weekends can be busy. Vault toilets; no potable water; recreation.gov

Soda Springs Campground, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Packwood

If you’re looking for a quiet place to get away, this small six-site campground might be just what you’re after. Nestled in a stand of western hemlock, Douglas fir, and silver fir, the area is well-screened and not crowded. No potable water; vault toilet; no reservations; fs.usda.gov

Mowich Lake Campground, Mount Rainier National Park

Make yourself at home along the largest and deepest lake in the park. This campground is well-worth the effort to get there. Once you make it down the mostly unpaved access road, you’ll have to walk into the campground (although it’s not that far from the parking lot). Fires are not allowed, so be sure to pack a good camp stove. Arrive early in the summer to snag one of the 10 spots. Open early July – early Oct; picnic tables; food storage; no reservations; nps.gov/mora and visitrainier.com

Gorge Lake Campground, North Cascades National Park

Lie back in your tent with views of the Gorge Lake and the cascading Stetattle Creek. The six-site campground can be popular–arrive early or be one of the first to take advantage of the reservation system. Reservations starting May 2018; no potable water; vault toilets; nps.gov/noca

Dosewallips Campground, Olympic National Park

The access road to this campground washed out, but you can still hike the 6.5 miles in for a secluded night in the woods. Heavy rains can close large swaths of the park, so always check road conditions and campground status before leaving. No water; vault toilets; nps.gov/olym

Sparks Lake, OR

Oregon

Sparks Lake, Central Oregon

Only 25 miles west of Bend, Sparks Lake offers breathtaking views of Mount Bachelor, Broken Top, and South Sister. Roughly 22 backcountry campsites are tucked around the shore of the lake, and nearly all of them are accessible by kayak, paddle board, or canoe. Backcountry camping; no amenities; no potable water; no reservations; fs.usda.gov

Pine Mountain Observatory, Central Oregon

There’s a reason this site neighbors the University of Oregon’s observatory. While you can build a fire outside of the dry season, we recommend embracing the dark and spending more time looking up at the stars. No amenities; no reservations; rarely full; pmo-sun.uoregon.edu

Mt. Ashland Campground, Southern Oregon

Enjoy remote mountain camping along the Pacific Crest Trail. Aim for early June to catch the wildflowers, butterflies, and birds in their full glory. Open summer to early fall; no potable water; bring extra water to put out campfire; fs.usda.gov

Amboy Crater, CA

California

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

It isn’t easy to secure a free night in the Marin Headlands–between Hawk Camp and Haypress there are only eight sites. The good news is that both campgrounds take reservations (call 415/331-1540 up to two months in advance). No potable water; no fires allowed; nps.gov/goga

Amboy Crater, San Bernardino County

Sleep alongside an extinct volcano in the Mojave Desert. The area has some shade, but it’s best to camp here when the weather is mild. In the summer, temperatures easily break 100 degrees. No potable water; vault toilets; blm.gov

Box Canyon West, Mecca

Can’t find a camping spot in Joshua Tree? Head south and camp inside this sandstone canyon instead. Plan a visit in February or March to catch the desert wildflower blooms. freecampsites.net

Laguna Mountain Recreation Area, San Benito County

Believe it or not, the area is known for its scenic waterfalls. Both Laguna Mountain and Upper Sweetwater campgrounds offer free campsites with level RV pads, fire rings, and picnic benches. No potable water; vault toilets; no trash collection; blm.gov

Mud Lake Trailhead, Lassen National Forest, Shasta County

Visit Lassen Volcanic National Park without spending a dime on lodging. The dispersed camping along the Mud Lake Trailhead is only 15 miles from the park, and it also offers prime access to the Pacific Crest Trail. Vault toilets; fs.usda.gov

Soldier Meadows Hot Springs, NV

Nevada

Soldier Meadows Hot Springs, Black Rock/High Rock Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area

169 miles northeast of Reno, the desert is hiding a true oasis. Soak in the hot creek (there are multiple pools, including one right off the parking lot) before slipping into your sleeping bag. While it’s located just north of Burning Man, the area is closed during the annual event to protect it. travelnevada.com and blm.gov

Idaho

Forest Service Road 524 (the Grandjean Road), Grandjean

Dip into the Sacajawea Hot Springs or head to Sawtooth Lodge for dinner and a soak in their geothermal heated pool. From highway 21, turn onto Forest Service Road 524. You can camp at any of the undeveloped camping spots along the six-mile stretch. No amenities; no potable water; no toilets.

Montana

Red Meadow Lake Campground, Flathead County

Sleep at 5,500 feet in the Flathead National Forest and wake up early to prime fishing. No water; vault toilets; picnic tables; fire rings; fs.usda.gov

Cherry Creek Campground, West Yellowstone

Only eight miles from West Yellowstone, this 7-site campground boasts fishing and swimming along Hebgen Lake. No potable water; pack out garbage; busy in summer months; open Memorial Day to Mid-October; fs.usda.gov

Blodgett Canyon Campground, Hamilton

Located in the Bitterroot National Forest, this campground is close to epic rock climbing and bouldering in the scenic Blodgett Canyon. There’s also a nearby trout stream if you’re looking for something with less adrenaline. The five sites fill up fast. Vault toilets; drinking water; fs.usda.gov

Stony Campground, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Philipsburg

Bring along your four-legged friend for an unforgettable stay in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The campground can hold trailers up to 32 feet. Drinking water; vault toilets; Open April 1 to Oct 30; fs.usda.gov

Wyoming

Lovell City Campground, Lovell

Park your camper or RV for free and enjoy Lovell’s small-town charm. Toilets; showers; dump station; drinking water; townoflovell.com

The Cottonwood Lake Campground, Bridger-Teton National Forest

A two-hour drive outside of Grand Teton National Park, the 18 sites at Cottonwood Lake make a perfect home base for exploring the trails on an ATV or setting up along the shores to fish for brook and cutthroat trout. Drinking water; vault toilet; fs.usda.gov

Utah

Sunset View Campground, Navajo National Monument

Explore the entire park, included a guided tour of cliff dwellings, without spending a penny. Sunset View has 31 small sites for tents or RVs up to 28 feet. Drinking water; toilets; no fire allowed; nps.gov/nava

Forest Road 121, Dixie National Forest

Pull off Scenic Byway 12 for a short stopover before continuing on to Bryce Canyon National Park. Look for already formed camping areas along Forest Road 121 for a quiet, undisturbed night. No amenities; no drinking water; no toilet; fs.usda.gov

Colorado

Oh Be Joyful Campground, Crested Butte

How could you not be happy to pitch your tent with a campsite name like that? While a few of the sites require a quick (and a bit chilly) low river crossing, the scenery will keep that smile on your face regardless. Besides, your feet will be plenty warm by the time you fall asleep to the sounds of the river. Fire pits; vault toilets; travelcrestedbutte.com