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Free Camping in the National Forests

It's called dispersed camping and it's free.


Stanislaus National Forest

Stanislaus National Forest

photo © M. Dunn

Every now and then I think we all get the urge to get away from it all. I believe that we need to escape our routines occasionally and that some time spent in the outdoors is a healthy remedy for body and soul. We are fortunate in the USA to have millions of acres of public lands available for our enjoyment and recreation. One of the primary caretakers of these vast outdoor resources is the USDA Forest Service which supports a policy called . . .

Dispersed Camping

"All National Forest lands are open to camping unless otherwise posted. The advantages to this type of camping are many: peace, solitude, and adventure. There are, however, a few 'drawbacks'. You'll need to have a fire permit, bring your own water or purify water from lakes, streams, or springs. Be sure to make your camp at least 100 feet from all water sources. Since there are no toilet facilities, please dig a hole at least six inches deep for disposal of your human waste." - USDA Forest Service

I've camped in many National Forests around the country. One of my favorite places for getting away was in the high country of Arizona's Kaibab National Forest. I lived and worked for several years in Grand Canyon Village on the south rim and spent many weekends camping in the surrounding woods. A friend and I each had motorbikes and often we would fill our daypacks with some munchies, grab our sleeping bags, and head down a trail until we came to a spot that seemed inviting. Being the open country that it is, we could ride forever through the woods, if we wanted, but a scenic view, or an unusual smell, or singing birds, or some other enchantment would usually beckon us to stop.

This country has them all: canyon vistas and unbelievable sunsets, the sweet smells of juniper and ponderosa pine, an endless variety of birds and other forest creatures, and wide open spaces. The night sky is so clear here that the Milky Way appears as a bright cloud stretching from horizon to horizon. I shall visit here again!

If you really want to find a campsite that's away from it all, then consider some dispersed camping in one of our National Forests. Like my reminiscing above, each National Forest offers opportunities for adventure and outdoor enjoyment with minimum interruption from your fellow man. As an aid in finding a National Forest near you, visit Recreation.gov.

Remember, dispersed camping implies the rule: leave no trace. Respect the forests and help keep them clean for all to enjoy.

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