If you want to travel on a budget, camping for free can add a lot of opportunities to your next National Park trip. Paying for lodging can be avoided in many areas, where there are some unrestricted spots to camp in for free. Whether you’re taking the trails at Zion National Park or seeing the mountains of Yosemite National Park, you won’t believe how budget-friendly and readily available these camp spots can be on your next National Park adventure.
There are helpful resources like freecampsites.net that can help you choose which area might work for you and your family. Oftentimes there are even reviews from past campers telling you which site might be the best for sunrise, where to use the restroom, or other helpful bits of information.
Where can you camp for free in National Parks?
If you think camping for free sounds a bit scary, think again. There are various resources available to get you to the great outdoors, usually using government land. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offers many public areas that are typically able to be camped on for free. These areas are often referred to as “dispersed camping”, as opposed to developed campgrounds. This is especially prevalent in the western part of the country in states like Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. Always be sure to check if a permit is required for the area.
If you’re heading into a forest, chances are that the U.S. Forest Service has set aside areas for dispersed camping. The USDA Forest Service has extensive information for most of their regions, so check there first if you are unsure if you need documentation or fees. We have also had great experiences with directly contacting the local Forest Service office, wherever we might be. They are kind and helpful, and getting permission straight from the source is always your best bet.
Camping accommodations can run anywhere from $20-$200 per night, but you don’t have to spend a single dime if you are willing to camp somewhere a bit less populated. Despite having no facilities, free camping can introduce you to primitive, natural areas for camping, and you will probably get a better night’s sleep without any noisy neighbors. You just have to know where to look!
Leave No Trace: Pack It In, Pack It Out
As with any outdoor activity, the golden rule of finding free campsites is to always pack out your trash and leave the area better than you found it. Leaving trash at your campsite is harmful to the environment and has caused various dispersed camping areas to close down in the past. Plus, you will allow future campers to enjoy the same location in the future, without having to deal with leftover trash.
When exploring freecampsites.net, it is easy to find spots near your favorite National Park and plan out your next trip. For example, the Eagle Crag Trailhead area, just south of Zion National Park, is one of the closest sites you can find outside of the park, free or not. You can even use 4WD recreational vehicles here, which makes this spot a perfect two-for-one. Previous campers let you know that there are no fire rings, but a vault toilet is available nearby.
Horseshoe Lake, just west of Yellowstone National Park, features private sites, bear boxes, and fire rings, but no other facilities are provided. You can easily access these spots on a gravel road with 2WD. Recommended at 4 out of 5 stars by previous campers, free campsites like this one are hard to beat. Reviewers often will leave photos of the campsites to further ensure just how amazing these spots can be.
A little campground research goes a long way
If you’re looking for more cost-effective ways to visit America’s National Parks, try resources like freecampsites.net, or talk to your local forest service rangers or BLM office. Primitive camping is free, beautiful, and worth discovering for yourself. You may just find that dispersed camping suits you better than a standard (and much more populated) campground. Some free sites will even have vault toilets and fire rings, depending on the location or season.
If you combine free camping with an America the Beautiful annual pass, you will be able to extend your budget and hopefully see more National Parks! And as always, be sure to keep in mind that enjoying the great outdoors is a privilege, so always leave your campsite better than the way you found it.