The great Buckeye state of Ohio isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind when planning outdoor excursions, but in actuality, this state is home to some of the best boondocking in the northeastern United States! It’s also one of the best states to travel through with your RV if you’re looking to see sights and save some money. In this article, we’re going to look at some of the best places to go boondocking in Ohio!
Boondocking in Northern Ohio
Summit Metro Parks
We’ll start our boondocking adventures with a good old-fashioned metro park where you can park your RV for the night. Summit Metro Parks is located in Akron, Ohio, and includes 29 campsites, some of which are primitive and some of which offer electric hookups. While the campgrounds within Summit Metro charge small fees to camp, camping at the trailhead of Big Bend Trail is free and primitive.
Mill Creek Campground
Mill Creek Campground is one of several camping areas that’s owned and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Mill Creek is located in northeastern Ohio on the banks of Berlin Lake and consists of nearly 300 RV sites, most of which are primitive, making it a great choice for some Ohio boondocking. There are tons of activities to do in and around Mill Creek and the Berlin area, including spending time on the lake. Camping is free depending on what time of year you go and where you camp within the campground.
Within Harrison State Forest in the northeastern part of the state, there are two excellent Ohio boondocking campgrounds. Ronsheim Campground and Trailriders Campground are excellent camping options, but only Ronsheim Campground is capable of handling boondockers. Each site has a picnic table fire ring, and there are latrines available in the campground.
Close to the campground and within the state forest, there are over 20 miles of hiking and horseriding trails. There’s also a shooting range located nearby. Ronsheim Campground has seven paved sites that are available on a first-come first-serve basis.
Richwood Lake Park
Richwood Lake Park is a hidden gem when it comes to Ohio boondocking. It’s located in Richwood, Ohio, and is actually more of a recreational park than it is a campground. There are playgrounds, walking trails, baseball diamonds, and many other urban outdoor activities. However, there are also four campsites within Rickwood Lake Park where you can park your RV or camper for up to three nights at a time. Fishing and boating are two of the other activities most enjoyed at Richwood Lake Park.
Boondocking in Central Ohio
Hook Lake Campground
Beautiful and watery Hook Lake Campground is located in east-central Ohio and is located in Jesse Owens State Park. None of the sites at Hook Lake Campground have electricity or water, and you’ll have to park your RV on grass or dirt. However, that’s the whole point of boondocking! Because you’re within a state park, stays are limited to 14 days before you have to move on.
Each site has a picnic table, a fire ring, and access to two lakes that are perfect for fishing and other water activities. Hook Lake Campground is free, and sites are given on a first-come, first-serve, self-registration basis.
Hidden Hollow Campground
Hidden Hollow Campground is located within Fernwood State Forest and features 22 primitive campsites. Each site is capable of handling an RV and includes a picnic table and fire ring, and there are vault latrines in the campground. You’ll have access to numerous fishing ponds as well as the Fernwood State Forest Land Lab, which is definitely worth a visit. Once you get tired of fishing and education, there are numerous hiking trails waiting to be explored. This is a fabulous option if you’re looking to ease your way into boondocking in Ohio.
Woodbury Wildlife Area
The Woodbury Wildlife Area consists of over 19,000 acres of state-owned wildlife area. Camping is permitted at Woodbury Wildlife Area in the designated camping area from the last Friday in September through the third Monday in May for free and for no more than 14 consecutive days. This is the only time that boondocking or camping of any kind is allowed at Woodbury.
All campers are required to have valid hunting, fishing, or trapping license. There are 32 primitive sites available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and no more than two motor vehicles and two tents are permitted at each designated campsite. Combined vehicle and camper length are limited to a maximum of 34 feet.
Sand Hollow Campground
Sand Hollow Campground is the second of the campgrounds located within Jesse Owens State Park. Much like Hook Lake Campground, Sand Hollow offers free boondocking and primitive camping with limited amenities. It also borders Horse Run Lake, which offers ample fishing and swimming opportunities as well as a boat dock. The same rules that apply to all Jesse Owens State Park Campgrounds apply to Sand Hollow.
Maple Grove Campground
Maple Grove is the smallest of the campgrounds located in Jesse Owens State Park. It borders Hook Lake and Sand Hollow Campground and offers the same amenities, rules, and camping opportunities. There are only ten sites in Maple Grove, so get here early if you want to choose this as your Ohio boondocking destination! There are plenty of hiking and fishing opportunities within walking distance of where you park your RV.
Muskingum River State Park
Muskingum River State Park is located in south-central Ohio and includes two primitive camping and boondocking options. Ellis Lock #11 has 19 primitive sites and closes during the winter. Lake Chute is the second boondocking option and contains eight primitive sites. Both areas advertise that they’re closed during the winter season, but by contacting the park in advance, there’s a chance that you can sneak in for some free winter camping.
Boondocking in Southern Ohio
Zaleski State Forest
Zaleski State Forest is one of the largest in the state and has tons of great options for some Ohio boondocking throughout, including Atkinson Ridge Hunters Camp. This campground is a hunter’s camp open from the first day of squirrel season to the last day of grouse season. It’s located on the north end of the Grouse Management area, and sites are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Expect nothing more than a fire ring and a few restrooms in the area.
One of the most popular areas for tent camping and boondocking in Ohio is the AEP-owned ReCreation Area. Jesse Owens State Park is located within the ReCreation area and has four free campgrounds capable of handling RVs. There are two additional campgrounds within the AEP-owned area, all of which are free but require a permit.
Camping in this area is primitive, so don’t expect water, electricity, or amenities outside of vault toilets. Some areas also have water available via hand pumps. This is the largest outdoor recreation facility in Ohio and one of the most diverse. It offers 58,800 acres of hunting, fishing, camping, boating, hiking, biking, and horseback riding, all at no charge!
Wayne National Forest
Wayne National Forest consists of over 250,000 acres of land and over 300 miles of hiking trails. It’s also home to 9 campgrounds in total and tons of boondocking options if you’re looking for a free adventure. The Forest is in southeastern Ohio and bumps up against the West Virginia border. Here are some of the top areas to boondock within the Forest:
- Kinderhook Trail System
- Wildcat Hollow Trailhead
- Old Stone Church Trailhead
- Hanging Rock Trailhead
- Wolcott Trailhead
All camping in these areas is primitive, with few amenities outside of vault toilets. However, camping is also free and sets you up for great opportunities to do some top-notch hiking.
Timber Ridge Lake
Timber Ridge Lake is also located within Wayne National Forest on the banks of, you guessed it, Timber Ridge Lake. There aren’t any assigned campsites, but the parking lot is large and allows boondocking. Bring your swimming gear and your fishing tackle because Timber Ridge Lake is an excellent spot for all manner of water activities.
Gavin Wildlife Area
Much like the ReCreation area mentioned previously, the Gavin Wildlife Area is owned and operated by AEP, Ohio. The area consists of 6,600 acres of ponds, streams, open meadows, and great boondocking spots. You don’t need a permit, reservation, or anything else to park your RV in the Gavin Wildlife Area. Just don’t expect any amenities outside of vault toilets.
Last but not least on our Ohio boondocking destination list, Bicentennial Campground is another one of several areas owned by AEP Ohio. The campground consists of five campsites offering fire rings, trash cans, benches, and boondocking. Bicentennial Campground is most famous for being the trailhead of the Buckeye Trail, which consists of over 1,400 miles of trail. You can tackle part of the famous trail and have Bicentennial Campground as your base camp. While you need a permit from AEP to camp here, camping is free and primitive.
Final Thoughts About Boondocking in Ohio
Ohio is truly a state full of surprises. Many people don’t realize the number of options for Ohio boondocking and primitive camping options that are available to them. No matter what you’re looking for, Ohio has something to offer. If you don’t have any luck at these camping spots, remember that Wal-Mart, Cabelas, Camping World, casinos, and many other businesses provide free overnight camping to RVers in need of rest.
Next time you want to explore one of the 50 states with your RV, don’t miss out on giving boondocking in Ohio a try. You won’t regret it!
Looking for more Ohio camping destinations? Take a look at these recommendations: