Are you seeking a free campground in Missouri but aren’t sure where in the Show-Me State to set up camp? You’ve come to the right place!
The state’s many conservation areas and Mark Twain National Forest’s dispersed campsites will give you ideas on where to stay. Whether you’re traveling cross-country and need to rest or just want to get away, camp without bringing your wallet into it.
Keep reading for our list of the best spots for free camping in Missouri!
Free Camping in Northern Missouri
1. Hunnewell Lake Conservation Area
The year-round, big-rig-friendly Hunnewell Lake Conservation Area is a good, forested spot for free camping in Missouri. There are around 20 campsites for tent and dry camping, with the pull-through sites accommodating RVs up to 23 feet long.
For sloped pull-through sites, we recommend bringing leveling blocks. The sites’ amenities include a fire ring and a picnic table. Also, potable water and a dump station are available, but there are no showers.
With the 228-acre Hunnewell Lake nearby, campers may obtain free rowboats onsite and go fishing. Besides hiking, hunting, and wildlife viewing, this free camping spot in Missouri allows campers to pick nuts and berries.
2. Grand Trace State Forest
The Grand Trace State Forest has a quiet, peaceful, and dog-friendly conservation area where Indian hunting camps used to stand. It’s off the beaten path and consists of half woodlands and half open fields, and it’s open year-round.
The camping areas are primitive; potable water, dumpsters, and bathrooms aren’t available, so pack trash bags and make a camping toilet. Boondockers can come in 43-foot-long RVs and stay at one of the three leveled sites. The other two sites are hilly, and they’re perfect for tent campers.
Hike to the nearby pond for some fishing and boating. Grand Trace’s conservation area allows for hunting and trapping certain animals depending on the season. You can also forage for wild edibles, such as nuts, berries, fruits, wild greens, and mushrooms, to add to your meals!
3. Thomas Hill Reservoir
If you seek a free waterfront camping spot in Missouri, try the conservation area at the Thomas Hill Reservoir! Most of the land is open, while the rest of it is forested.
At the Highway T campground, there are 19 concrete-pad campsites that are limited to one camping unit per site. The sites accommodate 40-foot-long RVs and have picnic tables, fire rings, and shade structures. Despite the lack of hookups, the campground has vault toilets and two water spigots.
Winter campers will find this reservoir perfect for free camping in Missouri. Because the water doesn’t freeze thanks to the warm water discharge, campers can boat and fish year-round.
For wildlife-viewing opportunities, seek the wetland units north of the reservoir. Beavers and many nesting and migrating birds frequent the area. Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles!
Free Camping in Southern Missouri
4. Paddy Creek Recreation Area
The Paddy Creek Recreation Area is a free Missouri campground at Mark Twain National Forest. Along Paddy Creek, it sits in a hollow and is open from April 1 to December 1. It even serves as one of three trailheads for the forest’s Big Piney Trail.
Paddy Creek’s campsites offer river and bluff-side camping; they have an open meadow space and are mostly secluded. There are 18 single sites and one double site that have picnic tables, lantern posts, fire rings, and garbage removal. RVs up to 34 feet long are accepted here.
With the 1-mile Paddy Creek Trail nearby, take a hike with your dog. Other activities here include swimming in the creeks or pools, big-game hunting, picnicking, and backpacking.
Note that with Fort Leonard Wood north of Paddy Creek, you’ll hear gunfire occasionally while camping.
5. McCormack Lake Recreation Area
Surrounded by maple trees is the primitive McCormack Lake Recreation Area, another free Missouri campground at Mark Twain National Forest. Six of the pet-friendly campsites are first come, first served and have picnic tables, grills, fire rings, and lantern posts.
A vault toilet is available, but potable water and garbage containers aren’t. The recreation area expects campers to abide by the Leave No Trace principles and pack out their trash.
For fun, campers can hike the McCormack-Greer trail, which connects to two other trails. Or they can fish at McCormack Lake, and if campers go boating, only electric trolling motors are allowed. There’s also wildlife viewing, in which eagles, waterfowl, beavers, and muskrats are the attractions.
6. Crowley’s Ridge Wildlife Management Area
Free camping in Missouri is more interesting when you’re around a variety of wildlife. Crowley’s Ridge Wildlife Management Area supports many wildlife species, so it’s an ideal camping spot for small-game hunters.
Crowley’s Ridge is a highly fertile area that’s surrounded by the lowlands of the Missouri bootheel. The primitive campsites are well-managed and have fire rings and picnic tables, with firewood cut and prepared for campers.
As with Grand Trace State Forest, pack everything in and out since there is no garbage removal here.
Every year, the two small lakes and ponds are stocked with channel catfish, providing you the opportunity to go fishing. If you’re not hunting wildlife at this free camping spot in Missouri, gaze upon the deer and turkeys.
Free Camping in Eastern Missouri
7. Berryman Campground
The year-round and remote Berryman Campground provides the best free camping in Missouri for not only campers but also equestrians. Though horses aren’t allowed on the campground itself, there are tie-up stations outside of the campsites to accommodate them.
There are eight paved individual sites, with each one having a picnic table, lantern post, and a fire ring. A vault toilet and a pavilion for picnicking are onsite except for potable water. RVs reaching 21 feet are welcome for dry camping, but take note that there’s no dump station.
When you’re not camping, hike Berryman’s 24-mile trail and see the oak trees and Ozark countryside. You can also hike it on your bike (or mountain bike) or your horse. For the latter option, make sure you bring water along so you’ll both stay hydrated as you hike.
8. Whetstone Creek Camping Area
Free camping in Missouri is a beautiful thing if you’re staying at the Whetstone Creek Camping Area. The landscape in the fall is breathtaking when the oak trees display their red, yellow, and purple foliage. Also, the land consists of a tallgrass prairie, savanna, and woodlands.
Each primitive, pet-friendly site has a fire ring and picnic table, and the gravel lots hold 35-foot-long RVs. A pit toilet is a walking distance away from the campsites.
Whetstone Creek is popular with rabbit and quail hunters since these critters frequent the area. Turkey and deer are also good for hunting and trapping. Other activities include hiking the recreation trails, boating and fishing at Big Lake, and shooting at a nearby range.
9. Robert E. Talbot Conservation Area
If you want some privacy while camping, the Robert E. Talbot Conservation Area is the most isolated free campground in Missouri. The sparse forest, highlands, and rising landscape provide amazing views of this quaint camping area.
The five primitive sites are suited for tents or small RVs or travel trailers that reach up to 35 feet long. Your dog is welcome to camp with you, but unless you’re both going hunting, use a leash.
For hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, there are more than 10 miles of trails to choose from. They’re either graveled or paved trails, or they’re among the hillsides’ golden grass.
Robert E’s 7-acre lake is perfect for fishing, frogging, and boating. And when dove and quail are in season, as well as deer and turkey, they’re good for hunting and trapping.
10. Brazil Creek Trailhead
The Brazil Creek Trailhead is a free Missouri campground near the Berryman Trail and the Ozark Trail’s Courtois Section. Hikers, bikers, backpackers, and horseback riders camp here so they can access these trails. It’s also dog-friendly as long as you bring a 6-foot leash.
Each of the 5–6 sites has a fire ring, picnic table, and lantern post. A vault toilet is available, but this small and primitive campsite has neither trash containers nor potable water. However, if you brought a water filter, you can stock up on water by the creek or the trail’s ponds.
Free Camping in Western Missouri
11. Pony Express Lake Conservation Area
Unlike some free campgrounds in Missouri, the Pony Express Lake Conservation Area has lots of vault toilets and cleanup stations. The pet-friendly campsites are well-groomed and clean, with a fire ring and picnic table at each site.
Best of all, there are facilities here for campers with disabilities! Examples of these include wheelchair-accessible vault toilets, fishing platforms, and vehicle parking.
Both sides of the lake offer primitive camping. Though swimming in Pony Express Lake is forbidden, campers may fish from its piers or go boating from the docks. With the various wildlife nearby, birdwatching and hunting are available activities.
History buffs who seek free camping in Missouri will be happy to know that this campground is near a historical landmark. The original site of Blacksnake Hills, where the Pony Express mail service began in 1860, is 25 miles west of here.
12. Schell-Osage Conservation Area
The two year-round primitive campgrounds at Schell-Osage Conservation Area are suitable for tent and dry camping. For the latter camping option, the maximum length allowed for an RV is 24 feet. Pets can come along, too, provided they’re wearing their leashes.
This free camping spot in Missouri is home to many habitats such as wetlands, forests, croplands, lakes, and ponds. It makes for an outstanding wildlife-viewing and birdwatching experience, especially when you hike Schell-Osage’s grass trail.
Hunting is prevalent at Schell-Osage too. In fact, waterfowl hunters enjoy camping here due to the number of shore birds, wading birds, and other wetland-dependent species.
13. Ralph and Martha Perry Memorial Conservation Area
Dr. Ralph Perry and his wife Martha donated land and money to create this conservation area. Hence, it was named after them. Like the Schell-Osage Conservation Area, this free campground in Missouri also has diverse habitats, including glades and woodlands.
If you’re pitching a tent, your campsite should be within 50 yards of the area’s parking lots. And dry campers have a choice of lots A–E to park their RVs.
Campers who want to fish must hike a trail consisting of two loops that travel through various habitats. Then they’ll have access to the lakes, ponds, and Blackwater River.
Besides fishing, campers may watch for birds, hunt or view the wildlife, and shoot at the rifle and pistol range.
Camp for Free in Missouri!
Instead of dealing with the financial misery of campsite reservations, plan for some free camping in Missouri! With these listed options, you’re ready to explore Missouri’s beautiful landscapes for your perfect free campsite.
Visit our Free Camping page to discover more free camping spots throughout the United States! And check out these 37 Best Places to Go Camping in Missouri for more campground options in the Show-Me State.
- About the Author
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Sarah Keck is a long-time resident of the Midwest and loves its warm and cool atmosphere. She takes any walking or hiking opportunity with open arms and likes to learn and write about the best trails.
Sarah’s first camping experience was her church’s teens’ and twenties’ summer conference years ago. Her favorite activities were exploring the campground and sitting by the fire, listening to the wildlife.
As time went on, Sarah looked forward to camping and other vacation opportunities. Writing for Beyond the Tent has opened her eyes and mind to the country’s many beautiful destinations.