From the Atlantic Ocean to the Blue Ridge Mountains, South Carolina is a natural wonderland offering lots of opportunities for camping. And happily, there are plenty of places for free camping in South Carolina.
Those free camping spots provide an opportunity to sample the various ecosystems in South Carolina, from coastal areas to wetlands to old-growth forests to waterfalls. Be aware, though, that most free camping in South Carolina comes with few or no amenities.
Read on for a regional look across South Carolina at places where you can enjoy the outdoors at no cost. Once you’ve taken a look at your options, all that’s left to do is hit the road and enjoy your time in the state.
Free Camping in South Carolina: Eastern
No matter where you are along the US shores of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s difficult to find campsites, much less free camping, on the beach. But there are plenty of places for free camping in South Carolina that will put beaches within easy reach while offering their own charms.
Read on for information on some of the best free camping opportunities in eastern South Carolina. The free camping sites listed here are concentrated northeast of Charleston.
1. Honey Hill Recreation Area
Located 30 minutes northeast of Charleston, near McClellanville in the Francis Marion National Forest, Honey Hill Recreation Area comprises 15 campsites. Picnic tables and grills are available across the camping area, and it also has a vault toilet. Stays are limited to a maximum of 14 days.
If you plan to stay at the Honey Hill Recreation Area for free camping in South Carolina, you’ll need to bring your own water. That need not be too much of a burden, though, because the town of McClellanville is less than a dozen miles away.
Campsites are arranged in a loop around the old fire tower, which is no longer in use. Sites can accommodate everything from tents to RVs. However, camping here is available on a first-come, first-served basis, so if you’re planning a weekend visit, plan to arrive very early in the day.
A stay at Honey Hill Recreation Area puts you in close proximity to hiking opportunities in the Francis Marion National Forest. You can also spend some time in nearby McClellanville, a fishing village, as part of your adventure in free camping in South Carolina.
As a final note, if you’re visiting the area on the first Saturday in May, you can attend the popular Lowcountry Shrimp Festival.
2. Elmwood Recreation Area
Offering a handful of campsites, including an RV site and a group camping area, Elmwood Recreation Area is popular during deer and turkey hunting seasons. The spot, open year-round for free camping in South Carolina, is equipped with picnic tables, a water spigot and a vault toilet.
Elmwood Recreation Area is located north of McClellanville on Rutledge Road. As with other federal recreation areas in the Francis Marion National Forest, stays at the Elmwood Recreation Area are limited to 14 days.
Elmwood Recreation Area gets consistently high ratings from visitors on everything from location to cleanliness to the quiet that visitors will experience.
In fact, outside of hunting seasons, it’s possible that you and your family or friends may be the only people using the Elmwood Recreation Area. That’s a great reason to put it on your list of opportunities for free camping in South Carolina.
3. Santee Coastal Reserve Wildlife Management Area
Free camping is also offered in the Santee Coastal Reserve Wildlife Management Area, established by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. There is a four-day limit for camping in the primitive campground, located off Santee Gun Club Road in McClellanville.
Eight sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reviews indicate that the camping area is rarely filled. And of course, primitive camping means that no services are available, so it’s likely best for RV campers with restroom facilities in their vehicles. Tent camping is allowed.
The Santee Coastal Reserve Wildlife Management Area is in picturesque coastal South Carolina, but visitors have reported problems with mosquitoes during some times of the year. Nonetheless, it’s certainly worth a try as an opportunity for free camping in South Carolina.
Free Camping in South Carolina: Central
Free camping in South Carolina includes the opportunity to enjoy Congaree National Park in the central part of the state. The park is the largest tract of southern old-growth bottomland forest remaining in the United States.
The state-operated Woodbury Wildlife Management Area, located in the eastern edge of central South Carolina, offers campers an opportunity to experience a number of interesting ecosystems. From bottomland hardwoods to freshwater wetlands, it’s all there at Woodbury WMA.
Read on for more information on free camping in Congaree National Park and in the Woodbury Wildlife Management Area. We’ll also look briefly at the Palmetto Trail, yet another chance for free camping in South Carolina.
4. Congaree National Park
Free camping in South Carolina is available throughout the backcountry of Congaree National Park. covering nearly 27,000 acres southeast of Columbia. A free permit is required for backcountry camping.
To obtain a permit, email email@example.com at least 72 hours prior to your visit.
There are no designated campsites in the Congaree National Park backcountry. Campers must, however, remain 100 feet away from the waters of Cedar Creek, Tom’s Creek, Bates Old River and Wise Lake.
Campsites are limited to six people and three tents or other camping structures. Campsites must be at least 300 feet away from the next closest camper or group of campers. Open fires are not allowed, but backpacking stoves can be used for cooking.
Backcountry campers should be prepared to pack out all trash, equipment and belongings when their visit is ended.
5. Woodbury Wildlife Management Area
Free primitive camping is available at four locations in the nearly 26,000-acre Woodbury Wildlife Management Area southeast of Florence. Locations for this free camping in South Carolina are the boat ramps at Sampson Landing, Parker Landing, Sanders Landing and Tanyard Landing.
Tanyard Landing is located on the Great Pee Dee River, with the remaining three camping areas located along tributaries of the Little Pee Dee River. Signage clearly marks all four camping areas.
Permits are required for stays of more than four days at any of these designated areas for free camping in South Carolina. Permits also are required for groups of more than 10 campers staying together at any of the sites.
6. Palmetto Trail
The still-developing cross-state Palmetto Trail offers a number of opportunities for free camping in South Carolina. In central South Carolina, one of those free campsites is in the small town of Peak, northwest of Columbia.
Located at the trailhead for the Peak to Prosperity Passage on the Palmetto Trail, this free camping area can accommodate as many as a half-dozen tents. RVs can set up in the parking lot immediately adjacent to the campsite.
During your stay, you can fish in the nearby Broad River, or simply enjoy the area wildlife, which includes bald eagles. Amenities at the site include a boat ramp, a fire ring and a water source.
Just as a friendly warning, there are active railroad tracks within a quarter-mile of the camping area. It’s possible that your sleep may be interrupted by a couple of nighttime trains as they pass by. That’s a small price to pay, though, for otherwise free camping in South Carolina.
Free Camping in South Carolina: Western
The mountains of western South Carolina include many opportunities for free camping. Taking advantage of those opportunities during the fall, as leaves are changing color, can be a real treat while spending time outdoors.
Read on for a look at some of the free camping sites available in the hilled splendor of western South Carolina.
7. Brasstown Falls
The U.S. Forest Service lists a free campsite at the top of Brasstown Falls near Westminster, just east of the Georgia state line. The campsite, which can accommodate up to five campers, is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Brasstown Falls is accessed by a gravel Forest Service Road off of Brasstown Road. The campground is located about 100 yards off the gravel road. Stays at the campsite are limited to a maximum of 14 days.
There are four waterfalls in the vicinity to explore. each one reached by a separate footpath. In addition, you can enjoy swimming and fishing in the area as part of this free camping in South Carolina.
8. Grapevine Campground
Located at the end of U.S. Forest Service Road 764 near Mountain Rest, Grapevine Campground is a primitive campsite offering free stays of up to 14 days.
There are 15 campsites at Grapevine Campground, some of which are adjacent to a nearby river. Travel trailers and RVs may have difficulty accessing some campsites, as a result of boulders placed at the site to shield a tent camping area.
9. Burrells Ford
Located on the South Carolina side of the Chattooga River, which forms part of the boundary between South Carolina and Georgia, is the Burrells Ford campground. To get there from Walhalla, S.C., take South Carolina Highway 28 to Highway 107, and turn left onto Burrells Ford Road.
A parking area for the campground is located on the left side of Burrells Ford Road about three miles from Highway 107. There is a vault toilet and picnic tables at the campground, which is overseen by the U.S. Forest Service. Visitors can walk a quarter-mile to camp on the Chattooga River.
10. Long Bottom Ford
Offering a set of primitive campsites, Long Bottom Ford off Low Water Bridge Road near Mountain Rest is definitely a no-frills experience. However, visiting this spot for free camping in South Carolina places visitors in an ecologically rich environment.
There are 13 campsites at Long Bottom Ford, with amenities including fire pits, pcinic tables and vault toilets. It’s a great place to stay to enjoy the many hiking trails in the area, including the 70-plus-mile Foothills Trail.
Wrapping up Places You Can Go Free Camping in South Carolina
Now that you know there are many places for free camping in South Carolina, you have another good reason to explore the state.
Beyond The Tent has much more on camping in South Carolina, including more beach camping options and a guide to Congaree National Park. So pack up your gear, and head out to enjoy nature in South Carolina.
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Jim Thompson grew up tent camping with his family, and was introduced to backpacking with the Boy Scouts. He attended a military college, where he was introduced to rappelling, an outdoor activity which he has not pursued.
Jim holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Georgia, and spent 35 years as a newspaper writer and editor before become a writer for Apple Pie Media.
Jim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org