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How to Find the Best Dispersed Campsites in the United States

You just can’t beat dispersed camping…

Imagine waking up to total silence – except for the wind in the trees, some birds singing, and maybe even a trickling creek if you’re lucky. You’re the only one around to appreciate your own little personal slice of heaven. Better yet, camping here is completely free.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, this is exactly what you get when dispersed camping on public lands far from the hustle and bustle of developed campgrounds.

Let’s dive right in – here’s how to find the best dispersed campsites in the United States!

What Is Dispersed Camping?

Tent Camping in Montana Near Mountains

Dispersed camping is simply camping on open public land rather than at a developed campground.

Many different types of public lands offer dispersed camping in the US, although it’s most common in National Forests and on BLM-managed land.

It’s somewhat similar to backpacking or backcountry camping except that you don’t need to hike or walk in. Most dispersed campsites are located in pullouts just off dirt or gravel access roads.

Remember that this is primitive camping at its finest. Don’t expect any amenities or services, including garbage removal or toilets. You must pack out all of your trash (always follow the Leave No Trace Principles) and know how to go to the bathroom in the woods. If you’re camping in an RV rather than a tent, understand there will be no hookups or dump stations.

Dispersed camping is sometimes called boondocking, dry camping, free camping, or wild camping – although, all these actually mean slightly different things.

Where Is Dispersed Camping Allowed?

Tent Camping in the Desert

Dispersed camping is legal on a surprising variety of public lands in the United States.

However, the greatest abundance is in National Forests and on BLM-managed land. In my experience, these dispersed campsites are the most scenic and most easily accessible. Plus, the abundance of spots allows you to pick the perfect campsite.

Other public lands that offer dispersed camping include National Grasslands, National Recreation Areas, Wildlife Management Areas, and more.

How to Find Dispersed Camping

Dispersed Campsite Pull-Off Aerial View

Google Maps is a fantastic tool to find free dispersed campsites.

I use it to find National Forests I hope to explore. Then I zoom in as close as possible in satellite view and follow promising-looking Forest Service roads to locate potential pull-offs. A good trick is to start your search near developed campgrounds or trailheads.

The websites for most National Forests often list their main dispersed camping areas which further helps you narrow down potential campsites.

Tools like Campendium, The Dyrt, and can also help you locate dispersed campsites with a convenient map search tool.

But the two best ways to find dispersed campsites, in my experience, are to just drive around and explore as well as talking to other dispersed campers.

Set some extra time aside to spend an hour or two driving back Forest Service roads looking for promising pull-offs. Don’t be afraid to scout ahead on foot – especially if you’re in an RV or pulling a trailer – as some of these roads can be quite rough, narrow, and without room to turn a large vehicle around.

Once you do find a dispersed campsite, don’t be afraid to say hello to your neighbors. I always ask other dispersed campers and boondockers for their wild camping recommendations.

And, if all else fails, stop by the ranger station. They’ll be happy to point you in the direction of the more popular dispersed camping areas and will also fill you in on all local camping rules and regulations.

Some of My Favorite Dispersed Campsites

Mountain Loop Highway

There are literally thousands of great dispersed campsites in the United States.

In my home state of Washington (check out my list of the best camping in Washington), the Mountain Loop Highway between Darrington and Granite Falls is hard to beat. Dozens of dispersed campsites line the Sauk River and countless others are located off spur roads.

Montana is another one of my favorite states for dispersed camping. Lolo National Forest, Beaverhead National Forest, and Kootenai National Forest among others all have unbeatable free campsites if you know where to look.

Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico are almost impossible to beat in terms of dispersed camping as is much of California. The Mogollon Rim in Arizona is one of my favorite dispersed campsites with an incredibly view.

Simply put, almost every state with a National Forest, National Grassland, or BLM-managed land has dispersed camping opportunities, although the highest abundance of these type of free campsites are out west.  

I try to keep my absolute favorite dispersed campsites somewhat hush, hush – but if you’re planning a trip to a specific location, especially in the Western United States, let me know in the comments below and I’m happy to send you directions to some of my top-secret campsites directly!

Go Dispersed Camping Today!

Campfire at Dispersed Campsite

Hopefully this guide will help you find the best dispersed campsites on your next trip!

Now, I’d love to hear from you. What’s your favorite place for dispersed camping? Do you typically dispersed camp in a tent, van, or an RV? Let me know in the comments below.

And, like always, don’t hesitate to ask if you have any more questions about finding the best dispersed camping near you!

Because they’re self-contained with water storage, kitchenettes, and bathrooms, RV boondocking is often easier for first-time dispersed campers than tent camping, especially for families with children. So, check out our RV rental tool to find a great RV rental for your next trip!

The Ultimate Guide to Boondocking in an RV
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