My wife and I just finished a 2 week road trip with her 3 sisters. It was awesome! In a rented van, we tried to hit as many of the West Coast’s national parks as possible. Some of our notable stops included: Joshua Tree, Zion, Grand Canyon, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone. That’s not even counting the state parks and BLM land that we stopped at along the way.
Throughout the two weeks, we spent a total of $17 on campsites. That’s $12 for a campsite at Goblin Valley, because we really wanted showers; and $5 for a campsite in the LaSal national forest near Arches (because it was right next to the beautiful Oowah Lake). Honestly, the best campsites we found on our trip were completely free!
I decided to write this post because I wanted to help thrifty campers (like you) experience our country’s national parks as cheaply as possible! Because here’s the great news: YOU CAN FIND FREE CAMPING NEAR EVERY NATIONAL PARK (Or at least near every national park I’ve ever been to).
HOW TO FIND FREE CAMPING NEAR NATIONAL PARKS
Once you’re done, you should also check out these free camping guides:
STEP 1 – Find a National Forest or BLM Land
The first step when you’re searching for a free campsite is finding public land. Two main types of land that allow free camping are: National Forest and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. In order to find BLM or national forest land, you’ll probably need internet. Typically, I use apps on my phone such as:
- Maplets – This costs $2.99 but has thousand of maps that are GPS-enabled. It’s a great way to find national forest info or national park info.
- US Public Lands – This also costs $2.99, but it provides maps of all the different public lands that are available in a given area. Super helpful!
These are two of my favorite apps for finding free campsites, but I’m sure there are more out there. The important thing in finding free campsites is to DO YOUR RESEARCH and start your trip prepared. Often, there isn’t great service around national parks so it pays to already have maps downloaded on your phone.
STEP 2 – Know the Rules for that type of Public Land
Once you find a convenient section of public land, it’s important to learn the rules. These public lands only exist because previous generations have been respectful and followed the rules. Make sure you do the same.
BLM Rules – These are the general rules, but make sure to contact local BLM offices to confirm. Additionally, make sure to follow any signs that are posted in specific areas.
National Forest Rules – Each national forest will have its own set of rules. Make sure to stop by a ranger station or do some online research to learn about the rules in each particular forest.
Step 3 – Enjoy and Be Respectful
Dispersed camping is awesome! I don’t know about you, but I love getting to spend the night in beautiful location with no one around for miles. I love staring up at the stars and seeing the Milky Way because there’s no light pollution. I love drinking low-quality instant coffee and watching a beautiful sunrise. All of this is made even sweeter by the fact that it’s free.
BUUUUTTTT….we have to be respectful of these beautiful places! I’ll say it again. BE RESPECTFUL!!!
During our last trip, we got to see the solar eclipse at the Grand Tetons National Park. It. Was. Unreal. Seriously, one of the coolest experiences of my life!
The night after the eclipse, we were camping just outside the Grand Tetons in the Bridger-Teton national forest. Bridget-Teton is a beautiful national forest, and most of the dispersed campers we met were very respectful and responsible.
However, let me tell you a little story about some that weren’t:
There was one group of campers at the Grand Tetons (that I am ashamed to say were from my generation) who were not respectful at all. There were signs posted everywhere saying not to have fires because there was significant fire danger.
Unfortunately, a little thing like safety didn’t stop this group from having a massive bonfire all night long. They proceeded to drink copious amounts of beer, yell at each other well past 3am, and pass out with the fire still burning strong. When I woke up from the little sleep I was able to get, this was the scene I saw:
- Beer cans strewn everywhere
- Garbage lying around
- The fire was still burning and no one was in sight
Anyway, that’s the end of my rant. It’s just frustrating to see people not only being disrespectful and rude, but also being very unsafe! Please don’t be that person. Pick up after yourself and make sure to leave no trace when you freedom camp.
For more information on camping etiquette, check out this post.