Free camping is abundant! Often called disbursement camping many of our public lands offer camping off the beaten path for free. Defined by the USDA Forest Service as:
dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground. Dispersed camping means no services; such as trash removal, and little or no facilities; such as tables and fire pits, are provided. Some popular dispersed camping areas may have toilets.
Finding Free Camping Spots
Going to your local forest service office is the best way to start. Talking with the forest rangers and staff in your local area will give you an idea of more secluded spots. Not going camping near by? Look at these sites for more information. (Looking for cool camping gear for next season?)
www.discovertheforest.org makes locating an activity or camping spot in your area a snap! The highly interactive website lets you put in an activity, travel distance, location, or plan an entire trip. The discovery agents app lets kids explore locations by the magic of GPS. Great way to get kids on board for a family road trip!
www.Freeampsites.net This is a community run organization. Members put in and update the entries needed. It includes an awesome road trip planning component, too. Be aware that not all the campsites are free so check the listing. Most of the campsites are located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Forest Service Land, or Wildlife management areas (WMA).
Use Your Public Lands for Camping
www.fs.usda.gov The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service manages an enormous amount of land with abundant free camping sites.
www.blm.gov Managed by the Department of the Interior, these Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites are often free. New on the site are detailed maps for mountain biking enthusiast.
cpw.state.co.us . Each state also has a management bureau for public state-run lands. Just type in your state’s name and parks (i.e. Georgia Parks). In the search bar a website detailing the available parks will pop up.
With disbursement camping you wake up away from everything and everyone. Disbursement camping is a quiet retreat just for you or two or a whole family.
With no amenities, it is crucial to prepare a packing list of all the things you need. Be creative especially, if hiking into your free camping spot. Most items must at least perform double duty.
You Are Responsible for Your Public Lands
Leave no trace of your campsite or your stay. In these remote areas, there are no trash bins or bathrooms. Talk with your local forest service about how to pack everything in and out of your campsite to leave the area pristine.
This includes human and animal (dog) waste. How to Poo in the Woods a funny and practical book, the little stick figures teach you the proper wild etiquette for disposing of waste.
Campfires are of course another area of extreme caution in the backcountry. Setting thousands of acres on fire from one smoldering log is heartbreaking.
A beautiful cool mountain stream looks inviting but according to the national forest service, there is no more safe water. Be sure to take a filter system or pack enough water.
Weather is also a concern. In Colorado temperatures during the day can vary widely. Talking with an experienced disbursement camper about your proposed trip ahead of time might be the difference between a honeymoon and a nightmare.
Finally, be sure to let someone know where you are and when you are planning on returning. This is crucial in case of injury, fire or other unforeseen problems. In an emergency at least someone will know where to go look, if you are not out of the woods by a certain date.
Is Free Camping Really Free?
Well yes and no. While there is not a direct payment for camping on public lands you are paying for them. Federal and state taxes fund these wildlife areas. It is your land and your money so why not get out there and make the most of the free camping.