Dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground. It is 100% FREE and open to anyone on a first come, first serve basis.
Dispersed camping typically has no services such as tolets, trash, water, tables or grills and the fire pits are usually constrcted of rocks instead of a metal fire ring.
Be sure to arrive at your selected campspot early as the best locations are usually filled first and in the peak of the camping season, all or most of the spots will be filled by Friday afternoon. I suggest heading out on Thursday or early Friday to secure a spot for the weekend and if you are planning on seeking out a large group spot plan on getting there even sooner.
What is Dispersed Camping?
Some Limitations and Special Circumstances
While dispersed camping comes with many freedoms and benefits there are also some limitations to be aware of:
In some areas camping is allowed ONLY in designated dispersed campsites and some area do not allow camping at all
Some areas have designated parking areas and always be sure to park in a way that does not obstruct traffic or damage resources
Never drive in fragile wetlands or meadows or where vehicle traffic is prohibited
No overnight camping is allowed at trailheads, picnic areas or in day-use parking areas
How to Find a Dispersed Campspot
I have found and shared my favorite dispersed campsite to help indentify a good location with all of the leg work already done for you. Check out CAMPSPOTS.
What more options? Don't be limited to just what I have shared. There are countless other campsites waiting to be identified and enjoyed.
To find a dispersed campsite follow these steps:
Pick a general location that you are interested in. Identify what National Forest it is in.
Look at the Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) for that area. On most maps dispersed camping areas are identified. This wil also give you a better idea of the type of access roads from paved road to offroad, high clearance Forest Roads.
Identify what County the camping area is in and look at their interactive GIS mapping. Not all counties have this available but if available, this will show exactly where the National Forest boundaries are and what areas (even within the National Forest) may be Private Land.
With a target area in mind and armed with National Forest and County maps scout the area before your camping trip. This will ensure it meets your needs and allows you to pick your top locations for camping.
Have a backup location. You may find that the access road is washed out or the area is closed for maintence or simply that someone has beaten you to the spot. Even with the perfect spot selected your plans may get derailed and you should always have an alternate (or several alternates) to fall back on.
Search through the places I have been and use my experiences to guide your next camping trip.
The Forest Service has provided an abundance of resources including maps and information.
County GIS maps are a great aid and reference. Fully interactive and incredibly useful.