Not many people realize that you can find a free, awesome campsite in most National Forests. Many people require electric and sewer hookups, showers, and bathrooms at the ready when camping. But if you can get past the luxuries and get back to the days of tent camping (or boondocking) then the places you can stay may astound you.
The first National Forest I ever experienced was about 3 weeks into the beginning of our current year long trip. As a noob I had heard of free places being available in National Forest areas from reading online. While traveling down the coast of North Carolina we opened FreeCampsites.net and found we were near a few posted spots in the Croatan National Forest. We grabbed some supplies and headed to the forest. As we made the turn onto the forest road we began to admire the untouched scenery. We reached the first site after following directions according to FreeCampsites.net , but there was limited parking and a few people who’d already made camp for the night. We made a u-turn, headed down the next road and eventually came upon a boat launch with a bathroom and a fire pit set up right next to the river. We were stoked to find such a great spot. We made a fire, set up camp, and enjoyed the sunset before heading to bed. Simple as that.
We obey signs and warnings, we use pre-established campsites, we clean up after ourselves and practice “Leave No Trace” and we have an awesome time. The forest areas have by far become our favorite places to camp as well as the prettiest.
These areas are often listed on commonly used apps like Campendium, and the website FreeCampsites.net. I personally take it a step further and try to find the hidden gems by using the satellite view on Google Maps before heading to a site. Why drive down a rocky, bumpy, overgrown road to nowhere when you can check it out through satellite imagery first? Also be sure to take your time and explore your options or you may miss out.
Remember – just because its a National Forest does not mean you can pull over and sleep anywhere you please. The typical rule is to look for a fire ring, but not to make a new one. There are MANY established camping sites and campgrounds for little to no cost. Forestcamping.com is a great directory of the established campgrounds that the National Forest has to offer. Not all options are free, but they are far prettier than the $100 slab of concrete you get at most private campgrounds.