It’s easier than ever to find a free place to camp thanks to sites like Campendium and Freecampsites.net. In addition to the unforgettable campgrounds below, you can go dispersed camping for free on public lands throughout the United States and Canada. Just remember to check that you are not on private land, inside a fee campground, and/or within 200 feet of any water source like a lake or stream before staking down your tent.
You can camp on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service land for up to 14 days in most places. Whether you go off the beaten track or stick with the free campgrounds below, it’s crucial you follow the seven Leave No Trace principles to reduce your impact, protect the environment, and keep the animals and humans in the area safe.
It isn’t easy to secure a free night in the Marin Headlands–between Hawk Camp and Haypress there are only eight sites. The good news is that both campgrounds take reservations (call 415/331-1540 up to two months in advance). No potable water; no fires allowed; nps.gov/goga
Amboy Crater, San Bernardino County
Sleep alongside an extinct volcano in the Mojave Desert. The area has some shade, but it’s best to camp here when the weather is mild. In the summer, temperatures easily break 100 degrees. No potable water; vault toilets; blm.gov
Box Canyon West, Mecca
How to Set Up a Campsite Chili Bar
A hearty pot of chili is easily portable and feeds a big crowd at camp. Set it out with a host of toppings and campsite-appropriate decor for a fun night under the stars.
Laguna Mountain Recreation Area, San Benito County
Believe it or not, the area is known for its scenic waterfalls. Both Laguna Mountain and Upper Sweetwater campgrounds offer free campsites with level RV pads, fire rings, and picnic benches. No potable water; vault toilets; no trash collection; blm.gov
Mud Lake Trailhead, Lassen National Forest, Shasta County
Visit Lassen Volcanic National Park without spending a dime on lodging. The dispersed camping along the Mud Lake Trailhead is only 15 miles from the park, and it also offers prime access to the Pacific Crest Trail. Vault toilets; fs.usda.gov