Dispersed camping is one of the best ways to find free camping.
In addition to the free or very low cost, dispersed camping offers plenty of solitude, privacy, and natural beauty thanks to the often remote locations of these campsites.
So, what is dispersed camping anyways? The term simply refers to camping in an undeveloped campsite in a primitive area. These campsites are usually located on public lands, such as National Forests, and don’t have any amenities like vault toilets, running water, trash service, picnic tables, or fire rings.
As we move into summer 2020, it's also worth noting that the vasty majority of dispersed camping on public lands has remained open even as developed campgrounds have closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Today, I’m going to show you exactly how to go dispersed camping if you’ve never been before!
Where to Find Dispersed Campsites
Most dispersed campsites are located on public land, such as BLM land (Bureau of Land Management), National Forests and National Grasslands, DNR land (Department of National Resources), and Water Management Areas.
Just looking at maps is a great way to identity areas where dispersed camping is likely. Check online on the BLM or National Forest website for more info on each lead. Or, call the nearest ranger station directly to inquire about dispersed camping opportunities and regulations.
A variety of websites and apps are available to help you find free camping. My favorite is freecampsites.net which is searchable by the area you wish to visit.
Although there’s a much greater abundance of public lands with dispersed camping in the Wester United States, free camping opportunities are certainly still available throughout the rest of the country.
Dispersed Camping in an RV
RV camping at an undeveloped campsite on public lands is often called boondocking.
Boondockers should expect zero amenities. You must plan on camping without any water, electric, or sewer hookups.
In many ways, this is easier for RVers than tent campers. Your RV is likely already self-contained with a kitchen, bathroom, and power source. Many serious RV boondockers install solar panels on their RVs for on-the-go power.
Know that many dispersed campsites have rough, narrow access roads. Scout ahead if needed to make sure your RV has high enough clearance to make it (in and back out). Some access roads don’t have anywhere for longer rigs to turn around. It’s better to take the extra time to scout ahead on foot than to get stuck!
Other Things to Consider
As you now know, dispersed camping comes with its own set of unique challenges. Here are a few additional factors to keep in mind while planning your next trip.
Going to the Bathroom
The lack of a toilet can be the trickiest part of dispersed camping for beginners (unless you have an RV or a trailer). You have two main options: pack out your waste or bury it in a cat hole. Always pack out toilet paper even if you prefer the cat hole method. Know that some particularly environmentally sensitive areas don’t allow you to bury your waste – you must pack it out. I personally prefer to pack out all my own human waste with WAG (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) bags or a portable toilet like the popular Luggable Loo. It’s a lot less gross than it might sound!
Pack Out Your Waste
Few dispersed campsites have trash bins or garbage removal. It’s imperative you pack out all waste, including food waste and human waste, so we can keep these public lands open and free for years to come. Follow the leave no trace principles as a start and always leave your campsite even cleaner than it was when you arrived.
Don’t expect running water in dispersed areas. I prefer to pack in all my water, although some campers prefer to camp near a natural water source and purify their water with a portable water filter, chemical tablets, or boiling.
Campfires and Firewood
Fire pits are uncommon at dispersed campsites, although you’ll often find handmade pits created by previous campers. Use these but make sure to check all area fire restrictions first, especially in the summer. Only bring firewood from the local area so as not to introduce invasive pests. You can also collect downed, dead wood in many areas. Remember to ensure your campfire is completely put out to avoid starting a wildfire.
Most dispersed campsites are remote so cell phone service is iffy at best. Paper maps are helpful in case you lose access to maps on your phone. A personal locator beacon or satellite beacon can help you let loved ones know your GPS location even without cell service.
Rough Access Roads
The access roads to many dispersed campsites, especially the further in you travel, are typically dirt or gravel. They can be quite rough as many are not well maintained or graded often. Check on road conditions and road closures before arriving. A 4x4 vehicle, or at least high clearance, is required in some places.
Try a Mock ONE at Your Dispersed Campsite
Enjoy dispersed camping in a tent, RV, out under the stars – or, my personal favorite, in a hammock!
As a long-time fan of hammock camping, I love the Mock ONE hammock thanks to its built-in stand which eliminates the need to hang a hammock with trees or other objects. Just pop it open at your campsite and you’re ready to go!
Even if you don’t like sleeping in a hammock overnight, the Mock ONE is a fantastic camping hammock for lounging around the campsite during the day. But, if you are into overnight use, don’t forget to add a bug net, rainfly, top quilt, and underquilt to your Mock ONE setup for all-night comfort!
What do you think about hammock camping at a dispersed campsite?