Now that you know there are 450 million acres acres of public land in the United States that are free for camping, how do you find a sweet spot? Some states, like Wyoming and Utah have vast tracts of public land while others, especially those east of the Mississippi may only have a few pockets of free space.
The best resource I have on the road is my National Geographic Adventure Atlas. Not only does it mark all the developed (usually fee) campgrounds in National Parks, State Parks, Recreation Areas, National Forests and on BLM land, it also shades in National Forests and BLM lands, where you can camp almost anywhere, for free.
National Forests and BLM land are both almost always marked with large brown conspicuous signs that say: “Entering Public Lands” or “Entering National Forest”. Once you’re sure you’re on public land, watch for dirt roads that lead off the main road. In National Forests vehicular side roads (as opposed to foot trails or ATV roads) are usually marked by a brown fiberglass post with three or four white numbers, indicating the Forest Road number.
These side roads often have multiple pull outs and/or end at a dead end. Any spot that’s out of the way, clear and level is fair game for camping, unless marked with a “No Camping” sign. Ideal spots will be off the road far enough for privacy, have space to maneuver a car, room to pitch a tent and in my case, park a Teardrop and have a nice rock fire ring already in place.
Ideal campsites have a history about them. Some have been used by travelers for decades: road trippers, RV’ers, bikers, cyclists, hikers and possibly once migrant workers, miners, drifters, Pioneers, Spaniards, explorers and Indians. In my seven years of Boondocking I have camped near Outlaw caves, Pioneer carvings and Native petroglyphs.
These places may have a history, but these days they’re rarely crowded. Occasionally I run into a fellow traveler, but in seven years on the road I’ve never once had a problem with anybody. There’s a code among dispersed campers; nobody’s out there to bother or be bothered and we give each other space, peace and quiet. My worst experiences have been noisy teenagers. Annoying, but we’ve all been there. Kids gotta have fun somewhere. Might as well be the wilderness.
Speaking of sweet free campsites, here are a few shots from my spot in Utah’s Dixie National Forest. After checking out Cedar Breaks National Monument – an incredible Bryce Canyonesque place – I camped for free in neighboring Dixie at a dead end pull out, surrounded by a grove of old arbor-glyphed aspen trees. The dogs and I went for an evening hike around the perimeter of a big open, aspen-ringed meadow and saw a lot of deer and a porcupine, none of which my good dogs chased. :)
Click here for my previous post on Boondocking 101: How To Camp For Free In Beautiful Places.