Free RV Camping: Why Pay? Try US Forest Service Dispersed Camping

Are you getting tired of exorbitant daily camping fees in crowded recreational vehicle campgrounds? You know the feeling of being stuck at a RV park, 20 feet away from your neighbor, with screaming kids and barking dogs. You know you’d like to move, but where? You’ve paid your money, and now you’re stuck. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can try a little known method of RV camping called Dispersed Camping. Electricity, toilet facilities, picnic tables and water won’t be available. There are trade-offs. Many dispersed campers are quite happy to go without. Free camping, now that is great.

The US Forest Service allows you to camp in designated areas for free or for a minimal charge. These dispersed camping areas require that you have a method of purifying your own water. A fire permit is usually necessary. Check with the Ranger Station for this. You also are not supposed to camp within 100 feet of a natural water source. At a minimum, you are required to dig a hole at least 6 inches deep for human waste disposal. The idea is that you are on your own. You bring your own food and supplies. Not a bad trade-off to being away from the crowds. After all your RV has its own power. You have your own cooking facilities and food storage aboard. You have your own toilet facilities. All you need to do is find your own quiet little camping spot. The U.S. Forest Service encourages you to use our national treasures. So take them up on their offer. Just remember that there is no 24-hour store to run to. Make sure you have all you need before hand.

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While there is some dispersed camping in places like northern Maine, most of the good camping is done on US forest lands and Bureau of Land Management land in the less populous western states. Northern Michigan also has many great places. There are roads on these public lands that you are allowed to use. Some of them are rugged dirt logging roads. If you’re careful, you can traverse these roads and find wonderful wilderness camping even in a large motor home. Some of these roads may be gated. Others may be open for you to explore. You can find some really fantastic solitude in some of the clearings off of these logging roads. Of course, a good topographic map is good to have. A GPS (global positioning unit) is also good to have.

Now for the good part. If you’re lucky you will be totally by yourself. No noisy generators to contend with. No screaming kids, except maybe your own. Just you and your RV out there at a beautiful campsite. Out west the evening stars are awesome. There is nothing like nature’s free planetarium. You may be lucky enough to find a free camp site with a mountain or water view. Of course checking out possible campsites on the topographic map before you get there is recommended. Check the Internet to see if there are any free topographical maps available. There are some paid services for maps. A GPS unit is also suggested. It seems that many of the Rvers already have GPS units today.

The cardinal rule of the dispersed camper is to leave nothing behind. Take all your garbage with you. Make it a point to leave the camp site clean for the next guy. A good motto would be leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but pictures.

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Next time you are going camping in your recreational vehicle you might consider spending some quality outdoor time in one of our U.S. Forest Service dispersed camping areas. You will have a ringside seat with nature and a unique camping experience. Check the U.S. Forest Service website here: You may not find specific enough information there. If not, you may have to call the specific Ranger office for information about their dispersed camping availability. Free camping and solitude, how lucky can you get?