Dispersed Camping 

Dispersed camping, or free camping, is the term used for camping anywhere on public land outside of a designated campground. It is an excellent and affordable way to see the backcountry, as there is no fee for dispersed camping. Honestly, this is one of our nations’ best kept secrets! 

In this sense the term free refers to not only being free of charge, but also free from most accommodations. It does come with a hidden cost, as this is about as far from glamping as you can possibly get.

running lake idaho
Dispersed camping on a saddle in the Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness, Idaho.

Dispersed camping means no services, such as trash removal, and little to no facilities, such as tables, fire pits, or restrooms. The cost in this case is the lack of amenities offered, though some might consider that exact same thing a luxury

“Dispersed Camping Near Me”

There are hundreds of thousands of square miles of National Forest and designated wilderness areas in the United States. Every square foot of that area is a potential campsite.

Remember, it is legal to camp anywhere in a National Forest or wilderness area free of charge (unless otherwise marked). Talk to area locals for insider information on premier hiking spots, and look out for trailheads as easy access points into the backcountry.

The best way to find a good place to camp in a locale near you may be to do an internet search for something like: “dispersed camping near me”.

Free Campsites

Dispersed camping is the premiere way to experience champagne campsites on a beer budget. Who needs modern amenities when you can have world-class views and some extra cash in your pocket (all because you decided NOT to pay to sleep on the ground). Also, you get to avoid all of those pesky crowds and annoying families.

No cost AND privacy? Sign me up! You’ll also get to experience parts of this country that most people never get to see. Most of the outdoor media that we consume is captured from roads or the more tourist heavy locations. If you are willing and able to walk away from the beaten path, life will give you an unforgettable experience you didn’t even know was possible. Life truly begins when you leave your comfort zone.

Remember: it is okay to enjoy yourself and post up at a choice location, but be sure to keep er’ movin’! In most National Forests and designated wilderness areas you can only stay at the same makeshift campsite for a maximum of 14 days. 

Dispersed Camping Idaho

Idaho has an abundance of dispersed camping opportunities. Over 40 percent of the state is considered National Forest, which means there are excellent hiking and camping spots all over the state. You’ll have no shortage of places to camp if you finally decide to make that overnight trip into the backcountry. 

running lake, idaho
Dispersed camping in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness; Running Lake, Idaho

If you are looking for more guidance as to where you should plan your next dispersed camping weekend, feel free to download or purchase some of the maps that we are offering, such as the Wild West Trail and Idaho Centennial Trail. While these maps depict thousands of miles of trail, you can zoom in on individual sections to find a place that suits your needs.

The GPX file format of our maps can be downloaded directly to your smartphone, and using software such as Gaia GPS* will lead you directly to some of the most remote – and gorgeous – backcountry campsites in the state of Idaho, and beyond.

All of the files that we offer are mapped directly by us, which allows for the creation of maps that are more accurate than those offered by the United States Geological Survey.


*On this page we have used our affiliate link for Gaia GPS.  We do not usually use affiliate links on this website but we have made an exception here because we continue to use and believe in this product.

Our link will save you 20%-50% on the membership cost, plus we get a small amount back which goes straight towards creating quality content. It saves you money for a program you should already be using, and is a great way to support the site. Classic win-win!


Questions or comments about dispersed camping? Leave us a note below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Name *