The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (USFS), who both welcome dispersed camping on some of their lands, define dispersed camping as “camping on public lands away from developed recreational facilities”.
Dispersed camping is vehicle-accessible camping, outside of a campground, on public land. Dispersed camping is most frequently found in the American West, though there are options elsewhere in the U.S., too. You may find dispersed camping on BLM lands, USFS lands, State Trust lands, State Forest lands (SF), or other publicly managed lands.
Dispersed camping is sometimes called boondocking, wild camping, or off-grid camping.
Dispersed camping locations are typically first-come, first-served and do not accept reservations. Some locations may require a permit.
Accessibility to dispersed locations is not guaranteed. You should always scout ahead before driving down unknown roads, even if previous reviews indicated accessibility. Road conditions to dispersed areas are known to change. Your rig's capabilities or personal comfort regarding the inherent risks of driving an RV to a location may not mirror those who have visited the location previously.
There is a limit on the number of nights you can spend at a dispersed camping location. Max Stay limits can be found on Campendium Review Pages in the overview section, or by contacting land management directly.
If you're just getting started, see our guide to dispersed camping:
When using a dispersed camping spot practice Leave No Trace Principles. Our guides How to Leave No Trace: Boondocking Edition and Mother Nature: She's Not Your Maid are great places to learn more about Leave No Trace Principles while dispersed camping.
When dispersed camping, be sure to:
- Only camp in previously disturbed areas. Never create a new campsite on or near fragile vegetation.
- Be aware of campfire restrictions and risks. Practice responsible campfire management.
- Properly dispose of human waste. See our Camper's Guide to Human Waste for more info.
- Pack it in, pack it out: take your trash with you.
- Leave it better than you found it. When you leave a campsite make sure it's in as good or better condition as when you arrived.
- Be a good neighbor. Don't park excessively close to another camper. Be thoughtful about generator use and general noise if within hearing distance of another camper.
Designated Dispersed Camping
In the past few years, some popular dispersed camping areas in the United States have transitioned from dispersed camping to designated dispersed camping. While the terminology difference is subtle, the impact to campers can be significant.
For further information on dispersed and designated dispersed camping, see our guide:
Tip: Always have several back-up options in mind when traveling to a dispersed camping location. These areas are first-come, first-served and could be full when you arrive. Some dispersed camping location are subject to closure based on seasonal conditions and may not be accessible at all times.
For even more information on dispersed camping and information on some of the best free camping locations, check out our guide to The Best of Free Camping.