7 Epic National Forest Boondocking Locations

Oct 11, 2021 | Boondocking, Campgrounds

7 Epic National Forest Boondocking Locations

Here's where to boondock in some of the most pristine national forests in the U.S.

By Sara Sheehy

Photo: Alex Murhpy

There are many different types of camping—from national park campgrounds to RV resorts and city parks—but for soaking in the beauty of nature, it’s hard to beat boondocking in a national forest.

Tops of mountains lit up in sunset with cloud hovering aboe.
Lizard Head Pass Dispersed Camping | Ophir, CO – Photo by: Justbreezinalong

About National Forest Boondocking

The U.S. Forest Service’s mission is to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” 

Unless otherwise posted, national forests and national grasslands are open for recreation, including dispersed camping, or “boondocking,” a form of self-reliant, off-the-grid camping. Out here, you won’t find electrical hookups, running water, perfectly level campsites, or bathrooms. What you will find, however, is room to roam and revel in nature.

Related The Ultimate Guide to RV Camping on U.S. Forest Service Land

Here are seven of the Campendium community’s top-rated national forest boondocking destinations for RVers.

1. Lizard Head Pass Dispersed Camping | Ophir, Colorado

Escape from the ordinary with a trip to Lizard Head Pass in Colorado’s Uncompahgre National Forest. This dispersed camping area offers 360-degree mountain views and incredible stargazing about 20 minutes from Telluride, Colorado. Reviewers report that the Forest Service has reduced the amount of camping available at this location in order to protect the area’s natural resources, so respect all campsite closures and be sure to arrive early in the day to snag a spot.

2. Owens River Road Dispersed Camping | Mammoth Lakes, California

Bask in the beauty of California’s Eastern Sierra Mountains at this five-star boondocking spot in the Inyo National Forest. Located just down the road from popular Mammoth Lakes, Owens River Road dispersed camping area is close enough to Highway 395 to be convenient—but not so close that you’re bothered by the traffic noise. 

“This area was great!” said GeoProAdventures. “Very close to town and a ton of great hiking trails. There is a rest stop right across 395 where you can use the restroom, get rid of trash, and fill up on water.”

3. Steer Pasture Overlook Dispersed Camping | Wall, South Dakota

Just outside of Badlands National Park lies Buffalo Gap National Grassland, and Steer Pasture Overlook, a dispersed camping area that the Campendium community loves. Remote workers in particular rave about this spot due to its lightning-fast cell service, plentiful sun for solar power setups, and proximity to the town of Wall.

Related Potential Changes to a Popular Camping Area in South Dakota’s Buffalo Gap Grasslands

“Very quiet, close to Wall for shopping, and literally within sight of the Pinnacles entrance to Badlands National Park. Boondocking doesn’t get any better than this!” shared Jeneric Ramblings.

4. Cattlemen Trail | Silver City, New Mexico

New Mexico’s Gila National Forest is best known for its wilderness areas, but don’t be fooled; the forest also has plenty of easily accessible public land for boondocking, hiking, and relaxing. Check out the dispersed camping at Cattlemen Trail near Silver City to dip a toe into this beautiful region. Reviewers love Cattlemen Trail for its numerous trails (including a piece of the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail), quiet location, and privacy between boondocking sites.

5. Santeetlah Lake | Robbinsville, North Carolina

Boondocking on the East Coast? While the western U.S. has more national forests and grasslands by acreage, pockets of public lands exist throughout the country. Take North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest, for example. This 530,000-acre forest lies just south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and has multiple free camping areas. The favorite by far is Santeetlah Lake, which features camping spots right along the water. 

“The views of the lake were so beautiful that I would recommend this campsite to absolutely anyone. 10/10 recommend,” said Mom I drove to Malibu.

6. Hidden Creek Campsites | Calhoun, Georgia

Down yonder in the Chattahoochee National Forest is the quiet, private, and five-star reviewed Hidden Creek Campsites. This wooded area only has a handful of sites and can be busy on the weekends. If you can grab a spot, you’ll be treated to camping along the creek and a night with few sounds except for flowing water and maybe the yip of coyotes. 

“Our campsite was large and right on the creek,” shared Greg. “There wasn’t anyone else there. I enjoyed walking and jogging along the forest service road.”

7. Gale River Loop Road | Bethlehem, New Hampshire

Enjoy easy access to the many natural attractions of New Hampshire and Maine’s White Mountain National Forest with a stay at Gale River Loop Road. This free camping area has 12 designated dispersed sites, best suited to small and mid-sized RVs. Reviewers are thrilled about the private, level sites and the location, perfect for visiting the western side of the White Mountains.

“This was a pretty spot in the trees down an easily accessible gravel road. The marked camping areas were well spread out so you have plenty of privacy,” said glasgows_onthego.

New to boondocking? Dive in with these valuable resources from Campendium: