The Top 15 States for RV Camping in National Forests

Sep 25, 2018 |

The Top 15 States for RV Camping in National Forests

By Nathan Paul Swartz

If you’re in the mood to knock your karma out of the park, pick up a bag or two of litter

Most camping in national forests falls into two categories: paid campgrounds and dispersed camping. Paid national forest campgrounds typically provide a vault toilet, picnic table, and fire ring, and have designated camping spaces. Some will utilize the old “iron ranger”—a place to put money more or less on the honor system—while others will have campground hosts who may or may not be able to provide change and might even sell firewood. Dispersed camping in the national forest is typically boondocking along some forest road with little to no amenities.

If you’re looking for pristine wilderness (or as close as you can get to it via car or RV) then the dispersed camping is more likely to pop your tent, but if you’re looking for at least a vault toilet, possibly access to a spigot, and some semblance of civilization, look into the paid options.

Paid or not, there’s usually a sign at some point along your journey that will inform you of any particular rules. Most camping of any kind in national forests is limited to 14 consecutive days. You can often just move to another spot, preferably down the road a bit, but check with a local ranger station for the specifics on any given forest. You’ll also want to be aware of fire bans, which are not always posted but given that ignorance is not above the law, are something you’ll want to check in on, especially in “fire season” which seems to go year ’round in some parts of the country these days. Typically, the national forest’s website will provide any fire ban info, and you can also check the website of the county you’re in, as they may have additional information. Finally, as we’re all sharing these forests—and technically they’re all of ours as American citizens—make sure to leave absolutely nothing behind, and if you’re in the mood to knock your karma out of the park, pick up a bag or two of litter. Snagging anything around your immediate campsite will at least give you the full natural experience, and then leaving nothing behind but a happy forest will put the next folks in the perfect position to leave it as they found it as well.

To help you get started, we’ve put together some of the best sites across the nation, in the 15 states where national forest camping is the easiest to find, most abundant, and prettier than a fox leaping into the winter snow. However, there is plenty of national forest camping across the nation, and most states have at least a few options.

Alaska National Forests

The Last Frontier is, logically, the state with the most national forest, and Tongass National Forest—a rainforest covering much of Southeastern Alaska’s panhandle—is the largest national forest in the nation. The Tongass is home to 19 wilderness areas and its shiniest jewel of a campground rests on Mendenhall Lake, where the quintessential Alaskan glacial experience can be had while still enjoying the (rather rare) full hookup experience in a national forest campground.

In the Chugach National Forest, the nation’s third largest, highlights include Williwa, a paid campground with views of glacier-laden mountains just west of Whittier, and Tenderfoot Creek Campground, about an hour west on Alaska’s Route 1.

Arizona National Forests

For a state that tends to conjure up desertscape more than thick woodlands, Arizona is absolutely blanketed in national forestland. From pinyon-juniper scrublands to towering ponderosa pines to psychedelic cactus forests—including the only state you’ll find the saguaro cactus—the diversity is as impressive as the Copper State’s winters are warm.

We’ve already covered boondocking in Prescott & Tonto National Forests, but there’s ever so much more to explore. Some of the best camping in the nation lives in the shade of the forests surrounding the Grand Canyon’s North and South Rims and continues pouring all down and around Flagstaff. South of Tucson, on the way to Bisbee, Arizona, the Coronado National Forest continues the trend.

Maybe best of all, Arizona is one of those states where most of the best national forest camping is also free.

The Best RV Camping in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Coconino National Forest

Camping in the Coconino means easy access to some of Arizona’s best towns. Be sure to check out miniature Jerome, currently trending Cottonwood, and the famous low blue and adobe against red rock backdrops Sedona.

The Best RV Camping in Coronado National Forest

Tombstone, Arizona—you know it from countless silver screen appearances—and the slightly more authentic Bisbee, AZ are the highlights in the Coronado, but as big cities in the Grand Canyon State go, Tucson is easily the most interesting. Further west, Patagonia, Arizona is an experience worth parallel parking in and of itself.

The Best RV Camping in Kaibab National Forest

No doubt due to its proximity to the Grand Canyon, the Kaibab has the lion’s share of Arizona’s best national forest camping.

The Best RV Camping in Prescott National Forest

Prescott is a great little town on its own, not far from Jerome and the Coconino.

The Best RV Camping in Tonto National Forest

California National Forests

Well, California, look at you and your endless national forestland. The Golden State hosts, every single day of every single year, eighteen national forests in total, most of them completely within California’s borders.

You can hardly go wrong in the areas between Lassen Volcanic National Park and Mount Shasta, and the Sierra Madres nearly span the entire state from north to south, where national forest after national park after quaint small town await.

The Best RV Camping in Angeles National Forest

National forest camping not terribly far from Los Angeles.

The Best RV Camping in Cleveland National Forest

Smack dab between San Diego and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

The Best RV Camping in Eldorado National Forest

One of the many national forests surrounding blue as the day Lake Tahoe.

The Best RV Camping in Inyo National Forest

The Eastern Sierras are not only stunning but full of cool little towns. Look for hot springs outside of Mammoth Lakes and look into the Ancient Bristlecone Pines.

The Best RV Camping in Klamath National Forest

Far, far north in the “Great State of Jefferson,” lives the Klamath.

The Best RV Camping in Lassen National Forest

A forest surrounding a similarly-named national park that, without a doubt, is the national park experience.

The Best RV Camping in Los Padres National Forest

Just above the angels, lives the father…and so just north of Los Angeles, Los Padres.

The Best RV Camping in Mendocino National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Modoc National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Plumas National Forest

The Best RV Camping in San Bernardino National Forest

Get hip to this timely tip, it’s the last kick you can get (in the song anyway) on Route 66.

The Best RV Camping in Sequoia National Forest

The name alone should clue you in, though you won’t always find the massive orange Sierra redwoods known as sequoias in every campground in this national forest, if you’re looking for big trees rest assured that the sugar pines, red firs, and Jeffrey pines are nothing to squawk at…unless you’re a Stellar’s jay perhaps.

The Best RV Camping in Shasta National Forest

Shasta is a cute little town and the mountain isn’t hard on the eyes, either.

The Best RV Camping in Sierra National Forest

Lovingly placed just south of Yosemite, north of Kings Canyon, and spanning the Sierras all along John Muir’s favorite places to lose himself within. (Note that Jerseydale is currently closed, but will likely reopen relatively soon…relatively being an unknown factor. Still, it deserves attention…)

The Best RV Camping in Six Rivers National Forest

As close as you can get to national forest camping in the Redwoods.

The Best RV Camping in Stanislaus National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Tahoe National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Toiyabe National Forest

More Eastern Sierra camping…

Colorado National Forests

Easily the best state for national forest camping, the perfect mesh of abundance and, if you want it, free camping, help Colorado live up to its reputation as being our best mountain state. National forestland can be found surrounding nearly every destination a wanderer may wont after, and when the solace of nature needs give way to a little civilization, the state is known for town after town of interesting main streets, breweries, and things to do.

The San Juan Mountains are a great place to start and venture off in any direction from there.

The Best RV Camping in Arapaho National Forest

The highfalutin side of Colorado, lining Interstate 70 as it traverses some of the best—and richest—mountains in the nation.

The Best RV Camping in Grand Mesa National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Gunnison National Forest

Crested Butte and the surrounding national forest are rainbows over jagged cliffs, coffee shop breakfast tacos, and the perpetual ponderance over whether, just perhaps, we are already living in heaven.

The Best RV Camping in Pike National Forest

Pike National Forest bridges the gap between Breckenridge and Denver, but give Buena Vista’s downtown a chance if you have the inclination.

The Best RV Camping in Rio Grande National Forest

As much as Pagosa Springs is a happening, rafting, brewery town, the Rio Grande’s beginnings are the star of this slice of Colorado. Follow it all the way to New Mexico and beyond…

The Best RV Camping in Roosevelt National Forest

All around Rocky Mountain National Park, which can be tough to get a spot in given its proximity to Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins, a national forest is just waiting for your backup plan.

The Best RV Camping in Routt National Forest

The Best RV Camping in San Isabel National Forest

Leadville, Buena Vista, and Salida all have something to offer when it comes to small-town interest. Leadville boasts of its elevation, twice that of “the Mile High City” of Denver, while Salida is a rafting town that can’t be missed. Perhaps best of all is showing up in Buena Vista and hearing how the locals pronounce it.

The Best RV Camping in San Juan National Forest

The San Juans of Colorado is arguably the state’s best landscape, for variety, views and small-town appeal…however, anyone who would actually argue that would no doubt be as wrong as a U-turn down a one-way street. Give the loop a spin and see if you can’t find yourself every last beautiful place to pitch your particular type of tent.

The Best RV Camping in White River National Forest

Florida National Forests

National forest camping in the Sunshine State runs the gamut from palm tree alligator streams to longleaf pine borderlands. You’ll see more birds than you can manage to log and never be all that far from a major city or highway.

Options trend toward the panhandle Apalachicola to the Ocala, just north of Disney, and then up to the slightly less crowded Osceola.

Idaho National Forests

While many a state has a panhandle, none feels as sure to drop visual gold as Idaho. This oft-overlooked, still wild state is just waiting for your exploration. Idaho has some of the most abundant national forest land on the continent.

The Best RV Camping in Beaverhead National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Bitterroot National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Boise National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Caribou-Targhee National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Clearwater National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Coeur D’Alene National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Kaniksu National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Payette National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Salmon-Challis National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Sawtooth National Forest

Last but not even close to least, the Sawtooth is likely Idaho’s most interesting, plentiful camping experience.

Michigan National Forests

The Great Lakes State is both the gateway and homeland to the start of the great outdoors, as traveling north through the state, Detroit marks the end of the endless strip mall America that has become the East Coast and one can finally find a little deep solace…especially as you cross the Mackinaw Bridge into the “UP,” where towns like Copper Harbor steal the show (it also serves as the launching point for exploring Isle Royale National Park).

Montana National Forests

Many of Montana’s national forests extend into other states, and are covered in other sections of this article, however even when dealing specifically with those living entirely within the state’s borders, the options and acreage are seemingly unlimited.

Particularly interesting is the stretch of land between trendy but still hip Missoula and Glacier National Park, perhaps the most likely place in the Continental US to see wildlife, from bears to mountain goats, ranging free.

The Best RV Camping in Flathead National Forest

Flathead National Forest weaves itself between Kalispell, Whitefish, and Glacier National Park, each more a reason to visit a new destination than the next.

The Best RV Camping in Gallatin National Forest

Southeast of Bozeman, Big Sky Country camping peers between the pines.

The Best RV Camping in Kootenai National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Lewis & Clark National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Lolo National Forest

New Mexico National Forests

The Land of Enchantment is home to several national forests, most of which follow a similar pattern of juniper-pinyon lining sand-colored mountains full of mysterious creatures such as the Gila monster. Unlike much of the rest of the southwest, New Mexico tends to be cold in the winter and so exploring its national forestlands is best done in the spring and fall to avoid extreme temperatures one way or another.

The usual suspects like Santa Fe and Taos get all the love, but while farther and fewer between than its neighboring Colorado, small towns like Hatch (famous for its green chilis) and old town Las Vegas, New Mexico are at least worth a day trip.

The Best RV Camping in Carson National Forest

West of the artsy town of Taos, Carson National Forest climbs over gorgeous mountains and windy roads.

The Best RV Camping in Cibola National Forest

Southeast of bustling Albuquerque, Cibola makes for the perfect base camp to explore the city’s surroundings, while keeping you far from the traffic and bustle ABQ is known for.

The Best RV Camping in Gila National Forest

A leader in the race for New Mexico’s best national forest, the Gila is home to several wilderness areas and more strange little creatures than you shake a lizard’s tail at.

The Best RV Camping in Lincoln National Forest

An easy drive to Alamogordo and White Sands National Monument makes this a popular camping destination. The smaller trees of other New Mexican forests give way to towering ponderosas here, too.

The Best RV Camping in Santa Fe National Forest

Sandwiched between the well-known turquoise and artist city by the same name and the less glamorous than Nevada’s, but still worth a visit Las Vegas, New Mexico, Santa Fe National Forest is full of free and cheap camping.

North Carolina National Forests

Western North Carolina, home to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains, as well as debonair Asheville and a handful of charming small towns like Bryson City, Black Mountain, and Boone.

The Best RV Camping in Nantahala National Forest

Furthest west, and just south of the Smokies, this national forest offers lakeside, broadleaf forest camping right out of a storybook.

The Best RV Camping in Pisgah National Forest

Home to Mount Mitchel, the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi, and one of the most interesting little college towns, Montreat, Pisgah National Forest is easily the best forest camping the east coast has to offer. Waterfalls and autumn foliage for weeks, trails and breweries galore, plus a general vibe from the people who live there that trends more Pacific Northwest than Southeast America.

The Best RV Camping in Croatan National Forest

Unlike its fellow North Carolinian national forests, the Croatan is positioned on the eastern side of the state, alongside the Atlantic Ocean.

Oregon National Forests

Though the state tends to pronounce its landmarks and locals in ways that letters simply were never intended for, its national forestlands are ample and, frankly, awesome. Giant Douglas-firs wrapped in moss are only the beginning, and both the flora and fauna lurking between the giant trees and the impressive, volcanic Cascade Mountain peaks seen through the trees make Oregon one of the best states for camping in the forest.

The Best RV Camping in Crooked River National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Deschutes National Forest

One of the state’s more well-known forests, partly due to its proximity to ever-growing but still happening Bend, and partly due to the brewery that took its name, the Deschutes National Forest is pristine outdoor living with everything from canoe camping to birdwatching, hiking trails to mountain bike downhills, and all in abundance.

The Best RV Camping in Fremont-Winema National Forest

Further south of Bend, and playing the role of basecamp for visiting Crater Lake National Park, lives the Fremont-Winema.

The Best RV Camping in Mount Hood National Forest

Mount Hood is one of those truly stunning sights, a year-round snow-capped triangle of a thing, dividing the sky as it looms ever-present in the distance. Any national forest surrounding it is but a reflection of that divine natural awe, and this one doesn’t disappoint.

The Best RV Camping in Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest

In Southeastern Oregon, where the Redwoods begin, the Rogue River—and towns like Grant Pass—are either your first bet at getting the truly Oregon experience, or your last farewell before leaving the lust Pacific Northwest.

The Best RV Camping in Siuslaw National Forest

National forest camping along the Oregon Coast, one of the most dramatic ocean-meets-the-land stretches in our nation, if not the world, is like a dream you wake up from only to realize you weren’t dreaming at all. Life simply is that good.

The Best RV Camping in Umpqua National Forest

The Umpqua fills the western slope of the Cascades between Medford and Eugene, Oregon.

The Best RV Camping in Wallowa-Whitman National Forest

Interestingly named, spectacular camping opportunities make it ever-so-worth the out of the way trip to Oregon’s northwestern corner to visit the Wallowas.

South Dakota National Forests

Camping in South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest is not only a gorgeous, lake-dotted, bison-spotting slice of grandeur, it’s home to things like train and woodcarving museums, old western towns like Custer and Wind Cave National Park, Mount Rushmore, and the guaranteed Wildlife Loop. Sturgis, Lead, and Deadwood, not to mention proximity to Devil’s Tower and Badlands National Park, keep the pile climbing high.

Utah National Forests

From barely-treed forest surrounding the Mighty Five, to high mountain fir forests, Utah ranks among some of the most spectacular and diverse national forest camping in the west. Making the trip from Springdale to Moab, and visiting all of the national park units, forests and other public lands in between—whether by highway or completely off-road should you be willing and able—is one of the better experiences a life can lead.

The Best RV Camping in Ashley National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Dixie National Forest

Just north of Bryce Canyon, the Dixie National Forest has camping superior to even that offered directly in the national park itself.

The Best RV Camping in Fishlake National Forest

The small town of Torrey and Capitol Reef National Park, and all of their history and wilderness alongside, make this one of the best national forests in the state to park your rig.

The Best RV Camping in Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest

National forest camping just outside of Salt Lake City, should you find yourself in that particular corner of the state.

The Best RV Camping in Manti-La Sal National Forest

Washington National Forests

Washington’s nickname is the Evergreen State, and it sure lives up to the title. There is simply nowhere else you’ll find such unscathed old growth forest, glacial till rolling riverside camping, and big views of volcanos just begging you to explore their steep terrain than here.

Way out there Glacier, Washington, and nearby Mount Baker are at the top of the pile, while eclectically cowboy Winthrop, faux old German Leavenworth and anything near Mount Rainier is always a safe bet as well.

The Best RV Camping in Gifford Pinchot National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Olympic National Forest

The Olympic Peninsula is aptly named, given the divine and ancient feeling one gets when exploring its out-of-this-worldly lush and vivid forests.

The Best RV Camping in Wenatchee National Forest

Wyoming National Forests

When you’re the home of the Tetons and Yellowstone, it’s hard to imagine you wouldn’t be a state also replete with epic national forest camping. Spend any time in Wyoming’s national forests, and it won’t just be hard, it’ll be downright impossible.

The Best RV Camping in Bighorn National Forest

On the other side of the state from those previously mentioned national parks, the Bighorns are sweeping, dramatic, and worth as much time as you can spend in the area, including checking out the small town of Ten Sleep.

The Best RV Camping in Bridger-Teton National Forest

It’s an often overused sentiment, but you really can’t beat the views (and price) when camping in the national forests around the Tetons.

The Best RV Camping in Caribou-Targhee National Forest

On the other side of the Tetons.

The Best RV Camping in Medicine Bow National Forest

The Best RV Camping in Shoshone National Forest

Filling the gaps between cowboys and creatives in Cody, Wyoming, and Yellowstone.


Whether you’re more comfortable in a traditional campground or prefer to be lost in the darkness of your own remote setting; whether a rushing river or a mountain vista be your idea of the perfect campsite; these states are sure to provide you with at least a handful of places to park your RV, pitch your tent, and enjoy these forests we Americans are lucky enough to have preserved to this point.