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.