Dispersed Camping 101
If you’ve ever gone camping, you most likely stayed at an organized campground - those typically will have amenities like bathrooms, showers and wifi. They also have something most campers would like to get away from - crowds.
In our experience, most of the people we speak to simply haven’t heard about dispersed camping and don’t know that most national forests will let you camp for free. Getting off the well-travelled roads will lead you to some of the most beautiful and isolated places. Picture driving into the forest, turning down a gravel dirt road and finding a secluded spot under the trees and no one around for miles. Dispersed camping, also called dry or primitive camping requires a bit more planning but trust us, it’s worth it.
So, where can you camp for free and away from the crowds? In the United States, dispersed camping is allowed on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public land and within the boundaries of national forests across the country. Some areas might be closed to restore natural habitats or protect the existing ones but for the most part, as long as you are on public land, it’s fair game.
Below are our tips for finding the most badass dispersed camping spots:
1) Get comfortable with Google Maps satellite view - zoom in to get an idea of roads and landscapes. A green area will mark either a national park (typically a no-no for dispersed camping) or a national forest
2) Apps like Gaia allow you to see the boundaries of national forests so you never end up camping on someone’s private property - you don’t want THAT morning wake-up call
3) Go old school and use a map - some roads will not show on Google maps plus you may (probably will) lose cell service once you get off the beaten path
4) Chat with a Forest Ranger - rangers are the most knowledgeable people you want to speak with if you’re going off the grid for the first time or in a new place
5) Be open-minded - Don’t forget to bring your sense of adventure! It doesn't take up too much room. Sometimes a road you’re taking might no longer exist or be blocked with fallen logs after winter. With overlanding, the journey IS the destination. Don’t rush to get to your camp spot and truly, enjoy the ride.
Camp fire permit:
For places that allow camp fires, you will need a fire permit. When camping in California, follow this link to obtain the permit: http://www.preventwildfireca.org/Campfire-Permit/. During the drought season, you will see “Campfires banned” signs when entering a national forest. The permits are free and very educational.
Leave No Trace:
Rule of thumb: leave the campsite better than you found it. Make sure to fully pack your garbage (and any other garbage or food scraps you find that other people might have left) and be careful to not disturb wild life and other visitors - that way, future generations of explorers will still be able to enjoy the wild the way we do. For 7 Leave No Trace principles, click here.
Food, Water and Fuel:
Plan ahead and bring extra food, water and fuel. The last thing you need when adventuring into the wild is worrying whether you have enough water to drink and cook with. Our motto for food packing: better to bring more than less.
When nature calls, be ready with a shovel. No stress - every Cypress Overland vehicle comes with one. “How do I go to the bathroom in the woods?” is one of most frequent questions campers ask. Rest assured, our ancestors have been doing it for millennia. Rule #1: Leave No Trace. General rule of thumb: do the deeds at least 70 steps (200 feet) from your campsite, trail or body of water. For other details check out REI Expert Advice.
See you on the road.