Half the fun of road tripping is the thrill of finding free or wild camping, away from the crowds but still close enough to access the same great national parks. If you bristle at the idea of paying $36 a night for essentially a parking spot and fire ring next to the Grand Canyon, then this post is for you. The editors at Almost Fearless have wild camped with the rabbits on a fire road beneath the south rim of the Grand Canyon, they’d snagged secluded spots in the Dixie National Forest outside of Bryce National Park, they’d woken up to prairie dogs playing and a full view of the Grand Tetons at the Antelope Flats north of Jackson, WY. If you’re planning summer travel that includes camping, road tripping, and seeing the natural beauty of the US, then here are some of our favorite spots to camp in quiet, legally, for free, and within range of an impressive destination.
There are so many more. Tell us your favorite locations in the comments!
1. Grand Teton National Park
GPS: 43.769601, -110.540954
This spot offers amazing views of the Grand Tetons – all along one road are several different camping options, most have informal fire pits and it’s likely you will share the space with others who made their way there as well. In the summer expect to see groundhogs popping up out of the ground to find out if you’ve left any food. In some spots there are containers where you can put food you didn’t eat that are made to be bear-proof, so if you do cook, dispose of your food properly.
2. Grand Canyon
GPS: 35.966931, -112.124670
Just drive down the fire roads, pick a meadow with a fire ring (you’ll have to look carefully) and claim your spot. There are no signs, no staff, just camp spots that are open to use. As long as you start looking by about 4 pm there are plenty of places. By dark, it’s mostly filled up. You can get internet at a nearby McDonalds.
3. Bryce Canyon National Park
GPS: 37.723520, -112.252452
Bryce Canyon is loaded with wild camping spots, and definitely one of the easiest places to find a great spot to pull up for the night. Each spot is marked simply with a fire pit and if no one is there, it’s open. You can camp near others or drive deeper into the forest, along dirt roads to find secluded cul-de-sacs and completely private lots. The grocery store in town is super pricey, so stock up on food, gas and water before you arrive!
4. Yellowstone National Park
GPS: 44.734413, -111.110398
Outside the west entrance to Yellowstone in Idaho is a great, clear spot. No amenities but quiet and easy to get in and out. If you’re traveling in a van or RV, you might be able to stealth camp within the park, if you choose a spot outside the main road. (We’ve done it for several nights in the same spot, no issues).
5. Glacier National Park
GPS: 48.429500, -113.967300
As advertised, great views in this spot which seems to be one of two excellent spots in the same area near Glacier National Park. When you are researching and find a space where someone describes a single space, it’s best to try to snag it as early as possible. Going to spots like these late in an evening often means losing out on the spot.
6. Zion National Park
GPS: 37.253679, -112.767951
This space feels a little out of the way but was so quiet and amazing. There are many places to potentially pull up, several with fire pits, and it’s not hard to find a spot just for yourself.
7. Acadia National Park
GPS: 44.523486, -68.393255
Nope, you read that right. We really are recommending Walmart. For those of us who have been doing RV and van camping for a while, it’s very common to find the nearest Walmart when nothing else presents itself. Most Walmarts (not ALL though, so do your research) allow for overnight camping. In the case of Acadia, the park is quite small relative to the rest of this list, so with the nearby Walmart, you can easily go in and out. It’s not the most glamorous camping by a long stretch, but it is typically very safe and clean, just don’t abuse their goodwill by spending more than two or three nights at any one Walmart.
8. Yosemite National Park
GPS: 37.810658, -119.883953
Off of RT 120 on the way into Yosemite is a space with a fire pit. Before starting a fire it is recommended that you get a permit online for making a campfire, though the Yosemite guidelines don’t say anything about that being necessary.
9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
GPS: 35.345970, -83.969592
Wild camping near Lake Santeetlah, one spot along a creek, quiet and out of the way. Photos of the spot show a flat space to pull your vehicle as well as a picnic table.
10. Not to be missed: Lone Rock Beach
GPS: 37.019728, -111.539178
This spot is a little different. For one thing, it’s not quite in a National Park, it’s on the drive between Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. We needed a spot in between to rest a bit, and found the primitive camping on the beach perfect. There are even simple bathrooms in the space.
The other difference is that it’s not free, at least, not if you get there during normal business hours. It’s $14 per vehicle, but there is no gate, and no one checking for permits to be there, so if you want to stay several nights, you can do so for the same price as you would pay for a single night. Also if you happen to get there after the attendants are done for the day, you can breeze through for free.
If you are doing your own research into camping spaces, there are lots of sites that offer similar services. iOverlander is very popular, so they tend to have the most listings and everything has been double-checked by other travelers. There are literally dozens of apps, so download everything that looks good and be sure to cross-reference. If it’s your first time planning to camp for free, you might be surprised at how many great spots there are!