Can You Camp Wherever You Want In A National Forest?

Image of Can you camp anywhere you want in a national forest

Camping in the national forest is all about pulling off the forest access road and setting up your camp in a spot that can give you a true wilderness experience.

This kind of camping is also called dispersed camping. Since you will be setting base in a place that is not a regular campground with amenities, it can also be referred to as dry camping.

Whatever the case, you will have an exhilarating experience if you love to be in touch with the wild and sleep under the stars.

However, can you camp wherever you want in a national forest? You can put up your tent any place that you want in a national forest. As long as you do not see any signs prohibiting you from camping in a given area, choose the spot you like and set up your tent. On national parks though, you can only camp in the specified areas.

Every state has national forest and most of them allow camping. However, you can always check with the Forest Service whether it is possible to camp in a certain national forest.

The regulations for the same can vary. In addition, whether you can stay there or not could even depend on the season. Therefore, do not just show up – do some due diligence.

What is a national forest?

National forest is a swathe of wooded land, a resource owned by the American People and managed by the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

What’s the difference between a national park and a national forest? While forests appear similar to national parks, they are different in the way they are managed and in their restrictions to pets and visitors.

Basically, forest is a wooded land where you can enjoy dispersed camping anywhere you want as long as there are no restrictions in place.

Dispersed camping is not the only purpose of having this resource. Forests are under the US Department of Agriculture and they are managed for other things such as wildlife, timber, grazing, recreation and many more.

Can I camp anywhere in national forest? Unless there is a restriction in place, you can camp anywhere in all national forests, without prior reservation.

Dispersed camping is also free while designated campgrounds charge a fee. They do this because they provide toilet amenities, water, electricity and other things.

Dispersed camping is mostly for people that want a true wilderness experience.

How to camp in a national forest

You do not just wake up one morning to go camping in the wilderness. You have to make good preparations for the adventure. Therefore, start with the basics, looking for information.

Identify the forest where you want to go for dispersed camping

The first thing is to identify the national forests in the state that you are in, or are visiting. As you can see from this list, there are so many of these resources in the USA.

What is the most visited national forest? It is always best to start with the most visited national forest. This is without doubt the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.

Image of Smoky Mountains national park

However, for a great dispersed camping experience, it is always best to take the road less traveled. Therefore, you can try even the less popular forests as well.

Check the national forest website for permits and regulations

Once you have selected the forest where you want to go for dispersed camping, check its regulations, permits and other stuff.

For example, by the time of publishing this post, Tongass National Forest in Alaska, Hasselborg Creek Trail was open for dispersed camping and hiking.

Checking online, we could see that they did not require a permit for camping, no restrooms, non-potable water was available from Lake Hasselborg and the tent sites were located at the end of the trail. Of course, they still are.

You will also see other activities that you can engage in like hiking, fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing and many others.

This is just one site for dispersed camping in the forest. There are many more within the forest, especially considering that Tongass is the biggest forest in the country.

Basically, check the website of the forest that you have chosen. You can also call the given numbers to find out whether they are open, what type of vehicle you should have and so on.

You can always check the forest’s website on website. Actually, there, you will find many more details regarding federally-held lands, BLM and many more.

How to enjoy dispersed camping

To enjoy dispersed camping, you have to be self-contained. First, you will need to take enough food and water for the people you are taking with you. There are many no-cook camping foods to take with you.

If you will be camping in bear country, you may need to bring a box, bag or something else to keep your food away from the bears.

Image of dry camping

However, it is also advisable that you find out where the nearest towns are so that you can do your shopping there.

Bring a camping toilet too. It is not an option. It is a necessity. You might also need a tent unless you are using an RV Camper.  Even if you are driving a camper, you might still need a tent so that you can sleep under the stars.

Read the fire regulations for camping in the forest. Forest fires are real! They also cause a lot of damage and losses and you do not want to be part of that. If you make a fire to cook your coffee or food, you should do it safely. Forest camping does not offer fire pits.

Take insect and bug repellants. You will need them especially if you are into hammock camping.

Other things that you need include camping flashlights for your safety.

Basically, you will need more camping gear than a person who is going to a regular campground.


Can you camp anywhere you want in a national forest? Yes you can but it is always good to check for restrictions. If you do not see any sign boards restricting you, camp right there. However, do your research well to see the things you need to bring.