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Budget Vacation: Free Camping Near the 10 Most Popular National Parks

Budget Vacation: Free Camping Near the 10 Most Popular National Parks

Once America opens back up, summer will nearly be in full swing. Camping vacations are projected to be the hottest type of travel in 2020.

This makes perfect sense! It’s inexpensive, you can easily control your environment (no hotels or airplanes) and it connects you to nature (much needed after quarantine). Sounds like the ideal budget vacation, right?

We’re here to share the best free camping sites near each of the 10 most popular National Parks. You heard me right…the camping costs nothing!

In the RV-world free camping is also known as boondocking and it typically takes place on federal park lands (BLM land).

What you should know about free camping:

It’s true, the camping costs nothing. However, there are a few things you’ll need to consider before getting out in nature.

  • Amenities not included: you’ll need to provide all your own utilizes. This means electricity, water and bathrooms will be your responsibility. If you have an RV these features are usually included.
  • Get Comfy: just because you’re off grid doesn’t mean you’re uncomfortable. We travel in a 1979 Airstream. With the right accessories, it feels just like a home. We can even run the air conditioner!
  • Pack in, Pack Out. Always leave a free campsite better than when you arrived. Pick up extra trash (and never leave your waste behind).
  • Scout out ahead of time. Free campsites are located off-grid, which typically means off the main road system. While RVs can access many of these spots on a good day, bad weather can restrict access.

Free Camping Near Great Smoky Mountain National Park

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited federal park by far. According to the NPS, a whopping 12.5 million people visited the park in 2019.

Not only is it a beautiful park with epic hiking trails, it’s one of the few large National Parks on the eastern side of the USA.

Here’s the best free campsite near Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Name: Santeetlah Lake

Exact Location: 35.3663, -83.8551

Miles to Park: less than 20 miles to park boundary

About the Free Campsite: The sites are located right on the water front. Hiking access is available from the sites.  While the sites are on the water – you can’t access them directly by car. Vehicles have to park on the side of the road and campers must hike a short distance to the campsites. No RVs recommended here. Tent & van campers will have the best luck camping here.

Additionally, we created a comprehensive Smoky Mountain Campsite Resource with more budget vacation ideas.

What Campers are Saying: A recent reviewer from Free Campsites says, “We camped here April 2019 and enjoyed it a lot. It really is a beautiful camping spot, with access to the lake. There was a little trash left by previous campers, but nothing that couldn’t easily be picked up.”

Smoky Mountain National Park

Free Camping Near Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park is, unsurprisingly, the 2nd most visited park in America. 5.97 million tourists visited the park in 2019.

We love the diversity of camping at the Grand Canyon. The south rim is bustling with activity, while the north rim is secluded and peaceful.

If this is your first time visiting, we highly recommend the south rim (home to all the iconic view points).

Name: Coconino Rim Road

Exact Location: 35.9623, -111.9644

Miles to Park: 12 miles to the main visitor center.

About the Free Campsite: Located in the Kaibab National Forest, Coconino Rim Road is a great free campsite with Grand Canyon access.

It’s located near the south rim, which is the more populated side of the Canyon. This is where you’ll find the main welcome center and tourist activities. You’ll have nearby access to many hiking and biking trails.

RVs, vans and tents have all had good luck finding a spot at this free campsite.

What Campers are Saying: Hannah on Campendium says, “You’re minutes from the Grand Canyon. And it’s free. What more can I say? We watched the sunset at Moran Point and watched the sunrise at Grandview. Perfection. We rolled in after the sunset and only saw a few vehicles.”

For more Grand Canyon Camping Spots – here’s our updated 2020 GC Camping Resource.

Grand Canyon RV Camping
Grand Canyon Camping

Free Camping Near Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain Nation Park is an awesome summer getaway. Not only are there great free camping options near the national park, the entire state of Colorado is a campers paradise. It’s one of the best states for a scenic, budget vacation.

The Rocky Mountains, more than most places, can pose challenges for RV access. Keep in mind, steep mountain passes and dirt roads will have varying conditions. Scout out before your drive in!

Name: Stillwater Pass

Exact Location: 40.221, -105.8875

Miles to Park: 8 miles to national park.

About the Free Campsite: Stillwater Pass is located in the Arapaho National Forest. This is a heavily wooded (sorry, solar panels) and secluded campsite. The road in is part paved and part dirt.

RVs have reported successful access. Vans should be fine, too. Tent campers, be aware of bears!

What Campers are Saying: Emma on Campendium says, “The campsites were pretty clean and there are sites for miles and miles off CR4 so you can be as close to or as far away from the start of the pass as you’d like.”

Free Camping Near Rocky Mountain National Park

Free Camping near Zion National Park

Zion National Park may be the most beautiful park in the USA. From the epic views on Angels Landing to the hikes at Weeping Rock, this park won’t disappoint.

Here’s the problem, the national park campgrounds fill up quickly and the nearby RV parks are super expensive.

This free campsite is an absolute hidden gem!

Name: North Creek BLM

Exact Location: 37.2203, -113.1616

Miles to Park: 15 miles to the visitor center.

About the Free Campsite: We love this campsite! It has plenty of shade trees, a creek running through it and a wonderful community of campers. The spots can be tight…meaning large RVs won’t have access. However, it’s perfect for vans and tents.

You’ll be a short drive from the National Park. Close enough to take multiple day trips inside the park with ease.

What Campers are Saying: Waz on Campendium says, “For the time of year we were here it was perfect. Heaps of spots to camp in our minivan and there are fire rings (which saves our propane for cooking dinner) and even a portaloo (which my mrs always appreciates).”

Additionally, we created a comprehensive Zion National Park Camping Guide.

Free Camping Near Zion National Park (Video Tour)

Free Camping Near Yosemite National Park

If you love hiking, Yosemite National Park is your perfect summer vacation destination.

The park is home to over 100 hiking trails that range from 2 miles to 200 miles. This free campsite will be easy on your wallet (aka budget vacation) and act as the ideal basecamp.

Name: Redinger Campground

Exact Location: 37.146, -119.4495

Miles to Park: 69 miles to the visitor center. The Yosemite National Park boundary is much closer (it’s a huge park).

About the Free Campsite: This free campsite will remove you from the hustle & bustle of Yosemite tourists and give you a clear view of the night sky. Additionally, there are vault toilets and trash receptacles available onsite.

Remember to bring your fishing pole, because we hear there’s great fishing at Redinger Campground. Make sure to check local guidelines if a permit is needed.

If you want to check out all the Yosemite free camping options, here’s our list of the 11 Best Free Campsites.

What Campers are Saying: Daniel on Google Reviews says, “Nice primitive Campground. It was very quiet when we were there midweek. Pit toilet was clean.”

Free Camping Near Yosemite National Park

Free Camping Near Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park was the first designated park in USA history. It’s been an iconic family camping destination ever since.

This park has two big advantages. It’s home to land formations unlike anywhere else in the world and it’s next door to Grand Teton National Park.

This free campsite is located perfectly between Yellowstone & the Tetons, making it a true hidden gem!

Name: Snake River Boondocking

Exact Location: 44.1034, -110.6861

Miles to Park: 4 miles to the south entrance of Yellowstone.

About the Free Campsite: This campsite is located on the Snake River and has direct water access. The spots are large,  spread out and rather private. In fact, the sites are so large, we easily shared ours with tent campers without crowding the space.

The campground provides a vault toilet (the cleanest we’ve ever seen) and bear boxes for the tenters.

Here are 10 more free campsites near Yellowstone!

What Campers are Saying: Olivia on Campendium says, “The sites are spread out down Grassy Lake Road. There are multiple camps with between 2-4 established sites at each.”

Free Camping Near Yellowstone National Park

Free Camping Near Grand Teton National Park

It makes sense that Grand Teton National Park ranks directly under Yellowstone in popularity. Any camper who visits one will usually visit the other.

Teton doesn’t have as many unique land formations. However, it is a perfect destinations for travelers who love hiking & boating.

This budget friendly, free campsite will give you a direct view of the Tetons with epic sunsets almost every night. It’ll be a vacation the kids remember!

Name: Lower Teton View

Exact Location: 43.7645, -110.5558

Miles to Park: 13 miles to the main visitor center.

About the Free Campsite: This is one of the most beautiful sites we’ve found. RVs, vans and tents have all been able to access this spot. They even have bear boxes for tent campers to store their food.

We were able to get a strong cell connection, but the network was bogged down with traffic. The site can be accessible for big rigs, as well.

What Campers are Saying: Molly on Campendium says, “What a gem! Road is a bit rough (dirt) coming in. We stayed at first site on right (looks like parking area). Many folks continued up the steep hill but the views from our site were still stunning. Very convenient to the park.”

Free Camping Near Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is located in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The park is known for its many landscapes.

You can trek up the peak of Mount Olympus or explore the rainforest all within its bounds.

Name: Forest Road 29

Exact Location: 48.0489, -124.1113

Miles to Park: 37 miles to visitor center. The park boundary and hiking trails are much closer.

About the Free Campsite: This is a no frills, free campsite that is accessible for RVs, vans and tent campers. Even though the scenery may not be epic, the forested campsite is perfect for group camping.

You should even receive cell service, which isn’t common for this area.

What Campers are Saying: A recent Campendium reviewer says, “I came here in a 30 foot 5th wheel towed with a diesel. The forest service road to get here is narrow, but paved (it’s not far off 101). 

Free Camping Near Olympic National Park

Free Camping Near Glacier Nation Park

Glacier National Park is located in northern Montana near the Canadian border. This makes it quite a trek for most Americans.

Despite it’s remote location, the National Park remains one of the most popular in the USA. This is because it is absolutely beautiful.

Campers beware – the spot we’re about to share is probably our favorite of all these campsites. However, it’s super hard to access. RVs shouldn’t attempt it. Van & tent campers, 4×4 vehicles recommended.

If you’re brave enough to attempt camping here, the reward is awesome!

Name: Blankenship Bridge

Exact Location: 48.4641, -114.0726

Miles to Park: 7 miles to the park headquarters.

About the Free Campsite: Once you get to the campsite, you’ll be on a rocky river bed. Fishing, rafting and swimming are popular activities.

However, the water is freezing! Kids & dogs don’t seem to mind, but I preferred sitting shoreside with only my toes dipping in the river.

What Campers are Saying: A recent Campendium reviewer says, “This is a huge area with dispersed camping right on the rivers edge or more spots back in the trees. Endless firewood around and stones to make fire pits. Could fit 100 rvs or 300 tents in the area comfortably.”

Free Camping Near Glacier National Park

Free Camping Near Arches National Park

Arches National Park is one of Utah’s “Big 5” parks. It’s located in Moab, near Canyonlands and Capitol Reef.

Moab (and Arches) is an outdoor enthusiasts’ dream destination. You can hike, bike, climb, kayak and ATV.

We’ve created a resource of all the best Moab campsites, but this is by far our favorite free camping option.

Name: Willow Springs Trail Dispersed Moab Camping

Exact Location: 38.6967, -109.6751

Miles to Park: 10 miles to visitor center.

About the Free Campsite: The proximity to Arches is awesome. If you have solar power, you’ll probably love this site too. It’ll give you a chance to operate you solar with maximum results!

Like all camping in Moab, summer months can be brutal. Try to visit towards the end of summer or beginning of fall for more comfortable temps.

What Campers are Saying: TX on Campendium says, “This gem was easy to find and there were quite a few spots to choose from. There are sites on both sides of the road and some you can get off away from the road. Late evenings were when we noticed more people arriving, but there were plenty spots.”

Free Camping Near Arches National Park in Moab, Utah

Explore the Best Free Campsites Throughout America for a Budget Vacation Everywhere

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy). You should give it a try!

Here’s our list of the 20 Best Free Campsites in the USA.

If you haven’t tried free camping before, also known as boondocking, take a look at our beginners guide to boondocking filled with everything you need to know to get started.

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