What Is Dispersed Camping?

There are a lot of options when it comes to camping in your RV – and dispersed camping is one of my favorites. Not sure what dispersed camping is? I’ll explain all of that here!

What Is Dispersed Camping

Dispersed camping is actually the official team by the US Forest Service (USFS) for camping in undesignated campsites. US Forests are public lands, and that means one of our privileges of using them is to camp in certain areas.

According to their website, “Dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground.

A designated dispersed camping area means that you are allowed to camp there, but that there are no services or facilities like trash pickup, bathrooms, picnic tables, fire pits, or anything that would normally come with a designated campground.

Most public US forests will have specific areas where dispersed camping (ie camping anywhere within the designated area) is allowed. They’ll have these marked on their regional websites and maps, with specific rules for group sizes, stay limits, and restrictions on camping locations such as how close your tent or camper can be to a fresh water source.

Dispersed Camping VS Boondocking

Dispersed camping is really just the official USFS term for boondocking on National Forest land. You’ll be somewhere (relatively) remote, out in nature, away from crowds and campgrounds, and without electrical or sewer hookups.

The only reason it’ll be dispersed camping is because you’re doing it in a designated area on USFS land. 😉

Of course, you can also boondock on BLM/Bureau of Land Management land, as they have adopted the term as well. You can view their rules for dispersed camping here, which include 14 day stay limits and other guidelines: https://www.blm.gov/programs/recreation/camping

Each organization and area has their own rules for that specific piece of public land, so always check the rules and guidelines before you go, and make sure access is open.

Dispersed Camping vs Campgrounds

Although there are designated USFS campgrounds that can be reserved, public campsites that you can reserve at sites like recreation.gov, and private campgrounds and resorts near national forests, the difference is that each of those has designated sites where you set up your tent or RV.

Dispersed camping is best for people who want to get away from the campground crowds and families, while still getting the full camping experience in a forest.

Where to find dispersed camping spots

One of our favorite ways to find dispersed camping is to use a website like Campendium. You can find free campsites that are already rated by other campers, and some of the will be dispersed camping spots.

You can also go straight to your nearest forest’s website to find the areas that they allow dispersed camping in or contact your local Forest Service’s office. Just search for the national forest that you’re interested in camping in + “dispersed camping” and you’ll usually find a page that has links to maps and information for that specific forest.

General Guidelines for Dispersed Camping

  • Pack it in and pack it out – follow leave no trace, and never leave behind trash, belongings, or anything that wasn’t there before you got there. That includes toilet paper.
  • Leave it better than you found it. If you see trash, pick it up and take it with you to dispose of properly.
  • In general, minimize your impact as much as possible.
  • Respect the local wildlife and resources.
  • Don’t cause damage.
  • Follow the rules for stay limits.
  • Follow the rules for camping within a certain number of feet of water sources.
  • Always check the guidelines for the specific spot you want to camp in before you go.


Dispersed camping is a great free camping option if you want to get out into nature, enjoy the outdoors while avoiding crowds, and don’t mind lacking the amenities that a normal campground comes with.

What are your favorite dispersed camping spots?

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