If you’re new to dispersed camping, start here. Otherwise, jump in and get ready to discover five of the best breathtaking beautiful and free camp spots in the country.
There’s something undeniably special about watching the sunrise from the cozy comfort of your tent. It’s even better when the spot you’ve chosen to call home for the night is completely wild and free. These are some of my favorites, found roaming the country for the last year.
1 – The Methow Valley | Washington
Nestled in the foothills of the North Cascades, the Methow Valley is a popular Pacific Northwest recreation area. Renowned for mountain biking and fly fishing, and filled with epic views and fun people, it’s sure to be a favorite.
GPS Coordinates: 48.787347, -120.085100
Nearby Town: Winthrop
Access: Easily navigable dirt roads. Hard packed, 2-wheel drive accessible.
When to Go: Late Spring to Early Summer. Go after the snow has melted and before forest fire season arrives.
Bonus Tip: Head over to The Rocking Horse Bakery to enjoy a hot and delicious meal from good and interesting people.
2 – Spoil Islands | Florida
Rich in bird populations and part of Florida’s Intercoastal Waterway, the Spoil Islands provide a unique opportunity to camp for free in an otherwise expensive state. More experienced boaters can turn this into a weeks-long excursion all the way south to Key West and newbies can happily enjoy their first time paddle camping.
GPS Coordinates: 27.520275, -80.334756
Nearby Town: Fort Pierce
Access: Boat only. Power boats will do the job, but self-propelled will leave you feeling satisfyingly tired and capable.
When to Go: Winter. Forget about fruit cakes, white elephants, and ugly sweaters, spend your holiday camping on a private beach.
Bonus Tip: Have a furry sidekick and lot’s of gear? Give a boat like the Hobie Mirage Adventure Island a try. My dog Baylor loved riding on the side trampoline and the sturdy outriggers meant we never had to worry about tipping from an oncoming wake.
3 – Mississippi Headwaters | Minnesota
Before the Mississippi turns into a massive river, it starts as a tiny weaving creek. And tucked on this county land overlooking the valley you’ll find a stunning camp spot. Unlike the others listed here, you need to call the Sheriff and reserve the spot. Just let them know your dates and get a code to open the access gate.
GPS Coordinates: 47.417330, -95.082537
Nearby Town: Bemidji
Access: Bumpy, sometimes muddy and sandy road. Four wheel drive preferred, but passable with a car or motorcycle.
When to Go: Mid to Late Summer. It’s the perfect place to while away the days before school starts back up.
Bonus Tip: Start a smoky fire immediately upon arrival. It’ll help keep the bugs at bay and your sanity in tact.
4 – Lake Mohave | Nevada
Actually a reservoir on the Colorado River, Lake Mohave splits the border between Arizona and Nevada with its 28,260 acres of water. The shoreline varies from rocky to sandy and the water shines a refreshing cerulean – making for a stunning camp backdrop. Bring your boat and enjoy paddle exploring the miles of uninhabited shorelines.
GPS Coordinates: 35.229026, -114.594019
Nearby Town: Laughlin
Access: The road varies from run-of-the-mill dirt to sandy. In a car or truck it’s no big deal. On a motorcycle (as I learned the hard way) it can be infuriatingly difficult.
When to Go: Late Winter to Early Spring. Pamper yourself with empty shorelines and a much needed vitamin D boost.
Bonus Tip: When the water level is just right, you can sneak around the edge to the south and end up with a sandy cove all to yourself.
5 – Hatcher Pass | Alaska
Clear blue water tumbling over rocks, winding through emerald green underbrush, cutting a path across the massive valley floor. The hills and mountains piling up, creating a domino of rugged land. The tales of Alaska’s wild beauty are true. And located within an hour’s drive from Anchorage, Hatcher Pass is the perfect place to get acquainted with the Northern wilds.
GPS Coordinates: 61.764096, -149.551339
Nearby Town: Talkeetna.
Access: Gravel and dirt roads. Perfectly fine for all cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Just be prepared for plenty of teeth rattling washboards and potholes.
When to Go: Mid to late summer. This is Alaska – go any earlier or later and snow is a concern.
Bonus Tip: Need a hot shower? Stop at The Talkeetna Roadhouse for a refresh. And while you’re there, grab a slice of their famed homemade pie.
And one last reminder. Before you head out, do a final bit of due diligence. Check the weather, call about road conditions, research any changes to the above information due to fires, droughts, seasons or new rules and regulations. This is nature. Things can change at any moment. That’s why it’s wild.
Use the list above as a jumping off point and you’ll soon be on the way to getting off the beaten path and discovering the best nature has to offer.
And if you know a free camp spot we simply must check out, please let me know. After more than a year on the road, camping my way across North America, I’m always on the hunt for the next camp spot. A place with epic views and gorgeous sunsets. Rushing rivers and open spaces. A place to unplug and get away from it all. To set up camp and call it home for the night.
Mallory Paige is a Storyteller and Adventurer. As creator of the popular Operation Moto Dog adventure, she is traveling and camping her way across North America on a motorcycle-sidecar with Baylor the Dog, proving you don’t need to be fearless or perfect to live your dreams.