Before You Try Free Camping
Make sure youre familiar with the route youre taking and whats nearby. As always, verify beforehand that the campsite is open. If availability is on a first-come, first-served basis, make sure you have a Plan B thats within driving distance.
Youll also need an option to cover your basic needs in case your battery or generator fails. Come up with an alternative, at least for the short term, so you dont go without food, water, or heat.
Finally, be sure and reach out to a friend or family member.
Let them know exactly where you are going to be and for how long. It just makes things safer, especially when free camping.
Where To Camp For Free In Ohio
- American Electric Power ReCreation Land. Also known as AEP, they have the largest and one of the most diverse outdoor recreation areas in Ohio. The sites are all primitive and usually come with vaulted toilets and hand water pumps. While free, you will need to apply for a permit to camp here. Some of the popular ones include Bicentennial Campground, Woodgrove Campground, Sawmill Campground outside of the small town of Cumberland.
- Wayne National Forest. There are 9 campgrounds within the 250,000 acres forest. Many campers like to camp at the trailheads during late fall to early winter. With over 300 miles of trails for hiking, biking, horse riding, and OHV, this area has something for everyone.
- Ohio State Forests. The Fernwood State Forest and Harrison State Forest in the central part of Ohio have highly rated sites such as the Hidden Hollow Campground, Ronsheim Campground, and Trailriders Campground.
- Ohio State Parks. While not as popular as AEP lands and the state forests, some state parks such as the Jesse Owens State Park and Adams Lake State Park are hotspots for those within the vicinity of Columbus and Cincinnati. The Muskingum River State Park is another option.
Alum Creek State Park
Home to Ohios largest inland beach, Alum Creek state park is an amazing place to spend a few days camping.
The parks reservoir is over 3,000 acres and welcomes boats and even has a full-service marina.
On one side of the reservoir you have wide-open waters perfect for skiing or tubing, and on the other side you have tree-filled shores and shale cliffs that make for great paddling scenery.
Swimming is also available in designated areas if you wish to take a quick dip in the water.
Fish of all types can be found in the reservoir, ranging from bluegill to bass and many others.
You can also find both a disc golf course and a dog park with water access located within the park.
If you have the proper license you can hunt in various areas of the park for animals such as squirrels, deer, and rabbits.
There are 3 hiking trails , 3 mountain biking trails , and one 7 mile multi-purpose trail for activities including hiking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and dog sledding.
Over 280 electric campsites are available with hot showers and bathrooms nearby.
There are also 30 equestrian camp primitive sites available if you wish to camp with your horse.
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Lake Sherwood Road Dispersed Camping
The campsites at Lake Sherwood Road lie on the edge of the largest lake in the Monongahela National Forest. They are also just outside the popular resort area of White Sulphur Springs in southeastern West Virginia.
It has nearly 20 spacious campsites, some with access to the lake or scenic Meadow Creek. It has a bathhouse on an island only accessible by boat and excellent fishing opportunities. Many deer hunters come in the fall.
Hidden Hollow Campground Fernwood State Forest
Hidden Hollow Campground in the northeastern of Ohio is often referred to as a hidden gem by those in the know. The campground does have paved tent pads, but its generally rustic. The 22 sites here only have vault toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables. There are also plenty of garbage bins available, so you dont need to pack out your waste.
The region is part of the 3,023-acre Fernwood State Forest. It was once strip-mined for coal and has since been reclaimed by the state. There is a 14-day limit on free camping in this area.
- Best season : Spring, Summer, Fall
- Closest town : Bloomingdale, OH
- Map coordinates :86MP+M7 Bloomingdale, Ohio, United States
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Public Ohio Rv Camping
Public campgrounds are great destinations for Ohio RV camping trips. Located throughout the state, USDA Forest Service, State Parks, State Forests, and USACE/COE offer facilities from primitive campsites to full RV hookup campgrounds.
The following are only a few examples of the great public Ohio RV camping opportunities available.
BERLIN CENTER Mill Creek Campground located on Berlin Lake is a US Army Corp of Engineers managed facility. Both electric and non electric campsites are available as well as RV dump station. Recreation opportunities include a playground, group camping area, boating and fishing.
BLOOMINGDALE The Harrison State Forest offers two campgrounds equipped with picnic tables, fire rings, and vault toilets. No water is available. Seven family campsites are located at Ronsheim Campground while 20 sites accommodating family and/or horse campers are available at the Trailriders Campground. No fee!
FAYETTE The Harrison Lake State Park has a 173 campsites, 152 available with electricity. Showers, flush toilets and an RV dump station is available. This park is popular for swimming, fishing, camping and canoeing.
IRONTON The Iron Ridge Campground offers reservable RV camping campsites, most with electricity. This family campground is located on a ridge above Lake Vesuvius and has drinking water and vault toilets. Special rules apply during Ohio gun hunting season.
Boondocking Sites In Ohio
Hook Lake Campground
Hook Lake Campground is located near McConnelsville on the east side of Jesse Owens State Park. There is a trashcan near the main gate, and each campsite has a picnic table and a fire ring. There is a 14-day stay limit at the campground. There is an archery range, two fishing lakes, and numerous hiking paths at this state park. Ohio camping sites.
Hidden Hollow Campground
Hidden Hollow Campground is located within Fernwood State Forest and has 22 campsites. A picnic table and a fire ring are provided at these campsites near the Land Lab. This state forest in Bloomingdale is a great place to go hiking and witness how the forest regenerates itself. There are numerous fishing ponds as well.
At Harrison State Forests Ronsheim Campground, there are seven paved trailer pads. Each site has a picnic table and a fire ring, as well as vault toilets. Bring your horse and go for a ride along the 20-mile trail system. A shooting range is also available at this remote campground near Cadiz.
Summit Metro Parks
Summit Metro Parks has a campsite near the Big Bend Trail trailhead in Akron. This campground is free, but there are other campgrounds nearby that require a fee, so be sure youre in the proper place. This spot, where you can camp for one night, does not allow fires. Ohio boondocking locations.
Woodbury Wildlife Area
Zaleski State Forest
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Guidelines For Where Camping Is Allowed And Where It Is Not
A tent warmed by a crackling campfire, the bracing smell of a far-off thunderstorm and the allure of a snug sleeping bag make camping an enticing activity for nature lovers. Countless sites everywhere offer a private spot in the woods, a group setting for a few good friends or a remote mountaintop space.
Free Ohio Boondocking Camping Areas Including Maps
Free Ohio boondocking locations has very few free campsites that dont involve a parking lot. Where it lacks in quantity, though, it makes up for it in quality. Located primarily on the states eastern and southern coasts, these campgrounds provide access to the great outdoors within 2-4 hours of Cleveland, Toledo, Dayton, and Cincinnati.
Jump directly to the 24 Free Ohio Boondocking Camping Areas
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Wrapping Up Free Camping In Ohio
Free camping in Ohio is a great adventure for the entire family to go on without breaking the bank, and it offers fantastic flexibility and opportunities to explore the great outdoors. However, if youre looking to camping expeditions in Ohio that are a bit on the fancier side, take a look at our list of 14 Gorgeous Spots To Go Glamping In Ohio!
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National Forests And Grasslands
Typically you are allowed to camp for free in US National Forests & Grasslands unless otherwise marked. Each national forest has slightly different rules, so check ahead of time, but generally speaking, you are allowed to camp anywhere outside established recreation areas and developed campgrounds.
Who Its Good For: Tent & car camping, Vans, Trailers, and RVs.
What Its Like: You have a lot of options when camping in a National Forest. You can find a nice pullover, backpack into the woods to set up camp, or find an attractive spot along a forest service road.
However, youll need to be self-sufficient, as there will likely be zero amenities. No picnic table, trash, or restrooms. In some places, you are allowed to have a fire if you obtain a fire permit and there are no fire restrictions in place .
How to Find It: National Forests are well marked on Google maps, but you can use the National Forest Map Locator or search state by state to find information about the specific jurisdiction you are looking to camp in. Again, the rules are different depending on the area, so check ahead.
- Camping must be done outside of developed campgrounds.
- Usually a 14 day limit, sometimes more.
- No amenities picnic table, trash, or restrooms. Practice Leave No Trace.
- Set up camp 200 feet away from any stream or water source.
** This information does not apply in National Parksbut many National Parks are bordered by National Forests!
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Beaver Creek State Park
This Ohio free camping site boasts 6 spots that offer electricity. There are another 39 non-electric sites at Beaver Creek. Each site has a fire ring and a picnic table. Pets are permitted at this location. You will have access to pit toilets, but no shower house is available.
These sites are offered by reservation only.
There are also two Sherman cabins that are rustic locations without running water, but they do have electricity.
Free Camping In Ohio State Parks
State Parks are not usually a place you think of finding free camping, but In the very south of the state, just over an hour east of Cincinnati, is Adams Lake State Park. With a total of 10 primitive sites, 5 grass sites for tent camping, and 5 pull-thru campsites for RVs, it is first-come, first-served with fire rings, picnic tables, vault toilets, and water available.
One of the nation’s most unique state parks is Muskingum River State Park. It is a linear park stretching over 100 miles through southern Ohio before emptying into the Ohio River at Marietta. Along the river are 11 locks and dams, the only remaining hand-operated locks of their kind in the country. While in transit, boaters can camp at most of the locks. RVs can use the campground at lock #11, which is reservable and has a fee. The Luke Chute Lock & Dam #5 allows free primitive camping. Check-in with the lock operator and pick a spot either in the parking area or on the grass.
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More About Camping Joshua Tree National Park
Southern California’s Joshua Tree National Park is a good example of federal lands that accommodate all sorts of campers. Eight semi-developed campgrounds, some open seasonally, welcome tent, RV and equestrian campers, though none have full hookups. Keep in mind that campgrounds fill up quickly in this popular park. Backcountry camping is free, but hikers need to fill out a form at a backcountry registration board before heading into the wilderness for an overnight stay. Pick up a park map at a visitor center and head for one of the 14 backcountry staging areas. Camp on durable surfaces away from water and trail heads and respect the local wildlife.
When Is The Best Time Of Year To Camp In West Virginia
You can enjoy visiting in the spring and summer, but early fall is best. Many love the springtime temperatures compared to hotter temps in the summer. However, West Virginia sees the most rain in the spring.
We would ideally wait until after the intense summer heat subsides in early fall when going free camping in West Virginia. Traditionally, the bigger tourist crowds leave by then, too. So you might end up having these free camping spots all to yourself. And dont forget about the beautiful fall colors too.
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Hook Lake Campground Jesse Owens State Park
Jesse Owens State Park, which opened in July 2016, is Ohios newest state park. Hook Lake Campground is one of the four free camping locations in the park. It is open from April 1 to mid-December with the majority of campers coming here during the summer and fall.
Each site is quite basic, features only vault toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, and garbage bins. There are two fishing ponds, wooden pavilions, and an archery range, as well as some great hiking trails.
McConnelsville, which is only a 20-minute drive away, offers shopping opportunities as well as buzzing businesses, restaurants, and a brewpub to explore.
- Best season : Summer, Fall
- Map coordinates :P7GV+V3 McConnelsville, Ohio, United States
Ohio Rv Camping And Campgrounds
Ohio RV camping offers locations with spectacular scenery, solitude, and interesting history. From the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, there are great Ohio RV camping destinations. Public lands and private RV parks and campgrounds offer a wide range of camping facilities from full service RV hookup campsites to remote primitive camping locations. Industrial reclamation lands offer public RV camping, and county and municipal parks have campgrounds that are great for RV camping.
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Scloto Trail State Park
This 9000-acre sprawl is an incredible place to camp for free. There are electric sites and primitive sites across the area. For the primitive sites, you will have to contact Stewart Lake Camp Area and make reservations by calling 644-6727. Fishing, paddling, and wildlife watching are all great activities in this secluded camping location. Of course, there are plenty of hiking trails, too.
Ohio Dispersed Camping: The Complete Guide
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The Buckeye State is known for many things, but dispersed and primitive camping doesnt often jump to the top of most peoples list. However, we think that Ohio is an underrated destination for getting out there and spending a night under the stars! From Wayne National Forest in the southern part of the state, to the many primitive campsites in State Parks, we think dispersed camping in Ohio is one of the best ways to experience all the state has to offer.
Given that Ohio doesnt have a reputation as a great camping destination, weve put together this dispersed camping guide to help you navigate the rules, regulations, and must know facts about primitive camping in Ohio.
Weve even included a few of our top campsites in the final section to give you some inspiration for your next trip.
Lets jump in!
Check your email for your cheat sheet!
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Things To Know About Dispersed Camping In Ohio
- Free of charge. Dispersed campsites are free and dont require reservations as they are situated on public lands, state parks, or national forests. In some locations, there is a small donation box where you can make contributions to help the park rangers maintain the area.
- Campsite selection. Pitch your tent at a designated area, or on areas where it has been used before to minimize the environmental impact.
- Maximum stay is 14 days within a 30-day period.
- No amenities. Dont expect the campground to have showers, toilets, tables, benches, or fire rings. Bring everything you need with you.
- Waste disposal. Most areas do not have garbage bins. Youre expected to pack your garbage out.
- Fire permit. Check the United States Forest Service website to determine if you need a permit before setting up a campfire.
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Hocking Hills State Park
Southeastern Ohio hosts an nationally and internationally recognized top park to visit.
Explore the vast caves and gorges, or take in the sights and sounds of nearby waterfalls.
Or take a look at the rich history this park has at places such as Old Mans Cave.
Part of Ohios Buckeye trail passes through, leading you from Old Mans Cave to Cedar Falls to Ash Cave over 6 miles of trails.
There are plenty of campsites in and around Hocking Hills that can accomodate pretty much any style of camping, from cabins to primitive campsites and everything in between!
And there are tons of activities to do around the state park, such as rock climbing, hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, ziplining, and more.
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Little River Dispersed Camping
This beautiful and remote riverside site in the Monongahela National Forest lies at the end of a long, winding road. If you dont mind primitive conditions and no cell service, you may enjoy this hidden gem.
Little River dispersed camping has 16 sites, about half of which are for tents only. Additionally, you may find this an excellent spot for hiking and trout fishing.