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Free Tent Camping In Virginia

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park & Camp Resort

Free Camping at Gladwin Dispersed Camping Area, Monongahela NF, WV

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park and Camp Resort is located in Natural Bridge Station, VA. It sits on the James River and is nestled in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley right between Interstate 81 and the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are so many fun family activities right in the park as well as nearby attractions.

2250 US Hwy 211 East Luray, VA 22835 | 300-1697

Cost: starting at $42 per night on weekday | starting at $55 per night on weekend

Find Your Free Camp Site

In the United States, you can camp on Bureau of Land Management areas and in national forests across the country. You can also find free camping opportunities in some Wildlife Management Areas , state forests, and grasslands.

Certain high-use areas or sensitive habitats are marked with no camping signs. Other environments have specific ways to minimize damage, like avoiding the living biological crusts of desert environments or fragile plants of high alpine areas. But the majority of public lands are available for respectful use. Below is my favorite strategy to find an epic camp spot.

Scour Google Maps. Look for the green areas on Google Maps that signify public lands. This is a rough demarcation of national forests and other public areas, so be sure to respect private land at the fringes. Take note of whats available in the region you plan to explore. Use the Google Earth mode and zoom function to get an idea of roads and landscapes.

Use a paper map. Some wild spaces dont show up on Google Maps. And once youve gotten off the beaten path, cell service may not be available. This is where paper maps come in handy. Choose one of the options listed below or stop by the ranger station for a local map. These will help you identify roads, trails, potential obstacles, and water sources.

Look up rules and regulations for the area you plan to visit.

200 Nights Under the Stars: Gear That Got Me Through

America’s Newest National Park Will Lure You To An Underrated Stateyour Browser Indicates If You’ve Visited This Link

Sky Noir PhotographyWhen I first visited WestVirginia in October 2020, I didn’t know quite what to expect beyond the stereotypes I’d seen on TV and heard about on the radio. I was visiting a friend in Ohio and the arrival of unseasonably warm weather inspired us to head to WestVirginia for a few days in the woods.


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False Cape State Parkvirginia Beach

One of the only underdeveloped areas along the Virginia Atlantic coast, False Cape State Park is a beautiful oasis of untouched shoreline that is perfect for coastal camping. The park is popular for primitive camping but offers extensive activities for visitors, including guided kayak trips, biking trails, and six

miles of untouched beachfront for swimming and sunbathing.Reachable only by foot, bicycle, or boat, the campgrounds have no public vehicular access. Pets are allowed in the campgrounds, but since the access trails through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge dont permit pets, the only way to arrive with dogs is by boat. Camping reservations cannot be made on the same day, so make sure you call ahead of time. Campers should read all the details about the sites before arriving, as the area can be difficult for beginners and unprepared campers.

Not Free But A Great Deal

Tent Camping

If youre an RVer, then you need to check out Harvest Hosts.

Harvest Hosts is a membership program that for $79 a year allows you to stay at over 1,300 wineries, breweries, farms, and golf courses in your RV.

Harvest Hosts has locations all over the US and gives you unique options at a fraction of the price of most RV camprounds.

You can even save 15% on your membership by using code: BEYONDTHETENT.

Another great option is Boondockers Welcome. Boondockers Welcome hooks you up with landowners around the country who allow you to stay on their property for free. Its not wineries and breweries, but some of the properties are really nice!

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Types Of Free Camping Areas

If you wont be camping in private and state campgrounds, then where will you be camping? Where are these free camping areas, who owns them, and what will they look like?

There are a variety of places that you can camp for free. They are owned by a number of different entities, have wildly different environments, and exist almost everywhere in the country.

Lets take a look at a few types of free camping areas that youll come across as you start looking for the best place for your next trip.

Awesome Tent Camping Experiences In Virginia

Stefanie Hatcher/

There is no better way to get back to nature than to pitch a tent and take on the wilderness. Youll find hundreds of camping facilities around the state, but how about taking a trip to some tent-only campgrounds? Or better yet, campgrounds that have no vehicular access? Theyre worth the experience.

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Places To Camp For Free In Central Pennsylvania

For those looking for an isolated, inexpensive alternative to the noise and crowds of developed campgrounds, Pennsylvania offers hundreds of free campsites throughout the state. Because Central Pennsylvania has the Appalachian Mountains running right through the middle of it, the area is a prime destination for good hiking, gorgeous scenery and free camping.

Most of the sites that offer free camping in Central Pennsylvania are located on state forest lands and do not provide any amenities, though some may have a fire ring or a picnic table for guests. These types of primitive sites are typically intended for tent camping. If you want to bring a small trailer or camper van, be sure to contact the campsites district office to find out whether they are allowed or can be accommodated.

Although these campsites are free to visit, they do require registration, so remember to call ahead and reserve your spot. Most of the sites also require a camping permit for multiple-night stays. These permits are free and can be easily obtained by calling the district office.

Finally, read through both the CDC guidelines for visiting parks and recreational facilities and this brochure of camping guidelines and ethics to make sure you practice good camping etiquette. Knowing the right way to camp will help you preserve the beautiful forests of Central Pennsylvania, remain respectful of other fellow campers and stay safe in the wilderness.

How To Prepare For A Dispersed Camping Trip

Free Camping at Stonecoal Dispersed Camping Area, Monongahela NF, WV

Like all different types of camping, there are certain things that all campers should do in order to prepare for their trip. Campers staying at dispersed sites have different needs to both backcountry and campground campers, and therefore must ensure they have all the skills necessary for a safe and enjoyable trip. Not as many survival skills are as vital as when youre primitive camping, however away from the safety of campground staff and facilities, its always better to be prepared.

Dispersed camping sites lack amenities such as picnic tables, which are easy to go without. However, they also arent equipped with important features such as food lockers, to keep your supplies safe from bears and other wildlife. Before your expedition, make sure to brush up on camping bear safety guidelines, to avoid any unwanted problems. Its imperative to sleep in a campsite at least 100 yards from any food storage or cooking areas and pack out all garbage and food scraps.

We also recommend campers remind themselves of the leave no trace principles before a dispersed camping trip, as there are no campground employees to clean up after you. When staying out in natural public land, its so important to take care of the environment. Campers are very lucky to have access to these gorgeous scenic areas for free, so we must do our part to preserve it.

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National Forests And Grasslands

The United States Forest Service oversees 20 National Grasslands and 154 National Forests. Thats a total of 193 million acres of public land. National Forests are easy to find on Google Maps, theyre usually the green shaded areas covering large swaths of land.

On the USFS website, an interactive map displays hiking trails, camp spots, ADA accessible areas, and more, making it easy for users to find a general area to park their campervan or pitch their tent for the night.

Potty Kit Or Wag Bags

Since most free camping areas dont have bathroom facilities, youll need to be prepared to properly dispose of your waste. Youll need a small trowel to dig a cathole, TP, and a trash bag to pack your TP out. In some sensitive and higher use areas, youll need to pack your waste out as well, usually by using a WAG bag. Check with the ranger or BLM office to find out about their specific policies.

Our friend Kristen of Bearfoot Theory wrote a great post about doing your business outdoors, which you can check out here.

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Where To Go In Virginia For Dispersed Camping

There is a huge selection of top-quality dispersed campsites in the state of Virginia. Campers from the nations capital city of Washington DC, from the state capital of Richmond, and all visitors from out of state are spoilt for choice in this region of stunning natural beauty.

The James River flows down from the Appalachian mountains across Virginia, passing through many state parks and natural areas. Lakeside campsites and remote backcountry spots all await the adventurous camper in Virginia. Lets explore a couple of the best spots for dispersed camping that you can check out on your next trip to Virginia.

Hopper Creek Group Camp

Tent Camping

Hopper Creek Group Camp offers a serene setting along Hopper Creek under a canopy of mixed hardwood trees. The area welcomes visitors to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere complete with hiking and bird watching opportunities. Tents only no RVs allowed in this campsite.

725 Hopper Creek Group Rd. Natural Bridge Station, VA 24579 | 291-2188

Cost: starting at $20 per night for 10-25 people | starting at $40 per night for 26-50 people

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Things To Know About Your Free Campsite

Free campsites come in all shapes and sizes. And some of these areas may not meet your current definition of a typical campsite. You may not always find a quiet hollow in the wilderness, flat ground to pitch a tent, and water flowing nearby. You may need to expand your expectations.

Everyones tolerances and interests are different, but in general, here are a few things to look for when researching a free camping area.

Do they allow RV or tent camping? Probably the most important question is whether your preferred type of camping is permitted in that area. If you cant bring your RV to a campsite when you are on an RV road trip, it kind of defeats the purpose.

Is there potable water? Not portable water, potable water. Potable water is a fancy term for water that is safe to drink. And youll want to know if you need to bring your own. Some of the most beautiful free camping options in the country are rustic enough that they have no water options. Everything has to be carried in.

What are the terrain, flora, and fauna like? Its important to know if the area is not suited for a tent because it is a steep slope or rocky terrain. Its just as important to know if there will be shade for you to escape hot summer sun. And if you will need to worry about critters like bears and coyotes.

Do you need to hike in? Not all free camping areas allow you to drive your car right up to the site where you will be staying. Many require you to hike in away from a general parking area.

Jefferson National Forest And George Washington National Forest

These two forest service land areas are prime dispersed camping locations. The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests make up one of the largest areas of public land in the eastern United States, and all of it ripe for exploration by campers. To enrich your camping experience in Jefferson or George Washington, why not take a hike on some of the 2000 miles of natural trails. These winding pathways through the forest are ideal for a solo hiking adventure, where you can take in the environment and recentre yourself with nature.

The USDA website provides details about dispersed camping in these national forests, where it is permitted throughout almost the entire area. There are more than one and a half million acres of scenic forested land in these two national forests, including a section of the famous Appalachian Trail. In most locations, dispersed campers wont need a permit to stay the night, but we recommend double-checking with a park ranger.

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Best Free Camping Spots

We love sharing the best free camping spots in the USA! However, many campers have complained that we dont feature the East Coast enough.

Theyre exactly right weve neglected the free camping spots on the East Coast.

Today were sharing twenty of the best . Our definition of the East Coast means they all must be located within the Eastern Time Zone.

Keep in mind: when you go free camping you most likely wont have access to amenities. This means youre on your own. Verify and research the accessibility of all free campsites before you attempt to set up camp.

Lets dive in!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Free Tent Camping at Dispersed Campsites in the National Forest

Known for its gorgeous hills and valleys, Great Smokey Mountain National Park is an emblem of the eastern portion of the US. If youre looking for a less expensive overnight option while exploring the area, try some primitive camping at Pisgah National Forest. Especially in fall the hills come alive with colors.

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Camping In Virginias National Forests

There are two different national forests here that offer free camping opportunities. The first is George Washington National Forest, and the second is Jefferson National Forest. These allow primitive or dispersed camping in some of the areas in the forest.

Again, these will have the same rules as public land camping. Consequently, these forests can be a great option if youre looking to do some of the hiking trails here.

George Washington And Jefferson National Forests

The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests cover 1,664,110 acres in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky. Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, part of the forest, offers more than 500 miles of trail, including 60 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The Forest Service operates numerous developed campgrounds in the forest, and allows primitive camping in most areas without a permit. High-impact areas, some wilderness tracts and areas closed by the local forest supervisor are exceptions to the rule.

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More Affected By The Elements

Same as anywhere else, youll find that tent campers are more affected by the weather and elements than those in a camper or RV. In fact, it is probably one of the main reasons some folks opt for a camper over primitive camping.

Many free camping areas, especially in the western part of the country lack any kind of cover from the sun. That means you, your tent, your car, and your belongings will bake in the middle of the day. You are also less protected from the wind that can knock over tents and spray sand, making for a sleepless night.

Lastly, while you can hold-up in your tent if there is a rainstorm or biting insects in the area, it is quite a bit more comfortable to be in a camper with headroom and a bathroom.

Comfortable Camping On The Skyline Drive: Big Meadows Campground

Tent Camping

Image from The Dyrt camper Caren L.

This is glamping. . . but with more bears. Big Meadows Campgroundthe most popular campground in Shenandoah National Parkoffers hundreds of sites with easy access to hikes, including the nearby Appalachian Trail. You can spot wildlife like deer, bears, and owls from your tent.

Located in the middle of Skyline Drive, this Virginia campground is also a good jumping-off point for exploring the rest of the park. The amenities are top-notch, in particular because of the proximity to stores and restaurants like the Big Meadows Lodge.

Great centrally located campground on Skyline Drive. Staff was super friendly, animals are too . Cant wait to go back again. The Dyrt camper Shannon S.

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Camp And Tent By Allstays

Camp and Tent is an awesome application for searching for tent campsites only. That means all the options displayed will allow only tents and no RVs. You can search by location, filter for different types of free campsite areas, and get information on their amenities.

Unfortunately, this app is not currently available for Android users and has only been created for iOS. You can download it from the AppStore using any iOS device.

Troubleshooting The Challenges Of Free Camping

Free camping comes with its own issues and challenges. And despite its many benefits, many people avoid free camping areas. But overcoming problems is often part of the fun of a camping trip. And both being prepared and knowing what to expect can significantly decrease difficulties when free camping.

Lets take a look at the most common problems or challenges that you may encounter when you decide to give free camping a try.

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First Landing State Park Campingvirginia Beach

First Landing State Park is located right outside of Virginia Beach on the Chesapeake Bay, where boating and swimming are an everyday part of life. The area has educational programs where visitors can learn more about the rich nature and history of the Chesapeake. The campsites have water and electric hookups, access to restrooms and showers, and picnic sites for your group to use during meals. Nineteen miles of biking and hiking trails and one and a half miles of Atlantic coastline span the more than 3,000 acres of First Landing State Park. It is Virginias most visited state park for a reason youll find rare plants, abundant wildlife, and gorgeous scenery everywhere you look at First Landing State Park, plus you can bring your dog along for the rid

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