Free or Cheap Camping in Florida – Fort Pickens Campground – Gulf Islands National Seashore

Ft Pickens Campground Featured Image

Welcome to camping at Fort Pickens Campground within the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida!

Gulf Islands National Seashore Beach
Gulf Islands National Seashore Beach near Fort Pickens Campground

The National Parks Service (NPS) needs no introduction! With over 130 camping areas to choose from nationwide, families can spend a lifetime exploring the great American outdoors in the NPS.

Florida Camping Map - National Parks
Florida Camping Map – National Parks – click to enlarge

Please note – NPS camping is NOT FREE. In fact, it is NOT CHEAP either with rates up to $42 (electricity) per site! But National Park campgrounds are very popular and for this reason, I decided to include them in this camping series.

Organization of Public Camping in Florida

Organization of Camping in Florida
Organization of Public Camping in Florida – source: Eben Schoeman (click to enlarge image)

As described in the first article of this series and in the org chart above, there are three National Parks in Florida with drive-up camping facilities.

Dispersed drive-up camping is NOT ALLOWED. You must camp in developed campgrounds as listed below:

National Parks Service (NPS) Campgrounds in Florida (click to enlarge)

Gulf Islands National Seashore – Fort Pickens Campground Information and Booking

I will soon post a video review of the campground. Here the two official sources of information:

  • Recreation.gov – excellent website with detailed information about campgrounds in Gulf Islands National Seashore including maps and photos. Official booking site for NPS campgrounds.
  • Gulf Islands National Seashore – official website with detailed background information about the Park.

Recreation.gov

If you are unfamiliar with Recreation.gov, do spend some time exploring the site. It is the official portal for reservations, venue details, and descriptions of 12 Federal Participating Partners: Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Federal Highway Administration, National Archives & Records Administration, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, Tennessee Valley Authority, Fish and Wildlife Service, US Army Corps of Engineers and US Forest Service.

Fort Pickens Campground Overview

It’s all about location, location! If you are looking for the perfect campground then Ft. Pickens may disappoint you but the location is simply wonderful, so please keep this in mind when you read a few of the negative reviews.

I will start with some of those negatives:

  • Toll bridges – you have to pay at least one bridge toll to get to Pensacola Beach towards Fort Pickens – even when out shopping for groceries! Unfortunately, you have to pay TWO bridge tolls if arriving from Interstate 10. In early 2021 some tolls may be suspended due to construction!
  • Speed limits – the low 25 mph speed limit for 7 miles between Pensacola Beach and the campground is ridiculous. And trust me – you WILL get pulled over and ticketed when caught speeding. It takes a long time to go anywhere.
  • Weather – the campground is very vulnerable to tropical storms and suffers from flooding and a lack of vegetation resulting in sites with little or no privacy. The month of January can be cold in the Panhandle – beware if you are a snowbird looking for beach time!
  • Design – too many sites and most are close to each other with very short driveways with Loop A the exception if you can get in. Tent sites fit only one vehicle and RV sites are hardly any better. The second vehicle must park sideways to fit! At times the campground looks like an RV dealer parking lot.
  • Popularity – as with all National Parks, locals and frequent visitors book the few good sites many months in advance. The rest of us must take what we can get and this can lead to unhappiness when a site is too small or too close to neighbors on all sides.
  • Many Rules – please read the rules before booking. They are strict about many things. The number of vehicles, how and where to park, your camp setup. In summer, forget about using an A/C in your tent, for example.

If you can live with the drawbacks then Fort Pickens campground is a delight. The beach area is not nearly as crazy as Destin or Panama Beach. Here are a few highlights:

  • Pensacola Beach – one of my favorite beach towns in the Panhandle! It is not a shopping destination but instead, you will find a fun selection of tiki bars, beach bars, and darn good restaurants.
  • Endless powder sand beaches – despite the crowded campground you can find seclusion on the white beaches with warm blue water to calm your soul.
  • Florida National Scenic Trail – it runs through Fort Pickens campground and the northern terminus is just a mile away!
  • Fort Pickens and Battery Units – who can resist exploring a historic Fort? This one is well-preserved and one can spend hours wandering about.
  • Blue Angels – from March to early January, the famous Blue Angels are based at NAS Pensacola and they practice every Tuesday and Wednesday morning (schedule and weather permitting). They often fly low over the campground!
  • Facilities – I love the design of the bathrooms! The shower stalls are more private and the water is piping hot!
Gulf Islands National Seashore Ft Pickens
Gulf Islands National Seashore Ft Pickens
Ft Pickens Campground Showers
Ft Pickens Campground Showers
Florida Trail at Fort Pickens
Florida Trail at Fort Pickens

Fort Pickens Campground Notes

The campground is divided into 5 loops (A, B, C, D, E). Due to the lack of privacy and close proximity of your neighbors, you will do better if you pick the best loop for your rig.

My general recommendations:

  • Loop A – Power and water. Best for larger rigs. Longer driveways and more trees for added privacy
  • Loop B – No power or water. Recommended for car campers and/or tents. No generators, trailers, pop-ups, or vans. The outside sites are more private.
  • Loop C – Power and water. All types
  • Loop D – No power or water. Recommended for car campers and/or tents. Generators, vans, and Class B allowed. No trailers or pop-ups. The outside sites are more private.
  • Loop E – Power and water. All types

TIP – I offer specific camping site recommendations for my Patreons – https://www.patreon.com/letseeamerica. Please consider joining my growing number of supporters! Your contributions help pay for gas and camping fees, which in return, allow me to offer more accurate reviews and advice.

Ft Pickens Campground Loop A
Ft Pickens Campground Loop A
Ft Pickens Campground Loop B
Ft Pickens Campground Loop B
Ft Pickens Campground Loop C
Ft Pickens Campground Loop C
Ft Pickens Campground Loop D
Ft Pickens Campground Loop D
Ft Pickens Campground Loop E
Ft Pickens Campground Loop E

Free or Cheap Camping Map of Florida

This map shows each of the campgrounds or areas, grouped by color. For example, State Park Campgrounds (fee required) are shown as Orange, National Park Campgrounds (fee required) are shown in Red.

Free Camping in Florida – The Ultimate Guide – State Forests – Part 6

Florida State Forest Camping

With 38 State Forests, Florida offers a wide selection of camping opportunities away from the crowds. While most of the State Forests are in the northern half of the State, there are luckily a few forests with camping in the warm south (much appreciated in winter)!

Florida State Forests Map
Florida State Forests Map – Clik to enlarge

In this article, I cover State Forest camping in Florida. Please note – State Forest camping is NOT FREE but affordable starting at $10 per site per night.

Point Washington SF Entrance
Point Washington SF Entrance – click to enlarge

Organization of Public Camping in Florida

Florida Camping Org Chart
Florida Camping Org Chart (Click to enlarge)

As described in the first article of this series and in the org chart above, Florida State Forests are a Division of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Several Florida State Forests are managed in cooperation with other agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and different sets of camping rules may apply. Safety regulations during hunting season are of specific importance to State Forest visitors.

At last check, I counted 77 vehicle accessible campgrounds available to book via the online booking service Reserve America. In 2020 as a result of COVID-19, booking options changed and online booking is the only method to reserve sites. Drive-up and pay is no longer an option.

If you do not have an account, I suggest you register with Reserve America at your earliest convenience.

Florida Camping Org Chart - State Forests
Florida Camping Org Chart – State Forests (Click to enlarge)

Camping Guide for each National Forest

With so many camping options available in each State Forest, I will write a separate guide for each Forest or region. In the meantime, you can locate all the campgrounds and sites on my interactive map below!

Please check in often!

Krul Campground 1
Krul Campground in Blackwater River State Forest (click to enlarge)

Free or Cheap Camping Map of Florida

This map shows each of the campgrounds or areas, grouped by color. For example, State Park Campgrounds (fee required) are shown as Orange, State Forest Campgrounds (fee required) are shown in Blue.

In Part 7, I write about Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) in Florida and camping opportunities.

Florida State Forests have this signage:

Florida Forestry-Logo
Florida Forestry Logo

Return to Part 5 of this series

YES, Take me to Part 7!

Florida State Forest Camping

Free Camping in Florida – The Ultimate Guide – State Forests – Part 6

With 38 State Forests, Florida offers a wide selection of camping opportunities away from the crowds. While most of the ...
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National Forests in Florida

Free Camping in Florida – The Ultimate Guide – National Forests – Part 5

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Everglades NP Camping at Flamingo

Free Camping in Florida – The Ultimate Guide -National Parks Service – Part 4

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Ortana South Campground - Source Recreation.gov

Free Camping in Florida – The Ultimate Guide -US Army Corps of Engineers – Part 3

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a large federal provider of outdoor recreation with more than 400 lake and ...
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BLM Website Search

Free Camping in Florida – The Ultimate Guide – Bureau of Land Management (BLM Land) – Part 2

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Florida River Island Campground

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Free Camping in Florida – The Ultimate Guide – National Forests – Part 5

National Forests in Florida

National Forests and BLM lands offer the ultimate free camping experiences in the USA. Unfortunately, BLM camping is not an option in Florida but the State has three wonderful National Forests to explore.

Let me introduce them:

National Forest Map - Florida
National Forest Map – Florida – Click to enlarge

In this article, I cover National Forest camping in Florida. Please note – National Forest camping is NOT always FREE.

Organization of Public Camping in Florida

Organization of Camping in Florida
Organization of Public Camping in Florida – source: Eben Schoeman (click to enlarge image)

As described in the first article of this series and in the org chart above (green block), there are three National Forests in Florida with drive-up camping facilities.

Dispersed drive-up camping is allowed (with restrictions) but developed campgrounds are very popular for many reasons as I will describe:

Florida Camping Org Chart - National Forests
Florida Camping Org Chart – National Forests (click to enlarge)

Camping Guide for each National Forest

With so many camping options available in each National Forest, I will write a separate guide for each Forest. Please check in often!

Below is a summary.

Apalachicola National Forest – Information and Booking

I will soon post a video review of each campground. In the meantime, here are the two best sources of information:

  • Recreation.gov – excellent website with detailed information about campgrounds in Apalachicola National Forest including maps and photos. Official booking site for National Forest campgrounds.
  • Apalachicola National Forest – official website with detailed background information about the Forest and camping opportunities.
White Oak Landing Campground

Ocala National Forest – Information and Booking

I will soon post a video review of each campground. In the meantime, here are the two best sources of information:

  • Recreation.gov – excellent website with detailed information about campgrounds in Ocala National Forest including maps and photos. Official booking site for National Forest campgrounds.
  • Ocala National Forest – official website with detailed background information about the Forest and camping opportunities.
Clearwater Lake Campground

Osceola National Forest – Information and Booking

I will soon post a video review of each campground. In the meantime, here are the two best sources of information:

  • Recreation.gov – excellent website with detailed information about campgrounds in Osceola National Forest including maps and photos. Official booking site for National Forest campgrounds.
  • Osceola National Forest – official website with detailed background information about the Forest and camping opportunities.
West Tower Campground

Recreation.gov

If you are unfamiliar with Recreation.gov, do spend some time exploring the site. It is the official portal for reservations, venue details, and descriptions of 12 Federal Participating Partners: Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Federal Highway Administration, National Archives & Records Administration, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, Tennessee Valley Authority, Fish and Wildlife Service, US Army Corps of Engineers and US Forest Service.

Free or Cheap Camping Map of Florida

This map shows each of the campgrounds or areas, grouped by color. For example, State Park Campgrounds (fee required) are shown as Orange, National Forest Campgrounds (fee required in most cases) are shown in Grey.

In Part 6, I write about State Forests in Florida and camping opportunities.

Return to Part 4 of this series

YES, Take me to Part 6!

Florida State Forest Camping

Free Camping in Florida – The Ultimate Guide – State Forests – Part 6

With 38 State Forests, Florida offers a wide selection of camping opportunities away from the crowds. While most of the ...
Read More
National Forests in Florida

Free Camping in Florida – The Ultimate Guide – National Forests – Part 5

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Everglades NP Camping at Flamingo

Free Camping in Florida – The Ultimate Guide -National Parks Service – Part 4

The National Parks Service (NPS) needs no introduction! With over 130 camping areas to choose from nationwide, families can spend ...
Read More
Ortana South Campground - Source Recreation.gov

Free Camping in Florida – The Ultimate Guide -US Army Corps of Engineers – Part 3

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a large federal provider of outdoor recreation with more than 400 lake and ...
Read More
BLM Website Search

Free Camping in Florida – The Ultimate Guide – Bureau of Land Management (BLM Land) – Part 2

When you arrive in Florida after camping on BLM Land in the Western part of the USA, you may find ...
Read More
Florida River Island Campground

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Free Camping East of Zion National Park in Utah

Zion East Dispersed FREE Camping

This is a complete blog and video guide to FREE camping on BLM land East of Zion National Park in Utah. There are free camping opportunities to the east and to the west of the Park – this guide focuses on the east side of the Park.

For free camping to the West of Zion towards Virgin, please read my Article about Free Camping to the West of Zion.

In this guide, you will find maps with directions, updates on road conditions, locations of most campsites, and availability of amenities such as cell coverage, water, and toilets.

About Zion National Park and BLM land

Zion National Park is almost surrounded by BLM land and National Forests. The Kanab Field Office manages the BLM land east of Zion.

Zion Surrounds Map
Zion Area Map
BLM UTAH Districts
BLM UTAH Districts (source https://www.blm.gov/)

The Paria River BLM District office and Field Office is in Kanab – Phone: (435) 644-1200

Zion East BLM Kanab Office
Zion East – BLM Kanab Field Office

Maps and Directions

I highly recommend the Avenza Maps App!

Please download the following map: BLM Utah Kanab Transportation and Recreation – South.

You can also use phone apps as described in another article

Camping inside or near Zion National Park

Zion National Park has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon. The Lava Point Campground is about 80 minutes from the South Entrance along the Kolob Terrace Road.

There are many private campgrounds in nearby towns.

Video footage of the FREE camping areas

I am working on a series of driving and drone videos to show what it’s like to camp for free near Zion NP!

Links will be posted as soon as these are available.

Recommended FREE Camping Areas on BLM land nearest to Zion NP East Entrance

Dispersed camping is allowed on public land for a period not to exceed 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period. The 28 day period begins when a camper initially occupies a specific location on public lands. The 14-day limit may be reached either through a number of separate visits or through 14 days of continuous overnight occupation during the 28 day period.

After the 14th day of occupation, the camper must move outside of a 25 mile radius of the previous location until the 29th day since the initial occupation.

As shown on the map below, there are great FREE BLM camping just 7.5 miles from the East Entrance of Zion NP.

Zion East Free BLM Camping
Zion East Free BLM Camping – Click to enlarge

From SR 9, turn west onto Forest Road 71C (potholed old tarmac road) then drive for 0.57 miles before turning left.

BLM East entrance
BLM East entrance

Drive up the hill to find an almost unlimited number of camping opportunities.

Zion East Free Blm Camping Map
Zion East Free Blm Camping Map – Click to enlarge

There is a large exposed campsite after 0.9 miles if you continue along FR 71C.

The area is in a shallow basin so heavy rain will make things interesting! You may want to camp on higher ground if rain is in the forecast.

Verizon has very good LTE service at these campsites.

Zion East Dispersed Campsite A
Zion East Dispersed Campsite at 0.57 miles. Turn left for more sites
Zion East Dispersed Campsites
Zion East Dispersed Campsites
Zion East Dispersed Campsites
Zion East Dispersed Campsites

Precise Campsite Locations and Recommendations

If you want GPS waypoints and my personal recommendations for free campsites, please consider becoming a Patron (Supporter) of my work for a small monthly contribution!

https://www.patreon.com/letseeamerica

The reasons are:

Many travelers want dispersed camping to remain “secret”. In their opinion, these free locations will become overrun with campers if one discloses too much information.

I disagree! Let me explain.

I understand the visitation impact of COVID-19 on Public Lands. We are told to go outside and enjoy nature as a safer alternative to indoor activities. The result is obvious – there are more folks camping and there is more trash and land damage to deal with.

Popular dispersed camping areas are near capacity on most nights – leading to frustration for full-timers who depend on free camping in order to travel on low budgets.

The truth is – information about dispersed campsites are freely available. There are phone apps showing locations, many websites do the same and Rangers will gladly share tips about where to camp for free in their Districts!

So the issue is not about sharing dispersed campsite locations with the public. It’s happening already.

In my opinion the REAL challenges are:

1. Education – how do we educate the general camping public about the importance of camping etiquette on Public Lands?

2. Spacing – how do we get folks to spread out and explore locations further away from the major access roads and crowds?

3. Amenities – how do we convince the Public Land authorities to provide more toilets, potable water, and trash bins?

My Contribution

I share general information about dispersed camping to the public because I believe it is educational (at the very least it helps to prevent illegal camping and it helps with spacing when folks know where more campsites are located).

To further assist with spacing, I do not share the locations of my favorite campsites or recommendations with the general public. I am trying to prevent people from rushing to the same few free campsites (the very best ones) around the country. This information is only available to my patrons.

Free Camping near Grand Canyon National Park

Free Camping Grand Canyon NP - A Guide

This is a complete blog and video guide to FREE camping in Kaibab National Forest near Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. There are free camping opportunities near the North and East rims – this guide focuses on the South Rim of the Park.

Kaibab NF Sign - Grand Canyon
Kaibab NF Sign – Grand Canyon South Rim

In this guide, you will find maps with directions, updates on road conditions, locations of most campsites, and availability of amenities such as cell coverage, water, and toilets.

About Grand Canyon National Park and Kaibab National Forest

Kaibab National Forest surrounding the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is managed by the North Kaibab Ranger District, while the South Rim Forest Land is managed by the Tusayan Ranger District.

Grand Canyon Kaibab National Forest Camping
Grand Canyon Kaibab National Forest Camping – Click to enlarge

The Tusayan Ranger Station is just north of Tusayanto the east of Highway 64 before the South Rim Entrance – Phone: (928) 638-2443

Dispersed Info Kaibab NF
Dispersed Info Kaibab NF

Maps and Directions

I highly recommend the Avenza Maps App!

Download the Motor Vehicle Use Maps for Tusayan Ranger District.

For directions, use the Interactive map from the National Forest Service.

Camping inside or near Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park has three campgrounds at the South Rim. Mather Campground, Trailer Village Campground, and Desert View Campground (near the East entrance). Visit the official site for more info.

The U.S. Forest Service operates the fee-based Ten-X Campground 2 miles south of Tusayan. No hookups or showers but with pit toilets and water. Go here for information.

There are several private campgrounds along Highway 64.

Video footage of the FREE camping areas

I am working on a series of driving and drone videos to show what it’s like to camp for free near Grand Canyon NP!

Links will be posted as soon as these are available.

Recommended FREE Camping Areas in Kaibab National Forest nearest to Grand Canyon NP

Dispersed camping is allowed on Kaibab Forest land for a period not to exceed 14 days within a 30 consecutive day period. The 30 day period begins when a camper initially occupies a specific location in the forest. The 14-day limit may be reached either through a number of separate visits or through 14 days of continuous overnight occupation during the 30 day period.

After the 14th day of occupation, the camper must leave Kaibab National Forest until the new cycle begins on day 31.

Do stop at the information board at the Ranger Station just north of Tusayan to read the rules and look at the camping maps.

Grand Canyon Recommended Dispersed Camping
Grand Canyon Kaibab NF Recommended Dispersed Camping – Click to enlarge

As shown on the map below, there are five well-known FREE camping areas within an easy drive from Grand Canyon NP South Entrance:

  • Along Forest Road (FR) 328 – many sites close to the NP border better suited for smaller RVs
  • N Long Jim Loop Road – many sites close to Tusayan but with a lack of privacy
  • Along FR302 – many sites close to the east side of town suitable for larger RVs
  • Along FR688 – further south but with large sites far apart. Great for large motorhomes.
  • Along FR306 – several sites to the west of Highway 64
Grand Canyon Dispersed Campinge
Grand Canyon Dispersed Campinge – Click to enlarge

Free Camping along FR328

If you plan to spend a lot of time in Grand Canyon National Park and want to camp as close as you can, then you should consider this area.

Grand Canyon Free Camping in Kaibab NF - Map
Grand Canyon Free Camping in Kaibab NF – Click to enlarge

In the map above, you see the entrance of FR328 to the west of Highway 64 just before the South Entrance. As with all of the camping along Highway 64, you cannot camp within 0.25 miles from the Highway. In this case, the no-camping zone is marked in red on the map. To make it easy, do not camp until you reach Apache Stables on the left!

FR328 Campsites
FR328 Campsites

If you have a large camper it is best to find a site along the main FR328. The road is washboard but fine for all vehicles. Continue all the way to the left-turn on top of the hill (1.7 miles) and beyond.

High-clearance vehicles and vans will find secluded sites in the loop to the left (of FR328 as shown) off FR3280.

About potable water and toilets – as shown on the map there are toilets to the north just before the South Entrance. There are many free water stations at Grand Canyon Village (limited in winter).

Verizon has good LTE service at these campsites.

Kaibab NF Toilets
Kaibab NF Toilets

Free Camping along N Long Jim Loop Drive near Tusayan

The most popular dispersed camping area with easy access to town and Highway 64.

Grand Canyon Free camping - N Long Jim Loop
Grand Canyon Free camping – N Long Jim Loop – Click to enlarge

Try to avoid camping with 0.25 miles then search for a spot on both sides of the road for the next 0.5 miles. You can also see some side roads on the map – try those too.

N Long Jim Loop Campsites
N Long Jim Loop Campsites

As stated, this is a popular area and if you pick a large site someone will probably pull in close to you. For complete privacy, you may want to camp elsewhere or drive up the hill (4WD recommended) shown to the north on the map as a loop..

About potable water and toilets – there are toilets to the north just before the South Entrance. There are many free water stations at Grand Canyon Village (limited in winter).

Verizon has good LTE service at these campsites.

Free Camping along FR302 outside Tusayan

FR302 is one of three Forest Roads recommended by local rangers. There are many sites (mostly to the left) as you drive in. Just look for road tracks.

Grand Canyon Free Camping – FR302 – Click to enlarge

The information board is at 0.3 miles on the left and camping basically starts there! I do not show all the sites on the map but you do not have to travel more than 2 miles to find something.

One can fit most size RVs in there and there is plenty of shade.

Free Camping along FR302 near Grand Canyon
Free Camping along FR302 near Grand Canyon

About potable water and toilets – unless you want to try the town, there are toilets to the north just before the South Entrance. There are many free water stations at Grand Canyon Village (limited in winter).

Verizon has very good LTE service at these campsites.

Free Camping along FR688 and FR306 south of Tusayan

FR688 is perfect if you want absolute privacy and/or want a large site for your rig and toys. Yes, it is a longer drive to the South Rim but you have easy access to Highway 64.

It is recommended by local rangers.

Grand Canyon Free Camping - FR688
Grand Canyon Free Camping – FR688 and FR306 – Click to enlarge

Not all campsites are shown! There are many and you can drive for at least 2 miles (and longer) to find sites.

Free Camping along FR688 near Grand Canyon
Free Camping along FR688 near Grand Canyon
Free Camping along FR688 near Grand Canyon
Free Camping along FR688 near Grand Canyon

I did not feel a need to explore FR306 but it is recommended by local rangers.

About potable water and toilets – unless you want to try the town, there are toilets to the north just before the South Entrance. There are many free water stations at Grand Canyon Village (limited in winter).

Verizon has very good LTE service at these campsites.

Precise Campsite Locations and Recommendations

If you want GPS waypoints and my personal recommendations for free campsites, please consider becoming a Patron (Supporter) of my work for a small monthly contribution!

https://www.patreon.com/letseeamerica

The reasons are:

Many travelers want dispersed camping to remain “secret”. In their opinion, these free locations will become overrun with campers if one discloses too much information.

I disagree! Let me explain.

I understand the visitation impact of COVID-19 on Public Lands. We are told to go outside and enjoy nature as a safer alternative to indoor activities. The result is obvious – there are more folks camping and there is more trash and land damage to deal with.

Popular dispersed camping areas are near capacity on most nights – leading to frustration for full-timers who depend on free camping in order to travel on low budgets.

The truth is – information about dispersed campsites are freely available. There are phone apps showing locations, many websites do the same and Rangers will gladly share tips about where to camp for free in their Districts!

So the issue is not about sharing dispersed campsite locations with the public. It’s happening already.

In my opinion the REAL challenges are:

1. Education – how do we educate the general camping public about the importance of camping etiquette on Public Lands?

2. Spacing – how do we get folks to spread out and explore locations further away from the major access roads and crowds?

3. Amenities – how do we convince the Public Land authorities to provide more toilets, potable water, and trash bins?

My Contribution

I share general information about dispersed camping to the public because I believe it is educational (at the very least it helps to prevent illegal camping and it helps with spacing when folks know where more campsites are located).

To further assist with spacing, I do not share the locations of my favorite campsites or recommendations with the general public. I am trying to prevent people from rushing to the same few free campsites (the very best ones) around the country. This information is only available to my patrons.

Free Camping near Zion National Park in Utah

Free Camping Zion National Park

This is a complete blog and video guide to FREE camping on BLM land near Zion National Park in Utah. There are free camping opportunities to the east and to the west of the Park – this guide focus on the west side of the Park.

To camp to the East, please read my Guide – Camping FREE on BLM land East of Zion.

Hurricane Cliffs Free Camping
Hurricane Cliffs Free Camping on BLM land

In this guide, you will find maps with directions, updates on road conditions, locations of most campsites, and availability of amenities such as cell coverage, water, and toilets,

About Zion National Park and BLM land

Zion National Park is almost surrounded by BLM land and National Forests. The St George Field Office manages the BLM land west of Zion.

Zion Surrounds Map
Zion Area Map
BLM UTAH Districts
BLM UTAH Districts (source https://www.blm.gov/)

The BLM District office is in Cedar City – it manages four field stations including St George Field Office. St George Phone: (435) 688-3200

St. George BLM Field Office
St. George BLM Field Office (source https://www.blm.gov/)

Maps and Directions

I highly recommend the Avenza Maps App!

Unfortunately, at this time there are no Motor Vehicle Use Maps for the area west of Zion National Park. Google Maps and Google Earth are your best friends for this area!

For directions I suggest you download the Zion National Park map for Avenza.

There is very little information about the Zion area BLM camping online except for one document regarding Smithsonian Butte camping – https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/upload/blm_camping_south.pdf

To see the boundaries of the BLM land where you are camping, refer to the Interactive BLM Utah map

You can also use phone apps as described in another article

Camping inside or near Zion National Park

Zion National Park has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon. The Lava Point Campground is about 80 minutes from the South Entrance along the Kolob Terrace Road.

There are many private campgrounds in nearby towns.

Video footage of the FREE camping areas

I am working on a series of driving and drone videos to show what it’s like to camp for free near Zion NP!

Links will be posted as soon as these are available.

Recommended FREE Camping Areas on BLM land nearest to Zion NP

Dispersed camping is allowed on public land for a period not to exceed 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period. The 28 day period begins when a camper initially occupies a specific location on public lands. The 14-day limit may be reached either through a number of separate visits or through 14 days of continuous overnight occupation during the 28 day period.

After the 14th day of occupation, the camper must move outside of a 25 mile radius of the previous location until the 29th day since the initial occupation.

As shown on the map below, there are five well-known FREE camping areas within an easy drive from Zion NP. Of these, Smithsonian Butte is now off-limits for the casual camper (reasons described below). The others are:

  • N Kolob Terrace Rd – many sites on both sides of the road near North Creek
  • Hurricane Cliffs (Sheep Bridge Rd) – East – thirteen designated campsites on the west side of Sheep Rd
  • Hurricane Cliffs (Sheep Bridge Rd) – South – twelve designated campsites on the west side of Sheep Rd but further away from Zion NP
  • Hurricane Cliffs (La Verkin Overlook Rd) – West – eight designated campsites close to Virgin Dam and nearby trails
Zion National Par - Free Camping Map
Zion National Park – Free Camping Map (west) – Click to enlarge

NOTE – What about the very popular Smithsonian Butte National Back Country Byway? It is close to Zion NP but you cannot camp within 1/2 mile on either side of the road! Read the Rules. This makes practical camping not feasible for Zion visits, especially with terrible road conditions and steepness.

Smithsonian Butte National Back Country Byway
Smithsonian Butte National Back Country Byway – note the steep climb in the distance

There are a few free camp spots to the east of Zion. Those will be covered in a future guide.

Free Camping in the N Kolob Terrace Rd area

If you plan to spend a lot of time in Zion and are looking for minimum dirt road driving, then you should consider this area. N Kolob Terrace Rd is tarmac.

N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping Zion
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping Zion – Click to enlarge

In the map above, you see three sets of campsites – the first batch is to the right after about a mile, then a few sites towards the mesa on the left after about 1.6 miles followed by the North Creek area camping just before 2 miles.

The dirt roads towards the mesa are very bad but short! You can find secluded spots there.

The creek area has many sites but the vegetation keeps them relatively private. On busy nights there are lots of RVs in there and you may have to deal with close neighbors and noise.

Having some shade in summer (with a cool stream) is certainly a plus for the creek area!

N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping 2
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping – at North Creek
North Creek Camping near Zion
North Creek Camping near Zion
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping 3
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping – Mesa (west) side
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping 4
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping – East side after 1 mile

About potable water and toilets – as shown on the map you can either drive to La Verkin (Maverik fuel with a free dump station) or the first bus stop in Springdale (water).

Verizon has very spotty (if any) LTE service at these campsites.

Free water at Springdale Bus Stop
Free water at Springdale Bus Stop

Free Camping in the Hurricane Cliffs (Sheep Bridge Rd) East Area

To escape the crowds you can head south on Sheep Bridge Rd out of Virgin for 1.75 miles. The dirt road is washboard at times but very doable in all vehicles.

But be warned – on mountain bike event weekends the place gets crazy busy and dusty!

Hurricane Cliffs East Campsites Map
Hurricane Cliffs East Campsites Map – Click to enlarge

Do stop at the information board after a mile to read the rules and look at the camping maps.

Hurricane Cliffs Camping Info
Hurricane Cliffs Camping Info

The first camping area is to the right (after 1.75 miles) and you MUST camp in one of the 9 designated sites.

Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 39-48
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 39-48 – Click to enlarge

There are 4 more sites a short drive further south. These sites are larger and I often see more than one RV in each site – just be considerate and give your neighbors plenty of space or move along.

Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 36-38
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 36-38 – Click to enlarge

About potable water and toilets – as shown on the map you can either drive to La Verkin (Maverik fuel with free dump station) or the first bus stop in Springdale (water).

There are toilets at the Sheepbridge Trailhead halfway between Rte 9 and Rte 59 as shown on this map:

Toilets at Hurricane Cliffs
Toilets at Hurricane Cliffs
Toilets at Trailhead
Toilets at Trailhead

Verizon has very good LTE service at these campsites.

Free Camping in the Hurricane Cliffs (Sheep Bridge Rd) South Area

Many will say this area is too far from Zion (4.25 miles to SR 9) and I agree but the sites are far apart and with easy access to SR 59 (0.65 miles) and the city of Hurricane.

Hurricane Cliffs South Campsites Map
Hurricane Cliffs South Campsites Map – Click to enlarge

The information board is at the entrance to Sheep Bridge Rd after the turn from SR 59. Please stop to read the rules and look at the camping maps.

Camping Hurricane Cliffs South Info
Camping Hurricane Cliffs South Info – Click to enlarge

After only 0.65 miles of washboard dirt road, turn left into the designated camping area.

Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 9 -12
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 9 -12 – Click to enlarge
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 6 - 8
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 6 – 8 – Click to enlarge
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 1 - 5
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 1 – 5 – Click to enlarge

About potable water and toilets – as shown on the map you can either drive to La Verkin (Maverik fuel with a free dump station) or the first bus stop in Springdale (water). Toilets (see above section).

Verizon has very good LTE service at these campsites.

Free Camping in the Hurricane Cliffs (La Verkin Overlook Rd) Area

This area is perfect if you plan to explore Zion National Park and want to be closer to towns with affordable gas and supplies. The dirt roads are bad but short!

Please camp in designated campsites only – there’s a lot of illegal camping here which ruins the areas closed for regeneration.

Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 49-56
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 49-56 – Click to enlarge

Note the red ? in the upper left corner. I see RVs camped there all the time but the location is marginal and not a designated site! Basically on the BLM line so be careful.

Sites 50, 51 and 52 are large and shared by many RVs! Spacing and privacy can be an issue.

Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 49-54
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 49-54 – Click to enlarge
Hurricane Cliffs Campsite 53
Hurricane Cliffs Campsite 53 – Click to enlarge
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 55-56
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 55-56 – Click to enlarge

About potable water and toilets – as shown on the map you can either drive to La Verkin (Maverik fuel with a free dump station) or the first bus stop in Springdale (water).

Verizon has very good LTE service at these campsites.

Precise Campsite Locations and Recommendations

If you want GPS waypoints and my personal recommendations for free campsites, please consider becoming a Patron (Supporter) of my work for a small monthly contribution!

https://www.patreon.com/letseeamerica

The reasons are:

Many travelers want dispersed camping to remain “secret”. In their opinion, these free locations will become overrun with campers if one discloses too much information.

I disagree! Let me explain.

I understand the visitation impact of COVID-19 on Public Lands. We are told to go outside and enjoy nature as a safer alternative to indoor activities. The result is obvious – there are more folks camping and there is more trash and land damage to deal with.

Popular dispersed camping areas are near capacity on most nights – leading to frustration for full-timers who depend on free camping in order to travel on low budgets.

The truth is – information about dispersed campsites are freely available. There are phone apps showing locations, many websites do the same and Rangers will gladly share tips about where to camp for free in their Districts!

So the issue is not about sharing dispersed campsite locations with the public. It’s happening already.

In my opinion the REAL challenges are:

1. Education – how do we educate the general camping public about the importance of camping etiquette on Public Lands?

2. Spacing – how do we get folks to spread out and explore locations further away from the major access roads and crowds?

3. Amenities – how do we convince the Public Land authorities to provide more toilets, potable water, and trash bins?

My Contribution

I share general information about dispersed camping to the public because I believe it is educational (at the very least it helps to prevent illegal camping and it helps with spacing when folks know where more campsites are located).

To further assist with spacing, I do not share the locations of my favorite campsites or recommendations with the general public. I am trying to prevent people from rushing to the same few free campsites (the very best ones) around the country. This information is only available to my patrons.

Free Camping near Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

Dixie NF Free Camping Guide

This is a complete blog and video guide to FREE camping in Dixie National Forest near Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

Dixie NF Sign
Dixie NF Sign

In this guide, you will find maps with directions, updates on road conditions, locations of most campsites, and availability of amenities such as cell coverage, water, and toilets,

About Bryce Canyon National Park and Dixie National Forest

Bryce Canyon National Park is almost surrounded by the Powell Ranger District of Dixie National Forest.

Dixie National Forest Districts – Click to enlarge

Dixie National Forest is divided into four Ranger Districts as shown on the map above. Our focus is the Powell Ranger District with an office in Panguitch, Utah. Phone: (435) 676-9300

Powell Ranger District Office in Panguitch, UT – Click to enlarge

Maps and Directions

I highly recommend the Avenza Maps App!

Then download the free Dixie National Forest Powell Ranger District Motor Vehicle Use Map.

You now have live access to the Forest Roads (FR) and other roads in the areas near Bryce Canyon National Park. In this guide, I reference the FR numbers often.

Another important resource is the National Forest website – Dixie National Forest

The MAP section of the Dixie National Forest is crucial to visit and read – Dixie National Forest Maps.

Camping inside or near Bryce Canyon National Park

There are two campgrounds inside Bryce Canyon NP and several commercial campgrounds near the Park.

Dixie National Forest offers three FEE-BASED campgrounds near Bryce Canyon NP. I will not discuss them in this guide:

  • Red Canyon Campground
  • Coyote Hollow Equestrian Campground
  • King Creek Campground (a bit too far down a washboard road for easy access to Bryce Canyon NP)

Video footage of the FREE camping areas

I am working on a series of driving and drone videos to show what it’s like to camp for free near Bryce Canyon NP!

Links will be posted as soon as these are available.

Recommended FREE Camping Areas in Dixie NF nearest to Bryce Canyon NP

You may camp in a dispersed area for up to 16 days. After 16 days, you must move at least 10 miles for camping in another dispersed area.

As shown on the map below, there are four popular FREE camping areas within an easy drive from Bryce Canyon NP. These are:

  • East Fork Road – many sites off forest roads from East Fork Road all the way down to the King Creek camping area
  • Dave’s Hollow – a few campsites very close to the Park but beware of camping restrictions
  • Tom’s Best Spring Road – many campsites in a large area with easy access
  • Corral Hollow – several campsites close to Red Canyon
Dixie NF Camping Travel Guide
Dixie NF Camping Areas closest to Bryce Canyon NP – Click to enlarge

NOTE – What about Johns Valley Rd to the north of Bryce Canyon? You can see the green NF land to the very top left of the map above.

I know some folks camped successfully on the west side of Johns Valley Rd near a cow pasture but that is private land on all the maps I studied. I do not recommend it at this time.

Across the road on the east side, a few opportunities exist along with FR 419 and FR 418 towards Henderson Pt. I plan to check it out in the future.

Free Camping in the Dave’s Hollow area

If you plan to spend a lot of time in Bryce Canyon then you can save travel time by camping in Dave’s Hollow. It is the closest free camping area.

Free Camping in the Dave’s Hollow area -RED is NO CAMPING) – click to enlarge

In the map above, you can see the campsites along with FR 103 and FR 088. There are probably a dozen or so sites depending on what you are looking for. Obviously, a travel van looking for a quick overnight has more options than a 40ft Toy Hauler hoping to stay two weeks.

There’s nothing special about these sites in terms of views, etc but they are secluded and private (close to the road though), somewhat level and close to the Park.

Dixie NF Campsite Daves Hollow
Dixie NF Campsite – Daves Hollow

Access is from either East Fork Road or the Bryce Canyon main road. Both roads are doable in 2WD vehicles with travel trailers (in most weather conditions).

IMPORTANT – if you enter from Bryce Canyon on FR 1173 you must drive west for 1.7 miles to the NO CAMPING sign before looking for campsites!

No Camping zone! – click to enlarge

About potable water and toilets – as shown on the map I recommend the Bryce Canyon Shuttle Station in Bryce Canyon City. There is a water filling station in addition to toilets and with gas/groceries nearby.

Verizon has reasonable LTE service at these campsites.

Bryce Canyon City Shuttle Station – water and toilets – Click to enlarge

Free Camping along East Fork Road

If you follow East Fork Road south past Dave’s Hollow there are several Forest Roads branching to the east.

On the map below (down East Fork Road south) you can see 3 sites along with FR 1164. These will do in a pinch but try elsewhere first. During my last stay, East Fork Road was very bumpy and unpleasant to drive.

Dixie-NF-Camping-Map-Daves-Hollow
Dixie-NF-Camping– look down south along East Fork road – Click to enlarge,

Verizon has reasonable LTE service at these campsites.

Free Camping in the Tom’s Best Spring Road Area

Many will say this is the best area to camp and I agree. There are countless campsites for every need and with easy access to Bryce Canyon NP and Red Canyon.

Dixie NF Camping Map Toms Best Spring Rd
Dixie NF Camping Map Toms Best Spring Rd

Note the Pit Toilets across the road when you turn onto Toms Best Spring Road! This makes camping here very convenient! There’s no water, however. The closest free water is at the Red Canyon Visitor Center.

Dixie NF Camping Map Toms Best Spring Aerial
Dixie NF Camping Map Toms Best Spring Aerial

There are many campsites and several access roads not shown on my maps. Basically, there are 5 loops to consider. Most folks prefer the first 3 loops closest to Byway 12.

  • Loop 1 (FR646-FR3625) branches to the left (west) of Toms Best Rd.
  • Loop 2 (FR3626) goes to the right
  • Loop 3 (FR3627) is also on the right a bit further down Toms Best Rd.

There are two more loops further away (you can see the campsites on the map) but let’s focus on the closest 3 in this guide.

Larger RVs tend to prefer Loops 2 and 3. The roads are dusty but easy to navigate. Loop 1 offers excellent views and is perfect for Vans and 4WD vehicles. The roads are rougher but 2WD vehicles should be OK in most weather conditions.

Dixie NF Campsite Toms Best
Dixie NF Campsite – Toms Best Spring Rd

Verizon has reasonable LTE service at these campsites.

Free Camping along Corral Hollow Rd

This area is perfect if you plan to explore both Bryce Canyon NP and Red Canyon.

Dixie NF Camping Map Corral Hollow Rd
Dixie NF Camping Map Corral Hollow Rd – Click to enlarge

There are at least 10 or so campsites along Corral Hollow Rd (doable in most vehicle types).

The campsites begin after 0.5 miles. There is a campsite to the right, 3 campsites straight ahead (on a slope, however) and the rest is to the west as you continue the drive.

Dixie NF Campsite Corral Hollow Rd
Dixie NF Campsite – Corral Hollow Rd

Closest free water and toilets are at the Red Canyon Visitor Center.

Verizon has reasonable LTE service at these campsites.

Precise Campsite Locations and Recommendations

If you want GPS waypoints and my personal recommendations for free campsites, please consider becoming a Patron (Supporter) of my work for a small monthly contribution!

https://www.patreon.com/letseeamerica

The reasons are:

Many travelers want dispersed camping to remain “secret”. In their opinion, these free locations will become overrun with campers if one discloses too much information.

I disagree! Let me explain.

I understand the visitation impact of COVID-19 on Public Lands. We are told to go outside and enjoy nature as a safer alternative to indoor activities. The result is obvious – there are more folks camping and there is more trash and land damage to deal with.

Popular dispersed camping areas are near capacity on most nights – leading to frustration for full-timers who depend on free camping in order to travel on low budgets.

The truth is – information about dispersed campsites are freely available. There are phone apps showing locations, many websites do the same and Rangers will gladly share tips about where to camp for free in their Districts!

So the issue is not about sharing dispersed campsite locations with the public. It’s happening already.

In my opinion the REAL challenges are:

1. Education – how do we educate the general camping public about the importance of camping etiquette on Public Lands?

2. Spacing – how do we get folks to spread out and explore locations further away from the major access roads and crowds?

3. Amenities – how do we convince the Public Land authorities to provide more toilets, potable water, and trash bins?

My Contribution

I share general information about dispersed camping to the public because I believe it is educational (at the very least it helps to prevent illegal camping and it helps with spacing when folks know where more campsites are located).

To further assist with spacing, I do not share the locations of my favorite campsites or recommendations with the general public. I am trying to prevent people from rushing to the same few free campsites (the very best ones) around the country. This information is only available to my patrons.

Blue Ridge Parkway – Asheville to Cherokee

Blue Ridge Parkway - Devils Courthouse
Blue Ridge Parkway – Asheville to Cherokee

In this section we drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway from Ashville NC to Cherokee.

Please study the map when planning your Blue Ridge Parkway journey and/or link to this website (and map) during your drive if you get lost, are looking for a specific destination or just want to see what’s coming up ahead!

The map below is completely interactive! Use the controls in the corners to navigate (zoom, move in different directions). Use the controls in the lower-left corner to change map type (default is satellite mode).

Press and hold your left button (on a normal mouse) to slide the map in any direction.

Zoom in for more details, change the background to a different map type, click on icons for links and photos. Note – you can zoom in further and see more details when the map is in satellite mode.

Tips:

1. Blue Ridge Parkway is the red road. Side roads are a pinkish color.
2. Hike trails are marked in bright green.
3. Parkway Overlooks have green panorama icons. Click to see a photo of the view!
4. Some restaurants have numbers indicating their Tripadvisor rankings!
5. Points of interests have different icons. Look for wineries, hotels, breweries, visitor centers, campgrounds, bed-and-breakfasts, cabins, resorts, nearby gas stations and parking areas.
6. Camera icons show additional points of interests that are worth photographing.

Click to View Asheville to Cherokee in a larger map

Credits: Some map icons used courtesy of http://mapicons.nicolasmollet.com/

Blue Ridge Parkway – James River to Roanoke

Blue Ridge Parkway - Apple Orchard Falls
Blue Ridge Parkway – James River to Roanoke

In this section we drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway from the James River Visitor Center to Downtown Roanoke!

Please study the map when planning your Blue Ridge Parkway journey and/or link to this website (and map) during your drive if you get lost, are looking for a specific destination or just want to see what’s coming up ahead!

The map below is completely interactive! Use the controls in the corners to navigate (zoom, move in different directions). Use the controls in the lower-left corner to change map type (default is satellite mode).

Press and hold your left button (on a normal mouse) to slide the map in any direction.

Zoom in for more details, change the background to a different map type, click on icons for links and photos. Note – you can zoom in further and see more details when the map is in satellite mode.

Tips:

1. Blue Ridge Parkway is the red road. Side roads are a pinkish color.
2. Hike trails are marked in bright green.
3. Parkway Overlooks have green panorama icons. Click to see a photo of the view!
4. Some restaurants have numbers indicating their Tripadvisor rankings!
5. Points of interests have different icons. Look for wineries, hotels, breweries, visitor centers, campgrounds, bed-and-breakfasts, cabins, resorts, nearby gas stations and parking areas.
6.  Camera icons show additional points of interests that are worth photographing.

Click to View BRP-James River to Roanoke in a larger map

Credits: Some map icons used courtesy of http://mapicons.nicolasmollet.com/

Blue Ridge Parkway Guide

Blue Ridge Parkway

This Blue Ridge Parkway Guide is a concise mile-by-mile timeline for experiencing the best of the 469-mile Parkway for motorists, hikers, and bikers.

I have driven many of the world’s scenic roads including the Fjords of Norway, the Great Ocean Road in Australia, the Swiss and Italian Alps, the Garden Route in South Africa, the narrow mountain roads of the Andes in Argentina, the coastal roads of Cornwall in the UK and the Beartooth Highway in Montana.  These are all spectacular drives and wonderful places to visit. 

But for me, the Blue Ridge Parkway experience is special because it offers a unique combination of distance, attractions, scenery, history, seasonal changes, adventure, hiking, seclusion, and year-round fun – all within an easy 4-hour drive from Washington, the Capitol of the United States!

From a tourism point of view, the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) is a well-known and sentimental destination for US travelers, especially its east coast residents. Buoyed by the most visited National Park in the USA – The Great Smoky Mountains National Park – statistics show about 15 million visitors drove sections of the Parkway in 2016! The BRP in North Carolina receives about twice as many visitors as Virginia; the Pisgah area near Asheville is the most popular.

October (foliage month) is the busiest on the Parkway while January (winter) is understandably rather quiet!

Surprisingly, the Blue Ridge Parkway is not promoted as a highlight by international tour operators and it is not represented as an entity at travel shows and events. In travel books, the Parkway is often relegated to a brief secondary sightseeing option when visiting the Great Smoky Mountains or the popular city of Asheville where the Biltmore Estate is (justifiably) billed as its main attraction. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the Blue Ridge Parkway is one of America’s best-kept secrets as far as international visitors are concerned. In terms of popularity, it ranks far below internationally known East Coast destinations such as New England, Philadelphia, Williamsburg, New York, and Washington DC.

I aim to change that!

Despite the marketing challenges the Blue Ridge Parkway remains a national treasure and it is a highly recommended destination for anyone yearning to hit the open road and explore America’s most historic 469-mile landscaped garden. Driving the Blue Ridge Parkway is a remarkably authentic opportunity to travel at a slow pace through the historic land that was once used by Native American Indians as their fall hunting grounds.

It is very unlikely to encounter convoys of tour buses on the Parkway and there are no unsightly t-shirt and souvenir shops along the entry/exit roads. Even fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s are noticeably absent for most of the way. Parkway rangers and NPS volunteers are some of the friendliest folk you will ever meet and, despite being understaffed, will enthusiastically take their time to share their knowledge and answer questions. 

Unfortunately, as I alluded to earlier, the Blue Ridge Parkway is not marketed as a complete destination entity. Instead, all its surrounding counties, cities, and towns have their own tourism budgets and their isolated publicity efforts are creating tourism islands, often with the Parkway as a mere afterthought. Understandably these places are competing for tourism dollars in tough economic times and they all want to be the main focus for extended stays. Visitors are often advised and enticed to stay in one city for a week or more while exploring the Parkway and nearby attractions, instead of driving along the Parkway for a week while exploring different cities and attractions along the way.

This online guide (not affiliated with the NPS) is aimed at a new generation of travelers who are internet savvy and very capable of using search engines and review sites to plan their vacations. 

But still, to research a viable itinerary when planning to drive all 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, you literally have to contact every tourism office or website from Charlottesville in the north to Cherokee in the south with everything in-between!  The end result is an overwhelming stack of brochures, maps, and recommendations with no easy way to compile it all in a single, sensible touring plan.   This guide takes care of the planning headaches!

Map of the whole parkway!

About the Guide

In this guide, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the centerpiece for traveling between Virginia’s Charlottesville and Staunton in the north, and North Carolina’s Cherokee and Smoky Mountains in the south, or vice versa.  

Starting from either mile 0 or 469, it guides the reader to the most awe-inspiring vista overlooks, the coolest waterfalls, the most exciting hikes, the most historic downtowns, the highest-rated restaurants, and favorite lodging options – from campgrounds to 5-star hotels.

Based on an average speed of 35 mph it will take about 15 hours to drive the whole 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I’ve been there, done that, and wondered why!

To enjoy and truly experience the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway takes much longer.

Eight fabulous itineraries are presented for a 14-day, 7-day, 5-day, and 3-day driving tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway – starting at either mile marker 0 in Virginia or 469 in North Carolina. There is also a section about the four most interesting sections of the Parkway – perfect for those who want to experience the best of the parkway in the shortest time.

Directions are provided using the Parkway mile markers whenever possible which are easy to locate and read. A GPS is recommended when exploring areas away from the parkway.

If you have a choice, I suggest you start in Virginia at mile marker 0 and travel south to the Great Smoky Mountains. The Blue Ridge Parkway is more dramatic in North Carolina and it is a bit more fun to leave some of the highlights for last.

You need at least 2 weeks to drive the length of the Parkway, stop at the most scenic overlooks, explore the nearby cities and towns, and hike its most interesting trails. If you live in the Mid-Atlantic area within reach of the Parkway and do not have the time for a two-week trip, you can easily split the drive into multi-day excursions until you have completed the whole drive.

If you have no interest in hiking, the 7-day itinerary is a good starting point. But keep in mind there are many easy walks along the Parkway that should not be missed. Just take your time and your efforts will be rewarded with stunning waterfalls, scenic overlooks and interesting sights. Challenging trails are clearly marked in this book and are easy to avoid.

Getting the Most from this Guide

Do consider this approach:

  1. Northbound or Southbound? Either way, just find the corresponding chapter with north-bound or southbound itineraries.
  2. How many days do you have available? Select the appropriate itinerary for your travel window. You can easily adapt each itinerary to suit your needs.
  3. Book your lodging well in advance for peak travel dates especially in October and during holidays or weekends. Be careful of special events such as NASCAR at Bristol or Floydfest (Virginia) weekends.
  4. Plan your activities such as hiking or sightseeing tours. Use my photos, maps, and GPS tracks to guide you.
  5. Once on the road, follow my itinerary timelines to ensure you manage each day effectively. Avoid a slow start and a rushed ending!
  6. When you stop at overlooks use the descriptions and photos in the Overlooks & Sights chapters to orient yourself and for more information. 

Scattered throughout the guide you will find references to Sweet Spots! While not necessarily a part of my suggested itineraries, these are interesting places to visit or experience if you have time.

Important – the timings presented in the itineraries are just guidelines and your trip may work out differently!

About the Author

Eben Schoeman drove every mile of the itinerary presented in the guide; hiked every trail, dined in every recommended restaurant and parked at every overlook numerous times to get the best photos. While he does not claim to have slept in every bed of the overnight suggestions, he visited all the properties and read every available online review!

The Blue Ridge Parkway in 6 sections

To help with the planning of your drive, this guide divides the Blue Ridge Parkway into 6 sections:

  1. 64 to James River, 
  2. James River to Roanoke, 
  3. Roanoke to VA/NC state line, 
  4. VA/NC state line to Linville, 
  5. Linville to Asheville,
  6. Asheville to Cherokee. 

  In each of the 6 sections you will:

  • See photos of every overlook, viewpoint, and interesting attraction along the Parkway
  • Study the hiking trails recommended in the book by looking at the trail photos
  • Find popular lodging, restaurants, and attractions
  • Plan your daily mileage and overnight stays
  • Read about Parkway updates, closures, etc

How to use this guide

a) Simply click on each section below then study the maps to see the main roads, side roads, lodgings, campgrounds, services such as fuel, viewpoints, day hikes, and other points of interest. 

b) The itinerary sections describe the best ways to see the Blue Ridge Parkway if you have 14 days, 7 days, or 3 days!

  1. 64 to James River
  2. James River to Roanoke 
  3. Roanoke to VA/NC state line 
  4. VA/NC state line to Linville
  5. Linville to Asheville
  6. Asheville to Cherokee