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.

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).

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).

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 are more thrash 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 are more thrash 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 on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land

BLM Land Camping

Understanding your options for free camping on BLM land is a key requirement for budget-minded and secluded travel across the Western States of America.

Unlike National Forests (another popular free camping option), BLM boundaries can be much more challenging to figure out! It is not uncommon to find “private – no entry” signs on land that appears to be public (depending on the map you’re looking at). There are even internet reports of harassment from local landowners when campers are clearly on BLM land!

It is really up to each camper to thoroughly research each BLM District in question. When in doubt, please visit or call the nearest BLM District office for clarification.

COVID-19 Challenges – Policies are different in every state. Please the BLM website for updated information. https://www.blm.gov/locations

In this article, I offer tips and ideas to help you navigate the basics of free camping on BLM lands!

What is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)?

Simply put, it is an Agency within the Department of the Interior responsible for administering public lands as shown in the diagram below.

The diagram also shows the States where BLM operates (including all the Eastern States) as well as two websites – one for information and one for booking.

BLM Organization
BLM Organization

Where does BLM operate?

Nationwide as shown above but in terms of camping, most of the opportunities are west of the Mississippi River.

The image below illustrates the distribution of BLM land quite clearly.

Bureau of Land Management Map
Bureau of Land Management Map (Source – Department of the Interior)

How to find BLM Campgrounds and sites?

There are mainly three styles of camping on BLM land –

  1. Campgrounds – developed camping areas with amenities of some kind! Most are fee-based. Many (most?) are first-come-first-serve, meaning you choose an available campsite and pay a nightly fee. Some sites can be pre-booked online (link below).
  2. Dispersed – Mostly free and without amenities. You scout the BLM land and set up camp away from developed campgrounds. BUT, dispersed camping does not mean you can set up camp anywhere you want. There are basic rules for each particular land (you can generally stay free for 14 days per month).
  3. Managed Dispersed – In popular locations, the rangers may mark or number the dispersed sites in order to manage crowds and land erosion. You can only camp in those marked sites.

To find developed campgrounds, you have two options:

  1. Use the search box on the BLM website. Go Here to Search for BLM Camping.
  2. Use a third-party website (See my list of recommended sites for FREE camping.
BLM Camping Search
BLM Website Camping Search

To book a reservable site in a developed campground, Go Here to Book Using Recreation.gov

Recreationgov Booking
Recreation.gov Booking website

Experienced campers often go straight to Recreation.gov because they know what they are looking for and how to navigate this useful site! I will write a future article to share tips and tricks!

To find dispersed campsites you have several options:

1. Third-party websites (mentioned above) are your best friends. The dispersed campsites listed on their maps often have fire rings and you can expect those sites to comply with local rules (such as distance from water sources, etc). Unfortunately, when sites are easy to find and listed everywhere they tend to get busy!

Two notes of caution:

a) third-party websites are often inaccurate because they depend on input from the public. This works great in most cases but sometimes folks camp illegally (knowingly or not) and then share the locations! Or they mess up the GPS waypoints!

b) directions and road conditions may change! Study your GPS, know the off-road capabilities of your vehicle, and do not overestimate your driving skills.

Many full-time road warriors use free dispersed camping and their Youtube videos are fun and informative if you’re interested. I provide detailed information on this website and on my Youtube channel – Lets-See-America

2. To avoid the crowds, experienced gypsies do their own research using Google Maps and Google Earth to scout for new dispersed camp spots in advance. To avoid getting into trouble with rangers, they educate themselves with land boundaries and local rules. If you want to do the same, please adhere to “Leave-no-Trace” principles and do not unintentionally “develop” new campsites.

3. Visit or call local BLM District Offices and talk to the Rangers! They will explain the local rules and direct you to approved dispersed camping areas.

Arriving on BLM lands

Many areas have signs next to the highway indicating the start or end of Public Lands. Look for this signage:

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Logo
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Logo

Recreation areas may have information boards indicating allowed activities and camping rules.

BLM Information booth at Hurricane Cliffs in Utah

Here is what I do after arrival:

  1. I do my best to arrive before 4 pm in a new area. Searching for a site after dark is no fun.
  2. I study my paper and/or online maps to ensure I stay within the BLM boundaries.
  3. I look for information boards (see image above). Those are really helpful but rare!
  4. I pick an unoccupied site using basic common sense (away from other campers for example)
  5. I clean the site – broken glass, trash, etc. You do not want to ruin your tires or cut yourself during your stay.
  6. I walk the neighborhood just to see who is near and what escapes routes I have in case of emergencies or danger. I generally park my vehicle pointing towards the road for a faster getaway!

Finally, read or watch my BLM camping posts and become a Patreon!

I stay mostly on free Public Lands and write often about my experiences! These articles are sorted by State.

I provide clear directions with accurate GPS coordinates and post photos, video, and drone (aerial) video of each location.

If you want my personal tips and opinions, please become of Patreon of my work! For a small monthly contribution you help fund my research expenses and you gain access to exclusive information about travel destinations such as the best (or worst) sites in a particular BLM area!

Patreon Page – Lets-See-America

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

Everglades NP Camping at Flamingo

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.

Unfortunately, there are only a handful of NPS camping opportunities available in Florida.

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

(Feature Image – Flamingo Campground – Everglades National Park)

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)

Everglades National Park – Information and Booking

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

  • Flamingo Adventures – the official booking site for the two drive-in locations Long Pine Key Campground and Flamingo Campground in Everglades National Park. Guest Services, Inc. is an authorized Concessioner of the National Park Service to provide retail, restaurant, lodging, campground, boat tours, boat rentals, kayak, and canoe rentals, and bike rentals.
  • Everglades National Park – official website with detailed background information about the Park.

Big Cypress National Preserve – 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 Big Cypress National Preserve including maps and photos. Official booking site for NPS campgrounds.
  • Big Cypress National Preserve – official website with detailed background information about the Park.

Gulf Islands National Seashore – 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 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.

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.

In Part 5, I write about National Forests in Florida and camping opportunities.

Return to Part 3 of this series

YES, Take me to Part 5!

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

Ortana South Campground - Source Recreation.gov

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a large federal provider of outdoor recreation with more than 400 lake and river projects in 43 states! Their campgrounds are extremely popular with campers. Unfortunately, there are only 3 recreation areas in Florida.

In this article, I cover the Army Corps of Engineers camping in Florida. Please note – USACE camping is NOT FREE. In fact, it is NOT CHEAP either with sites costing $30 and more for electricity and water. But as stated above these campgrounds are beautiful and much loved by campers nationwide. For this reason, I decided to include them in this camping series.

(Feature Image – Ortana South Campground – Courtesy Recreation.gov)

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 Army Corps of Engineers recreation areas in Florida. They are:

USACE Campgrounds in Florida
USACE Campgrounds in Florida (click to enlarge)

Information and Booking

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

  • USACE Lake Okeechobee – informative website describing the USACE Recreation opportunities at Lake Okeechobee. Here you will find directions and information about facilities and amenities.
  • USACE Lake Okeechobee – The USACE Lake Okeechobee Mission Pages. Detailed background information about the area.
  • Recreation.gov – excellent website with detailed information about the campgrounds including maps and photos. Official booking site for USACE campgrounds.

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 Park Campgrounds (fee required) are shown in Red.

In Part 4, I write about National Parks in Florida and camping opportunities.

Return to Part 2 of this series

YES, Take me to Part 4!

Bushnell Shield Series Instant Cabin Tent Set Up

Bushnell Shield Series Tent

In this video I demonstrate how to set or pitch my current camping tent – The Bushnell Instant Cabin Shield Series Tent. I chose this tent for several reasons:

  • Easy set up and take down
  • Light weight
  • Compact packing for easy storage
  • Tall enough (6″ plus) so I can stand inside
  • Large enough for two people and plenty of camping gear
  • Large vestibule (veranda) to enjoy the outdoors
  • Openings for electric cables
  • Opening for a portable air conditioner
  • Affordable

In a future video I will show the take down and packing – often the most challenging part of camping!

A few things to consider

The tent is not perfect! Before setting out to camp, do consider the following:

  • Waterproofing! My tent leaked quite a bit at the seams. I sealed all the seams and sprayed the fly sheet with water-repellant.
  • Close the windows when it rains. The design allows for plenty of airflow and great views but zip the windows closed or you will take in water!
  • A good ground sheet to protect the tent floor which is quite thin.
  • It has little hanging space inside and the design does not allow for hanging heavy items from the center hooks.

Where to Buy

You can order the tent from Amazon.

My Youtube Set Up Video!

Pitching my favorite tent – Bushnell Shield Series Instant Cabin

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

BLM Website Search

When you arrive in Florida after camping on BLM Land in the Western part of the USA, you may find the free camping opportunities confusing and rather disappointing. In fact, some folks still think free camping in Florida is a myth! Well, BLM Land camping in Florida is non-existent. But you have plenty of other opportunities to explore.

While talking about camping in Florida, there is no need to discuss BLM in-depth but I want to point out a few important things just as a comparison to the public land management in Florida.

What is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)?

Simply put, it is an Agency within the Department of the Interior responsible for administering public lands as shown in the diagram below.

The diagram also shows the States where BLM operates (including all the Eastern States) as well as two websites – one for information and one for booking.

BLM Organization
BLM Organization

Where does BLM operate?

Nationwide as shown above but in terms of camping, most of the opportunities are west of the Mississippi River.

The image below illustrates the distribution of BLM land quite clearly.

Bureau of Land Management Map
Bureau of Land Management Map (Source – Department of the Interior)

How to find BLM Campgrounds and sites?

There are mainly two types of BLM camping styles –

  • Campgrounds – developed camping areas with amenities of some kind! Most are fee-based. Many (most?) are first-come-first-serve, meaning you choose an available campsite and pay a nightly fee. Some sites can be pre-booked online (link below)
  • Dispersed – Mostly free. You scout the BLM land and set up camp away from developed campgrounds. As long as you follow the rules for that particular land you can generally stay free for 14 days.

To find developed campgrounds, you have two options:

BLM Camping Search
BLM Website Camping Search

To book a reservable site in a developed campground, Go Here to Book Using Recreation.gov

Recreationgov Booking
Recreation.gov Booking website

Experienced campers often go straight to Recreation.gov because they know what they are looking for and how to navigate this useful site! I will write a future article to share tips and tricks!

To find dispersed campsites, the third-party websites mentioned above are your best friends. The dispersed campsites listed on their maps often have fire rings and you can expect these sites to comply with local rules (such as distance from water sources, etc). Unfortunately, when sites are easy to find and listed everywhere they tend to get busy!

Many full-time road warriors use free dispersed camping and their Youtube videos are fun and informative if you’re interested. Some say they have not paid for camping in 5 or more years!

To avoid the crowds, experienced gypsies do their own research using Google Maps and Google Earth to scout for new dispersed camp spots in advance. To avoid getting into trouble with rangers, they educate themselves with land boundaries and local rules. If you want to do the same, please adhere to “Leave-no-Trace” principles and don’t unintentionally “develop” new campsites.

BLM areas have this signage:

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Logo
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Logo

Return to Part 1 of this series

Continue to Part 3 – US Army Corps of Engineers Camping in Florida

Free Camping in Florida – The Ultimate Guide to Public Campgrounds and Dispersed Sites – Part 1

Florida River Island Campground

YES, FREE camping is possible in Florida!

At first glance, finding free camping in Florida is an easy process. Simply go to one of several websites or camping phone apps and browse an area of interest. But that’s when things get interesting because the State of Florida is host to a variety of free (or cheap) camping possibilities and many ways to book a site!

In this article, I discuss the overall management or organization of public camping (free or not) in Florida. It is important to understand this Organization Chart because ultimately you are required to have a solid understanding of the rules and regulations of each wildlife/outdoor department or branch of the State of Florida.

Free Camping Resources

Here are the two best websites to research when looking for free or cheap campgrounds in Florida:

  • Freecampsites.net
  • Campendium

Other websites/apps to try:

  • The Dyrt
  • FreeRoam
  • Allstays
  • iOverlander
  • US Public Lands – a paid app showing the boundaries of public lands

It really depends on what you are looking for and your experience level. If you are familiar with an area it is best to go directly to the relevant website, for example, the National Forests in Florida – https://www.fs.usda.gov/florida

Regardless of the source of your information, it can be incomplete/missing, dated, vague or plain wrong! In addition:

  • Every season in Florida brings new camping challenges and site reviews can be misleading. For example, a campsite gets 5 stars in January but go camp there in June and you may encounter swarms of biting yellow flies and aggressive mosquitoes.
  • Hunting seasons present more challenges and campers are expected to know and respect the many different hunting timetables and rules.
  • Vague directions can get you lost and you cannot depend on cell phone service to assist you!
  • Road conditions vary greatly depending on seasons and rainfall. Florida remote camping is often on swampland and roads flood easy. High-clearance 4WD vehicles do provide peace of mind.

For these reasons (and others), I’ve decided to do some research and author a series of articles explaining the options for free (or cheap) camping in Florida.

Free versus Cheap Camping

Free camping is available in Florida but with strings attached! I will get into the details of this in future articles but for now, just be aware there are different procedures and rules in place when camping for free on different lands.

For example, some free sites require online booking. Others are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, meaning you can just show up. Most have stay limits (14 days usually). Some free sites are closed in hunting season or other times of the year.

Unfortunately, the most popular free camping locations in Florida are often fully occupied in winter when snowbirds flock to the area. At times you may have to opt for a fee-based site. For this reason, I include cheap campgrounds and sites in my articles. How much is CHEAP you wonder?

  • $1 – $10 per site per night – CHEAP camping in my opinion.
  • $11 -$20 per night – AFFORDABLE camping.
  • $21 plus per night is generally beyond my budget except for special occasions. These campgrounds are mostly in State Parks and a lack of privacy can be an issue despite the high rates. It is a shame that some Florida State Park campgrounds are poorly planned and overpriced.

Terminology – Dispersed Camping

If you camp on public land away from a designated campground, you are doing dispersed camping! Generally, this means no services; such as trash removal, and little or no facilities; such as tables and fire pits. Some popular dispersed camping areas may have toilets – either seasonal or permanent.

In Florida, dispersed camping is allowed on some (not all) public land and during certain times of the year. I will discuss this in future articles but hunting season (“general gun” in particular) is not the best time to disperse camp! In most areas, you are then required to utilize designated campgrounds (often called “hunt camps”).

Terminology – BLM (Bureau of Land Management) in Florida

It irks me when folks talk about free BLM camping in Florida because BLM Camping does not exist in Florida! BLM is huge out west but not so in the East.

I will say a lot more about BLM in future articles but for now, let’s stop using the term “BLM Camping in Florida”. Please, folks!

Terminology – Boondocking versus Dry Camping

I use the term “boondocking” rather loosely! In my writings, it covers all types of overnight stays as long as it’s free. A Walmart parking lot can be a boondocking spot, or a truck stop, or a pullout along a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. These are short-term stays and you generally do not set up camp. At times you must park stealthily in order to avoid law enforcement officials!

Dry Camping refers to actual camping but without hookups of any kind. You camp at some basic level without available water sources, power, or sewer. It can be challenging especially in the heat or cold but it is often the most rewarding style of camping.

Free camping in Florida requires a dry camping setup – you have to be self-efficient and self-contained! Water and even the occasional toilet and/or dump station are available at a few free campsites but you cannot depend on it because these may be locked for some reason or another. I will point to these sites in upcoming articles.

Organization of Public Camping in Florida

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

The State of Florida has 3 departments that are of great interest to outdoor enthusiasts. These are marked in blue in the chart above. I will discuss them in more detail in upcoming articles:

  • Department of Environmental Protection
  • Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)
  • Agriculture and Consumer Services

The State of Florida also has stewardship of the lands of 4 national organizations (most of these are well-known and very popular destinations) and dotted-line connections to local county and city governments:

  • National Forests
  • National Parks
  • Army Corps of Engineers
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • City and County Parks in Florida

Looking at the chart above, there are many “owners” of public camping lands in Florida with many different booking procedures and rules. As stated earlier – in upcoming articles I will explain them all!

To prepare for my future articles, please study my map below.

  • The campgrounds or sites of each Department or Division are shown in different colors. Click on the Table of Contents icon (top-left) to see the Index.
  • Nightly rates are provided in most cases but this is a work-in-progress! I show both FREE and FEE-BASED campgrounds.
  • If you find a missing campground please let me know!
  • Only campgrounds accessible by vehicles are shown. Walk-in sites are not shown unless next to a parking area.

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.

In Part 2, I write about BLM and its presence (or lack thereof) in Florida!

YES, Take me to Part 2!