Story and photos by Kat Smith
After three months of living in our van throughout the American West, my husband and I never paid for a night of parking all thanks to a little thing called boondocking. For the unfamiliar, that’s dispersed camping on public land. Rather than camping at a designated site, boondocking allows you to camp away from amenities and in the heart of nature instead.
While much of what we did to find our exact camping spot was pick a forest road and cruise down it until we found the pull-out spot of our dreams, there are a few helpful apps and websites to lead you in the right direction. Among them are Campendium, iOverlander and FreeCampsites.net.
Here are a handful of our favorites across the West:
Bacon Creek Campground, Marblemount, Washington
Just west of North Cascades National Park’s west entrance is a place my husband lovingly referred to as The Lost Woods. Marked on the map as Bacon Creek Campground, we never saw an actual campsite. Instead, we found a nice pull-out along the forest road and settled in for a quiet night with the sound of the river lulling us to sleep.
Flathead National Forest, Montana
South of Glacier National Park is the stunning Flathead National Forest. In general, boondocking is allowed in national forests and Flathead is no exception. There are a lot of great dispersed campsites here, so many in fact that we stayed in the area four nights, sleeping in four different spots.
Clark Fork Drift Yard, Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho
On the northeast end of Lake Pend Oreille is a stunning place with wide open views. There were a few other people who had parked here as well but there’s plenty of space for everyone to spread out and enjoy the area.
Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon
Just like in Flathead National Forest, Mt. Hood National Forest has a big variety of dispersed camping. The best way to find a great dispersed campsite here and in most other national forests is to pick a forest road and drive it to see what you can find. I suggest giving yourself plenty of time before dark to find a flat pull-out to call home for the night.
Coconino Rim Road, Kaibab National Forest, Arizona
This area is just minutes outside of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It’s actually still hard for me to believe that free, tranquil camping is possible only down the road from one of the U.S.’s most popular tourist attractions.