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12 Best Free Campsites In The Western U.S.

Jake and I have traveled for years, visiting endless free campsites all over the place. In that time, we’ve experienced plenty of places that blew our minds. In this guide, we share 12 of the best FREE campsites in the Western US that are so worth visiting!

These free campsites have been highlights of our life while living full time in our camper van. And we want to share these magical places with you, so you can also enjoy these awesome areas on your next camping road trip. Most of these camping areas are very popular (rightfully so). Therefore, expect that some places have more strict camping rules than your average dispersed camping area.

Note: These are just our favorite free campsites, so you may disagree. But I have no doubt that if you visit any of these free campsites, you will fall in love as well! Most of these campsites are primitive campsites, therefore there are a few extra rules to follow.

Facilities At Each Free Campsite:

Also many of these free campsites do not have facilities. They are what is considered boondocking or dispersed camping. These are mostly primitive campsites and not a campground. If you are curious how you will go to the bathroom if there are no facilities nearby, refer to our post, how we go to the bathroom in our campervan.

None of these free campsites have showers, therefore, it’s best to have a portable shower or find showers on the road.

Please follow the leave no trace principles and pack it in, pack it out. And even go a step further and erase a trace by leaving the place better than you found it! 

Cell Phone Service At Each Free Campsite:

Having cell service is important to Jake and I so we can keep this blog up and running. But many of these campsites are remote and don’t have any cell service.

Our two favorite ways to stay connected are Starlink and/or a cell-signal booster.

Forest Road 525 – Sedona, AZ

Jake & Emily standing on their camper van showing off one of the best free campsites in Sedona, AZ
Free Campsite in Sedona, AZ on Forest Road 525

[Update: As of 2024, camping in this area has become limited to just a few designated spots. This place was simply too good to be true. Its world-class camping scenery combined with its proximity to Sedona caused it to become overused. You can still camp here, but only in a few designated “group” sites. So plan to share the site with many other people.]

When people ask us, “where is your favorite place you’ve visited in your camper van?” Well, Sedona quickly comes to mind. We often describe Sedona, AZ similar to Zion National Park but you can live there. So this easily becomes our #1 choice for best free campsites in the U.S.

The views simply just driving into town will take your breath away! We love this area so much because the scenery is like nowhere else we’ve been. The best free campsites in Sedona, AZ are along Forest Road 525.

There are tons of already designated sites, so please only camp in these spots. DO NOT create your own site, as this has been an issue in the past. We want this free campsite to stay open for many years to come so everyone can enjoy this beautiful area!

Jake wrote a guide for living full-time vanlife in Sedona, AZ, which will help you with where to find water, grocery stores, facilities, etc. So be sure to check this out for helpful resources. 

Get Directions To Forest Road 525

Alabama Hills – Lone Pine, CA

Famous Shot At Alabama Hills
Famous Shot At Alabama Hills

Alabama Hills might be one of the coolest free campsites you will ever take your camper van! And if you have 4×4, well it will get even better for you, because you can get to some more remote areas that other 2wd vehicles can’t get to!

The views here are simply unmatched camping amongst the rounded rocks and views of Mount Whitney and Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance. There are also a few cool hikes nearby that you can do right from your campsite.

Campsites here are limited to designated sites, so obey all signage. And prepare to relocate if all the sites are taken.

You can get to some of these free campsite with any vehicle, but there are a few spots that will require 4×4 and high clearance because of steep terrain and rocky sections.

But you can easily find some awesome remote spots away from the crowds. We even wrote a whole vanlife guide for Alabama Hills, so be sure to check it out if you head in that direction! And of course, Death Valley National Park is nearby, so we highly suggest checking out our Ultimate Guide to Death Valley

Get Directions To Alabama Hills

County Road 24 – Twin Lakes, CO

Jake and Emily sitting in their Eddie Bauer Beach Chairs at Twin Lakes, CO which is one of the best free campsites in the western U.S.
Free Campsite at Twin Lakes, CO

Twin Lakes is somewhere Jake and I hadn’t been to until recently, and wow were we mad we didn’t know about this place sooner! We’ve lived in Colorado 5 years before moving into a camper van, so the fact that this place never hit our radar is beyond me. Because this place will quickly become a staple when we are camping in Colorado. 

There are tons of free campsites in the area above the lakes to take in the view. And if you are there during summer, you can drop down to the lake to cool off… Well, it still might feel like a polar plunge, because it is a high alpine lake in Colorado!

Bonus, if you visit during fall, the changing colors on the surrounding mountains are absolutely breathtaking. 

There is decent cell phone signal in the area, so you could easily stock up camp for a few days without feeling completely disconnected. There is also a small town a few miles away where you can get gas, groceries, restaurants, etc.

There is also the trailhead nearby for summiting Mount Elbert. Which stands 14,439 feet high. But do note, this is not an easy hike, and you should be physically fit, acclimated to the altitude and have hiking experience to tackle this summit. Or if you want a stunning but easier hike, North Fork Lake Creek Trail is also nearby.

Get Directions To This Free Campsite In Twin Lakes, CO

Trona Pinnacles – Ridgecrest, CA

A campervan camping at Trona Pinnacles

Trona Pinnacles is like another planet! These pointy rock formations jut towards the sky from an otherwise flat desert basin. You will want to make sure you are properly prepared for off-grid living. Because the only facility nearby is a drop toilet. 

There is one gas station you pass by before heading down the long dirt road. And gas in California is very expensive, so you may want to fill up a bigger town first.

Once you get to the pinnacles (you will definitely know you are there), It looks like you just drove into Mars.

You can really park just about anywhere that is already established. Although it is encouraged to maybe find a place other than the main day-use parking lot, and use designated campsites. There are rocks placed in areas that the BLM does not want you to camp or drive your vehicles onto. This is to help preserve the land, therefore please be respectful.

Do note this area is near a military base. Therefore, fighter jets fly overhead pretty frequently. It’s generally not a huge problem. But one time a jet broke the sound barrier very close to us, and it was the loudest noise we have ever heard in our life, no exaggeration. I realize that this sounds dramatic, but the experience left us shaking and anxious anytime we hear a military plane nearby now.

For everything else you might want to know about this area, check out our guide for the Trona Pinnacles.

Get Directions To Trona Pinnacles

Lake Mohave – Arizona/Nevada Boarder

Emily enjoying her free campsite at Lake Mohave in Arizona
Free Campsite at Lake Mohave

Want a lake house for free? Lake Mojave is just that. The road out to Lake Mojave is a long, brutally washboarded dirt road, but nothing a FWD or RWD camper van can’t handle. Although there are some spots along the lake that it’s probably best to have 4×4, because of loose sand. But there are still a handful of awesome spots you can get into with 2wd. 

Plus the drive really is quite beautiful. You will be surrounded by mountains and you will see the lake far in the distance before approaching it. 

Bonus, if you have a portable kayak or paddleboard. We spent a few days here just enjoying the lake life. We have the Intex K2 Inflatable Kayak that packs down small enough to carry in our cargo box on top of our camper van. 

The only big bummer is that when we visited, this place was TRASHED! Honestly, just insane amounts of trash thrown into the bushes. We did try to pick up as much trash as we could, but there is far too much for a couple of vanlifers to pick up on our own. Please be extra respectful and pack out any trash you create. And go one step further and pack out an extra trash bag if you can.

Get Directions To Lake Mohave

Shadow Mountain Road – Grand Tetons, WY

camping on ridge

Is there anything better than having a campsite with the Grand Tetons in the distance? While this campsite isn’t right under the mountain range, it is free and you do get to witness the stunning range in the distance. Plus it’s just a short drive to the National Park. 

There are about 10 free campsites when you first approach the camping area. This is on a first-come, first-serve basis.

If there are no available spots left, you can continue up the road which does offer even more stunning views of the mountain range. However it then becomes a little more challenging to go in and out of the National Park the further you go up the road. While you can get to some of the spots without high clearance & 4×4, there are a few spots that will be required. Use your best judgment!

Also be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide To The Grand Tetons, to find some must-visit spots.

Get Directions To Shadow Mountain Road

Kachess Lakeshore – Easton, WA

Jake and Emily enjoying their vanlife lake house (free campsite) in Kachess Lake, WA
Kachess Lake, a free campsite in Washington

Kachess Lakeshore was definitely Jake and my favorite campsite in Washington. You literally get to park right along the lakeshore and have the lake right next to you! There is also great internet, (at least for Verizon). So we stayed here for a few days just working on the blog and enjoying our lake house! 

Depending on the time of year and the Kachess Dam, the shoreline will be more exposed. But there are definitely still some spots to enjoy if the water level is high. The spot Jake and I got into did require high clearance. But not all spots require this. So use your best judgment to get your vehicle into a campsite. 

It’s also a great campsite if you plan to tackle the ever-so-beautiful, but challenging backpacking trip to Jade Lake. Either enjoy some relaxing time before the hike or honestly afterward would be more ideal. It is quite a drive to and from the trailhead, but I promise this is definitely one of the best free campsites in the Western U.S. you will ever have. 

Get Directions To Kachess Lake

Roosevelt Lake – Roosevelt, AZ

jake and emily standing on their van with Lake Roosevelt in the distance which is one of the best campsites in the western U.S.
Lake Roosevelt

Roosevelt Lake in Arizona is a hidden gem. Whenever we visit this area it tends to be very quiet. (Although we have never visited in summer, so maybe that is why).

But the free campsites up in the mountains with the stunning view of Roosevelt Lake are absolutely breathtaking. And they are just a short drive down to the lake if you want to go for a swim or kayak! 

We noticed some campsites are better than others in this area. If you can snag one of the campsites up the hill with a view of the lake, you are in for a real treat. But no worries if they are all taken, there are a few roads in this area where you can find free campsites. And the views certainly still don’t disappoint. You just might have to drive to the lake to actually see it! 

Get Directions To Roosevelt Lake

Gemini Bridges – Moab, UT

Moab, UT is very vanlife and camping friendly. And while I actually haven’t been to this specific spot, I think it might top the other locations I would have provided. But there are TONS of camping in the surrounding Moab area. It definitely is a popular spot for just about any outdoor recreational activity. From hiking, mountain biking, off-roading, climbing, rafting, etc. 

The road down to Gemini Bridge is not for the faint of heart. You should actually read the reviews on iOverlander, they are quite entertaining. The road definitely requires high-clearance but a rwd vehicle should be able to handle the road. Although if you have 4×4, you are definitely in a better place. 

Apparently, the road is stressful to the bottom, and there is really no turning back. There are about 5 sites at the bottom. During the busy summer months, it might be a bit more challenging to find a spot, but other times of the year it remains pretty quiet. And I believe the views in the canyon will be worth the drive itself. 

You can drive back out the same way you came, or continue driving through. The road is said to be rough, so it’s probably best to have high clearance and 4×4. Be sure to fill up gas before sending it down to the canyon because there is no cell service or facilities.

Get Directions To Gemini Bridges

Padre Island National Seashore – Corpus Cristi, TX:

free camping along the Padre Island National Park
Padre Island National Park

Padre Island National Seashore is one of the only places you will find free campsites in the whole state of Texas. If we have one complaint about visiting Texas is the lack of public land. It was quite a challenge for us to find where to park for the night. But Padre Island National Seashore is about as close to having a house on the ocean as you can get. 

Literally, you have to be careful where you park because the shoreline is rather small and the waves sometimes come up for the door of your camper van. There is hard-packed sand along the shoreline, but if you are visiting during high tide, there sand gets much softer the higher up the shore you go.

We highly recommend 4×4 or AWD for this spot. And also airing down your tires is advisable no matter what kind of vehicle you have.

We have a rwd camper van and we did get stuck. Luckily we had traction boards and other off-roading gear to help get us out.

Cell phone service was spotty, but our WeBoost definitely helped us stay connected while we were out here. There are also drop toilets near the entrance where the pavement turns to sand. So if you want to be near the bathrooms, you might want to stay closer to the entrance.

Get Directions To Padre Island National Seashore

Poverty Flats – Overton, NV

free campsite in Nevada on the ledge of a canyon wall
Poverty Flats

You can definitely bet you are gonna see a few people in RVs out at the Poverty Flats. It’s actually often referred to as “Snowbird Mesa”. This area is very popular for off-grid camping. You are parked up on a ridge with some unique views for sure. And well the weather stays pretty mild during the winter months. 

There are tons of places to park around here, but not a ton of privacy. Therefore, it’s best to have a way to go to the bathroom in your camper van. Obviously, try to give other campers space out here and don’t park next to them if there are other options available. 

This is definitely one of the best free campsites you will find in Nevada. Valley of Fire State Park is nearby, so be sure to check out our guide for the best hike and attractions nearby!

Get Directions To Poverty Flats

Plaskett Ridge – Plaskett, CA

a view up on plaskett ridge which is a free campsite on highway 1 in california
Plaskett RIdge

If you’ve ever driven along the famous Highway 1 of California in your camper van, then you might know it is hard to find legal free campsites.

Ya, you can maybe get away with parking at a pull-off here and there. But there is also a chance you might wake up to a knock from the police. And that’s never a great feeling when you are about to head to bed.

So one of our favorite free campsites along the Pacific Coast Highway is Plaskett Ridge. It is quite the drive up here, but the views over the ocean are something you are not going to want to miss. Our best suggestion is to maybe spend a couple of days up here, instead of making it an overnight.

This road is not friendly for big rigs. And 4×4 is recommended if you want to take the road all the way to the end.

The road up to these free campsites is steep and windy, but if you just enjoy the journey, you will be rewarded with a scenic drive and a campsite. 

Also, be sure to check out this guide for all the best stops along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Get Directions To Plaskett Ridge

Takeaway | 12 Best Free Campsites In The Western U.S.

Finding free campsites that are truly gems can be hard to come by. But these are 12 of our absolute favorite free campsites we found while exploring the Western U.S. for 6+ years.

We hope you find a few places you’ve never seen before and get to spend some time at these incredible free campsites. But as always, please follow the Leave No Trace principles and obey posted rules. It is up to us to keep these places clean and enjoyable for the next visitors! Happy camping!

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