Top 10 Favorite Dispersed Campsites

Dispersed camping is camping for free outside of established campgrounds on public land, typically on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, national forests or national monuments in the United States, or Crown Land in Canada.  We dispersed camp about 1/3 of the nights on our trip.  Not only did this save us thousands of dollars in campground fees, it greatly extended our nature experience.  Instead of being surrounded by people, buildings, lights and noise in a campground, with dispersed camping we got to enjoy wide open skies, sights and sounds of wildlife, remarkable natural features, privacy, peace and solitude.

Following are our top 10 favorite dispersed campsites.  It wasn’t difficult to choose our top favorites, but it was challenging to limit the list to only 10 places.  We judged dispersed campsites based the criteria stated in our article, Top 10 Reasons We Prefer Roadside Camping.

 

1. Yoho National Park

Wapta Falls Rec Site (3 nights)
Crown Land just outside Yoho National Park
British Columbia, Canada

View of Wapta Falls from our RV

Our campsite had a spectacular, unobstructed view of the wide Wapta Falls, which was only 1/3 mile away and roared loudly.  Behind the falls rose two 10,000+ foot glacier-covered mountains.

  

Our campsite marked with a red circle

One day while hiking in Yoho National Park, with binoculars we spotted our parked RV.  On the photo above (click for a larger version), our RV appears as a small white speck (marked with a red circle).  As you can see, we were parked in some amazingly beautiful country.

  

Theresa standing next to our RV

This rec site was off a gravel forest road and had two private campsites separated by 100 feet of trees, so there was lots of privacy.  The other campsite was empty our first two nights.  Then on our last night there, two young men setup camp next door.  But they left shortly after they arrived, I think because we scared them off with our tales of the black bear…

  

Black bear walking into the forest

One morning we awoke with the RV rocking, looked out our bedroom window, and saw a black bear munching on the leather cover of our tow hitch.  We shooed him away, but not before he left us a souvenir of four bite marks with bear spit!  We saw this bear (or perhaps another) at least twice every day along the main gravel road.

 

2. Mt. Hood National Forest

Brooks Meadow Road (3 nights)
Mt. Hood National Forest
Oregon

View of Mt. Hood from our RV

Imagine opening your eyes each morning to an unobstructed view of an active volcano, Mt. Hood.  This impressive stratovolcano stands 11,249 feet tall and is the highest point in Oregon.  It is flanked by 12 glaciers and last erupted in 1866.  We hiked to the base of the Eliot Glacier you see on the lower right in the photo above.

 

Lenticular cloud looming over Mt. Hood

One evening after sunset, a lenticular cloud capped the volcano.  A lenticular cloud is a stationary lens-shaped cloud that forms at high altitudes (often over volcanoes) and has occasionally been mistaken for a UFO.

 

RV tucked away in the forest

Our campsite was at the end of a gravel forest road on a narrow ledge high above the valley.  The road was hemmed in by forest, and the RV required very careful backing, yet we still got a few scratches.  Because of the difficulty to turn around, we placed red cones at the entrance to this little-used road, and we saw only one mountain biker during our stay.

 

3. Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

Buffalo Ranch Road (3 nights)
BLM land
Just outside Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
Arizona

View from our RV of a massive storm approaching Vermillion Cliffs

We camped three miles from Vermillion Cliffs, which rise 3,000 feet straight up from the desert floor.  The 360-degree view provided a wide perspective when a massive storm blew in off the mountains.

  

Our RV camping below Vermillion Cliffs

There was nothing but serene desert as far as the eye could see in every direction.

  

Darby and Shadow waiting for dinner outside our RV

The weather was beautiful and sunny in late March.  Warmth combined with a full moon meant lots of late night hikes with the dogs.

 

4. Buffalo Gap National Grassland

Big Foote Road (6 nights)
Buffalo Gap National Grassland
Just outside Badlands National Park
South Dakota

RV parked in Buffalo Gap National Grassland with the Badlands in the distant background

Even though we were in the middle of nowhere, we were just a few miles off the Interstate, hence we had cell phone and Internet coverage, which was rare for our dispersed camping spots.  We could also see Badlands National Park in the far distance.

 

Timm cooking out while Shadow looks on

Storms raged around us for days but didn’t rain on us until our last night there (more on that in a minute).

 

Darby, Shadow and Theresa watching a storm and the sunset

This night was the most perfect nature moment of our trip.  As a thunderstorm clashed with the sunset to provide an ominous sky, we were serenaded by meadowlarks, frogs, crickets, cows and thunder.

  

Our RV got stuck in the mud!

And then on the night before we were supposed to leave the grassland, with only a 20% chance of rain, the sky opened up and poured for four hours.  The next morning when we tried to leave, the grassland had become a swamp, and we got our RV stuck in the mud.  It took two days of sun and wind to dry out the grassland enough for us to exit.

  

5. Kluane Lake

Alaska Highway 1 (2 nights)
Crown Land on Kluane Lake
Just outside Kluane National Park
Yukon, Canada

Shadow trying to figure out what was caught on a sandbar in Kluane Lake

Kluane Lake is the largest lake in the Yukon, covering nearly 154 square miles or 100,000 acres.  We parked along the edge of the lake just off the famed Alaska Highway.  On a trip full of spectacular views, this campsite had perhaps the most incredible view of all.  During meals we’d find ourselves staring out the window at the beautiful Ruby Range rising high above the turquoise water of Kluane Lake.

 

Kluane Mountain rise up majestically behind our RV

And the unbreakable chain of 10,000-foot Kluane Mountains rose high behind our RV.

  

Theresa just finished washing off our car

Whenever we camped near water, we would wash the dirt off our SUV and RV.

  

6. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Spencer Flat Road (2 nights)
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Utah

Theresa getting ready to hike into Escalante Canyon

A campsite is even more special when we can hike right from our RV, which in this case was parked on the edge of Escalante Canyon.  From our RV we could see a large cave, so we set off hiking toward it.  Fortunately we had a GPS, otherwise we would’ve quickly become lost in the maze of the canyon.

  

Our RV parked near a large monolith in the middle of nowhere

A large monolith watched over us as we slept in peace in our RV.  Many of the campsites on this list had qualities that rivaled the national parks we were visiting.

 

Getting setup to eat our lunch outside

By camping outside of busy established campgrounds, we extended the nature aspect of our trip and the amount of time we spent under the sky.  In addition to hiking and campfires, we frequently ate our meals outdoors.

 

7. Kootenay National Park, British Columbia

Red Rock Road (2 nights)
Crown Land above Radium Hot Springs
Just outside Kootenay National Park
British Columbia, Canada

View of Radium Hot Springs and Kootenay National Park from our RV

We camped on a bluff above the town of Radium Hot Springs, which has the largest hot springs pool in Canada.  The mountains marked the edge of Kootenay National Park, in which we saw more black bears (11) than any other place on our trip (we saw a total of 30 black bears and 8 grizzlies).

  

Spectacular view from our RV

One evening we heard a morose, lone wolf howling for 20 minutes in the forest just above our campsite.  It was one of the most beautiful but sad sounds we have ever heard.  Experts at the Northern Lights Wolf Centre told us it was likely a grandmother wolf who was left behind to care for the young wolves in the pack while the adults were out hunting.

 

Theresa tending to the fire while Darby rests

We built a campfire, roasted marshmallows, imbibed on rum & Diet Coke, and had some “married couple fun” in the great outdoors.  Unfortunately later that night, our dog Shadow became so violently ill that we questioned whether he would live to see morning.  Fortunately he survived, but it was a long, sleep-deprived night for us all.

 

Our campsite was on top of the bluff on the right edge of this photo

We camped on Crown Land on top of the bluff on the right edge of this picture.  Crown Land in Canada is similar to public land in the United States in that you can camp most anywhere on Crown Land.  Except Crown Land belongs to the monarch, whereas after the Revolutionary War in 1783, the United States transferred its crown land “into a repository of land held by the federal government, to be used for the benefit of the nation as a whole.”

  

8. Mojave National Preserve

Black Canyon Road (3 nights)
Mojave National Preserve
California

Incredible sunset after a strong winter storm in Mojave National Preserve

This was our first dispersed camping experience, just a few weeks after the crash destroyed our old RV.  We were surprised to get hit with a winter storm that brought light snow, rain, and freezing temperatures to this southern California desert.  We didn’t have any firewood, so we burned cow patties, which didn’t smell bad, but left an unpleasant taste on our roasted marshmallows.

  

View from on top of the Providence Mountains of our RV (red circle) enveloped by the vast Mojave National Preserve

We fell in love with dispersed camping at that very first campsite.  As this photo shows, our RV (marked with a red arrow; click the photo for a larger version) was surrounded by over a million acres of vast desert.  Dispersed camping provided us with the peace, quiet and solitude to which we were accustomed at our rural home. 

 

Theresa, Shadow and Darby standing behind our RV, with the Providence Mountains rising in the background

While eating breakfast our first morning there, we looked out the window and saw the Providence Mountains to our west.  “How about we hike to the top of that ridge today?” I asked.  “Sure, why not!” replied Theresa.  There’s something especially cool about walking outside your RV and right into a hike without having to drive somewhere.

  

Darby, Shadow and Timm sitting on rocks and enjoying the peace and solitude

We watched the sunset each night from atop a mound of rocks.

  

9. Lassen National Forest

Forest Road 32N49 (3 nights)
Lassen National Forest
Just outside Lassen Volcanic National Park
California

Timm reading a book outside the RV next to a pretty stream

As our trip was winding down, we found this gem of a campsite next to a pretty stream.  We went for long walks down the forest road each night.  And we were only a few minutes away from the nearby national park.

 

10. Kodachrome State Park

Rock Springs Bench Road (1 night)
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Just outside Kodachrome Basin State Park
Utah

View from our RV of Mammoth Geyser in Kodachrome State Park

After spending the day hiking in nearby Kodachrome Basin State Park, we camped just outside the park and had a great view of the 15-story-tall Mammoth Geyser (the white monolith in the photo above).

  

Shadow relaxing in the sun

One great aspect of dispersed camping is our dogs got to run around free off the leash.

  

Theresa coming to join me watch the sunset, with our RV in the background

After dinner, Theresa came to enjoy the sunset with me.  Notice how our RV and the road are the only man-made objects as far as the eye can see.  That’s the sign of a great dispersed campsite.

  

Timm, Darby and Shadow keeping warm next to our very first campfire on our trip

This was our first campfire of our trip (using wood instead of cow patties, that is).  We probably had over 50 campfires over the course of our trip and really enjoyed roasting marshmallows.  This is what dispersed camping is all about: relaxing under a broad dark sky, far away from people and civilization, and completely surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature.

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