United States Forest Service (USFS) campgrounds have a wide range of facilities to handle all RV camping needs. Some have flush toilets, showers, and running water, others have pit toilets and hand water pumps. Almost all have trash bins, fire pits, and picnic tables. Camping charges are free to modest. Many campgrounds have a camp host on site. Most of the 4300 USFS campgrounds allow 14 day stays, but at some popular areas the limit is shorter.
The USA Camping Map on our home page has links to each individual states USFS website.
The term dispersed camping is used by the US Forest Service to describe camping outside a developed campground. This type of camping is encouraged by the USFS, but there are some rules and tips you should know. The Boondocking Section has the information you need to know about how to find these great RV camping locations.
The USFS has over 4000 RV capable campgrounds located throughout the USA. Finding many of these hidden gems of the RV camping world can be difficult as each separate forest has it's own information about camping. The best tool we've found for locating USFS campgrounds is the Coleman USFS Campground Directory. This great information book has information about every USFS campground in every state. Included in this book are number of camping sites, services offered such as water, toilet, and trash, and RV size limitations if appropriate. Put this book together with a good map, and you are on your way to RV camping bliss. Note: This book is currently out of print and is available used only.
USFS campgrounds are located in all types of areas, and roads to some of these campgrounds can be narrow. Major USFS campgrounds usually have well maintained roads suitable for any size RV, but more remote campgrounds are best suited to pop up campers, small travel trailers and fifth wheels, and truck campers. That's not to say that you can't get a big RV into some of these great camping spots, but you need to explore ahead. You don't want to head up a logging road that may require you turning around or backing out.
If you are nervous about heading to a campground and not being able to find a site to park your RV, there are over 1700 Federal public land campgrounds with thousands of RV camping sites that can be reserved in advance. Most of the reservation required campgrounds are in beautiful areas, and the best part is that the reservation system is nation wide. Only one web site is required for all reservations throughout the country, and you can easily plan your RV vacation and stay entirely in USFS campgrounds using this centralized reservation system. Popular campgrounds fill reservations quickly, so try and plan your stay as early as possible.
When you access the Reserve America Website, you are greeted with a map of the US with campgrounds allowing reservations. You can pick any part of the US by clicking on that region, and you can "drill down" to specific campgrounds that even show a map of the camping area. You specify the dates you wish to stay, and the system will display availability. With a quick click, you can make your RV camping reservation. There is no better way of finding reserve able public lands campgrounds.
Most RV camping information in our National Forests is available on line. Links to each National Forest are available from our US Camping Map or the US Forest Service Website. You can purchase official travel maps for each National Forest you intend visiting through their websites.
Good detailed maps can help you find USFS campgrounds that appeal to your type of RV camping style. If you travel in the western US, the individual state Benchmark Recreation Atlas are our personal choice. Each state atlas is divided into two sections. A shaded relief road section, and a recreation section with roads and public land boundaries. What we like about the Benchmark maps is that roads shown into public lands are usually suitable for RV camping vehicle travel, and you can feel pretty safe heading up a mapped road that you won't end up at a dead end. You can get a great feel for the type of RV camping area to look for quickly by using the shaded relief section. You will soon find areas that look interesting and will get you to some of the best RV camping sites.
Another favorite are the state series maps of the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer. These map books are available for every state. They offer a higher degree of detail than the Benchmark maps. Most experienced back country RVers rely on these maps. The high level of detail makes back country navigation much easier. You need to be ready to explore ahead as some back country mapped roads may not be suitable for you or your RV.
It's a good idea to remember to take elevation into account when selecting a campground. High mountain areas will mean very cool nights and warm days, so you need to pack accordingly. I can't tell you how many times we've helped RVers with kids that forgot to bring warm enough clothing on their camping trip. It's easy to forget if you are from a low elevation, that the mountains can be cold in July with snow.
USFS Campgrounds are great RV camping locations for several reasons:
The campgrounds maintained by the USFS and its contractors are often located in beautiful areas. A short drive from the campground will get you to great scenery, historical sites, and other outdoor recreation areas. The roads to USFS campgrounds are quite well maintained, but often require driving on gravel roads. Sometimes these roads can be wash boarded. Not all roads and campgrounds are suitable for all RV types. Remote USFS campgrounds are often best suited for smaller RVs such as truck campers and tow behind pop-up campers. If you have a larger RV, its best to check with the local USFS Ranger District Office for road conditions, or explore the road before taking your RV.
USFS campgrounds are perfect for self contained RVs as they provide support facilities to help make camping trips more enjoyable. Picnic tables and campfire rings are usually supplied. A pit toilet is most common, but we stayed at a USFS campground in Colorado that had solar hot water heated showers and flush toilets. Most USFS campgrounds have water available, either a hand water pump or water spigot. There is usually a trash bin, but be prepared to pack your trash home with you. Some campgrounds are constructed in a loop formation, and some are "in and out" dead end spurs. Loops are most common. Watch out for low tree branches in the campground, as well as tight turns where a tree or rock can grab the side of your RV.
All USFS campgrounds are easy to find if you have the Coleman USFS Campground Guide and a decent map. Local USFS Ranger District Offices have maps available, and can give you the latest road and campground status report for the area you wish to visit. They can also provide little known information about the area you intend to visit such as old ranch and railroad buildings, mines, and other points of interest nearby.
USFS campgrounds offer you a wide selection of great RV camping options. Pick and use your research tools carefully, and you will find great camping sites.
NPS (National Park Service) - General information about RV camping and campgrounds in US National Parks. With campgrounds in the most historic and scenic places in the country, the NPS offers some of the best places for RV camping.
USACE/COE (US Army Corp of Engineers) - USACE (perhaps better know as COE) manages water recreation areas throughout the USA. Information about finding USACE lakes, RV camping possibilities, and rules and policies for use of these water based recreation areas is included.
BLM (Bureau of Land Management) - Located throughout the western USA, BLM managed lands offer great camping locations. Developed campgrounds, and almost unlimited dispersed camping opportunites await you.
Here's a list of places to consider when looking for a free overnight RV camping or parking location. We always recommend asking for overnight RV parking permission when looking for a free spot to spend the night. The smaller your RV, the better chances you will have finding places to stay if you choose not to ask permission. If you don't ask permission, you end up "sneaking" into places and hoping nobody bothers you or issues you a trespassing ticket before you move on.
Be smart and Be Safe...Ask Permission.
As you can see, there are a lot of free RV camping and parking possibilities. If you are not asking permission, it's best to keep a very low profile. If your RV has slide outs, jacks and TV antennas, don't use them so as not to draw attention to yourself. Consider your surroundings carefully and if you feel uncomfortable with the area, move somewhere else.