Must-Knows for Dispersed Camping in a Campervan - Native Campervans
Must-Knows for Dispersed Camping in a Campervan
You may have heard it called free camping, boondocking, dry camping, or a host of other names. It seems to be all over social media lately, think picturesque landscapes with no one in sight, but what exactly is dispersed camping? Alternatively, you’ve seen the Facebook comments of “back in my day, we just called it camping.” If you want to get out into nature and save some money while doing so, here’s your guide to all things dispersed camping in a campervan.
Disperse Camping, What’s Is It?
There’s heated debate about which terms apply to what settings, but in short, dispersed camping is free camping on public land without any amenities, and campervans are the perfect thing for it. You have only what you bring with you, and you pack out everything you come with. While some dispersed campsites are a little more popular and developed than others, know that you’ll always want to bring your own supplies.
What Are The Benefits?
Dispersed sites are always either free or really cheap. Yes, the $20 or $30 you pay to get a spot at a National Park goes to a good cause, but it adds up if you go often enough.
You don’t go into nature to be surrounded by strangers playing loud music at camp, do you? Noise and crowds might not be your solace away from the world, so you’ll love free camping. If you like socializing, you’ll love some of the more popular dispersed sites where you can meet like-minded adventurers but still have plenty of space for yourself. Sometimes you want to be alone, so park yourself on an established patch of public land and enjoy the night sky.
It may be a bit cheesy and on the nose, but there’s just something enjoyable about dispersed camping in a campervan. You get to explore the land where no one else may be and rely on yourself. It’s not for everyone, but it may just be for you.
Who Is Dispersed Camping For?
Well, really, it’s for anyone. If you’re an adventurous type who likes to blaze your own trails, it’s for you. If you’re someone who loves a long road trip and wants to save some money on accommodations while traveling, it’s for you. Maybe you just want to try out camping and hiking without putting in too much money. Dispersed camping is for you, too, if that’s your plan. Whatever your goal is, there’s a level of ruggedness in free camping that will work for you, whether you just want to dip your toes in or drive the most challenging 4×4 trails in Moab.
What Kind Of Vehicle Can I Use To Disperse Camp?
For packed dirt roads and very light overland drives, most modern subcompact SUVs and crossovers hold their own if you’re careful. Any vehicle larger than that will only be more effortless. Research your trails ahead of time, and don’t go further than you’re comfortable. Even if you have a 4×4, don’t go too far unless you know your vehicle well.
If you’re thinking this sounds great, but I don’t have a vehicle that works for this, how about renting a campervan? Even if you have an SUV or truck capable of making it to your dispersed campsite, having the extra room in a van is a luxury easy to appreciate.
Why our vans are perfect.
Renting a campervan from Native Campervans is a great way to try out dispersed camping without committing to buying any gear. All vans come with essentials for dispersed camping and road trips in general, with plenty of add-ons to fit your needs. If you’re looking for solitude, there are few things more private than a self-contained campervan on a patch of public land.
*Please note, driving in a restricted area may result in vehicle damage, and will result in a material breach of the Native Campervans Rental Agreement. You are liable for damage to the Campervan that results from vehicle misuse, including driving on unpaved surfaces. You are responsible for repair and towing charges if driving in a restricted area causes damage to any part of the vehicle.
Where Can I Legally Camp?
You have plenty of options for dispersed camping, but there are three main choices.
National Forests and Grasslands
The United States Forest Service manages all national forests and national grasslands. As such, you can camp anywhere on Forest Service land (unless otherwise posted). Make sure you’re aware of the camping rules on US Forest Service land before you head out there. More information can be found here.
Bureau of Land Management land
The Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, has public land available to camp on throughout the entire country. Like the US Forest Service land, you can camp anywhere you like for free, unless otherwise posted. Specific established BLM campsites may have a fee, though generally minimal. If you don’t want to pay that fee, just park your vehicle somewhere that isn’t an established area. Learn more about the Bureau of Land Management here.
Wildlife Management Areas
Wildlife Management Areas, or WMA, are the least popular of the “big three” free camping options. It’s nice to have this as an option, but it’s usually less convenient than BLM or Forest Service land due to the rules being varied from place to place. You’re also simply less likely to run into WMA than you would BLM land or Forest Service land. While you can disperse camp in Wildlife Management Areas, make sure you aren’t disturbing conservation efforts and be aware of the regulations regarding the specific land you’re on – they likely vary from state to state.
You’re likely going to camp on BLM or Forest Service land, occasionally on a WMA. If you’re in an area without any of those three, you do have a few other options.
State and City Parks
Certain state and city parks will offer dispersed camping. That being said, these aren’t your best options for guaranteed free camping. State and city parks won’t have a uniform set of rules like federally managed lands do, so make sure you’re aware of all ordinances in effect before you set up camp.
Rest stops and parking lots
Likely you aren’t looking for free camping in the city unless you’re on a long road trip. If you aren’t going to make it to your campsite without falling asleep at the wheel, you have a few options. Certain truck stops will allow you to spend the night (though you want to always check first – they won’t all let you stay). Pilot, Flying J, and Love’s are almost always overnight friendly, no matter the state. Plus, the amenities of a truck stop are always convenient when on a road trip.
Walmart and Cracker Barrel are havens for travelers too. You can spend a night at either of these stores, no questions asked, but just one night. You can sleep overnight at rest stops in certain states, but the rules will vary. If you have no other option, you can usually sleep for 4-8 hours at any rest stop, but that will be at the discretion of the area’s security. These might not be exactly what you think of when you think of dispersed camping, but they’re perfect for a campervan driving break.
How Do I Find Dispersed Camping?
There are plenty of apps to help you whether you’re looking to camp or just to sleep for free while on a road trip. For a general list of urban and outdoor dispersed camping options, The Dyrt is great. If you’re looking to just stay offroad, your best bet is the iOverlander app or freecampsites.net for websites. If you want a complete list of apps for your campervan road trip and disperse camping, check out our list of the top 5 vanlife and camping apps.
What are the rules of dispersed camping?
Dispersed camping is quite simple, and as long as you’re respectful of the land you’re on and any people who may be around you, you’ll have no problems. There are, however, a few guidelines that first-timers should keep in mind.
Leave No Trace:
You probably hear this one all the time, but it’s prominent for a reason. Free camping stays free and legal as long as you pack out everything you came in with and keep your campsite clean. Pack out trash and food scraps. Yes, you’re technically correct that your apple core is biodegradable, but it may take much longer than you think. When it doubt, pack it out.
Another classic outdoor slogan. It’s the motto of the Boy Scouts for a reason. If you’re taking your vehicle off paved roads, you’re incurring certain risks, even if minor ones. If you’re a beginner, you’ll be best off going with friends or picking light and easy trails to start out with. A campervan is perfect for dispersed camping but always make sure you’re safe
Make sure that you at least have food and water, a way to stay warm, and recovery gear. If your vehicle gets stuck and you’re alone, you either need to get it out yourself or pay a hefty fee to get it towed (or call a really good friend with a winch). A compass and a weather report won’t hurt either.
Know Where To Camp:
You can camp almost anywhere you want on public lands, but there are a couple of regulations to pay attention to. You need to be at least 200 feet away from any body of water. Additionally, you can’t sleep on the side of the road, but you also don’t want to go too far from the road. By all means, get away from any road noise, but don’t go further than you need to, as it can put you in precarious situations (think getting stuck in the sand with no cell service) and increases your chances of damaging the environment. A good rule is to always look for pre-existing sites, usually identifiable by a fire ring.
Look for Posted Signs:
This one is probably obvious, but sometimes you can forget. There are occasional signs on public land prohibiting driving or overnight camping. Occasionally you’ll run into a place requiring a fee. Both are rare, but you’ll want to watch for them just in case.
Pay attention to posted fire regulations as well. This is the most important one. You don’t want to cause a wildfire, obviously, but there are also hefty fines that may be associated with breaking fire regulations. If you’re in bear country, you especially want to be aware of posted signs or any updates from Forest Service officials or the BLM. Above all, don’t ignore private property signs. If you’re unsure whose land you’re on, apps like Gaia GPS or onX Backcountry are beneficial.
Use Good Judgment: This one is more advice than a rule. Problems can always arise while camping. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your gut. The likelihood is that nothing is wrong, and you’re okay, but always err on the side of caution
Hit the road!
Hopefully, this has inspired you to check out the world of dispersed camping in a campervan. If you don’t have a vehicle you can take off-road (or just don’t want to rack up miles on your daily driver), Native Campervans has you covered with our high-quality campervan rentals. With three campervan sizes, 100 includes miles per night, and a host of extras, nothing is holding you back from your next adventure!