Seven of the Best Free Campsites in the U.S.

The gear experts at ActiveJunky.com, a partner of GORP.com, know the outdoors like the back of their hands. Here they guide you to seven great free campsites across the country, with gear recommendations for each spot included.
Gorp.com
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mountains
Alta Lake, Colorado  (iStockphoto)

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These low-budget adventure havens will have you treading through the wonderland where the pavement ends without spending a dime. So enjoy the freedom, ‘cause the best things—and camping—in life are free.

1. North Cascades Backcountry, Washington
This 684,000-acre wilderness area is home to hundreds of mule deer, mountain goats, mountain lions, bobcats, and marmots, but to few hikers, which is ideal for backcountry mountaineers who dig wildlife. Complete with 400 miles of trails on every type of terrain, countless waterfalls, and rock faces for days, this area is much more than a campground; it’s an adventurer’s dream.

Get Started
About 120 miles northeast of Seattle, the primary access to North Cascades National Park is from the State Route 20 corridor. The National Park Service has detailed information on the park’s backcountry campsites.

Active Junky Gear Recommendations
Easton Kilo 2-Person, 3-Season Tent ($319.16); Eureka Apex 2XT 2-Person, 3-Season Tent (starting at $139.99)

2. Cascade Mountains, Oregon
Beach. Mountains. Scenery. Serenity. Wildlife. And… it’s free! This too-good-to-be-true, off-the-grid unofficial campsite at the Crane Prairie Reservoir is a little piece of heaven for low-budg campers. Scout around for a convenient fire ring and a practically private beach spot. Bird-watchers take note: there have been bald-eagle sightings in this area, among hundreds of other bird species.

Get Started
Crane Prairie Reservoir is located approximately 30 miles southwest of Bend. Cascade Lakes Highway (Forest Service Road 46) is one of the most scenic routes to the lake, but you can also take FSR 40 or FSR 42 to get there. From Road #42, turn on Road #4285 (Browns Mountain Junction/Crane Prairie Dam). Go past Browns Mountain Boat Ramp for some great campsites.

Active Junky Gear Recommendations
Men’s Keen Newport Sandal (starting at $69.99); Women’s Keen Newport Sandal (starting at $59.99)

3. Alta Lakes, Telluride, Colorado
This undeveloped, unmaintained area is so beautiful that we’d venture to call it a diamond in the rough. Make sure you’ve got a high-clearance vehicle, warm clothes (even in the summer), and a telephoto lens; Telluride is quite a sight. After camping, head into town to check out Bridal Veil Falls; the view is straight up ridiculous and hiking beyond the falls is phenomenal.

Get Started
Alta Lakes Road is six miles south of Telluride on Hwy. 145. To reach the ghost town of Alta, stay on the main road for four miles. To get to the lakes, turn right at the town and follow the signs to Alta Lakes.

Active Junky Gear Recommendations
Men’s Patagonia Classic Retro-X Fleece (starting at $119.40); Women’s Patagonia R2 Fleece Jacket (starting at $109.93)

Published: 14 Sep 2012 | Last Updated: 17 Sep 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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