How to Find Amazing Campsites [Campgrounds vs Dispersed Camping]

When it comes to finding a place to camp here in the United States, there are a lot of truly incredible options. In this post, we’re going to cover exactly how I find all the great camping spots you see in my photos and YouTube videos. If you’re new to camping and have no idea where to start, or you’ve been camping for years and want to find more options beyond the campgrounds, this post is for you.

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How to find amazing campsites in the United States

Different Types of Camping (Video):

HOW TO FIND AMAZING CAMPSITES: Campgrounds vs Dispersed Camping (free camping!)

To keep things simple, we’re going to talk about the pros and cons of two basic types of camping:

  1. camping at developed campgrounds
  2. dispersed camping
Starry night sky while camping in the desert

1. Developed Campgrounds

Camping at a developed campground is the most common type of camping.

If you do a Google search for camping, your results will likely be developed campgrounds that can be privately or publicly owned.

These campgrounds typically have facilities such as restrooms, picnic tables, showers, fire pits, drinking water, and/or garbage cans.

The facilities available will vary greatly from campground to campground.

Most commonly, you’ll at least have a picnic table and a fire pit.

Campground Pros:

  • The facilities: restrooms, picnic tables, fire pits, drinking water, trash cans…
  • Easy access: Usually campgrounds are easy to access. Most have paved roads.
  • Ease of cooking and cleaning: There are sometimes dishwashing stations available, and the picnic tables and fire pits make it easy to set up a camp kitchen.
  • Camp in cool places: Sometimes (like in a national park) the only way to camp in an area is to use a developed campground.

Campground Cons:

  • The cost: There’s almost always a fee to camp at a campground, but the price can vary greatly. Anywhere from $5 to $30 is pretty normal. If you camp a lot, this price can add up quickly.
  • Other campers: Depending on the campground, sometimes other campers are very close by. It’s common to see and hear other campers when you’re at a campground.

>> New to camping?

If you’re new to camping, I would try out some developed campgrounds first.

The facilities are really nice to have as you’re getting more comfortable sleeping outdoors and using your gear!

Camping on public land
Night sky while camping on public land

2. Dispersed Camping

Dispersed camping is when you camp on public lands away from developed facilities.

You’re not going to find bathrooms, trash cans, picnic tables, or fire pits, though. In fact, you’ll find nothing more than a patch of land to pitch a tent and maybe a little rock fire ring left from previous campers.

For the most part here in the United States, public land is open for anyone to camp on.

Public land is either national forest managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS) or land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

It’s really important that you do research and have appropriate maps so you can make sure you’re on public land and not someone’s private land.

Private land is not always marked, so you’re responsible for making sure that you’re not trespassing.

In addition, sometimes even on public land, there might be areas that are closed to dispersed camping for the protection of wildlife species or natural resources.

Look at the signs as you’re entering public land and do some research beforehand.

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Camp Cooking Starter Kit

Printable camping recipes, a gear checklist, and a camping meal planner so you can go camping with confidence (and good food!)

Dispersed Camping Pros:

  • More privacy: If you want seclusion, dispersed camping is the way to go! There’s so much public land in the United States to explore, so if you’re willing to drive down dirt roads, you can usually find some great places all to yourself.
  • Free: Dispersed camping is how you find free camping.

Dispersed Camping Cons:

  • No facilities: no fire pits, picnic tables, and restrooms…
  • More gear: I typically bring more camping gear like a small table and chairs when I go dispersed camping.
  • No guarantee: There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find a camping spot down a dirt road in the forest. I like to look at satellite maps beforehand to help me find potential flat camping spots.
  • Difficult to access: Most of the time, the roads to access the national forest and BLM lands are rough non-paved roads. In rain, they can be muddy and dangerous. Make sure your vehicle is prepared for the journey down the dirt road.
Camping in the desert in Southern Utah

>> Note about fire restrictions:

No matter where you’re camping, always check fire restrictions in your area! Just because there’s a fire pit doesn’t mean it’s safe to have a fire at that time.

Campgrounds will usually have signs posted, but when you’re dispersed camping, it’s not always as clear. Look up fire restrictions before your trip.

See additional resources below for more information about the public land and current restrictions.

>> Additional Resources:

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