Authored by Adam Sherman
Big fan of the great outdoors? Us, too.
There’s something so special about sleeping under the stars, inhaling the familiar scent of a campfire, and joining in on the camaraderie of roasting s’mores while circled around the warmth of the flames. And making those memories with friends, family, and loved ones, all for free? Well, you can count us in for that!
It can’t be argued that there’s a lot that goes into the making of an unforgettable camping trip. Picking the right place, for one, and packing the right supplies, for another: These are two important factors that can, in fact, make or break your escapades out in nature.
Just as important as picking the right place and packing the right supplies? You guessed it: Bringing the right shoes to ensure you’ll be living your best outdoors-y life. That’s why we’ve got you covered, ahead.
If you’re thinking of getting particularly adventurous and trying out “dispersed camping” — or camping outside of designated areas in national parks — we’re with you. The Blonde Coyote tells us that dispersed camping, “also known as boondocking or coyote camping… means free camping in remote areas without campground amenities like picnic tables, grills or bathroom facilities. Boondocking is not for everybody, especially the bathroom part, but if you’re willing to rough it a bit, there is a ton of free camping out there.”
And, before you embark on your adventure off the beaten path, it’s crucial to bear in mind some important rules for doing so; like bringing plenty of water, setting up camp away from water sources, properly storing your food, and more. (Check out more dispersed camping rules here.)
Your first step, though? Finding the right free campground for you. Keep reading for our can’t miss guide to the top national parks and forests you can camp at without breaking the bank — and our top picks for the right shoes to wear while doing so.
Yosemite National Park, California
Free Solo, anyone? Okay, so maybe we won’t be doing that down the 900-meter vertical rock face of Yosemite’s El Capitan anytime soon, but we’d be completely amiss if we didn’t include the iconic California national park on this list.
Located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, the world-famous park broke previous records when it hit over 5 million visitors in 2016 (!) And, while camping here isn’t technically free (there’s a $25-50 entrance fee for most campgrounds), there are multiple free campgrounds within several of the forests bordering the park. According to Serac, these include the Stanislaus, Sierra, Eldorado, Sequoia and Inyo National Forests.
If you’re looking for specific, lesser known campgrounds, you have plenty to pick from, including Lumdsen, South Fork Campground, Cherry Valley Campground, Lumsden Bridge Campground, Jerseydale Campground, Redinger Campground, and more.
With its gorgeous sequoia groves, towering cliffs, waterfalls, and even glaciers, Yosemite National Park is certainly a sight to behold — and traverse. If you haven’t yet been to Yosemite, it’s high time you added it to your bucket list.
Pack: The Best Hiking Sandal for Women
The Napali Hiking Sandal from Viakix will get you where you need to go, whether it’s while scaling glaciers, hiking waterfall trails, or staring up in wonder at thousand-year-old redwood trees after walking through dense forest terrain.
This stylish women’s sports sandal comes with adjustable straps that make for a perfectly customizable fit, as well as a cushioned EVA foam midsole that features ergonomic arch support. Basically, it will absorb the impact while you’re hiking those incredible forest trails, and make for a super-comfortable fit besides.
Even better, these top-quality ladies sandals are lightweight, waterproof and can be used as water sandals, with quick-drying webbing for optimal foot comfort and health. Trust us when we say you’ll be packing these for many a camping trip to come!
Purchase the Napali Hiking Sandal directly here.
Visit Zion National Park, Utah to Camp for Free Under Starry Skies
Ever been to Zion National Park? If you have, you know that it’s like gazing into a starkly gorgeous, rock-faced eternity. No, but in all seriousness, if you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime desert escape, Zion may just have to be the next national park on your bucket list. Featuring all kinds of diverse wildlife and incredible geography, including rocky canyons, monoliths, mountains, rivers, and of course, the natural rock arches it’s so famous for, Zion truly has something for everyone.
National Park Service tells us that within the park itself, there are three main campgrounds: South, Watchman, and Lava Point Campground. South Campground and Watchman Campground are located near the south entrance of the park at Springdale. As this part of the park is desert terrain, the possibilities of nabbing an extremely sunny campsite are high. Come prepared!
Lava Point, on the other hand, is located on the northern edge of Zion, more than an hour’s drive away from the large canyon serving as the park’s main draw. If you’re okay with being a little removed from the typical traveler’s path, then Lava Point is the campground for you during your stay.
Remember, reservations at any of the three campgrounds are recommended as camping is super popular and fills up fast!
Camping inside the park all booked up? There are free campgrounds available near the park as well, including several campsites surrounding the Kolob Reservoir. These are known as Kolob Reservoir South Shore, West Shore, and North. Gooseberry Mesa is another option that’s nearer to the south entrance.
Glacier National Park, Montana Camping is Free and Stunning
Ready for a breathtaking scenic escape? Well, you’re in for a treat, because Montana’s Glacier National Park is just that. Featuring crystal clear alpine lakes, snowy peaks and craggy mountain landscapes, valleys, glaciers, and more than 700 miles of hiking trails, Glacier National Park is an excellent choice for intrepid adventurers.
Plus, chances are you’ve seen photos of its breathtaking Hidden Lake Trail on social media. If you opt to hike this gorgeous trail, you’ll pass through meadows, past cool streams, and through dense forest, up to the viewing platform at Hidden Lake Overlook.
If you’re lucky, you’ll even see sheep and mountain goats along the way. Talk about a bucket list item!
According to Free Campsites, there are a handful of great free camping options in the area, including Apgar Picnic Area in West Glacier, Montana, as well as Blankenship Bridge, Flathead River, and Glacier Rim, which are all located in Columbia Falls. Count us in!
Pack: Viakix Acadia Hiking Sandal
Stylish sandals — who knew? Not only are they chic, but the Acadia Hiking Sandals from Viakix are the perfect pick for hiking, camping, adventuring, and engaging in fun water activities during summertime months. May we suggest bringing these babies along while hiking to one of the many stunningly beautiful lakes at Glacier National Park (including Hidden Lake, Swiftcurrent Lake, Kintla Lake, and more)?
Why Viakix? Each of these sandals features cushioned insoles for extended wear, whether you’re in the water or up on dry land. Plus, the PU upper dries easily and quickly, helping reduce irritation and moisture for a more healthy foot environment.
Because who really wants to deal with damp shoes while traversing the rugged terrain on the way back to your campsite? Certainly not us.
Purchase the cute cross-over hiking sandals here.
Camp for Free at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Did you know Yellowstone National Park was actually the first national park in the entire country? Some even consider it to be the first national park in the world. If that’s not enough to get you to want to visit, we don’t know what is.
Located in Wyoming, with parts of the park spilling into Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone spans a mighty 3,500 sq. miles of national recreation area that just so happens to sit atop a volcanic hot spot. Yes, the Yellowstone Caldera is an active volcano!
But that’s not all there is to see in Yellowstone. This glorious national park features lush forests, icy cold alpine rivers, spectacular geysers (hey Old Faithful), and even hot springs. It’s also home to tons of animal wildlife, like bears, bison, elk, antelope, and more — so be sure to pack in and pack out during your stay.
If you want to camp inside of the park itself, you should know that most campgrounds inside of Yellowstone National Park charge a nightly fee for camping.
Inside of the park, there are 12 campgrounds available, 7 of which are on a first-come, first-served basis. These include Indian Creek, Lewis Lake, Mammoth, Norris, Pebble Creek, Slough Creek and Tower Fall (all of which are operated by the National Park Service).
That said, there is definitely dispersed camping allowed in nearby areas for campers and backpackers on a budget. For example, Plateau Road Primitive Site is a fairly large free campsite found near West Yellowstone.
Also located in West Yellowstone is Cherry Creek Campground, while Eagle Creek Campground can be found in Gardiner, MT. In fact, Gardiner features multiple primitive campsites along its National Forest Road. Check out more free campsites near Yellowstone National Park here, and take your pick!
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon for Free Camping in the Northwest
Nestled in scenic southern Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is known as none other than the fifth-oldest national park in the country. It was established in 1902 (!), and is considered a total gem for anyone who’s lucky enough to visit today.
Located in the Cascade Mountains, the park is named after its crown jewel — the massive Crater Lake — which was formed by destroyed volcano Mount Mazama, and is actually the deepest lake in all of the United States. How’s that for incredible?
But that’s not all Crater Lake has to offer awe-struck travelers. It’s also home to sweeping, epic vistas, over 90 miles of hiking trails, and plenty of wildlife. Not to mention the cinder cone island in the very middle of the lake, which is known as Wizard Island — yes, really.
Crater Lake features two main campgrounds, Mazama Village Campground and Lost Creek Campground. Mazama is located along the Crater Lake Highway, 7 miles south of Rim Village, in a beautiful forest setting, and is available during the season on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Meanwhile, Lost Creek is located on the road to Pinnacles Overlook, about three miles from the rim of Crater Lake.
Or, if you’re looking for free camping sites, FR 960 Dispersed Camping is located in Crescent, OR, just outside of the north entrance to Crater Lake. You can also camp at the Spring Creek Recreation Area in Chiloquin, Oregon, and at Sun Pass State Forest near Fort Klamath in Chiloquin, among others. Get to boondocking!
Pack: The Most Comfortable Walking Sandal for Women
The Samara Walking Sandal with just the right amount of arch support for all of your adventures.
It’s cute, comfortable, and versatile, with a customizable fit, featuring elastic webbing that stretches and adjusts to your foot size — whether that’s narrow, regular, or wide. Plus, it’s got a cushioned, ergonomic EVA foam midsole that absorbs impact and will make you feel as though you’re walking on a cloud, whether you’re hanging by the campfire or hiking new terrain.
Exploring the Best Free Camping Spots
If you’re like us, you’re now totally inspired to get out into the great outdoors. With top quality picks when it comes to walking, hiking, and water shoes with excellent arch support, as well as plenty of options to pick from when it comes to free camping near our favorite national parks in the country, you’re now officially ready to take off on your next adventure!