Can You Camp for Free in National Parks?

Camping for free in national parks may sound too good to be true, but it is possible. The National Park Service (NPS) offers a variety of ways that visitors can camp for free in the parks.

Backcountry Camping
The most common way to camp for free in national parks is through backcountry camping. Backcountry camping is camping outside of developed campgrounds, usually on a remote trail.

NPS permits are required for backcountry camping and there may be restrictions on group size and length of stay. Most parks require campers to obtain a backcountry permit before they set out on their trip, though some parks allow permits to be obtained at the trailhead.

Dispersed Camping
Dispersed camping is another way to camp for free in national parks. Dispersed camping is primitive camping outside of designated campgrounds and usually involves finding your own campsite away from roads and developed areas.

These sites are often more secluded than those found in developed campgrounds, making them ideal for those who want a truly wild experience. Permits are not always required for dispersed camping and rules may vary from park to park, so it’s important to research regulations before heading out on your trip.

Volunteer Camping
Another way to get free camping in national parks is by volunteering with the NPS or other park partners such as the Student Conservation Association (SCA). Volunteer opportunities include trail maintenance, wildlife surveys, and habitat restoration projects. Volunteers often receive discounts or complimentary access to campsites within the park as part of their service agreement with the NPS or other partners.

Conclusion: With a bit of planning and research, you can find plenty of ways to camp for free in national parks. Whether you’re looking for an exciting backcountry adventure or just want a quick escape from everyday life, there’s something for everyone in these remarkable places.

Photo of author

Chris Powell