My Top 10 Favorite Free Campsites in the USA

Girl sitting in conversion van on Coastal Maine. Caption says top 10 Favorite free campsites in the USA.

There are amazing campsites all across the USA showcasing majestic mountains, grand mesas, rocky coastlines, and deserts plains. And guess what, you can stay at many of them for FREE!

If you're wondering how to find these spots, check out my post, Vanlife: Guide to Sleeping and Overnight Parking. In that post, I cover everything from how I find places to sleep, the different types of camping and overnight parking, and free versus paid camping. However, in this post, I will reveal my top 10 favorite free campsites across America, saving my favorite for last.

10. Dispersed Camping near Canyonlands National Park, UT

There is so much free camping located outside The Needles in Canyonlands National Park, all with amazing views of the buttes in the distance. The road was a little bumpy in, but my van doesn't have 4WD and I had no problems. There are no services or cell phone reception so plan ahead. Most sites have fire pits; bring some fire wood with you and enjoy the night under the starry sky.

Conversion van at dispersed camping with view of Canyonlands National Park.

N 38°11'14.34", W 109°40'10.98"

9. Library Parking Lot in Cutler, ME

I found this spot by accident in a quant little town on the coast of Maine. I was driving around during the day and pulled into the library to see if they had free WiFi. They did! I drove around to the back of the lot and found this amazing view of the Maine Coast. I never expected this from a library parking lot, but you can't beat a coastal view with free WiFi! It was neat to watch the lobstermen come and go. I ended up staying all night and caught a meteor shower after the sun set. The librarian was there quite late, but never asked me to leave, so I figured it was ok to stay.

Vanlife on the coast of Maine.

44°39'37.9"N 67°12'35.5"W

8. Near Entrance of Mesa Verde National Park, Cortex, CO

There is BLM land located five minutes from the entrance of Mesa Verde National Park. It's a great place to stay if you're planning on visiting the park or just want a neat place to camp. I drove up later in the day and a lot of spots had already filled up, but I was lucky to still grab one with a view of the mesas. It seemed all the spots filled at night, but clear out during the day. Even though it was full, the spots are spaced out enough that it isn't loud. All the spots had fire rings, but no other amenities. I had AT&T service in this area.

Free camping near Mesa Verde National Park

N37°21'34.14", W 108°25'22.26"

7. BLM Land Near Tallest Mountain in Colorado

There are so many great dispersed camping spots along 110 on the way to the Mt. Elbert trailhead. Most of the spots were empty both nights I was there. The sites had great views of the mountains and a river runs through it. All the sites had a fire ring, but there was a fire ban in effect when I was there. Further down the road there were a few basic campgrounds for a fee, so just make sure you're in the free dispersed camping area. There are no amenities available, but AT&T cell phone service worked.

Free camping near tallest mountain in Colorado, Mt. Elbert.

N 39°9'4.86", W 106°25'31.50"

6. 30 Minutes from Zion National Park, Utah

Campsites within the park fill up quickly. If you're not lucky enough to snag one, you can drive 30 minutes outside the South Entrance in Springdale and head to this oasis. This was my first time vanlifing "down by the river" and it lived up to the reputation. If you have 4WD or high clearance you can drive across the river to more spots, but I didn't attempt this. The spots do fill up by mid afternoon so I recommend heading there early to claim a spot by leaving camp chairs or a cooler out. You can stay up to 14 days, the sites have fire pits, and I did have AT&T cell phone reception.

Free camping on BLM land near Zion National Park

37°13'25.0"N 113°09'40.2"W

5. Nubble Lighthouse, York, ME

This is my favorite spot on the East Coast! The views of Maine's rocky coastline are complete with a picturesque lighthouse. It can be busy during the day with traffic coming and going, but slows down at night. Make sure to step out after dark and see the stars!

Overnight Parking on the coast of Maine at Nubble Lighthouse

N 43°9'56.22", W 70°35'34.92"

4. Boondocking on "The Wall" of Badland National Park, SD

Imagine sleeping on the ridge overlooking Badlands National Park. The views simply don't get any better than this. I showed up later in the day and the best spots were all taken, but there were still plenty to choose from. Watch the weather if you're planning on sleeping here. If it rains overnight (which is very likely), the road turns into a mud pit. Be prepared to wait for the afternoon heat to dry it out before driving out. I made friends with other Vanlifers and didn't mind hanging out until the road dried out.

Boondocking on the wall of Badlands National Park, South Dakota.

43°55'13.3"N 102°14'13.7"W

3. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA

"Wake up, San Francisco" -Danny Tanner. I grew up hearing about the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge so I couldn't wait to see it. Waking up to a view of it was beyond exciting to me. On iOverlander it looks like this exact location has since been closed, but I'm going to list it because there are a few other nearby sites that are still marked as open. Great place to stay if you're visiting San Francisco!

Overnight parking near Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA.

N 37°49'57.06", W 122°28'24.54"

2. Dispersed Camping with view of Grand Teton, WY

Grand Tetons was one of my favorite National Parks, so getting to camp with a few of the mountains was amazing. When driving to the coordinates you can stop at the first spot which is a large opening that can fit many vehicles and has a great view of the mountains or you can continue further along the road. It winds uphill and opens up to more dispersed camping. The views are even more magnificent in the upper lot and a few have fire pits. The dirt road to the first spot isn't bad, but as you keep going it does get worse. You climb a steep hill with not much room for two-way traffic. My van does not have 4WD and I made it up. It's rough, but the views are worth it. Cell phone reception was better in the lower lot.

Free camping near Grand Tetons National Park.

N 43°46'3.96", W 110°32'30.18”

1. Travertine Hot Springs, Bridgeport, CA

This was hands down my favorite campsite I've come across in my travels. Breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains complete with natural hot springs. Be prepared for a very bumpy ride in though. I arrived later in the day and a lot of spots were already taken, but another Vanlifer made room for me. The sunset over the mountains was amazing. If you continue further down the road, you come to natural hot springs. I chose to walk to the hot springs from my campsite, versus driving further down the gnarly road. There were no services or cell phone reception.

Free camping in Sierra Nevada Mountains at Travertine Hot springs.
Travertine Hot Springs. Natural Hot Springs in California.

N 38°15'15.84", W 119°12'36.96"

Now that I've shared my favorite camping spots with you, you have to promise me to leave each site better than you found it. Please remember the Leave No Trace principles. Dispose of your trash and human waste properly. This is such a huge issue right now and a lot of places have already banned overnight camping because people are not picking up after themselves and disrespecting the land. Most dispersed campsites will be pack in/pack out, meaning you have to take all your trash with you when you leave. Even better, pick up litter around the campsite to make the place even better than you found it.

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