With 32 state parks and over 500,000 acres of preserved lands, there is no shortage of camping opportunities in the Pine Tree State. They range from the remote Baxter State Park in the north to Camden Hills, Roque Bluffs, Reid State Park in the south along the coast.
While it is easy to find developed campgrounds in Maine, especially in Acadia National Park, finding free camping sites in Maine can be a challenge for some, especially if you are not local to the Pine Tree State.
The famous Appalachian Trail starts/ends in Maine, depending on whether you are hiking north or southbound. This trail itself has hundreds of dispersed campsites.
Where to camp for free in Maine?
- Main’s Parks and Public Lands. The dispersed camping locations stretch from the coastal islands to the mountain and lakeshores, offering something for every camper. The hotspots include Deboullie Public Lands, Nahmakanta Public Lands, Bigelow Preserve, and Cutler Coast Public Lands.
- White Mountain National Forest is located in western Main and eastern New Hampshire. This area is well known for its hardwood forests, spectacular mountain views, and alpine sports during the winter. Dispersed camping is available in all of its 3 ranger districts.
- Near Acadia National Park. While free camping is not allowed within the Acadia National Park boundaries, there are plenty of them area the area. Camp near the park, and you can then spend the day inside for hiking or other water activities. If you want to camp inside the Acadia, then the Blackwood Campground or Schoodic Woods Campground is among the popular hotspots. Try Duck Harbor Campground if you want a backcountry experience.
- Appalachian Trail. 128 of the 2,190 miles long Appalachian Trail is located inside Maine. Backpackers like to camp at the Bigelow Preserve, Four Ponds, Mahoosuc, and Nahmakanta public lands.
Androscoggin Ranger District
The Androscoggin Ranger District is located in the north of the White Mountain National Forest, which spans across western Maine to New Hampshire. Besides camping, there are many other recreational activities such as fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife viewing in the summer. In the winter, you can go cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and show shoeing.
For those feeling adventurous, check out the Great Gulf Wilderness, Tuckerman Ravine, or the Glen Ellie Falls. Dispersed campsites are scattered across this district with the popular ones being Hermit Lake Shelters, Unknown Pond Tent site, and Valley Way Tent site.
Pemigewasset Ranger District
The Pemigewasset Ranger District is located on the western side of the White Mountain National Forest. Interstate 93 goes right through the middle. If you are driving here, consider existing at exit 28 for a detour to Waterville Valley, or drive further north towards Lincoln, take exit 32 and drive along the Kancamagus Scenic Byway for scenic mountain views.
There are plenty of developed campgrounds and primitive campsites in this district. For those looking for free camping, check out the Beaver Brook Shelter that provides a spectacular view of the White Mountains, Smarts Mountain Campsite with its rustic cabins that sleep 8, Hexacuba Shelter, Jeffers Brook Shelter, or Trapper John Shelter.
If you are after some amenities, try the Big Rock Campground, Hancock Campground, or Russell Pond Campground which costs $25/night. There are water, flush toilets, hot showers, and sites for both tent and RV camping.
Saco Ranger District
Follow the Kancamagus Scenic Byway towards the east and you will end up in the Saco Ranger District. You will be greeted with the view of Mount Osceola, Mount Carrigain, and Mount Chocorua as you drive eastwards. There are many camping opportunities along the way if you want to layover for the night.
The popular hotspots for dispersed camping include Camp Penacook Shelter, Flat Mountain Pond Shelter, Jim Liberty Cabin, Mead Explorer Base Camp (reservation needed), Sawyer Pond tent site, and Wentworth Trail / Mead BaseTrailhead.
Things to know about dispersed camping in Maine
- Fee. There is no fee for camping on public lands. For national forests, there are developed campgrounds and free camping sites. Developed campgrounds have amenities such as toilets, showers, fire rings, picnic tables, and electricity hookups.
- No amenities. Remember to pack everything you need including drinking water.
- 14 days maximum stay. You will need to move to another area 25-miles from your previous campsite.
- First come, first serve. There are no reservations for the majority of the free campsites unless stated. Be sure to arrive early to get the spot you want.
- Campsite selection. No camping is allowed within 200′ from trails and water bodies, 1/4 mile from any shelters/huts. If you’re in the alpine zone, no camping is allowed where the trees are 8′ or lower. Similar restrictions apply to fires as well.
- Fire restrictions. You may require a permit for campfires. Check the Forest Service website for the latest updates.
- Leave No Trace. Abide by the 7 LNT principles.
- Garbage disposal. Pack out all your trash.
Amanda Williams is a writer, plant-nerd, and outdoor enthusiast. She has traveled extensively, around the U.S., throughout Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Everywhere she treks, she takes time to enjoy the outdoors. John Muir is her hero. She aspires to inspire people to live better as he did.