For those looking for dispersed camping opportunities in Utah, you will be glad to know that there is no shortage of excellent campgrounds in the Beehive State. The terrain ranges from rugged mountains to high-altitude lakes in the north and dry deserts in the south. After all, Utah is home to 5 national parks, and only California (9) and Alaska (8) have more.
If you want to enjoy Utah’s beautiful landscape without breaking the bank, dispersed camping is for you. Keep in mind that everything is very primitive, so do not expect any amenities such as showers, toilets, communal areas, and electricity hookups among others.
You must bring everything you will need for the trip.
Where can you camp for free in Utah?
Utah also has over 35 million acres of public land, much of which is managed by the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and other entities.
If you’re searching for a place for dispersed camping, here are some of the best free camping areas in the Beehive State.
- Public lands under Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or U.S. Forest Service. Around 63% of Utah’s lands are public, providing campers with endless dispersed camping opportunities. They can be anywhere from the Monument Valley in the desert to the boundaries of the 5 big national parks.
- Outside of the 5 National Parks. Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park make up the 5 national parks in Utah. There is no free camping inside the national park boundaries, but you can always camp outside or nearby and spend the day inside.
- Outside of Salt Lake City. The Walmart stores at Saratoga Springs, and Springville, and Syracuse permit overnight parking, which is popular among RVers.
- National forest. There are 5 national forests in Utah that span from the central north to south. Among them, the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest is the most popular with its spectacular mountain vistas.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Lands in Southern Utah
Most of Utah’s BLM lands are concentrated in the southern regions, which are mainly desert. The weather here is generally dry, hot during the day, and chilly at night. So, remember to pack proper clothing to help you layer and stay warm.
Be aware that while the public land is vast, the majority of them are remote and hard to access. Besides, BLM has a multiple-use and sustained yield policy when it comes to public lands. In other words, the lands are also used for other activities such as mining and timber harvesting, besides recreational use.
Some of the popular BLM lands for dispersed camping in Southern Utah are at the base of Confusion Range, Lower Chance Desert, and San Rafael Desert.
Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest
Most of the dispersed campsites in this national forest are located within the Evanston-Mountain View Ranger District. Sitting at higher elevations (8,000′ to 13,500′), this forest is very busy both in the summer and winter.
It is popular among hikers in the summer as Utah’s highest point, the Kings Peak (13,528′) is located here. You can also go mountain biking, hunting, or fishing if hiking is not your thing. In the winter, snowmobiling and cross country skiing are popular activities here.
There are many paid campgrounds here and a handful of dispersed campsites such as Deadhorse Trailhead, East Fork Blacks Fork Trailhead, and Lyman Lake.
Take note that this is a bear country, so take all the necessary safety precautions, and bring a bear spray with you.
Ashley National Forest
Ashley National Forest is located in northeastern Utah and across the border to Wyoming. Although spanning across 2 states, 93% of this 1,384,132 acres national forest is within Utah. It sits at an elevation of 6,000′ to 13,500′.
Dispersed camping here is mainly found along Hwy. 191N and Hwy. 44W Travel Area. The former has a lot more choices and goes north across the border towards Wyoming. Some of the popular dispersed sites are Massey Meadow Camping Area, North Iron Springs, Range Study Area, South Fork Camping Area.
In Utah, dispersed camping is allowed with at least 150′ of separation away from a route or road.
Fishlake National Forest
The Fish Lake, from which this forest gets its name, is widely regarded by many campers as Utah’s gem. Located in central Utah, it offers magnificent clusters of aspen encircling open mountain meadows lush with a colorful mix of forbs and grasses.
It is Utah’s biggest natural mountain lake and offers excellent fishing and bird-watching opportunities. Black bear, cougar, deer, elk, moose, and wild turkey can be found regularly spotted here.
Dispersed camping can be found in the 3 districts here with the Richfield Ranger and Beaver Ranger districts being popular spots for campers. You might want to check out the Big Flat 32, Indian Creek, Niotche Creek, Salina Reservoir, and Gooseberry I-70 Trailhead.
Dixie National Forest
Situated in the divide between the Great Basin and Colorado River, the Dixie National Forest is almost 2 million across wide and stretches 170 miles across southern Utah.
The sceneries around the Colorado River are spectacular with cliffs and gorges, making them the ideal place for photography. Boulder Mountain, sitting at 10,000′ to 11,000′ elevation, is one of the largest high elevation lakes in the United States. There are hundreds of small lakes here with stunning views.
Most of the dispersed campsites are in the Cedar City Ranger District. Check out the Lava Flat, Mammoth, and Yankee dispersed camping area.
Manti-La Sal National Forest
Situated in central Utah, the Manti-La Sal National Forest is a very diverse landscape made up of lakes, river streams to sandstone canyons, and mountaintops. It sits on an elevation from 6,000′ to 10,800′ and experiences snowfalls during the winter. If you are pitching your tent on snow, make sure to use the right tent stakes.
The Ferron-Muddy Creek Recreation Area is popular among campers and fishers, while the Miller Flat-Joes Valley-Huntington Canyon Recreation Area is perhaps the most popular inside this national forest. It is easily accessible from nearby towns such as Huntington, Orangeville, and Ephraim.
Take note that these areas are closed during the winter and only open from May onwards.
Dispersed camping near Salt Lake City
Situated in Wasatch Front, there is no shortage of good camping locations around Salt Lak City. There are hundreds of campgrounds within a 2-hour drive from Salt Lake City with many of them requiring a reservation and fee.
Popular campgrounds such as the Spruces Big Cottonwood Campground, Redman Campground, Tanners Flat Campground, and Albion Basin Campground are busy during the summer.
Further, towards the west, there is a handful of them that are free such as Fivemile Pass Recreation Area which has pit toilets and RV parking. Stansbury Island is another great, but lesser-known desert site with stunning sunrise and sunset views.
Bonneville Salt Flats is located at Utah’s legendary salt flats that attract automotive and photography fans from all over the country.
Things to know about dispersed camping in Utah
- No fee. Camping is free on public lands and national forests except for designated campgrounds that charge a fee. Check the U.S. Forest Service website if you are unsure.
- Maximum stay duration is limited to 14 days within a 30 consecutive days period. Once reaching the limit, you must move out of the area.
- First come, first serve basis. No reservations are needed. Some campsites are small, so check and plan ahead especially during the summer months,
- Leave No Trace. Abide by the 7 LNT principles and follow all local guidelines.
- Campsite selection. Stay within 150′ from a designated forest road or trail whenever possible. Camp at least 200′ from any water source.
- No water. Remember to bring enough water for your trip.
- Garbage. There are no waste disposal facilities on site, so please pack out what you packed in.
- Fire restrictions. You may require a permit for campfires. Check with the U.S. Forest Service website.
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.