Thursday, July 28, 2016

How to Camp for FREE In Utah!

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How to Camp for FREE In Utah!
Breathing fresh air, relaxing in a camp chair, drink in your hand, the dogs and kids are running around getting muddy, and the fire crackles in the distance. Camping is one of my most enjoyable experience during summer, but it doesn't have to cost money. Many people think camping is "too expensive" or "too hard" to get to a "good" campsite. Sure it may cost money to get all your gear, but after that, camping (and backpacking in particular) can be free, especially in Utah! Here's everything you need to know, on How to Camp for FREE in Utah!

The first thing to know about camping for free in Utah, is where to camp. There are two types of land that allow free camping - Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Forest Service (NFS) land. What's the difference?
Difference between Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Forest Service (NFS)
Both the BLM and NFS have what they call Dispersed Camping. Undeveloped Federal lands are available for public camping and general recreation, with the following provisions:

- Camping is limited to 14 days within a 30 mile radius, in a 28 day period
- Everything you bring in must be packed out
- No camping is allowed within 200 ft of any water source
- Do not leave Campfires unattended

Dispersed camping means that you are camping outside of a designated campground.  There are no services to campers - no water, no restrooms, and no picnic tables or fire rings are provided. You must be fully self-reliant and you will have extra responsibilities that are necessary for dispersed camping. Camping rules and regulations make your experience safe, and keep natural resources scenic, and unspoiled for other campers. This means that all Leave No Trace principles apply while camping in the backcountry.
Leave No Trace, How to Camp for FREE In Utah!
The best way to find out what areas are open to dispersed camping is to contact the local Forest Service Office or BLM Office of the area you wish to camp. Typically, dispersed camping is NOT allowed in the vicinity of developed recreation areas such as campgrounds, picnic areas, nor trailheads. Many people simply drive out on Forest Service roads into the wood and find a clearing or spot with a view of mountains. Keep in mind that many of these roads require a high clearance vehicle. You are not allowed to drive on/over meadows to get to a campsite - only drive on existing roads to prevent resource damage. Special Group Permits are required for camping with more than 25 people and more than 8 cars.

How to Camp for FREE In Utah! Naturalist Basin, Uintas
Backpacking in Naturalist Basin, High Uintas

A great way to camp for free in Utah is by backpacking. Many of the popular trailheads in the Uintas don't require a high clearance car, and are part of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. If you are going to an area where others have camped before, pick a site that's been used. Plants, soil, and wildlife are impacted by new campsites, so using existing ones will minimize your impact on the forest.

How to Camp for FREE In Utah!
Car Camping in the West Desert of Utah with Charlie. 

What's the rule with dogs on BLM or NFS land while camping?
Dogs must be leashed in developed areas such as trailheads and parking lots, but once on the trail or out of developed areas, dogs can be off leash. There is one major exception to this rule - dogs are NOT allowed in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Little Cottonwood Canyon, nor any watershed area in SLC (all part of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest). Best way to avoid this and avoid getting a ticket? Don't camp in those areas - venture out to more dog friendly areas. Dog poop is still required to be picked up and packed out. I recommend bringing a ziplock bag to keep the smell at bay. I have a lot of posts on my blog of dog friendly camping areas! Also check out my post on Backpacking with Dogs!
How to Camp for FREE In Utah! BLM map for camping in Utah
(map from BLM)
The West Desert (think Wendover, UT) is a great place to camp, especially in Late Fall and Winter. The temperatures are much cooler (compared to summer), and hardly anyone explores that area. There are several peaks that are fun to hike up as well, including Tetzlaff PeakPilot Peak, and Rishel Peak. This map below is a great resource to find free camping - everything in yellow is BLM land.
How to Camp for FREE In Utah! Camping for free in Moab
Car Camping on BLM land near Moab, UT. 
Here's a map of all the FREE BLM areas to camp in Moab.
How to Camp for FREE In Utah!
Car amping for free behind Bryce Canyon National Park, at the Willis Creek Slot Canyon TH.
How to Camp for FREE In Utah!
Car Camping in the Henry Mountains, Utah.
How to Camp for FREE In Utah! Rock Creek Basin, Uintas
Backpacking in Rock Creek Basin, High Uintas.
How to Camp for FREE In Utah!
Enjoy your outdoor adventures while camping for free!
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How to Camp for FREE In Utah!
Have questions on a specific spot for camping or backpacking for free? Ask below!


Romilda Gareth said...


michael wilkerson said...

F.S offices have free motor vehicle use maps which show the roads that are open to use and the ones that are closed. Many of these roads are not marked on the ground and you are subject to fines if you travel a closed road. These road closures are do to the incredible destruction from side by sides and 4up ohvs. I travel the west 6 months of the year and camp only dispersed on F.S. and BLM land. The proliferation of cheap, "LOUD" generators have made many campgrounds unusable. I think the decibel levels of any equipment used on public land should be regulated. I share this opinion with any public official I encounter. I think animals are adversely affected by this furious noise in their environment. I enjoy your writing and look forward to more. Thanks A

The Wasatch Wife said...

Thank you so much for sharing!! We just moved to the area 9 months ago, so after a long winter our family is ready to hike and camp! This helps a lot as we have lots of kids and a dog! :D Love the site!

Alicia Baker said...

You bet - enjoy your camping adventures! - Alicia

JNHWJBlack said...

Is there anything in the Odgen canyon area? Like near Snowbasin?

Alicia Baker said...

The closest free area I can think of is near Wolf Pass, NE of Snowbasin. There are plenty of dirt roads you can drive down and find camping. -Alicia

mo4 said...

I have done a lot of the same hikes in Utah. Your the first person I've encountered who has hiked up to Ibupah peak. Here is a link to an interactive map that shows public land access from all entities (NF, BLM, state owned):

Alicia Baker said...

Yes, Ibapah was tough but awesome! Gotta get those high points...

mo4 said...

Hey would you mind if I asked you some questions about your site? I forgot to mention that I think it's great. I have a website that I haven't updated in many years ( ) that I would like to update. I used to post all of my adventures and would like to improve the look and feel. My name is Larry Morales and my email is If you wouldn't mind, send me an email and I will ask some questions. We have visited a lot of the same places.

Larry B. Hoeppner said...

Nice post

The Truth of my life said...

Hi, Is there anything near salt lake area/park city?

Unknown said...

What do you got near salt lake and ogden?

Alicia Baker said...

Closest and best areas would be on BLM land in the great salt lake area (Silver Island Mountains are awesome), or the Uintas on national forest land. Nothing free right in town. Hope that helps!

Alicia Baker said...

Closest and best areas would be on BLM land in the great salt lake area (Silver Island Mountains are awesome), or the Uintas on national forest land. Nothing free right in town. Hope that helps!

Unknown said...

Can you recommend a good 2-3 day backpacking trip near Moab that would have free camping?

Unknown said...

Hey I am from California and am taking a WFR course in Salt Lake. Is there a good free place to camp that is close to Salt Lake City?

Girl on a Hike said...

What time of year will you be visiting? That will help me narrow down where a good place will be.