To celebrate the more than 193 million acres of public lands that make up the US National Forest System, July 10-16 has been declared National Forest Week. That makes it the perfect time to remind RVers that off-grid camping is always free on the forests and grasslands that make up these very special parts of our country.
National Forest Week is an annual event sponsored by the National Forest Foundation. The NFF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping visitors connect with America’s public lands through conservation and responsible recreation. That includes not just camping in these forests and grasslands but also hiking, fishing, kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and more.
All told, there are 153 national forests and 22 national grasslands located across the country, representing about 9% of America’s total land mass. That translates to seven out of ten Americans living less than two hours from one of those locations, making these wild spaces highly accessible to most Americans. That includes access to 5,083 camping areas found on US Forest Service lands, many of which are available for free.
For RVers, there are a number of reasons why camping in a national forest holds a lot of appeal. For starters, these locations make excellent alternatives to camping in national parks, which are often crowded and unavailable at the height of the busy summer camping season. By contrast, designated campgrounds on Forest Service land often have vacancies and can be booked for a nominal fee—typically $10-$35/night—at recreation.gov.
Alternatively, RVers can opt to park their rigs at a dispersed campsite, which doesn’t include any hookups or other amenities but does offer plenty of seclusion. The Forest Service encourages boondocks to protect public lands by utilizing locations previously used by other campers. Tire tracks, natural fire rings, and stacks of wood are clear indications of places that have served as campsites in the past.
The US Forest Service website provides an online database for locating both designated campgrounds and dispersed campsites. RVers can use the site to help find proper places to park their motorhomes and travel trailers while also searching for nearby recreational activities. The site offers maps, pricing, current restrictions—such as fire bans—and the number of nights of camping is allowed. That can vary from 3-30 days, depending on the location.
At a time when many campgrounds are booked solid, finding last-minute places to camp can be a challenge. But the US National Forests are always an excellent and affordable option, especially for those who enjoy camping off-grid for a while. Keep that in mind, not just during National Forest Week but the rest of the year as well.