By Sara Sheehy
If the first thought that comes to your mind when you hear Idaho is "potatoes," we have a surprise for you. Snuggled in between Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Wyoming, Idaho has everything from high-elevation sagebrush desert to the moody, dense forests of the Pacific Northwest.
It is also home to the largest wilderness area in the contiguous United States, and a whopping 34 million acres of public lands managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and regional and local entities.
If free camping is your jam, Idaho has it in spades. Here are just some of the dispersed and free camping sites to explore in the Gem State.
Free Camping Near Boise
Boise is Idaho’s capital city and by far its largest one. It’s also one of the fastest-growing cities in America and is known for its brewery scene, great restaurants, and remarkable access to outdoor recreation.
If you want to be right in the center of the action, a private campground is your best option in Boise. However, if you don’t mind a bit of drive to get into the metropolis, check out the BLM lands at Swan Falls Campground or the free dispersed camping at Bogus Basin.
Free Camping in Sun Valley and the Sawtooth Basin
Sun Valley is the United States’ first destination ski resort and a popular Idaho destination year-round. In fact, if you ask the locals, they’ll likely tell you that they love summer even better than winter! Surrounded by five mountain ranges and plenty of public lands, there is a wealth of primitive campsites in the Sun Valley area.
For those who need cell service, Lake Creek is a crowd favorite for both RV camping and tent camping. If you can escape the connectivity demands and get off-the-grid, check out the epic mountain views in Baker Creek or Prairie Creek.
Just over the pass from Sun Valley is the tiny town of Stanley, home to the stunning Sawtooth Mountains. Big and small rigs can find a home base at Stanley Lake Dispersed or Salmon River #1.
Free Camping in North Idaho
Wild rivers, dense forests, and beautiful lakes await in lush northern Idaho. It’s a big, overwhelming landscape, so first-time visitors would be wise to camp near Sandpoint or Coeur d’Alene for easy access to grocery shopping, river sports, great fishing, and other amenities.
Near Sandpoint, Clark Fork Drift Yard boasts panoramic mountain views on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille. Granite Lake Access is a quiet spot in the trees about 20 miles from downtown Sandpoint.
Coeur d’Alene is a bigger city that offers some in-town overnight parking at Cabelas and Walmart in nearby Post Falls, but boondockers looking to stay for longer will find better options at Fernan Saddle and Rose Lake.
Free Camping in Eastern Idaho
Did you know that Idaho holds a sliver of Yellowstone National Park? Combine that with easy access to the tourist hotspot of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and eastern Idaho is an attractive option for adventure-loving campers.
Island Park, which is surrounded by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, is an eastern Idaho destination in its own right. This small town is known for its world-class fly fishing along Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. It’s also a stone’s throw to West Yellowstone. Free camping in Island Park includes the peaceful sites at Red Rock Pass, the waterfront sites at Romsett Beach, and the pretty landscapes at Targhee Creek Trailhead.
Closer to Jackson Hole are the gorgeous mountain towns of Tetonia, Driggs, and Victor. You can stay for ten days at Big Eddy-Rainey Campground, or get Teton views at Teton Canyon Road (technically in Wyoming, but can only be reached from Idaho).
From the welcoming downtown of Boise to the wild rivers of Island Park, Idaho is a state that will surprise you. With plentiful public lands, you’ll never be too far away from a great, and free, night’s sleep.