Best Free Camping in North Carolina

Free Camping in North Carolina: What You Need to Know

North Carolina is a state where mountains, forests, and free camping opportunities abound. When it comes to free camping in North Carolina, there tends to be a bit of confusion about what is and what isn’t legally permitted.

So, where can you camp for free in North Carolina? Can you simply walk into a forest, pitch a tent and call it a day? What about a parking lot or a wildlife management area?

Well, yes...and no. Keep reading to learn more about free camping in North Carolina!

National Forests in North Carolina

One of the biggest draws for free camping in North Carolina is the abundance of national forest land. Dispersed camping is available within designated sites. These areas are primitive in nature without bathrooms, showers, electricity, or the amenities you will find at developed campgrounds.

There are four National Forests in North Carolina, with hundreds of thousands of acres to explore and enjoy. Each has designated areas where campers can take advantage of dispersed camping.

  • Pisgah National Forest. This beautiful forest is filled with high peaks, waterfalls, and over 500,000 acres to explore. Choose from locations within the Appalachian Ranger District, Grandfather Ranger District, and the Pisgah Ranger District to enjoy free camping in North Carolina.
  • Croatan National Forest. This national forest is a popular location for visitors as it is the only true coastal forest on the east coast. It’s bordered on three sides by water and the area includes both bogs and saltwater estuaries for campers to explore.
  • Nantahala National Forest. With over 530,000 acres of forest land, this is the largest forest in NC. There are plenty of spots for free camping here within the Cheoah Ranger District, Nantahala Ranger District, and the Tusquitee Ranger District.
  • Uwharrie National Forest. Primitive camping is available within this national forest. Be sure to pay attention to posted signs that indicate if camping is not allowed in the area.

North Carolina Wildlife Management Areas

Some lands have been designated as hunting and shooting areas by the state. You may also be able to camp in these locations as well. Not all wildlife management areas allow this, so be sure to check the rules carefully.

Similar rules apply to areas managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Parking Lots

If you are looking for free RV camping in North Carolina, your best bet may be parking lots like Cabella's, Walmart & Cracker Barrel. There is no state-wide or national policy allowing campers to stay for free in parking lots, so you will need to get permission from the manager or security at each location.

As you can see, with a little bit of legwork and planning, you can find plenty of free camping in North Carolina. Enjoy!

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Recent North Carolina Free Campsite Reviews

Aug 19, 2022

"Beautiful Place!"

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Very dispersed in spite of sections of the island being off limits due to sea turtle nests at this time of year. 4x4 is a must and taking travel trailers or larger RVs down to the tip of the cape near the lighthouse will be a challenge. Bring everything you need as there's no stores on the island and the ferry only runs during the day. I...
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1 review
Aug 07, 2022


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I just called and talked to the store, and there is no overnight parking. The store space is rented, therefore Dick’s CANNOT give permission to stay overnight. They told me the Property Owner will have your RV towed.

7 reviews
Arden, NC


Aug 04, 2022

"Safe Place - Quiet and Clean"

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I rolled in around midnight and circled the parking lot before choosing a spot. Everything looked clean and safe. I picked a spot along the hillside straight out from the front of the store as far away from the sore front as I could get. The review before me wasn’t good, but I guess a lot can change in two and a half years. This place is...
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7 reviews
Morehead City, NC


Jun 22, 2022

"Quiet. Safe"

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We stayed from 2pm to 10am and never had any problems. Very quiet after 11

2 reviews
Jun 18, 2022

"No Overnight Parking signs"

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We had seen on Campendium a review that this rest stop was a good place to sleep for a night. There are many signs saying “No Overnight Parking”. So, we did not try.

1 review