Best Free Camping in North Carolina

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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!

Recent North Carolina Free Campsite Reviews

Jul 01, 2024

"Really Nice Spot!"

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We arrived at Noon on Sunday and a few people were fishing in this Really Beautiful Pond, It is Quiet And Peaceful. We Set Up Our Camping Van And Had A Great Night With The Dogs. Only Thing To Be Aware Of There Are Deer Ticks In The Area. Otherwise Quite Magical With Fireflies Everywhere At Night ☺️☺️☺️

camper-926267
1 review
Roanoke Rapids, NC

Cracker Barrel

May 30, 2024

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👍

camper-698867
1 review
Robbinsville, NC

Santeetlah Lake

May 16, 2024

"Love It! "

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This place is great. It says 8 primitive sites but I saw people pulling off in other locations as well. Obviously be respectful. But seriously such a beautiful site. I stayed at P5 and there were two landings for tents, picnic table, fire pit, access to the lake. Only stayed one night but there are posted signs with longer term parking. 10/10...
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camper-627697
9 reviews
Arden, NC

Cracker Barrel

May 10, 2024

"Excellent choice"

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Excellent location. We parked in the passing lot beside the Cracker Barrel because our rig was to big for the rv spots. There is also a Carrabbas and a Mexican restaurant in the same lot.

camper-821784
1 review
Robbinsville, NC

Santeetlah Lake

Apr 19, 2024

"Gorgeous! Showers don't open until 4/15"

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There are 5 road side free camping spot, got here around noon in early April and there where 2 spots open. Our 22 foot Skoolie and Subaru Outback with bike rack fit with room to spare. The parking area is right up by the road so RVs/car campers will hear some road traffic (not a lot but some people do speed by). But fire ring, picnic table and...
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camper-836124
4 reviews