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

Sep 06, 2021

"Sleep to the sound of the babbling creek "

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We drove up here from St. Augustine Florida. Let me first say this is rather far off the main road. More so than the GPS suggest. Once you stop seeing residential homes dont worry keep going, when you see the blue forest sign keep going straight. It takes a while but keep going. It took close to 30 minutes to get to the info kiosk from the...
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Sierra Sitjar
1 review
Garner, NC


Aug 17, 2021


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Clean and felt safe. First time parking at a Cabelas. I liked it more than Walmart. Little tight for our large rig and parked in the outskirts of parking lot.

Shell Wink
5 reviews
Aug 06, 2021

"Not Bad"

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Very bumpy road. I live in my Van "VANILLA" full time. I drove slow to prevent anything in my van from falling down. Other people were right on my back bumper, I had to pull over to let them go by and they just drove off fast. I didn't like that too much. Otherwise the place was awesomely quite. No bugs.

Joseph Dettra
3 reviews
Jul 28, 2021

"Beautiful views, safe, and 5G"

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I've moved around to several sites along this road in the past 2 weeks. The road must've been redone as it is an easily drivable dirt road. There are so many sites tucked in; side with beautiful views. 5G service on Verizon and weaker 5G on Sprint/Tmobile. About 10 cars a day drive by with more on the weekends.

Alyssa Emerick
1 review
Robbinsville, NC

Santeetlah Lake

May 30, 2021


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Ended up here kind of accidentally but once we got there it was the best. Our campsite had direct access to the lake and we even went swimming. There was an area to pitch a tent as well as a fire pit and picnic table. There are bathrooms available in the first turnoff for the campsite (just a hole but better than nothing). The views of the lake...
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Mariella Hogg
8 reviews