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.
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!