Best Free Camping in North Dakota

Free Camping in North Dakota

By Nathan Swartz

A vast prairie dotted with small, rugged oases, the Roughrider State can be as brutal as it is beautiful. High winds and higher temperatures send campers seeking the rare few forested free camping areas throughout the summer. With the shoulder seasons comes more bearable weather and an abundance of solitude.

Teddy Roosevelt, the president who essentially created the US National Parks, came here to experience the rough and tumble Wild West, and millions of travelers continue that tradition even today.

Free Camping Near Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Bison and feral horses are the main attraction at this park, named for our nation's 26th president. Entire towns of prairie dogs serve as roadside attractions, and the sweeping change in scenery from all of the Great Plains surrounding it, not to mention the quaint little tourist town of Medora, make this the most popular destination in the state.

Visitors can find free, dispersed camping within fifteen minutes of town at Scoria Pit, where RVing and tent camping alike is so popular that at times all of the many available spots are taken. This is wide open camping on rolling hills, with very little shade but ample cell service.

Should that area be full, half an hour west of Medora is the Camel Hump Lake Wildlife Management Area, which offers free camping as well–though not on most Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

If neither of those suit you, it's possible to pull an overnighter at Painted Canyon Visitor Center, about ten minutes east of Medora and the main entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park's South Unit.

Free Camping Opportunities on North Dakota Public Lands

While free camping on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and national forest lands is surprisingly scarce, there are plenty of places to find a free campsite on public land scattered across the state.

Several county and city parks permit overnight RV camping at no cost. For example, in the southwestern corner of North Dakota, primitive lakeside camping can be found at Gascoyne Lake Campground, a city park in the town of the same name. North Dakota Parks and Recreation also allow dry camping in the rest area parking lot of its Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, near Washburn, ND in the center of the state.

If you drive far enough to the north and east, you'll eventually end up in Michigan–without crossing a single state line! Michigan City Park–in Michigan, North Dakota that is–provides grassy campsites complete with picnic tables. Campers here are even treated to free 30amp electric hookups.

Even North Dakota's state parks and recreation areas get in on the free camping action, with Sheep Creek Dam offering up to 5 consecutive nights of free camping in a row. Some of these sites have electric hookups, and there is access to potable water at the campground.

Free Camping via North Dakota Game and Fish Department

One organization in the state offers more free RV camping than any other, and that's the Game and Fish Department. Some locations have electrical hookups, picnic tables, and fire pits–like the sites at Raleigh Reservoir Campground–while others are just open camping sites with no amenities, such as McKenzie Slough State Game Area.

With a clear emphasis on hunting and fishing the state's lakes, these locations are perfect for RVers, car camping, and tent sites alike. Other activities include kayaking or swimming, as campsites are often near a lake or dam. They're typically tucked well off the main road, providing quiet, star-filled nights. Many have amenities ranging from basic pit toilets to picnic shelters where you can score some shade.

Though you won't necessarily find things like a shower house, swimming pool, or even a fire ring, this is free camping in a gorgeous, natural setting.

All of this contributes to why North Dakota's Game and Fish Department campgrounds are some of the best free camping in the state!

Free Camping Near Fargo, North Dakota

If the big city is your destination while in North Dakota, that means Fargo. Luckily, an overnight trip to town doesn't have to come with a hefty fee when it comes to where you'll park your rig for the night.

The Walmart south of Fargo permits free camping. As with any business' parking lots, please remember to be discreet, respectful and it never hurts to get your shopping done as a way to say thanks for the space. Or for something totally different, stop in at the Bowler, knock down a few pins and ask staff if it's okay to park in their lot. With three bars, a restaurant, and a free place to call home for the night, you'll be feeling like a Kingpin in no time.

Dozens more free campsites are scattered across the state in various city and county parks, all of which can be found right here on Campendium.

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Recent North Dakota Free Campsite Reviews

Sep 23, 2021

"This is what RVing is supposed to be "

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This camping spot is great. Just a short drive (under 4 miles)to Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit entrance. Views are spectacular. Easy to access. Campers spread themselves out so there’s about 100 yards to the next person. We made it to the site in a 25 ft rv pulling a car on a dolly. Gravel roads but the roads are well maintained....
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Scott Lenyo
9 reviews
Sep 14, 2021

"Nice place"

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We were the only one here for the two days we stayed and it is a nice little park. It is not really on the way to anything but we made our way here anyway. It is next to a road but it is not that busy. Nice little lake. There are picnic tables and trash and pit toilet. There are no assigned site numbers and a mish mosh of fire pits. There...
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donna cason
1 review
Sentinel Butte, ND

Camels Hump Lake WMA

Sep 09, 2021

"Nice free spot. "

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Easy access from the highway with a short drive on a well maintained dirt road. Three sites with picnic tables and more room at the boat launch area if necessary. We were the only ones there on a Monday night. Big rig friendly. No camping on Tuesday and Wednesday posted at the entrance. Some highway noise. NO restroom facilities.

Sep 09, 2021

"Breathtaking"

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This was a wonderful stay. We have a converted minivan and this was a perfect spot to enjoy the view. The road to the pit is well groomed and easy to drive for most vehicles. The views were spectacular. Would have stayed 2 nights, however there was a severe rainstorm and I was uncomfortable with being completely out in the open and the...
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Dianna
2 reviews
Sep 05, 2021

"Loud But Safe and Free"

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We called the visitor center ahead of time to ask if we could spend the night. The ranger said she isn't supposed to promote it but there is not problem with spending the night. Behind the visitor center is a beautiful view and we watched a gorgeous sunset. Tractor trailers were in and out all night which kept waking me up. But it felt like a...
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Heather Branin
11 reviews