Best Free Camping in South Carolina

Free Camping in South Carolina

By Nathan Swartz

Camping in the Palmetto State is largely a paid affair, and the handful of free camping areas in the state are largely located near the coast. Fortunately, this is also the most desirable location to go camping in South Carolina, so it's a win-win for most campers traveling through the state.

See a map of all free camping in South Carolina.

Free Camping on South Carolina's Coast

We should clarify that much of this is camping near the coast instead of directly on the beach. It is rare to find parking permitted directly on the sand anywhere in the Southeast United States, and South Carolina is no exception.

What you will find, however, are free places to camp that put you within miles of the Atlantic. Basecamp experiences, if you will.

Several of these sites can be found in the Francis Marion National Forest and adjacent, state-run Santee Coastal Reserve Wildlife Management Area, located about 60 miles south of Myrtle Beach. The wildlife management area offers a handful of campsites situated in a live oak grove. Meanwhile, the national forest's offerings include largely dispersed camping in the form of hunting camps like Elmwood Recreation Area. Nearby Halfway Creek Trail Campground, a more formal but still free campground includes actual sites that include picnic tables and fire rings.

Boondocking in Sumter National Forest

While this national forest specifically prohibits car and RV camping as part of its dispersed camping accommodations (tent camping where you hike or canoe in are allowed), primitive camping opportunities are available at the Grapevine Campground, a more official set of numbered campsites.

The quieter of South Carolina's national forests, Sumter has plenty of recreation opportunities. Nestled along the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the area offers everything from primitive tent sites to easy access to state parks. Stunning hiking trails abound, like the Yellow Branch Falls Trail in the Andrew Pickens Ranger District. Fishing and travel by nearly every type of human-powered watercraft make for good times on the Chattooga River. Looking to take the motorboat out? Lake Jocassee and Devils Fork State Park live north of the forest, and all of these amenities are only some of what the forest service provides.

Easy Access Camping Along South Carolina's Highways

Not all camping requires actual campsites or campgrounds, and finding a free place to park your RV for the night doesn't always mean following a dirt road and a map into the mountains. All along South Carolina's state highways, you'll find businesses happy to let you stay the night for free, from Cracker Barrels and Walmarts to gas stations like the Flying J.

Even more opportunities can be found at boat launches and a county park here and there, perfect for those quick overnighters on your way to other camping destinations.

Always be sure to check with management before settling in for the night.

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mobile device showing map of camping locations

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Recent South Carolina Free Campsite Reviews

Jun 29, 2021

"Quiet Beautiful Location"

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When I stayed there was only two other campsites being used. This is a little off the beaten path but well worth it. Clean campsites and great trails. Extremely buggy.

Stephen Feraco
4 reviews
McClellanville, SC

Elmwood Recreation Area

May 04, 2021

"Quiet. We were the only ones here."

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We spent the previous night at the Santee coastal reserve, another dispersed camping area whose turn in is directly across from the turn in to Elmwood. But over at the Santee preserve, we got eaten alive by deer flies! Unbelievable! Over here, no bugs! And two bars of Verizon depending on which site you picked.

Apr 29, 2021

"A hidden gem, perfect place to unwind, big sites."

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Stayed here in mid November and thought it was fantastic. I had one of the end sites on the edge of the loop and it was HUGE. Solid Verizon service, I ended up using my WeBoost and achieved 35-40mbps - more than enough to work off of no problem. Cool little trails to adventure, everyone was quiet and friendly when I was there - rangers drive...
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Trev Simpson
13 reviews
Apr 10, 2021

"Awesome little gem!"

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This is a small FREE campground in a beautiful reserve which lies inside the Francis Marion National Forest. The campground is total dry camping, meaning there is no bathrooms, water or garbage for people. You have to be totally self-contained OR make sure you dispose of your waste lawfully. There are about 8 sites that are fairly well spaced...
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Apr 07, 2021

"Beautiful primitive campground"

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Set up my pop up in #4. Large, beautiful private sites. Gorgeous trails within walking distance. Great opportunity to see wildlife. Lots of mosquitoes, but not miserably so. Short drive to the beach.

Kristin Sanders
2 reviews