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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Recent South Carolina Free Campsite Reviews

Sep 30, 2022

"Large Private Sites"

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Several interesting trails, marsh trail is alligator resort, great birding, old growth forest, quiet and clean, no amenities, no charge. Loved it.

9 reviews
Walterboro, SC

Cracker Barrel

Sep 09, 2022

"Safe And Close To 95"

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Nice Spot Right Off 95. Didn’t Notice Any Noise But We Did Run Our A/c. Felt Safe. Smaller Lot But Plenty Of Parking. 3 Or 4 RVs There Also. Would Stay Again

2 reviews
Santee, SC

Cracker Barrel

Aug 31, 2022

"Quiet Private Sleep Spot"

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Showed up around 11pm with no one else here and woke up around 7 with 1 other person sleeping in their suv. It was quiet and we weren’t bothered. There were trash cans. Stayed 1 night

2 reviews
Walterboro, SC


Jun 09, 2022

"Plenty of parking "

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Felt safe and was a large parking area, easy to maneuver and room to put the slide out.

Keri G
1 review
McClellanville, SC

Elmwood Recreation Area

May 02, 2022

"Buggy but good"

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There's mosquitos 24-7 early eavning some type of biting fly comes out then switches to super skits. Bug spray, candles, lotion, anything is a must. It's quiet. There were campers with kids when I got here but they weren't too loud. There is a water spigot to the back with lightly browned water you can use. The vault toilets not too bad. It...
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3 reviews