Finding Free Camping at Flaming Gorge

Finding Free Camping at Flaming Gorge

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Aside from how gorgeous Flaming Gorge is, the beauty of camping there is that much of it is free. The problem is finding a campsite that isn’t already taken, or already congested with RVs, or somewhat close to town, or finding a place that has usable cellular data. That’s when it gets tough.

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, as part of Ashley National Forest. Flaming Gorge has its own ranger district, “Flaming Gorge Ranger District” based in Manila, UT. The Gorge sits right on the Utah and Wyoming border. The bulk of it is in Wyoming, but most of the developed areas are in Utah.

There are many developed campgrounds along both the West and East sides of the reservoir. These campgrounds charge fees. But, there are still many more miles of shoreline and all of it is free for either camping or day use.

How to Find Free Camping at Flaming Gorge

The way most boondockers go about it is to look at Google Map’s satellite view, and simply follow dirt roads leading to water. You can literally park your RV anywhere along the shore. You don’t have to park on the shore; you can park further inland, but nobody does that.

You will want to also look at a map of campgrounds at Flaming Gorge, just to make sure to avoid camping where nightly fees are collected.

However, the best bet is to rely on Google Map’s satellite view because it will show you every forest road on both the West and East sides of the reservoir.

East or West, Which Side is Better?

The west side has the more activity. There are far more RVs camped along the west side of Flaming Gorge. This is because it is closer to the paved highway, State Route 530. In most cases, you only need to travel along one to five miles of dirt road to reach shoreline on the west side.

Meanwhile on the east side, US-191 will stray anywhere from 10 to 30 miles from shoreline. That’s a lot of dirt road to drive a motorhome, or tow a trailer along. But the advantage of camping on the east side is far more seclusion, more privacy, more available sites.

As far as cellular signal strength goes, you’ll find it only in sparse areas in the Utah section of Flaming Gorge. Otherwise, the Wyoming areas on either side have no cellular coverage of any kind. Not even voice comes in.

Do I Need a Flaming Gorge Pass to Camp There?

Yes or no, depending. A Flaming Gorge pass is required for all “High Impact Recreation Areas”. Even if you’re just parking in such an area to enjoy the view, a Gorge Pass must hang from your rear-view mirror.

A “High Impact Recreation Area” is defined by the U.S. Forest Service as a corridor with improvements, services, and facilities that benefit the recreating public. For example, restrooms, fish cleaning stations, courtesy docks, divider docks, picnic areas, paved parking areas, garbage service, multi-lane boat ramps, interpretive services, security services, and developed beaches.

In other words, if it looks like a place where the U.S. Forest Service has done some additional development, then a Flaming Gorge Pass is required. But, if you reach the shoreline, and you see no vault-toilet, no information kiosk, no trash cans… then no pass required.

Flaming Gorge Pass costs…

  • $5.00 for single day
  • $15.00 for 7 days
  • $35.00 for an annual pass

Download a list of locations that sell Gorge Passes.

What if I Have an Interagency Pass?

You’re in luck! If you already hold an America the Beautiful, Senior, Access, Annual, Volunteer Passport, Golden Age or Golden Access, you don’t have to buy a Flaming Gorge Pass.

Best Free Camping at Flaming Gorge

Jug Hollow Dispersed Area (Utah) – Probably the prettiest views of free camping sites on Flaming Gorge. Cattle do frequent here, and you’ll find lots of cow poop everywhere. It’s also very popular with people too, so you may get here and not find any available camping space. Fair to moderate Verizon 4G cellular is available.

South Buckboard (Wyoming) – Located on the west side of the reservoir, on the next peninsula south of Buckboard Campground, this area is served by Forest Road 008. The entire peninsula is free, dispersed camping. It’s very popular here, even during the week, and often difficult to find an available campsite that doesn’t require squeezing in between two RVs. No cellular signal here. A Gorge Pass (or Interagency Pass) is required.

Firehole Beach Access (Wyoming) – Located on the east side of the reservoir, adjacent to Firehole Canyon Campground, this free area is the beach access. While intended for beach goers, camping is allowed here, and you can drive your RV or trailer right up to the water. This is also one of the few camping areas accessed by paved road. No cellular signal here. A Gorge Pass (or Interagency Pass) is required.

Blacks Fork Dispersed Area (Wyoming) – Located on the west side of the reservoir, right where State Route 530 crosses over Blacks Fork. While this area is the least picturesque, and the least crowded, it offers the closest camping to a town with full amenities (Green River, WY). There’s camping on either side of the highway. Still no cellular signal here, however. No Gorge Pass required.

Steve Johnson is a full time boondocker since 2017, and has traveled full time since 2013. Steve is the editor of Boondocker's Bible. He lives and works out of a 2017 ATC Toy Hauler trailer pulled by a 2017 Chevy 2500 HD.

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