The cost to camp in a national forest can range from free to about $30.00 a night, depending on a few factors. If you want to camp in a developed campground, there is usually a cost ranging from $5.00 a night to $30.00 a night. Some developed campgrounds still remain free. If you want to camp in dispersed areas, it’s generally free. Usually, no permits are required with dispersed camping.
How Much Does it Cost to Camp in a National Forest?
National forests offer both “developed campgrounds” and “dispersed camping”. Most people who come to a national forest to camp, usually do so in a developed campground.
Some of these campgrounds are free to camp in, but most of them charge fees. Fees range anywhere from $5.00 a night up to $30.00 a night. Fees vary from one campground to the next. Generally, the more popular the campground, the higher the fee.
Dispersed camping is allowed in every national forest, and it’s always free. However, most national forests restrict dispersed camping to specific areas. You will have to refer to the “Motor Vehicle Use Maps” to find out where those areas are, or contact a visitor center.
Do I Need Reservations for a Developed Campground?
The large majority of developed campgrounds in national forests cannot be reserved in advance. They are “first come, first serve”. However, there are some highly popular campgrounds that now accept reservations through Recreation.gov.
Campgrounds that are strictly “first come, first serve” collect fees through a self-serve kiosk, where you fill out an envelope, write down who you are, and stuff some money inside.
What About a Camping Permit?
Permits are generally not required in most cases. However, they are required for certain areas and/or certain activities. Permits are generally used to raise additional funds for highly popular areas where more money is needed. In most of the national forests, dispersed camping doesn’t require a permit.
What About the Interagency Pass?
Interagency passes do not substitute for camping permits. If a camping permit is required where you want to camp, you’ll still have to get that permit.
If you plan to camp in a developed campground, and that campground requires a fee, the Interagency Pass will get you 50% off the fee. If it’s a “first come, first serve” campground, you simply apply the discount yourself and enclose the proper funds into the envelope. If that campground allows reservations online, you enter your Interagency Pass number, and it takes the discount for you.
Campfire permits are required in certain National Forests. All of the national forests in California require campfire permits, and these permits are free, and may be obtained online by taking a short test and downloading the permit (click here).
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