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Trips

No-Fee National Park Campgrounds

National park campgrounds are crowded and expensive. Here are your no-fee alternatives.

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Grand Teton, Shadow Mountain

The Shadow Mountain Dispersed Area, managed by the Forest Service, provides a better wake-up view than any of the fee campgrounds inside the park. From Jackson, drive north on US-89 for 14 miles; make a right Antelope Flats Road and follow it for 3.3 miles to Shadow Mountain Road. Turn left, following signage for “NATIONAL FOREST ACCESS,” and follow the road for 2.3 miles to the camping area. [Paul Chisholm]

Arches, Willow Flats Road

From Moab, head north on Highway 191. 10.4 miles after crossing the Colorado River, turn east onto Willow Flats Road. The road eventually narrows into a rough 4WD track that offers a backdoor entrance to the park, but before it becomes inaccessible to passenger vehicles it passes dozens of free BLM campsites. [ArchesNPS / Flickr]

Great Smoky Mountains, Santeelah Lake

Several lakeside walk-in campsites are available along Santeelah Lake, only a 20 minute drive from the Twenty Mile Ranger Station. From Robbinsville, head north on Tapoco Road (US-129) for 5.7 miles and make a left on Thunderbird Mountain Road. After 0.2 miles, make another left on Pine Ridge Road; sites will be on your right. [Miguel Vieira / Flickr]

Mt. Rainier, Mowich Lake

Mowich Lake is the only campground in the park that’s fee-free. Stay the night, then use it as a basecamp for exploring the nearby Wonderland Trail. [brewbooks / Flickr]

Yellowstone National Park, Grassy Lake Road

If you’re heading to Yellowstone from Grand Teton National Park, you’ll pass through the Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, a narrow strip of land separating the two parks. Several first come, first served sites may be found along Grassy Lake Road, which runs east to west through the Parkway. [Esther Lee / Flickr]

Canyonlands, Lockhart Road

Look for Lockhart Road on your right when you’re driving into the Needles District of Canyonlands. Just 5 miles from the park entrance gate, the road may be used to access several free BLM sites as well as the aptly-named Hamburger Rock. [tsaiproject / Flickr]

Congaree, Longleaf Campground

Longleaf Campground, less than a mile from the visitor center, provides primitive camping free of charge. [Scott Oves / Flickr]

Badlands, Sage Creek Campground

Sage Creek Campground not only provides free camping, but an excellent jumping off point for exploration of the trailless and wildlife-dense Badlands Wilderness Area, a seldom-explored corner of the park. [Paul Chisholm]

Rocky Mountain, Pole Hill Road

Several dispersed sites exist off Pole Hill Road with gorgeous views of the surrounding Front Range. To access, head east on US-36 out of Estes Park; 3.4 miles after passing the intersection with CO-7, turn left onto Pole Hill Road and follow for 1 mile to dispersed sites on both sides of the road. Road conditions vary with the season; check with the Roosevelt National Forest beforehand to make sure your vehicle can handle it. [Steven Bratman]

Shenandoah, Braley Pond

40 minutes from the park, Braley Pond offers several dispersed sites on National Forest land adjacent to a developed picnic area. Head west on US-250 out of Staunton for 18 miles before making a right on Braley Pond Road. Follow signage for a mile to the pond. [David McSpadden / Flickr]