One of the best ways to “unplug” and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life is by free camping.
Fortunately, finding a dispersed camping site isn’t as tricky as it once was. Nowadays, folks can use many different apps that make it hassle-free.
To help you plan your dispersed camping adventure, find the best spot for it, and navigate once you arrive there, I’ve rounded up the best currently available dispersed camping apps and took a closer look at them. Let’s dive right into it!
Gaia GPS – The Best Overall App
While it’s not explicitly made for dispersed camping, I consider this app the best option for all those interested in this activity.
Gaia GPS’s robust set of incredibly well-made and detailed maps is its most remarkable feature. Most of these maps have several layers, making finding that perfect dispersed camping area very easy. The app’s user-friendly interface, on the other hand, is just a huge bonus.
Gaia GPS sports the following dispersed camping-friendly features:
- Several map layers – If there’s one feature that puts Gaia GPS above its competition, it’s this one. The combo of Gaia’s proprietary GPS topographic map, USFS road layer, and the public land layer allows even the complete dispersed camping beginners to find excellent tent-pitching spots easily.
- Public land layer – This particular map layer deserves a special mention. As its name suggests, it allows users to quickly determine which land is public and free to camp on. It removes the ever-present doubt of whether you can or can’t set up camp at a nice spot you’ve just found.
- Offline map download – This one is a no-brainer. Gaia GPS allows straightforward navigation even when you don’t have Internet access by letting you download the map of any area straight onto your smartphone.
- Excellent for other activities – Besides assisting users in finding good spots for dispersed camping, this app can also be of great help when it comes to discovering the available activities in a particular area. This includes locating various services, biking or hiking trails, and water sources.
The first thing I do when planning a camping trip is to open this app and use it to navigate to the general region where I’d like to pitch my tent.
Afterwards, I turn on the public map layer – which I’ve mentioned above – to ensure I’m allowed to camp on that particular land. After that, I identify the Forest Service roads by turning on the MVUM layer. The USFS roads almost always permit dispersed camping.
Finally, once I’m entirely sure where I’d like to pitch my tent, I download the area map for quick and easy offline navigation. This makes taking day hikes from the camp as easy as it gets.
The Dyrt – The Best App for Reviews
Out of all currently available camping apps, The Dyrt has the most downloads. And no wonder it’s like that – it combines offline navigation, driving directions, custom maps, and campsite reviews with a genuinely intuitive and user-friendly interface.
Like Gaia GPS, The Dyrt is not a camping-specific app. However, it can be of great help in finding dispersed camping areas. It provides access to numerous reviews written by outdoor enthusiasts who camped at these places before.
The features that make The Dyrt an excellent option for any wild camper are as follows:
- Campsite reviews – This is the most helpful feature of the app. As I said above, The Dyrt provides its users with actual reviews written by folks who stayed at various campsites earlier. This kind of information can be invaluable to a camper, as the conditions between different camps vary greatly.
- Dispersed campsite filter – Another excellent feature of The Dyrt is that it allows users to search specifically for dispersed camping areas. You just have to turn on the dispersed campsite layer.
- Offline mode – Unfortunately, only the Pro version of The Dyrt offers access to the offline mode. With it, one can download campsite information and various maps for offline use. And since dispersed camping often means poor or non-existent cell phone service, the offline mode can undoubtedly come in handy.
In my opinion, the best thing about this popular app is the plethora of user reviews it offers. These allow outdoor enthusiasts to prepare themselves properly before setting out for a specific dispersed camping area.
In most cases, the user reviews in The Dyrt give information on seasonal closures, water access, and even how crowded a particular dispersed camping area was. These are small but invaluable pieces of info that can make or break a camping trip.
I recommend checking out the Pro version ($35.99/year). Not only will you be able to download maps for offline use, but you’ll also gain access to additional – and handy – map layers.
Avenza Maps – The Best App for MVUMs
Although often overlooked, Avenza Maps offers a few features that can be useful to anyone interested in dispersed camping. This free app allows users to download and use MVUMs – Motor Vehicle Use Maps.
These geospatial maps created and published by the United States Forest Service (USFS) display all the Forest Services roads in a particular area. In almost all cases, the MVUMs indicate where dispersed camping is allowed. From dispersed campgrounds on the Oregon Coast to free camping areas in California, there are maps for every corner of the US.
I consider Avenza Maps a must-download app for any camping enthusiasts for the following reasons:
- Straightforward interface – While Avenza Maps is a very competent app, it still has an easy-to-use, simplistic interface. Navigating the various menus is intuitive, and all the features work like a charm.
- MVUM download – As mentioned above, Avenza Maps can be immensely helpful when searching for dispersed camping areas as it allows one to download and use the USFS’s Motor Vehicle Use Maps.
To find the best spots for dispersed camping through Avenza Maps, you’ll need to open this app and search for the National Forest in which you’d like to pitch your tent.
Once the app provides the results, you’ll have to find that particular area’s Motor Vehicle Use Map. Ranger Districts typically indicate these. The map will be geolocated the moment it loads, i.e. it will provide you with your precise location.
A vast majority of Motor Vehicle Use Maps indicate where dispersed camping is allowed by showing two dots on both sides of a Forest Service road. When deep inside a National Forest, open Avenza Maps and determine whether you’re currently on such a road.
FreeCampsites.net – The Best App for Free Campsites
Calling FreeCampsites.net an “app” is a bit of a stretch even though it’s available on the Google Play store.
Even though it downloads just like a regular app and has its icon, it just redirects the user to the FreeCampsites.net website. This is a pretty simple and old-fashioned-looking website that is very helpful and extremely easy to use.
FreeCampsites.net is not exclusively geared toward dispersed camping. However, this website is an absolute goldmine of information concerning places where one can camp entirely free of charge. That’s precisely what makes it my favorite dispersed camping online resource.
The two most important features of this website/app” are:
- Heaps of campsites – There’s not a single online resource that offers as much information on free dispersed campsites as FreeCampsites.net (at least in my experience). Besides some basic info for each camping area, the website also provides numerous user reviews that describe the conditions of these places in great detail.
- It’s free! – Unlike some apps described above, FreeCampsites.net is entirely free to use. It’s a crowd-sourced website without any hidden fees or subscription requirements. And while this means that the user doesn’t get the features found in some other apps and online resources, the price is pretty hard to beat.
As a tool for searching for free dispersed camping areas, FreeCampsites.net is far from perfect. However, it is incredibly useful and easy to use.
In addition to intel on places in the wild where you can spend the night without worrying about getting fined, you will also find tons of information on sleeping in Casino parking lots, Walmarts, and similar places.
While it’s true that not all of the places listed on FreeCampsites.net are suitable for dispersed campers, I consider this website to be a phenomenal starting point before cross-referencing with other resources. Its comprehensive list of camping areas is simply unmatched.
Other Apps Worth Mentioning
Although geared more towards outdoor enthusiasts interested in boondocking (RV camping), Campendium is still one of the best and most popular online camping resources.
The app and the website provide detailed descriptions of thousands of dispersed camping areas. Moreover, Campendium has numerous in-depth user reviews that provide helpful information on the general conditions one can expect at each place.
Overall, Campendium is very similar to The Dyrt. I often cross-reference the information provided by these resources to get a complete picture of a specific dispersed camping area. Sometimes, the intel you’ll find on Campendium won’t be available anywhere else (the same goes for The Dyrt).
The somewhat pricey yearly subscription for Campendium may not be worth it when we compare this app to others in this article, but the free variant is still excellent. The app is available for both Android and iOS devices.
The next dispersed camping app worth mentioning is iOverlander, which, despite what its name suggests, is also available for Android devices.
This app is an all-in-one resource for overlanders, road trippers, van-lifers, and generally anyone interested in spending time in the Great Outdoors. iOverlander doesn’t only provide tons of info on dispersed camping areas but also on cleaners, gas stations, water sources, and everything else one should know about when planning a more extended outdoor adventure.
If you’re someone who sees dispersed camping as more than just spending a few nights in the backcountry, iOverlander is a must-have app.
Recreation.gov is that it doesn’t provide its users with dispersed campsite listings. It is, however, an excellent app to have on your smartphone while going on long camping trips across the country, especially if you’re planning on using the facilities of established campsites from time to time.
Besides allowing users to reserve their spots at developed campgrounds, Recreation.gov also provides a comprehensive list of campsites that work on an old-fashioned first-come, first-served basis. This is something that can come in quite handy for that last-minute trip.
Another feature worth mentioning is the ability to purchase tickets for tours and unique experiences straight through the app. Finally, the interface is immaculate, and everything works like a charm.
FreeRoam is a free app made for those interested in boondocking. Available for both Android and iOS devices, it features United States Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) camping areas.
In this app, you’ll be able to use different map layers to get an idea of crowdedness, weather, safety, road difficulty, and cell coverage in a particular area. Moreover, FreeRoam lets boondockers find more about resources necessary for enjoyable dispersed camping, such as fresh water, propane, groceries, and dump stations.
One particularly great thing about this app is that it allows users to find out whether there are any other RV campers in the area and connect with them. It’s one of the newer dispersed camping apps on my list and one that gets updated quite frequently.
- Download: WikiCamps (Android & iOS)
- Price: Free
The last dispersed camping app on my list has a pretty self-explanatory name. Like all other resources with the word “Wiki” in their names, WikiCamps is a user-generated tool that allows outdoor enthusiasts to find the best dispersed camping areas across the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia.
WikiCamps collects information on everything from water taps to dump stations to general campground conditions. It features several search filters that assist would-be campers in finding that perfect spot in the Great Outdoors.
This app has ten variants: an Android and an iOS version for each of the countries mentioned above. I should also point out that WikiCamps allows users to download maps and access them offline – that’s always a big plus in my book!
One of the biggest perks of being a wild camper today is having access to many different apps, websites, and other resources that make camping easier than ever before.
Regardless of which one of the apps described above you choose for your outdoor adventure, make sure to “unplug” and fully enjoy your time in the great outdoors once you find your ideal camping spot.