9 Best Places for Free Dispersed Camping in Idaho

Your options are pretty much endless when it comes to dispersed camping in Idaho.

Public land makes up approximately 62% of the state, so dispersed campsites in national forests and on BLM land are certainly not in short supply.

Here are 9 of my personal favorite places for free camping in Idaho to help you start your search for the perfect campsite.

Related Post: Best Apps for Dispersed Camping

Please always practice the Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping, especially packing out all your trash (including human waste), properly storing all your food, and respecting campfire bans.

Best Free Campsites in Idaho

Jump to the free campsite you want to learn more about:

You can also use our Idaho dispersed camping map to browse the state’s best free campsites.

My Favorite Dispersed Campsites in Idaho

Rather than list every free campsite in Idaho (an impossible task), I’ve narrowed down the options to just 9 of my all-time favorites.

St. Joe River Road

Location: St. Joe River Area

St. Joe River Road is without a doubt my favorite place for dispersed camping in Idaho.

Also known as St. Joe River Scenic Byway, this remote 89-mile stretch of winding road starts in St. Maries and heads east to the border with Montana, following the St. Joe River nearly the entire way.

Nearly the entire length of the road is entirely surrounded by national forest. Countless developed campgrounds (both free and cheap) as well as an uncountable number of dispersed campsites give you plenty of options.

Better yet, St. Joe River Road is just as ideal for boondockers as it is for tent and vehicle campers. Countless dispersed campsites will accommodate RVs and trailers of all sizes.

For my go-to campsites, drive about 29 miles east out of Avery before turning south onto Red Ives Road (Forest Road 218). Continue for another mile until you reach a large open meadow (approximately: 47.137810, -115.407958) with flat sites for RVs and riverside camping for tents.

But, please don’t limit yourself to just my recommended campsite. There’re literally dozens upon dozens of side roads that split off of St. Joe River Road, almost all with countless dispersed campsites of their own.

For More Info:

St. Joe River Road is part of the St. Joe River Area in Idaho Panhandle National Forests.

Call the St. Joe Ranger District for more information: (208) 245-2531

Get Directions to St. Joe River Road

Saddle Camp Road

Location: Lochsa/Highway 12 Corridor

The Northwest Passage Scenic Byway (Idaho’s stretch of U.S. Highway 12) spans over 200 miles in the north-central part of the state, roughly following the route Lewis and Clark took.

Although free campsites can be found along its entirety, the best section (in my opinion) for dispersed camping is the desolate stretch between Kooskia and Lolo Hot Springs.

Dispersed camping is abundant here. Highway 12 is almost entirely surrounded by the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests (mostly the Clearwater) with free campsites almost everywhere you look.

My personal favorites are located along Indian Grave Creek just off the Lochsa Wild and Scenic River along Saddle Camp Road (Forest Road 107) just west of Weir Hot Springs.

In addition to literally hundreds of dispersed campsites (don’t be afraid to drive in for several miles and explore spur roads), there’s an abundance of natural hot springs nearby, including famous Jerry Johnson Hot Springs in addition to the above-mentioned Weir Hot Springs.

Boondocking spots for RVs and trailers are easy to find along Highway 12. In addition to side roads, there are countless large pull-outs along the highway itself that are perfectly suited for even the biggest rigs (Colgate Camp at 46.4677, -114.9435 is a good example).

For More Info:

Saddle Camp Road is part of the Lochsa/Highway 12 Corridor in Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.

Call the Lochsa-Powell Ranger District for more information: (208) 926-4274 (Kooskia) or (208) 942-3113 (Lolo)

Get Directions to Saddle Camp Road

Lightning Creek Road

Location: Near Lake Pend Oreille

For some of the best dispersed camping in the Idaho Panhandle, look no further than Lightning Creek Road.

Conveniently located just an hour from Sandpoint and Ponderay as well as just a half hour from Clark Fork, these free campsites are my go-to’s when visiting Lake Pend Oreille.

There are literally hundreds of dispersed campsites along Lightning Creek Road. Most are somewhat small with narrow access roads, but many are suitable for RVs and trailers. Just make sure to scout ahead on foot if you’re in a big rig so you don’t get stuck somewhere without a turn around.

Dispersed camping starts a few miles north of Clark Fork on Lightning Creek Road (Forest Road 419) and continues for roughly 10 miles until you reach the intersection with Trestle Creek Road (Forest Road 275).

Continue to follow Trestle Creek Road southwest into the community of Trestle Creek to reconnect with Highway 200 and complete a big loop through Kaniksu National Forest. You’ll find dispersed campsites along the vast majority of this route.

My favorite campsites start about a mile from the end of the paved road (coming north out of Clark Fork) and continue for about three miles. Many of these are located right on Lightning Creek itself, making this the perfect spot for fishing and summertime swimming.

For More Info:

Lightning Creek Road is part of Kaniksu National Forest.

Call the Sandpoint Ranger District for more information: (208) 263-5111

Get Directions to Lightning Creek Road

North Fork Big Wood River

Location: Near Sun Valley

North Fork Big Wood River is the perfect free camping homebase for exploring the Sawtooth Mountains.

These campsites are located along North Fork Canyon Road (Forest Road 146) just 15 minutes north of Ketchum and about an hour south of Stanley.

While there used to be a nearly unlimited number of dispersed campsites here, I believe there are now a little over a dozen “designated dispersed” campsites – you must camp within one of these and are no longer allowed to just set up camp anywhere.

Luckily, these “designated dispersed” campsites are spaced quite far apart, so you still have all the privacy you’d expect from normal dispersed camping. The only problem is that these campsites fill up extremely quickly (especially those on the river) during the summer months.

North Fork Big Wood River is a decent place for boondocking in RVs and trailers. There is some minor washboarding on the gravel access road, but all but the biggest rigs should do just fine here. Most campsites can accommodate trailers and RVs.

For More Info:

North Fork Big Wood River is part of Sawtooth National Forest.

Call the Sawtooth National Recreation Area Headquarters for more information: (208) 727-5000

Get Directions to North Fork Big Wood River

Deadman Hole Recreation Site

Location: Between Challis & Stanley

Deadman Hole Recreation Site is a great place to set up camp about 15 minutes south of Challis.

Despite its location just off Highway 75 (which means there is some road noise, even at night), I still love to stay here because it’s just so darn convenient, not to mention clean and well-maintained. Of course, the close-up views of the Salmon River don’t hurt.

Although tent campers are welcome here, Deadman Hole is probably best for RVs, trailers, and vans since it’s so wide-open with minimal privacy. There are 5 first-come, first-served sites each with a picnic table, sunshade, and fire ring. A vault toilet is located here as well.

If you prefer dispersed camping (rather than a free primitive campground), look a little closer to Stanley in the Sawtooth National Forest. My favorite free campsites near Stanley are in the vicinity of Sunbeam Hot Springs (particularly up nearby Basin Creek Road and its spur roads).

In addition to relatively quick access to the Sawtooth Mountains and Craters of the Moon, Deadman Hole is also less than an hour from Goldbug Hot Springs, one of the most spectacular hot springs in Idaho.

For More Info:

Deadman Hole Recreation Site is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Call the Challis Field Office for more information: (208) 879-6200

Get Directions to Deadman Hole Recreation Site

Balanced Rock County Park

Location: Near Buhl

Free camping in southern Idaho just doesn’t get much better than Balanced Rock Park.

Although dispersed camping isn’t allowed here, this small developed campground is still completely free of charge. It’s incredibly clean and well-maintained with picnic tables, barbeques, trash bins, and vault toilets.

But the scenery is the real reason to stay here. The free campground is set in a gorgeous rocky canyon along beautiful Salmon Falls Creek. Plenty of luscious, well-kept grass is perfect for daytime activities and tent camping.

Speaking of tent camping – it’s important to note sprinklers do run on the grass Monday night through Thursday night. So, unless you’re camping on the weekend, you unfortunately need to avoid pitching your tent on the grass.

As for RVs and trailers, Balanced Rock Park is suitable for rigs up to about 30’. Anything longer than that might be a bit difficult to maneuver due to the in-and-back access road (no loop).  

Don’t forget to check out Balanced Rock, the park’s namesake, about a mile down the road.

For More Info:

Balanced Rock County Park is managed by Twin Falls County.

Call the Twin Falls Parks and Waterways Department for more information: (208) 734-9491

Get Directions to Balanced Rock Park

McCroskey State Park

Location: Near Palouse

I’m a big fan of camping at McCroskey State Park near Tensed, Idaho.

Although it’s a state park, dispersed campers are welcome here. There’s plenty of room to spread out to find a private campsite without any nearby neighbors.

McCroskey State Park is conveniently located about an hour and a half south of Spokane just east of the state border with Washington. It’s perched high on a forested ridge which you can access via Skyline Drive, an 18-mile unimproved road with dozens of places to pull off and set up camp.

Many campsites here boast fantastic views of the Palouse and nearby Steptoe Butte. Most are somewhat small (and all are primitive), but a few are large and level enough for RVs and trailers up to about 28’.

In addition to free roadside camping, there are several more “developed” campsites here, including a few with fire rings, picnic tables, and nearby vault toilets.

For More Info:

Learn more about Mary Minerva McCroskey State Park.

Call Mary M. McCroskey State Park for more information: (208) 686-1308

Get Directions to Mary McCroskey State Park

Related Post: Guide to Free Camping in Washington State

Big Bar Camping Area

Location: Hells Canyon

Free camping certainly isn’t in short supply in Hells Canyon.

Straddling the border of Idaho and Oregon, this stunningly beautiful stretch of the Snake River is home to a heck of a lot of dispersed camping – if you know where to look.

My go-to campsites (on the Idaho-side of the river, at least) are those at Big Bar Camping Area in Payette National Forest located about 55 miles from Cambridge, Idaho.

Dispersed camping here is restricted to a sort of “designated” dispersed area with several large campsites spread out along the banks of the Snake River. Tent campers can even set up camp right on the river’s edge.

Because the winding access road is paved and the camping area is level and flat, Big Bar is ideal for RVs and trailers, even big rigs.

For More Info:

Big Bar Dispersed Camping Area is part of Payette National Forest.

Call the Council Ranger District for more information: (208) 253-0100

Get Directions to Big Bar Dispersed Camping Area

Related Post: Guide to Dispersed Camping in Oregon

Indian Creek Road

Location: Near Alpine

Palisades Reservoir (created by the Palisades Dam on the Snake River) is surrounded by countless dispersed campsites.

Perhaps the most scenic, especially if you value a water view, are located near Indian Creek Road (43.244523, -111.110526) just off of Highway 26. Although this area is very popular, it’s also expansive with lots of room to spread out.

Another option is to turn the opposite way onto Indian Creek Road (Forest Road 281) from Highway 26. So, instead of turning towards the reservoir, you actually turn away from it (43.260000, -111.067389). You won’t be right on the reservoir, but many of the campsites here are situated along the pleasant North Fork Indian Creek.

Both of these dispersed camping areas are great for boondocking in RVs and trailers of all sizes thanks to their relatively smooth access roads and large, level campsites with plenty of room to turn around.

Although dispersed camping for up to 14 nights is allowed in much of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, many of the areas nearest Palisades Reservoir (including the campsites along Indian Creek Road) are limited to 5 nights at a time.

Palisades Reservoir is about an hour away from Jackson, Wyoming which makes it a decent place to stop for a night on a road trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

For More Info:

Palisades Reservoir is part of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

Call the Palisades Ranger District for more information: (208) 523-1412

Get Directions to Indian Creek Road

Related Posts: Best Free Camping Near Yellowstone & Best Free Camping Near Grand Teton

How to Find Even More Free Camping in Idaho

Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho

Don’t limit yourself to my favorite free campsites outlined above – Idaho literally has thousands of other places to camp for free on public land.

Here’s a few tips on how to find other dispersed campsites in Idaho:

  • Online Maps – Use satellite view on Google Maps to look for potential dispersed campsites. Gaia GPS and FreeRoam.app both let you turn on USFS and BLM boundaries to ensure potential sites are on public land.
  • Ranger Station – I recommend always stopping by the nearest ranger station (or, at least calling ahead) for road conditions and info on current closures. Rangers are also happy to recommend dispersed campsites nearby.
  • MVUM Maps – Available both online and as paper copies (I recommend picking up hard copies at a ranger station), Motor Vehicle Use Maps are extremely helpful when driving the back roads of national forests and BLM land to look for dispersed campsites.

Of course, free camping in Idaho isn’t limited to just dispersed camping. Blacktop boondocking (like “camping” in a Walmart parking lot), casino camping, and even stealth camping are all additional options.

See Also: How to Find Free Campsites Near You

Have a Great Time Camping in Idaho!

I guarantee you’ll absolutely love dispersed camping in Idaho.

The state is amazingly beautiful (and this beauty is extremely varied depending on where you’re at) with something to offer just about every camper and boondocker.

If you still have questions, please shoot me a line: jake@campnado.com