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: My Favorite Dispersed Campsites in Montana

Please always follow the Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping, especially packing out all of your trash, including human waste.

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 your options to just 9 of my all-time personal favorites.

Saint Joe River Road (Idaho Panhandle National Forests)

St. Joe River Area

Saint 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 Saint 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.

What I Like:

St. Joe River Road is amazingly remote. And this remoteness equals peace and quiet in a true wilderness setting. Plus, there are literally thousands of free campsites and more than a few free campgrounds (Heller Creek Campground is just one example) here.

What I Don’t Like:

This is one of those rare free campsites where it’s hard to come up with even one possible negative. I suppose if you like to camp with a cell signal, it’s worth noting that there is zero service anywhere in this area.

More Info:

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

Dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

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

GPS: 47.137806, -115.407972

Northwest Passage Scenic Byway (Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests)

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 for dispersed camping is undoubtedly the desolate stretch between Kooskia and Lolo Hot Springs.

This section of Highway 12 is almost entirely surrounded by the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests (mostly the Clearwater) with free campsites almost everywhere you look.

The most convenient (and also the most popular) are the large pull-outs located just off the highway. Many of these are right on the banks of the Lochsa River and a good majority will accomodate RVs and trailers.

Adventurous campers should also explore the countless side roads, such as Saddle Camp Road (Forest Road 107) to find more private campsites off the main drag. However, high-clearance is all but a must for most of these side roads and 4WD is helpful. Don’t try to take an RV or trailer up these side roads.

In addition to some of the best free dispersed camping in Idhao, there are also an abundance of natural hot springs near the Lochsa River, including the famous Jerry Johnson Hot Springs as well as Weir Hot Springs and Stanley Hot Springs.

What I Like:

This is one of the most remote – and beautiful – roads in Idaho. Dispersed camping is readily abundant with countless riverside campsites as well as others high in the surrounding mountains.

What I Don’t Like:

Perhaps the only negative to dispersed camping here is the summertime rafting traffic. Both the Lochsa and Middle Fork of the Clearwater River are extremely popular rafting destinations. Keep an eye out for slow-moving trailers filled with rafts. The most scenic riverside campsites are also often filled with rafters during the peak season.

More Info:

The Lochsa/Highway 12 Corridor is part of Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.

Dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

Call the Lochsa-Powell Ranger District: (208) 926-4274 (Kooskia) or (208) 942-3114 (Lolo)

GPS: 46.467694, -114.943500

Lightning Creek Road (Kaniksu National Forest)

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.

What I Like:

Secluded and remote – this is quintessential Idaho dispersed camping through and through. Lightning Creek Road is just an hour into Sandpoint and Ponderay for supplies.

What I Don’t Like:

Lightning Creek Road gets a surprising amount of daytime traffic, including some OHV traffic. Depending on how close your campsite is to the road, this can mean quite a bit of dust.

More Info:

Lightning Creek Road is part of Kaniksu National Forest.

Dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

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

GPS: 48.244000, -116.111083

North Fork Big Wood River (Sawtooth National Forest)

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.

What I Like:

I love how convenient these campsites are for exploring Sun Valley and Ketchum as well as Stanley and the Sawtooth Mountains. The location really just can’t be beat.

What I Don’t Like:

Unfortunately, due to overuse and abuse, you’re now required to camp in a “designated dispersed” campsite along North Fork Big Wood River. But, if you prefer true dispersed camping, there are still plenty of options throughout the surrounding national forest.

More Info:

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

Designated dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

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

GPS: 43.830750, -114.418306

Deadman Hole Recreation Site (BLM Land)

Between Stanley & Challis

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.

What I Like:

You won’t find anything quite as convenient as Deadman Hole along Highway 75. It’s just off the highway and just a quick drive from Challis. It’s also relatively close to Stanley to the south. Plus, it’s an ideal spot for RVs and trailers thanks to its large, level campsites.

What I Don’t Like:

For me personally, Deadman Hole is more of a one-night stop rather than a place to set up camp for several nights. It’s very close to the highway and there’s little privacy between campsites.

More Info:

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

Free camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

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

GPS: 44.344972, -114.268306

Balanced Rock County Park (Twin Falls County)

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.

What I Like:

Balanced Rock Park is clean, quiet, and well-maintained. The canyon is beautiful and almost all of the campsites are located alongside the creek.

What I Don’t Like:

There’s not much privacy here. You’ll certainly be able to see/hear your neighbors (and vice versa). It’s also a bummer you can’t tent camp on the grass during the week.

More Info:

Balanced Rock County Park is managed by Twin Falls County.

Free Camping is allowed for up to 7 days at a time.

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

GPS: 42.542389, -114.949865

McCroskey State Park (Idaho State Parks)

Near the 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.

What I Like:

Absolutely beautiful views of the Palouse in one direction and Idaho farmland and hills in the other. Very quiet without many other overnighters. The dark night skies are great for stargazing.

What I Don’t Like:

Many of the dispersed campsites here are little more than roadside pullouts. You don’t have much privacy from passing vehicles. Luckily, however, traffic is minimal, even on summer weekends.

More Info:

Learn more about Mary Minerva McCroskey State Park.

I’m not 100% sure how long dispersed camping is allowed here.

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

GPS: 47.112842, -116.968404

Big Bar Camping Area (Payette National Forest)

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.

What I Like:

Big Bar Camping Area is a super convenient spot for dispersed camping and boondocking in Idaho’s Hells Canyon. There’s plenty of room for everyone. This is a great spot for big RVs and trailers. Many of the campsites are right on the Snake River.

What I Don’t Like:

There’s not much in the way of privacy here. You’ll likely be within eyesight/earshot of your neighbors. It also gets quite dusty here during the summer.

More Info:

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

Dispersed camping is allowed for up to 14 days at a time.

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

GPS: 45.127833, -116.737722

Indian Creek Road (Caribou-Targhee National Forest)

Near Palisades Reservoir

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.

What I Like:

The scenery at Palisades Reservoir is simply stunning, whether you camp down on the lake or up Indian Creek Road. Even though it gets very busy here, there are plenty of campsites and you should find something at least relatively private (especially if you have high-clearance and 4WD).

What I Don’t Like:

The campsites along the lake fill up very quickly in summer (which is to be expected). Because of this dispersed camping area’s popularity, trash is a major problem. Make sure to pack out all your trash – better yet, leave your campsite even cleaner than you found it.

More Info:

Indian Creek Road is part of Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

Dispersed camping is allowed for up to just 5 days at a time.

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

GPS: 43.260000, -111.067389

How to Find Even More Free Camping in Idaho

Sawtooth Mountains with a forest in foreground 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 are 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. Use Avenza Maps for online MVUMs.

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.

Related Post: My Favorite Dispersed Campsites in Washington

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 dispersed camper and boondocker.

More Help: jake@campnado.com

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Post written by Jake Heller, the founder of Campnado. Read all Jake's posts. Or reach out to him directly: jake@campnado.com

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