7 Best Places for Free Dispersed Camping in North Dakota

North Dakota probably isn’t the first state you think of when it comes to dispersed camping.

And, although it certainly doesn’t have nearly as many dispersed campsites as any state in the American West, free camping opportunities are actually quite abundant if you know where to look.

Today, I’m going to share 7 of my favorite North Dakota free campsites (including dispersed campsites) with you.

Related Post: The Best Free Campsites in South Dakota

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 North Dakota

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

Or, use our North Dakota free camping map to find a free campsite near you.

My Favorite Dispersed Campsites in North Dakota

Here are 7 of my very favorite free campsites in North Dakota to help you plan your next trip.

Scoria Pit (Little Missouri National Grassland)

Near Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Scoria Pit is hands down the best place for dispersed camping near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Part of Little Missouri National Grassland (the largest grassland in the United States), this expansive dispersed camping area has plenty of room to spread out to find a private campsite.

But the real reason to camp here are the views. The best campsites are situated atop a hill looking out over beautiful badlands formations for as far as the eye can see. The sunrises and sunsets here are incredible. 

The town of Medora as well as the entrance to the national park’s South Unit are less than a 10 minute drive away. 

What I Like:

Very close to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Breathtaking views of the badlands. Great for boondocking in RVs and trailers. Regularly patrolled by rangers throughout the day.

What I Don’t Like:

Gets busy during the peak season, especially on summer weekends. Can be very windy, especially on the hilltops and knolls. Tent campers should try to select a lower campsite with some wind protection.

More Info:

Scoria Pit is part of Little Missouri National Grassland.

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

Call the Medora Ranger District: (701) 227-7800

GPS: 46.945611, -103.589120

Camels Hump Lake Recreation Area (North Dakota Game & Fish)

Near Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Camels Hump Lake is another great spot for free camping near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

This primitive campground is located just outside the small community of Sentinel Butte. It’s just 15 minutes west of Medora and the entrance to the South Unit of the national park. 

There are about a half dozen official campsites in total here. Each has a picnic table and a fire ring. These campsites fill up quickly, especially on summer weekends. However, there are a handful of additional places to camp for a night without picnic tables and fire rings.

Camels Hump Lake is wide open and level with well-maintained access roads, making it perfect for boondocking in RVs and trailers. 

* No camping on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Camping is only allowed Thursday night through Monday night.

What I Like:

Conveniently located just off Interstate 94. Pretty views of the lake. Popular fishing and swimming hole. Just 15 minutes to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Suitable for all rigs.

What I Don’t Like:

No facilities, including no toilets, so plan ahead if you’re tent camping. Some highway noise since I-84 is very close. Lots of mosquitos during the summer. 

More Info:

Camels Hump Lake is managed by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Free camping is allowed from Thursday morning to Tuesday morning (no camping on Tuesday and Wednesday nights). 

Call the North Dakota Game & Fish Headquarters: (701) 328-6300

GPS: 46.945527, -103.817350

Denbigh Experimental Forest (Sheyenne National Grassland)

Near Minot

Denbigh Experimental Forest is an interesting place for free camping in the northern reaches of North Dakota.

Less than 45 minutes east of Minot, just south of Highway 2 near Towner, this man-made forest is administered as part of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands by Sheyenne National Grassland and welcomes dispersed campers to stay for up to 14 days at a time.

The forest is quite small as forests go (especially in comparison to national forests), but there’s still a fairly expansive system of trails and back roads to explore.

As for dispersed camping, you’ll want to stick to the main roads and trailheads, unless you have 4WD and high-clearance as most of the back roads are very rough and unmaintained. 

Denbigh Experimental Forest isn’t a very good spot for boondocking in all but the smallest RVs or trailers. Van camping and tent camping are where it’s at here.

What I Like:

Pretty little forest in the middle of plains and fields. Wide range of trees and other plant species you won’t find elsewhere in North Dakota. Lots of recreational opportunities, including hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and hunting.

What I Don’t Like:

Most of the campsites are off rough unimproved roads where high-clearance is all but necessary and 4WD is helpful. Not much space for anything but the smallest RVs and trailers. Lots of ticks here in the summer.

More Info:

Denbigh Experimental Forest is managed by Sheyenne National Grassland

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

Call the Sheyenne Ranger District: (701) 404-8950

GPS: 48.290480, -100.636737

Sheyenne National Grassland (Dakota Prairie Grasslands)

Near Fargo

Sheyenne National Grassland is an excellent place for dispersed camping in southeast North Dakota.

Less than an hour from Fargo, this expansive tract of public land covers 70,000 acres. You’re allowed to dispersed camp off of pretty much any road, including up to 300 feet off of certain ones. 

However, it’s important to know this grassland is interspersed with private land. Please make sure you’re actually in the national grassland before setting up camp.

My favorite campsites here are near Jorgen’s Hollow Campground (just $10 per night), one of two established campgrounds in the grassland (Hankinson Hills Campground is the other).

There are a handful of side roads just before you enter Jorgen’s Hollow that lead to some excellent dispersed campsites in the nearby forest. These are flat and spacious with well-maintained roads, making them ideal for RVs and trailers of all sizes. 

What I Like:

Very quiet and peaceful with few other dispersed campers. Unique landscape with open long grass plains to choppy sand dunes to thick forests. Great place for RV boondocking.

What I Don’t Like:

Somewhat confusing mismash of roads. Most of the dirt roads in the national grassland are poorly marked. Lots of private land. 

I recommend using a Motor Vehicle Use Map (online from Avenza Maps or pick up in person at the Sheyenne Ranger District Office in Lisbon) or an online map with public land overlays like FreeRoam or Gaia GPS to ensure you’re not on private property.

More Info:

Sheyenne National Grassland is administered by Dakota Prairie Grasslands

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

Call the Sheyenne Ranger District: (701) 404-8950

GPS: 46.523906, -97.204029

Kimball Bottom Recreation Area (Bismarck Parks & Recreation)

Near Bismarck 

For free camping near Bismarck, look no further than Kimball Bottom Recreation Area.

Located right on the shores of the powerful Missouri River, just 15 minutes south of town, this is a super convenient overnight stop for those traveling on Interstate 94 through North Dakota.

Kimball Bottom is most popular with the day-use crowd, especially for OHV riding, boating, and fishing. However, primitive camping is allowed throughout much of the 400-acre recreation area.

Big rigs should stick to the well-maintained area near the boat launch. There are several covered picnic tables here as well as a vault toilet.

For more private campsites, continue down the unpaved road past the boat launch (I believe it’s called Desert Road). There are several great campsites here that are suitable for all vehicles. 

At the very end of Desert Road is a maze of trails and an expansive sandy beach. It seems most of the OHV activity is centered here. It’s also something of a noisy local party spot.

What I Like:

Lots of room to spread out, especially if you’re willing to brave the sandy, rutted roads. Just steps from the Missouri River. Just over 15 minutes to drive into Bismarck. 

What I Dislike:

Kimball Bottom is very popular. It gets quite crowded, especially on summer weekends. It’s also something of a local party area. So, depending on when and where you set up camp, it might be noisy late into the night. There’s also a lot of daytime noise thanks to OHV use.

More Info:

Kimball Bottom Recreation Area is managed by Bismarck Parks and Recreation District.

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

Call Bismarck Parks & Recreation: (701) 222-6455

GPS: 46.678792, -100.733284

Summit Campground (Little Missouri National Grassland)

Near Theodore Roosevelt National Park

I’m a big fan of Summit Campground in Little Missouri National Grassland. It’s just 5 miles south of the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Although dispersed camping isn’t allowed here (you must stay in a marked campsite), this campground is still completely free of charge and provides a decent amount of privacy between campsites (although most campsites are just off the dirt access road).

Summit Campground has, I think, six campsites total. Three are large enough for RVs and trailers and two are walk-in tent campsites only. There are a handful of other places you could park for the night if all the campsites happen to be full.

The scenery isn’t anything special (especially when compared to other nearby free campsites like Scoria Pit near Medora), but is beautiful in its own way. You’re surrounded by rolling plains and open fields dotted with small clumps of forest.

For a real one-two punch of scenery, make sure to hike nearby Summit Trail. It’s only 100 yards long but boasts amazing views of the badlands valley below from the lookout point at the end.

What I Like:

Super close to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Just 25 minutes from Watford City. Just off of Highway 85 (Theodore Roosevelt Expressway). Beautiful views from the short nearby hiking trail.

What I Dislike:

Some highway noise from proximity to Highway 85. Not the most private, although there is a decent amount of space between campsites. The dirt roads here can be very rough and rutted, especially after heavy rains. I recommend scouting ahead on foot if you’re in an RV or pulling a trailer.

More Info:

Summit Campground is part of Little Missouri National Grassland.

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

Call the McKenzie Ranger District: (701) 842-8500

GPS: 47.540522, -103.241697

Douglas Creek (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

On Lake Sakakawea 

Douglas Creek is certainly high among the most beautiful places for boondocking in North Dakota.

Located on Douglas Creek Bay on gorgeous Lake Sakakawea (one of the largest reservoirs in the United States), this free primitive campground has just under 20 campsites total.

There are two main loops to choose from. The south loop is wide open and mostly grass with no trees. The north loop has a handful of shade trees, although they don’t provide much privacy.

The campsites here are spacious and level. There’s enough room for RVs and trailers of all sizes, including the biggest rigs. The unpaved access road is unmaintained and is passable to all vehicles. 

I believe this campground is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, although a nearby Wildlife Management Area with a similar name (Douglas Creek WMA) is managed by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. 

What I Like:

Beautiful campsites right on the lake. Clean and well-maintained, including vault toilets. Each campsite has a picnic table and a fire ring. Dumpster for throwing out trash. Popular fishing hole for walleye and pike during the spring and summer. Excellent bird watching.

What I Don’t Like:

Minimal privacy. Campsites in the open southern loop are quite exposed to the elements, especially wind, although the northern loop has some trees that offer wind protection. Lots of mosquitos in the summer.

More Info:

Douglas Creek is managed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

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

Call the Garrison-Riverdale Resource Office: (701) 654-7411

GPS: 47.578063, -101.577195

How to Find Even More Free Camping in North Dakota

Clouds above rolling plains in Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora, North Dakota.

The free campsites described above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to free camping opportunities in North Dakota. 

Here are a few tips to find additional free campsites:

  • Online Maps – Gaia GPS and FreeRoam (as well as Google Maps Satellite view) are extremely helpful for pinpointing potential dispersed campsites on public land. 
  • MVUM Maps – For dispersed camping in North Dakota’s national grasslands, a motor vehicle use map is an invaluable tool. Pick these up in person at a ranger station for download for offline use from Avenza Maps

North Dakota, like most of the Midwest, is also known for its city park campgrounds. Many small towns across the state offer free or cheap camping in their city parks. Michigan City Park and Gascoyne Lake Campground are just two of countless examples. 

Still other free camping opportunities include parking lot camping (at Walmarts, Cabela’s, and the like), casino camping, and even stealth camping.

Related Post: The Best Free Campsites in Montana

North Dakota Dispersed Camping Rules and Regulations

Little Missouri River running through plains and badlands landscapes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

Please always follow the Leave No Trace principles when dispersed camping in North Dakota.

It’s extremely important to pack out all your trash, properly dispose of human waste (I recommend packing it out), and respect campfire bans when camping on public lands like national grasslands and wildlife management areas. 

Additionally, avoid any closed areas, try to set up camp in previously used campsites, and never overstay camping stay limits. 

Related Post: The Best Free Campsites in Minnesota 

Have More Questions? 

None of the free campsites outlined above cut it for your trip?

Don’t hesitate to reach out with your questions or for additional recommendations on free camping in North Dakota. 

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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