Oregon’s diverse landscapes and ecosystems make it the perfect destination for dispersed camping. The state has a plethora of national forests, BLM land, and state forests that provide nearly endless opportunities to pitch your tent. From the rugged coast to the soaring heights of Mt. Hood you’re sure to find your perfect Oregon dispersed camping area.
However, given how many possibilities there are, it can be difficult to settle on an area while also understanding the sometimes complex set of rules that govern dispersed camping in Oregon.
We’ve put together this guide to help you navigate these rules and regulations and find the perfect dispersed campsite for your next trip in the Beaver State
Oregon Dispersed Camping Guide
- The Basics
- The 9 Best Dispersed Camping Areas in Oregon
The following sections contain what we consider the essential information to help you plan an Oregon dispersed camping trip. This includes everything from determining what public land allows camping, how to find specific campsites, what to bring, and more.
Where is dispersed camping allowed in Oregon?
Oregon is flush with exceptional public land, beautiful forests, and nearly endless wilderness. Much of this land is open to dispersed camping as long as you follow the rules and regulations in place. As with most Western States, the two largest land owners that permit dispersed camping in Oregon are the United States Forest Services (USFS) as well as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Both of these agencies oversee hundreds of thousands of acres of public land that is open to dispersed camping.
In addition, Oregon has a robust network of State Forests that also often permit dispersed camping.
Find an overview of each of the different dispersed camping options in Oregon below:
Our first recommendation for finding dispersed camping in Oregon is to contact the local Ranger District for one of Oregon’s 10 National Forests. These federally protected lands are located throughout the state and span the breadth of ecosystems and landscapes that make Oregon an outdoor lover’s paradise. You’re almost always sure to find great dispersed campsites in any of these national forests.
Rules and regulations are generally consistent surrounding dispersed camping from one forest to the next, but we always recommend that you to check the rules in the forest you plan to camp in.
Oregon’s 10 National Forests are listed below along with a link to the dispersed camping guidelines for each:
- Fremont-Winema National Forest
- Malheur National Forest
- Deschutes & Ochoco National Forests
- Siuslaw National Forest
- Umpqua National Forest
- Willamette National Forest
- Klamath National Forest
- Mt. Hood National Forest
- Umatilla National Forest
- Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
In addition to the USFS, the other large federal land manager in Oregon is the Bureau of Land Management, often referred to as the BLM for short. The BLM manages land across the state and has several excellent dispersed camping areas. These areas are primarily located in the eastern and southeastern portions of Oregon, although you can find BLM land west of the Cascades as well. The map below gives a sense of how much BLM land there is in Oregon.
There nine BLM district office in Oregon and each can provide great information on dispersed camping within their boundaries:
- Oregon-Washington State Office
- Burns District Office
- Coos Bay District Office
- Lakeview District Office
- Medford District Office
- Northwest Oregon District Office
- Prineville District Office
- Roseburg District Office
- Vale District Office
You can find a good overview of BLM dispersed camping rules here.
The final public agency that permits dispersed camping in Oregon is the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF). ODF oversees several State Forests in Oregon that generally allow for free, dispersed camping.
Oregon’s State Forest include the following:
- Clatsop State Forest
- Tillamook State Forest
- Santiam State Forest
- Gilchrist State Forest
- Sun Pass State Forest
Planning a Pacific Northwest trip? Be sure to check out our Washington dispersed camping guide as well!
How to find dispersed camping in Oregon
Generally speaking, it is a straightforward endeavor to find dispersed camping in Oregon if you know where to look.
With a little experience utilizing some of the great public mapping resources, navigating forest services roads, and understanding camping rules, you’ll unlock tons of great Oregon dispersed campsites! When searching for campsites ourselves, we like to use a combination of online apps/websites and USFS/BLM maps to find dispersed campsites. Our favorite resources our outlined below:
- Freecampsites.net – Our go to resource for finding free camping.
- The Dyrt – An app that let’s you filter for free and dispersed campsites.
- Campendium – A website and app that allows you to see user reviews for campsites and campgrounds across the country.
While these apps and websites are a good starting place for finding dispersed camping in Oregon, we always encourage would be campers to research and confirm camping availability on public agencies maps and information. This guide includes contact information for all of the National Forests, BLM offices, and State Forests in Oregon, and your best bet for finding a good dispersed campsite is to reach out to them directly.
Our final, and favorite resource for finding dispersed campsites in National Forests is to make us of USFS Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) for the national forests. These maps generally show which forest service roads permit dispersed camping, typically notated by two dots on either side of the road.
The most relevant MVUMs for Oregon dispersed camping are linked below:
- Fremont-Winema National Forest MVUM
- Malheur National Forest MVUM
- Deschutes & Ochoco National Forests MVUM
- Siuslaw National Forest MVUM
- Umpqua National Forest MVUM
- Willamette National Forest MVUM
- Klamath National Forest MVUM
- Mt. Hood National Forest MVUM
- Umatilla National Forest MVUM
- Wallowa-Whitman National Forest MVUM
We often have a motor vehicle use map open in one tab and Google Maps satellite view in the other to help find dispersed campsites. You can cross reference the two and often see areas that have established campsites in Google Maps.
Dispersed Camping Rules & Regulations
One of our favorite things about dispersed camping is the lack of permits, reservations, and other requirements you’ll often find at developed campgrounds. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t important rules you should always following when dispersed camping.
It is best to check current regulations with the relevant USFS or BLM office, but you should plan on adhering to the following as outlined by the USFS:
- Do not camp in areas near trailheads, picnic areas, or developed campgrounds.
- Keep your campsite small.
- Use existing sites and fire rings when available.
- Pick a site where vegetation is absent.
- Do not camp within 200 feet of a water source.
- Dispersed camping is generally limited to 14 days within any continuous 30 day period.
- Only have a campfire if it is permitted, and always be sure it is completely extinguished.
- Practice Leave No Trace principles – more on that below!
Leave No Trace Principles & Oregon Dispersed Camping
One of the most important considerations when dispersed camping is to follow Leave No Trace principles. This will minimize your impact and ensure your campsite can be enjoyed by future visitors. Here are the seven principles of Leave No Trace camping:
- Plan Ahead & Prepare: Have an idea of where you’d like to camp and always be sure you are camping in an area that permits dispersed camping.
- Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces: Never camp on fragile ground or create a new campsite.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack out all of your trash and bury human waste away from water sources. Ideally, carry out human waste or use a portable toilet.
- Leave what you find: Never take anything from your campsite. Other than trash of course!
- Minimize campfire impacts: Never create new fire rings and only have fires if permitted.
- Respect Wildlife: Properly store food at all times and be aware of the area’s wildlife.
- Be considerate of Other Visitors: Pack out your trash, don’t be loud, and leave your campsite in better condition than you found it.
The Best Dispersed Camping in Oregon
Ok, now comes the fun part! If you’ve read the sections above you should have a good overview of the rules and regulations surrounding dispersed camping in Oregon. Let’s take a look at our 9 favorite Oregon dispersed camping areas located across the state, all outlined below.
In addition, the map below gives an overview of each area with a detailed description following sections.
Elko Dispersed Camping
A great option for dispersed camping near the Oregon Coast is the Elko Dispersed camping area, just west of Gold Beach, OR. This is in the far southwest corner of Oregon, just north of the California border. Located along National Forest Road 70, you’ll find several large pull outs off the road that can accommodate a variety of camping set ups. Although you’ll be close to the coast as the crow flies, expect the trip to get there to be slow driving on dirt roads.
There are no facilities at Elko, so please be prepared to pack out all of your trash and properly dispose of human waste. Depending on the time of year, Elko Creek may provide a good water source, although you’ll need to filter it before drinking.
Restrooms: Vault toilet
Located in the northwest part of the state not far from the coast is the South Lake Dispersed Camping area in Siuslaw National Forest. This is a formal dispersed camping area, complete with a vault toilet and designated sites. That being said, there are no fees to camp here and you’ll get a few more amenities compared to traditional dispersed camping.
Pacific City is the closet town on the coast to South Lake, and is just under an hours drive away.
The lake itself is quite peaceful, so be sure to be considerate of your neighbors and help maintain this lovely camping area. This area was also impacted by wildfires in 2021, so be sure to check with the USFS for current conditions before setting out.
Restrooms: Vault toilet
Although not technically a dispersed campsite, Mt. Ashland is one of the top free campsites in Oregon. Situated in Kalmath National Forest right on Oregon’s southern border, this remote dispersed campground is close to the Pacific Crest Trail and Mt. Ashland. In addition, you’ll enjoy stunning views of Mt. Shasta from here.
The Mt. Ashland campground is best for those who are planning on tent camping or have a relatively small trailers. RVs and larger rigs aren’t recommended due to the small size of each campsite. Speaking of which, several of the campsites have basic fire rings and picnic tables. There are also vault toilets at the campground, which is a convenient amenity.
Access to the Mt. Ashland campground is straightforward and most passenger vehicles should be able to navigate the road to the campground.
Sparks Lake offers some of Oregon’s best dispersed camping just outside of the outdoor enthusiast haven of Bend. Located just a short distance off the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway just up the road from Mt. Bachelor, Sparks Lake provides an idyllic place for your next dispersed camping trip.
The forest service road that leads to the lake from the highway offers plenty of great pullouts that make an excellent campsite. Be sure to bring the hammock or your kayak to enjoy the lake and surrounding stunning scenery. There is also the developed Soda Creek Campground closer to the highway if you’re interested.
Sparks Lake is likely best for dispersed campers who are planning on utilizing a tent or small vehicle as opposed to larger rigs given the size of the pullouts. As is always the case when dispersed camping near a water source, be sure to properly dispose of all human waste and practice Leave No Trace camping principles.
Forest Service Road 21 – Umatilla National Forest
Located in north-central Oregon near the town of La Grande you’ll find the Forest Service Road 21 dispersed camping area. Dispersed campsites here are located just off Highway 84 and will have you conveniently located near both Umatilla National Forest as well as Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
Although you can expect to hear some highway noise from your campsite, you will enjoy some good shade as well as easy access to many of the areas attractions. If you continue down the road you’ll reach the Spring Creek Campground, which is free, and features just four campsites. This is a great place to use the restroom if you opt to dispersed camp instead.
To reach the dispersed camping area head north on I-84 from La Grande to exit 248. Head south along FR 21 here and soon campsites will begin to appear on the side of the road. Easy access for all vehicle types!
Painted Hills Dispersed Camping
One of central Oregon’s must see natural landscapes is the Painted Hills and John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Luckily, for those exploring this area, there are excellent dispersed camping opportunities in close proximity to both of these wonders. There are several forest service and BLM roads in the area that make for excellent campsites, and you’ll enjoy relative peace and quiet compared to busier parts of the state.
The camping area linked in the map section above directs you to some nice campsites right along Bridge Creek, which makes for the perfect spot to dip your feet on a hot summer day. There are plenty of other sites in the area as well, so don’t hesitate to reach out to the USFS/BLM to get more information on dispersed camping in the area.
We do recommend consulting a good map before setting up camp here, as there is a significant amount of private land in the area that you’ll want to be sure to avoid camping on.
Owyhee River Dispersed Camping
For a completely different Oregon dispersed camping experience head to the very eastern edge of the state and pitch your tent along the Owyhee River. This dispersed camping area has TONS of campsites that can accommodate a variety of tents, RVs, and trailers. Most sites are simple pullouts off of Owyhee Lake Rd and sit above the river with beautiful views.
In addition to enjoying the river, you’ll also find some excellent hot springs nearby that we highly recommend checking out.
Further along the road from the dispersed camping area you’ll find Lake Owyhee State Park which has tons of recreational opportunities including boating, hiking, and more. This is one of the best spots for dispersed camping in eastern Oregon!
Tillamook State Forest (Cook Creek Rd/Nehalem River)
Water: No, but may be possible to take from nearby rivers.
Located midway up Oregon’s Coast you’ll find Tillamook State Forest, which features the incredible natural landscape of Oregon’s Coast Range. In addition, you’ll also find great dispersed camping in Tillamook State Forest along the Nehalem River and Cook Creek Road. There are sites located along the river as well as a bit further back along Cook Creek. Be sure to contact the State Forest in advance as several of these areas have been impacted by recent wildfires and floods.
You’ll be an approximate 30 minute drive from Manzanita on the coast here, with fairly easy car access along Foss Road and Cook Creek Road.
It may be possible to pull and filter water for the rivers in the area, but we still recommend coming prepared with your own water source. This is an idyllic area, so please be sure to pack out all your trash and leave your campsite in better shape than you found it.
Forest Service Road 960 – Umpqua National Forest
One of our favorite spots to dispersed camp in Oregon near Crater Lake National Park is along Forest Service Road 960 in Umpqua National Forest. This camping area is popular for those visiting Crater Lake, and enjoys easy access off of Highway 138. There is a large clearing at the top of the first hill that is a popular place to set-up, but there are additional sites if you continue further into the national forest.
Sites here are generally busy on summer weekends given the proximity to Crater Lake, but if you arrive early enough you shouldn’t have any issues securing a site. Larger vehicles should plan on setting up closer to the highway before the road gets rougher.
This site has seen a lot of use over the years so please do leave your campsite in better shape than you found it and pack our all of your trash.
Have a great trip!
That’s it! We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a great dispersed camping trip in Oregon.
Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!