The BEST Free Dispersed Camping in Virginia

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You may have heard that “Virginia is for lovers,” but really the saying should be “Virginia is for outdoors lovers.” From the dramatic Blue Ridge Mountains to rolling farmland to the beautiful coastline, the opportunities to get outside in the Old Dominion State are practically endless. And what better way to make the most of your time in the great outdoors than free, dispersed camping on Virginia’s public lands? With two National Forests and nearly 50 Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s), there’s something for every type of camper.

In this post, we’re sharing where you can camp for free in Virginia, need-to-know information before heading out, and a dozen of our favorite dispersed campsites in the state.

Virginia Dispersed Camping Guide

The Basics

Before you head out to pitch your tent or park your trailer, you need to have a good understanding of the rules regarding dispersed camping in Virginia. You’ll also want a sense of where to look, how to find the perfect site, and how to minimize your impacts while out camping.

The following sections provide all the basic information you need to plan your trip, so keep reading to learn the basics of dispersed camping in Virginia!

Back half of a camper van on a road overlooking mountains in Virginia

Where is Dispersed Camping Allowed in Virginia?

Assuming you’re not looking to overnight in a Walmart parking lot, the lion’s share of all free dispersed camping can be found in Virginia’s National Forests or Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s).

Virginia has two National Forests that are managed as one entity, George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Both are in the western part of the state, close to the West Virginia border. Dispersed camping is allowed throughout both National Forests, except in restricted areas or near developed campgrounds. You are strongly encouraged to camp in previously established spots or spots with minimal vegetation to minimize environmental impacts. The Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) are a good resource to use to check where you can bring your vehicle for dispersed camping.

Virginia’s National Forests. Map courtesy of USFS.

There are also just under 50 Wildlife Management Areas in Virginia, many of which allow dispersed or “primitive” camping. These WMAs are managed by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources are located all over the state. Be sure to sign up for a camping authorization before heading out. Although the camping authorization is free, you need to have a hunting, fishing, or trapping license, a Virginia boat registration, a daily access permit or a Restore the Wild membership to camp. Check out the DWR website for a full list of WMA’s that allow dispersed camping.

How to Find Dispersed Campsites in Virginia

There are several ways to find free, dispersed campsites throughout the state of Virginia. If you want to camp in a National Forest, contacting the ranger’s office is a good place to start. If you know the ranger district you’d like to visit, it’s best to contact that office directly.

Contact information for all of George Washington and Jefferson National Forests’ ranger districts can be found here. The map below provides a helpful overview of all of the district locations. Additionally, you can use the Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM’s) to plan your trip and be sure to check out our favorite dispersed camping locations later in this post.

Map of Washington and Jefferson National Forests Ranger Districts
Ranger districts in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Map courtesy of USFS.

If you’re looking to camp in one of Virginia’s WMA’s, start by referencing this list of the ones that allow primitive camping. Then, you can contact the field office for more information. Contact information can be found on this website, and you can search for the office that serves the county that you’ll be camping in. Some WMA’s allow dispersed camping throughout the area, while others require you to camp in a specific place.

In addition to contacting the ranger districts and field offices (and using this guide of course!), we have a few favorite resources that we use for finding great dispersed campsites:

  • Freecampsites.net – Our go to resource for finding free camping in the US. Simply enter your desired location and filter through the results.
  • The Dyrt – An app that lets you filter to show free and dispersed campsites.
  • Campendium – A website and app that allows you to see user reviews for campsites and campgrounds across the country.

Check out our Dispersed Camping App guide here.

Find Your Next Dispersed Campsite

Learn how to find the best campsite locations BEFORE you head out. No more showing up to crowded sites with all the good spots taken!

Easily identify camping areas
Find free camping on public land
Use offline apps to locate sites
Learn through video tutorials

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, there are some basic guidelines you’ll need to adhere to, and these look different depending on where you go.

It is best to check current regulations with the relevant USFS or DWR 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.
  • Camping authorizations are required for camping in all WMAs.
  • Practice Leave No Trace principles – more on that below!

Leave No Trace Principles & Dispersed Camping

One of the most important considerations when dispersed camping in Virginia 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.

You can read more about the seven principles of Leave No Trace camping here.

The Roanoke River, with green trees on either side.

What to Bring

Most of the dispersed campsites you’ll find in Virginia will be remote and lack any and all services. As such, you’ll need to come prepared to be self-sufficient and not rely on the amenities often found at developed campgrounds.

While we’re sure you’ll already have the essentials like a great tentsleeping bags, and camp chairs,  below are some of our favorite items specifically for dispersed camping in Virginia:

  • Coleman Camping Stove – This classic piece of gear is perfect for cooking up deluxe campsite dinners.
  • Portable water container – Most of the camping areas included in this guide do not have dependable water access. As such, a portable water container is essential.
  • Cooler – Keeping food and drinks cool is critical when camping. We can’t recommend Yeti enough!
  • Canopy – Whether you’re facing blazing sunshine or heavy rain, this will allow you to enjoy your time outside comfortably.
  • Camp Toilet – It’s important to dispose of your waste properly and this can be tricky in some of roadside dispersed camping locations in Virginia. A portable toilet is a comfortable and convenient option.
  • GPS App – This is the best way to navigate in the backcountry and if you download your base map ahead of time, you don’t need cell service to use it. Get 20% off the Gaia GPS App (our favorite app, hands down!) using this link.
  • Traction Mats – It’s a good idea to have a few of these in your vehicle in case you encounter mud or sand on the road.
  • Bug Spray – Mosquitos, flies, and gnats are all common in Virginia’s backcountry, especially in the summer months. Good insect repellent is a lifesaver!
Dispersed Camping Checklist

Our dispersed camping checklist has everything you need.

Want to know the essentials for your next camping trip?

Our dispersed camping checklist has all the camping essentials plus specific items for dispersed camping.

The Best Dispersed Campsites in Virginia

Now that you have all of the essential information about dispersed camping in Virginia, it’s time to share a few of the top campsites in the state. The list below (in no particular order) includes what we think are the twelve best dispersed camping areas in Virginia to check out.

Be sure to check out this post if you’re looking for information about camping in Shenandoah National Park.

The map below shows all of our favorite dispersed camping locations:

Braley Pond

Restrooms: Yes
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Busy
Map

Braley Pond is a popular day use and dispersed camping area near Staunton in George Washington National Forest. It is well located for exploring all that the area has to offer, and it’s just an hour from Shenandoah National Park. Several great hiking trails leave right from Braley Pond, including the Bald Ridge Trail that takes hikers into the spectacular Ramseys Draft Wilderness. Anglers will also enjoy the stocked pond and peaceful fishing area.

Dispersed sites can be found along the road before reaching the picnic area, and more are located past the picnic area along the turnaround area. Camping is not allowed in the picnic area, although campers may use the vault toilet there. Most sites are large enough to accommodate a camper van or small trailer, and turning around is easy at the end of the road.

Some people believe that Braley Pond is haunted, but that’s up to you to decide if you want to believe the stories. Either way, be sure to respect the area by packing out all of your trash and minimizing your impact on the local environment.

Download Our FREE Dispersed Camping Cheat Sheet

Our free printable cheat sheet outlines how to find the perfect dispersed campsite for your next trip.

Switzer Lake

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Busy
Map

If you’re looking for stunning scenery, Switzer Lake should be on the top of your list. This sparkling blue reservoir is ringed by lush green mountains, making for an idyllic setting. Switzer Lake is located within the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests and is just down the road from some great hiking trails, including the High Knob Trailhead. It’s also a great place for birdwatching or just relaxing alongside the water. Keep in mind that swimming and gas motorboating are not allowed on Switzer Lake in order to preserve the quality of the drinking water for the local area.

It’s important to note that camping is prohibited in the area immediately surrounding the lake. Campers will need to continue past the lake and set up further along Skidmore Fork Rd/Switzer Lake Rd. There are “No Camping” signs in the restricted areas making it easy to know where to go. If you want to find a more remote spot, you’ll need to get past two river crossings that can be quite deep many months out of the year. The second river crossing is typically more challenging than the first, and a high clearance vehicle is recommended.

Oronoco Campground

Restrooms: Yes, seasonal
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Moderate
Map

Oronoco is a nice little free campground located less than an hour northwest of Lynchburg in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. It’s just a few hundred yards from Highway 60, making it convenient and accessible for most RVs and trailers. There are good hiking trails nearby, and if you continue up past the campground along FR605, you can connect with the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The camping area is relatively small, but sites are private and well-spaced. Some sites are located alongside the creek, and most have fire rings. Given its close proximity to the highway, expect to hear some road noise. During hunting season, it’s typical for hunters to leave trailers set up in the campground for long stretches of time while out in the field.

Scotchtown Draft

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Quiet
Map

If you’re seeking some peace and quiet, you should definitely check out the Scotchtown Draft dispersed camping area. The area has just a handful of sites located near the Cowpasture River in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Sites are wooded and provide lots of privacy. The sites on the north side of the road have great views, and the site closest to the river has water access.

There are two ways to get to the Scotchtown Draft camping area, and both have pros and cons. Indian Draft Road is paved, but quite steep. Scotchtown Draft Road is a dirt road that’s less steep, but can it get pretty rugged in places. Despite the road conditions, it’s possible to bring an RV or trailer to Scotchtown Draft, given that you use caution. Once you make it to your campsite, you won’t want to leave this beautiful place!

Find Your Next Dispersed Campsite

Learn how to find the best campsite locations BEFORE you head out. No more showing up to crowded sites with all the good spots taken!

Easily identify camping areas
Find free camping on public land
Use offline apps to locate sites
Learn through video tutorials

Walnut Flats

Restrooms: Yes
Water: 
Yes
Crowds:
 Moderate
Map

While not technically dispersed camping, Walnut Flats offers wonderful free primitive camping that is nice enough to earn a place on our list of favorites. Its location in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, right on the Appalachian Trail and adjacent to the Flat Top Mountain trail system, makes it a hiker’s paradise. Walnut Flats is also just up the road from the beautiful Dismal Falls and plenty of great fishing opportunities in Dismal Creek.

There are just four sites, meaning it stays nice and quite but can fill up quickly. Each site is well shaded, and has a picnic table and fire ring. Drinking water is available from a hand pump. Most sites can accommodate camper vans and smaller RVs.

Forest Road 95

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Moderate
Map

This is the last dispersed camping on our list that’s located in George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, and it’s a good one. Forest Road 95 is located in Augusta County, close to Natural Chimneys Park and just an hour from Shenandoah National Park. There are two trailheads right along the road which provide some great hiking opportunities and good fishing can be found at nearby Todd and Elkhorn Lakes.

There are several established sites along Forest Road 95, many of which are right on the North River. Most sites are well-shaded and relatively private, and some are large enough to accommodate RVs. The road should be accessible for all vehicles, but it becomes more rutted the further back you go.

Amelia WMA

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Moderate
Map

Amelia Wildlife Management Area encompasses over 2,000 acres of rolling hills and forests in central Virginia. It’s less than an hour from Richmond, making it an easy getaway for many city dwellers. There are opportunities for hiking, fishing, and hunting, and there is also a shooting range in the area.

Camping is allowed throughout Amelia WMA (unless otherwise noted), although most campers choose to set up near the parking lots where there’s plenty of space. There are no facilities, so be sure to pack in everything you need and pack out all trash. Keep in mind that while camping is free in WMA’s, you need to have a hunting license, fishing license, or entry pass as well as a camping authorization.

White Oak Mountain WMA

Restrooms: Yes
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Quiet
Map

White Oak Mountain Wildlife Management Area sits on a beautiful forested plateau in southern Virginia. It is bordered on the west by the lovely Banister River, and there are plenty of nice fishing ponds throughout the area. Hunting is the main draw here, but there are some nice hiking trails as well. There’s also a shooting range located on Spring Buck Circle in the center of the WMA.

The best area for dispersed camping in White Oak Mountain WMA is along Shotgun Road in the southern part of the WMA. There are grassy fields that are well-suited for camping, and more importantly, this is in the Safe Zone area of the WMA. This map provides a nice overview of the area. There is a toilet located near the shooting range that campers can use. Don’t forget that you’ll need a camping authorization to spend the night here.

Chickahominy WMA

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Moderate
Map

There’s lots to love about dispersed camping in Chickahominy WMA. First, this scenic area borders the Chickahominy River and is home to several diverse habitats within its 5000+ acres. It’s a great place for fishing, hunting, shooting, birdwatching, boating, and hiking. It’s also located less than 30 minutes from Williamsburg, making it a convenient base for exploring all that the historic city has to offer.

There are tons of great camping spots in Chickahominy, and many campers choose to set up on the road that leads to the boat ramp in the southern portion of the WMA (although you cannot camp within 100 yards of the boat ramp). This map provides a helpful reference. Trailers and RVs will have an easy time setting up camp in one of the parking areas, although there are some roadside spots that can also accommodate larger rigs. Most sites are grassy with good shade. As with all of Virginia’s WMAs, a camping authorization is required.

Rapidan WMA

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Quiet
Map

Rapidan WMA is a beautiful area on the east slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains that shares a border with Shenandoah National Park. It’s a great place for fishing in the clear Rapidan and Conway Rivers, hunting, hiking, and of course, camping. It’s a good choice for those seeking peace and seclusion.

Given that Rapidan WMA is actually comprised of eight separate “tracts,” it can be a bit confusing to navigate and find a campsite. We recommend camping in either the Middle River Tract or the Rapidan Tract. This map provides a helpful overview. You’ll find a handful of established campsites in each tract, some with fire rings and many along lovely streams. Most campsites are pretty small and best suited for small vans or tents. It’s important to note that the roads in Rapidan WMA can be extremely rugged and should only be attempted with a 4WD vehicle.

Mockhorn Island WMA

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Quiet
Map

If you’re looking for a super unique dispersed camping experience, consider making a trip to Mockhorn Island. One of the barrier islands near Cape Charles, Mockhorn stretches for 7,000 uninhabited acres. Although few people venture there these days, you’ll see remnants of attempted development from years past, including several concrete walls and some submarine watchtowers. It can only be reached by boat, and the easiest way to access it is from Oyster boat ramp. It’s best to leave this trip to experienced paddlers, as the tides can be tricky and there are plenty of rocky shores to navigate.

We recommend camping on the southwestern side of the island. Most of the island is marshland that becomes submerged during high tides, so it’s important to seek out high ground to set up your tent. There’s a good spot with pine and hummocks near an old lodge building (look our for poison ivy), and another dry spot near the watchtowers. Keep in mind that camping is not permitted in the GATR Tract, which is the mainland portion of Mockhorn Island WMA. A camping trip to Mockhorn Island is sure to be a memorable one!

Dick Cross WMA

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Quiet
Map

The final entry on our list is Dick Cross WMA. Situated in southern Virginia along the Roanoke River, the area is characterized by beautiful open views and rolling hills. Dick Cross WMA hosts several bird dog field trials throughout the year and dove hunting is a major draw. There are also some good hiking and fishing opportunities in the area. You can contact the Region 2 Field Office to learn when field trials are scheduled.

Outside of hunting season and field trials, you’re likely to have the place to yourself. Dispersed camping is allowed throughout Dick Cross WMA, and you’ll see established sites along the main road. There are plenty of flat open spaces that are suitable for RVs and trailers. Don’t forget to pack lots of bug spray and your camping authorization!

Have a Great Trip!

Virginia has tons of amazing free campsites if you know where to look. From the Blue Ridge Mountains to barrier islands, you’re sure to have a unique camping experience wherever you go. Checked out one of the spots on our list? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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