The BEST Free Dispersed Camping in West Virginia (11+ Best Sites)

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There’s a reason West Virginia is known as the Mountain State. With the entire state belonging to the Appalachian Mountain Region, there are rugged peaks, rushing rivers, and peaceful valleys nearly everywhere you look. West Virginia is a fantastic destination for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds, and whether you’re hiking, fishing, or rafting we think dispersed camping is the best way to end your day.

Even better, West Virginia has tons of great free dispersed campsites throughout the state. With two National Forests and a National Park, there are millions of acres of public lands just waiting to be explored.

In this post we’ll cover all of the need-to-know information about dispersed camping and share our favorite free campsites in the Mountain State. Let’s get started.

West Virginia Dispersed Camping Guide

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

The Basics

The following introductory sections cover the basic information you’ll need prior to heading out on your dispersed camping trip. This includes the various public lands in West Virginia that permit dispersed camping, what to bring, how to minimize your impact, and more.

This is the essential information before you head out!

Where is Dispersed Camping Allowed in West Virginia?

The primary two places where you’re likely to find dispersed camping in West Virginia are in its National Forests and National Parks. Generally speaking dispersed camping is permitted throughout National Forests unless otherwise noted. Dispersed camping is not allowed in National Parks, although there are some designated primitive camping areas that make a great free option.

Find additional details on dispersed camping in National Forests and in New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in the sections below:

US Forest Service Dispersed Camping in West Virginia (USFS)

There are two National Forests managed by the USFS in West Virginia, George Washington and Jefferson National Forest and Monongahela National Forest. George Washington and Jefferson NF is mostly in Virginia with just a bit spilling over the border into West Virgina while Monongahela NF is entirely contained within West Virginia. Both of these forests offer great dispersed camping opportunities, as well as opportunities for other recreation, including hiking, fishing, and hunting.

These National Forests should be your first stop when looking for dispersed camping in West Virginia.

The map below shows where each of West Virginia’s National Forests are located and is a helpful resource when planning your trip:

Map of West Virginia's National Forests.
West Virginia’s National Forests. Map courtesy of USFS.

National Park Dispersed Camping

West Virginia is home to one of the nation’s newest National Parks, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. One of the oldest rivers in North America, the New River is surrounded by rugged cliffs and deep canyons. The National Park has countless great opportunities for whitewater rafting, kayaking, hiking, fishing and more.

Unlike most National Parks, New River Gorge is unique in that it offers free camping at several primitive campgrounds. All of these campgrounds are located in beautiful waterfront settings, with access to boat launches and trails nearby. Although not true dispersed camping, this is a great free option in one of the state’s most stunning places.

Volkswagen van under a starry night sky.

How to Find Free Dispersed Camping in West Virginia

Finding a good dispersed campsite in West Virginia isn’t too difficult with a little knowledge of where to look. There are numerous resources available from online apps, USFS resources, and of course this guide! You’ll also want to be prepared to navigate forest service roads and read USFS maps, both of which should be fairly straightforward.

When searching for a good campsite ourselves, we prefer to use a combination of several online apps/websites along with publicly available USFS/NPS maps.

Our favorite resources are below:

  • 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 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.

Check out our Dispersed Camping App guide here.

While these apps and websites are a good starting place for finding dispersed campsites in West Virginia, we always cross reference the information with public agencies maps and resources. The best resource for this is often reaching out directly to the relevant USFS Ranger District or National Park Service (NPS) office in the area you’d like to camp to inquire on camping locations.

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.

It is best to check current regulations with the relevant USFS or NPS 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!

Download Our FREE Dispersed Camping Cheat Sheet

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

Leave No Trace Principles & Dispersed Camping

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

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 Free Dispersed Camping in West Virginia

Now the fun part! You should now be familiar with the what, where, and how of dispersed camping in West Virginia and its time to share some of our favorite campsites in the state. The section below includes our top 11 West Virginia dispersed camping areas.

In addition, the West Virginia Dispersed Camping Map below shows all of the campsite locations, with detailed descriptions following.

Looking to find more dispersed campsites? Check out The Dyrt PRO to get campsite reviews, offline maps, and the best map layers for finding public dispersed camping!

Our Top Camping App – The Dyrt PRO

The Dyrt PRO

Looking to find more free, dispersed camping?

The Dyrt PRO is our favorite resource for planning your trip. Use the custom map layers to find public land, download offline maps, and navigate to your perfect dispersed campsite. Highly recommended!

Hawk Recreation Area

Restrooms: Vault toilets
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Moderate
Map

The Hawk Recreation Area is located just northeast of Wardensville, just a stones throw from the Virginia border. This is a primitive campground, with no fees required to camp here. It’s managed by the Lee Ranger District in George Washington & Jefferson National Forests. The main attractions in the area are the excellent hiking trails, especially the popular Tuscarora Trail Eagle Rock trailhead, which is only a few minutes drive from the campground.

There are approximately 15 campsites at Hawk Recreation Area, and all feature basic picnic tables and fire rings. These are primarily tent sites, although you could certainly fit a smaller RV into several of the parking areas.

The camping area is open seasonally from late-April through mid-December. Of special note, alcoholic beverages are prohibited at the campground. There are no services at the campground either, so please be sure to pack out all of your trash.

Gauley-Tailwaters Campground

Restrooms: Vault toilets
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Busy
Map

Gauley-Tailwaters Campground is an excellent free camping spot located in the Gauley River National Recreation Area in central West Virginia. Although it doesn’t provide the seclusion of true dispersed camping, it’s a perfect basecamp for exploring the area. It’s close to Summersville Lake, Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park, and it’s a popular spot for kayakers and rafters.

There are 18 campsites at Gauley-Tailwaters campground, and each site has a picnic table and fire ring. Sites are very close to one another, so don’t expect much privacy here. However, there should be space for RVs in most sites. The campground is perched on a ridge above the Gauley River, although it’s easiest to travel back down the road to access the water.

The campground is open year-round, as are the vault toilets. Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and stays are limited to 14 days in a 28-day period.

Tents set up along the road at Gauley Tailwaters Campground
A busy day at Gauley Tailwaters Campground. Photo courtesy of NPS.

St. Albans Roadside Park

Restrooms: Flush toilets
Water: 
Yes
Crowds:
 Busy
Map

The Port of St. Albans Roadside Park is another great free camping area with excellent amenities. The park is located right on the Kanawha River in western West Virginia. With a fantastic playground, it’s a perfect place to bring the whole family. It’s right in the center of town, making it convenient to access shops and restaurants. However, the main attraction here is the waterfront. The free boat launch is a perfect put in spot for your kayak, boat, or other watercraft.

The camping area consists of a handful of paved spots with electric hookups and bathrooms and a dump station close by. Unfortunately, tents are not allowed at St. Albans Roadside Park, as camping is restricted to RVs or pull-behind campers. There is a 2-night limit on all stays within a 15-day period. St. Albans Roadside Park is a great place for stopover on your road trip or nice weekend on the river.

Dolly Sods Wilderness

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Moderate
Map

If you talk to anyone who has been to Dolly Sods Wilderness, they will almost certainly rave about the stunning beauty in this place. Stretching over 17,000 acres in the Monongahela National Forest in northeastern West Virginia, Dolly Sods is home to a few diverse ecosystems, including bog, heath, and forest. Blueberries and huckleberries are abundant in the summer and the fall colors are breathtaking. There’s an excellent trail network in the area with hikes to suit all ability levels.

Dispersed camping in and near Dolly Sods wilderness is certainly possible, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Camping is not allowed within 300 feet of the two main roads in the wilderness area, Forest Road 19 and Forest Road 75, and off-roading is not permitted. Therefore, you’ll need to seek out a campsite on one of the smaller roads (such as FR70) or camp outside the wilderness boundary (camping is allowed on FR19 and FR75 in the National Forest just outside of the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area). Some roads in the area are closed outside of hunting season, so it’s a good ides to check with the Potomac Ranger’s Office before heading out.

Dolly Sods Wilderness Area is best suited for tents and smaller, Class B campers. You’ll need to come prepared with everything you need (including water!) and be sure to Leave No Trace.

Gandy Creek Dispersed Camping Area

Restrooms: No
Water: 
Needs filtration
Crowds:
 Busy
Map

Gandy Creek is a fantastic place for free dispersed camping in Monongahela National Forest. The area consists of about 15 sites along Whitmer Road (FR 29). There are several nice trails nearby, including a handful that are walkable from the campsites. It’s less than 20 miles from Spruce Knob, the highest peak in West Virginia, and it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Most campsites are situated right along the creek, providing a tranquil atmosphere and fishing opportunities. A handful of sites can accommodate larger RVs, but many are more suitable for tent or truck campers. The gravel road in to the camping area is generally well maintained and should be accessible for all vehicles.

There are a few important considerations to keep in mind when camping at Gandy Creek. First, you may only camp in designated sites (indicated by a campsite sign) and campers may not have more than two vehicles per site. You can learn more about these rules here and see a map of campsites here. Additionally, the Gandy Creek area is quite remote and does not have reliable cell service. As such, it’s important to come prepared with everything you’ll need and download your map ahead of time.

Grandview Sandbar Campground

Restrooms: Vault toilets
Water: 
Needs filtration
Crowds:
 Busy
Map

Grandview Sandbar is a beautiful free campground located within the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. It’s a great destination for whitewater rafters, hikers, anglers, bird watchers, and those who just want to enjoy the area’s incredible scenery. It’s very rare to find a campground this nice inside a National Park that is completely free!

There are 10 standard sites that can accommodate small RVs, as well as 6 walk-in sites, and 2 ADA accessible sites. Most sites are nicely wooded, and many of the walk-in sites are right on the river. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring. There are composting toilets at the campground, but potable water is not available. Sites are first come, first served, so be sure to get there early on summer weekends!

Stone Cliff Beach Campground

Restrooms: Vault toilets
Water: 
Needs filtration
Crowds:
 Busy
Map

It might surprise you, but there’s excellent beach camping in the heart of West Virginia! Stone Cliff Beach Campground is a rustic free camping area on the shores of the New River, in the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. The campground is right next to the trailhead for the lovely Stone Cliff Trail and the Stone Cliff River Access (kayak/canoe).

Don’t let “campground” in its name fool you; this is a very primitive camping experience! There are just seven sites, six of which are walk-in sites that can be reached by a staircase. Sites are numbered and each has a fire pit. Sites are pretty well spaced out, allowing for a bit of privacy. The campground is close to a train track, so you can expect to hear occasional train noise.

A view of the New River with a mountain on one side and a bridge in the background.
Views from Stone Cliff Beach Campground. Photo courtesy of NPS.

Little River Dispersed Camping

Restrooms: No
Water: 
Needs filtration
Crowds:
 Moderate
Map

Looking to get away from it all? If so, the Little River Dispersed Camping Area is a great choice. Located deep in Monongahela National Forest, this free camping area is peaceful and private. Nearby you’ll find the West Fork Rail Trail, as well as lots of great hiking and fishing opportunities.

The Little River Dispersed Camping Area consists of 15 numbered sites located along Little River Road (FR 17). All of the sites are close to the river, some have water access, and a few even have picnic tables. A handful of sites can accommodate small or medium RVs, but getting there can be a bit tricky on the narrow road. Sites are first come, first served and they tend to fill up on weekends.

Keep in mind that Little River Dispersed Camping Area is in a very remote setting with no cell service, potable water, or amenities. It’s the perfect place to unplug for awhile, but be ready to be self-sufficient. Finally, bears are known to frequent the area, so remember to secure your food and other scented items (such a toothpaste and lip balm).

Abe’s Run Road

Restrooms: No
Water: 
Needs filtration
Crowds:
 Moderate
Map

This is another excellent dispersed camping area in Monongahela National Forest, very close to the Virginia border. Abe’s Run Road (FR 51) can be reached from Highway 28 and is located at the confluence of Abe’s Run Creek and the East Fork of the Greenbriar River. The East Fork Trail is just steps away from the camping area and fishing is possible year round.

There are just four sites in the Abe’s Run Road Dispersed Camping Area, meaning that you’ll get plenty of peace and privacy. However, it also means that the sites can fill up quickly on busy weekends. Each site has a fire ring, and one has a picnic table. All of the sites are situated right next to the river, with nice views and plenty of shade. The road in can be a bit narrow, but should be accessible for most vehicles, although the area is best for smaller RVs and campers.

Lake Sherwood Road Dispersed Camping

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Moderate
Map

Lake Sherwood is the largest lake in Monongahela National Forest and has tons of great recreational opportunities, including swimming, fishing, and hiking. Sure, you can stay at the massive developed campground by the lake, but we prefer the free option just 25 minutes down the road. There, you’ll find several great sites that provide more privacy and tranquility than you’d find at a developed campground.

There are over a dozen spacious campsites along both sides of Lake Sherwood Road. Most sites have fire rings and a few are right next to Meadow Creek. The road is paved the whole way to the camping area, making it easy to access. Even so, it feels pretty peaceful and secluded. Only one site (close to Meadow Creek) would be large enough to accommodate a larger rig.

Glade Creek Campground

Restrooms: Vault Toilets
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Moderate
Map

The final dispersed camping area on our list takes us back to the beautiful New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Glade Creek Campground is in an absolutely beautiful setting along Glade Creek and the New River. The Lower Glade Creek Trail leaves right from the campground and there’s a boat launch on site as well.

The campground has six walk-in sites and five drive-in sites. The drive-in sites can accommodate small/medium sized RVs and tend to be a bit more private than the walk-in sites, although the walk-in sites tend to have river views. All of the sites have picnic tables and fire rings. The campground is not staffed, but there are restrooms and trash bins. This is a great place to set up camp and relax for awhile!

Looking to find more dispersed campsites? Check out The Dyrt PRO to get campsite reviews, offline maps, and the best map layers for finding public dispersed camping!

Our Top Camping App – The Dyrt PRO

The Dyrt PRO

Looking to find more free, dispersed camping?

The Dyrt PRO is our favorite resource for planning your trip. Use the custom map layers to find public land, download offline maps, and navigate to your perfect dispersed campsite. Highly recommended!

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 West Virginia.

Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!

Looking for more dispersed camping content? Don’t forget to check out our other state specific dispersed camping guides:

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