Dispersed Camping in Utah

In this article, I’m going to talk about the best dispersed camping spots in Utah. So you can get an idea of what parts of it you can approach with an RV, where to pitch your tent and to whip out your skiing equipment.

Attracting vast numbers of skiers every year thanks to it being the proud owner of ‘the best snow on Earth’ title, and home to the famous Great Salt Lake, the US state of Utah is a place that certainly doesn’t lack natural wonders and interesting terrain. This is also what makes it such a gem on the map of North American camping attractions. 

Weather-beaten and wind-swept mesa-rich mountainous regions, lakeside resorts and small towns with friendly Utahans (that’s the correct way to call them, by the way, despite many of them stubbornly sticking to ‘Utahns’), and some of the best desert camping in the US around the town of Moab – all of that and more is waiting for you in this sparsely populated US state. 

Overview

Red Tent in Utah

Whether you like snow-covered caps where the snow is just the right texture and density for snowboarding and other winter extreme and not-so-extreme sports, enchanting forests where all the trees represent a single ginormous organism, or desert-like places where you can get a feeling of the Old West first hand, you can rest assured Utah will not disappoint. 

Add to that the giant lake that lends its name to this state’s vibrant capital of Salt Lake City, and you get an idea of just how diverse and engaging this place can be. 

We’ll present to you some information regarding the places where you can camp in Utah and a couple of different ways to find the best camping location for your needs. 

We’ll also talk about the Leave No Trace camping principles (that can be applied to pretty much any camping spot in the world) and give you some valuable links to online printable vehicle and other maps of the camping areas we will be talking about.  

The Best Dispersed Camping Spots in Utah

Ancient rock formations, forest paths perfect for ATVs and trekking, and awesome fishing hideouts along cold mountain creeks – that’s what Utah is all about.

Whether you like to have a useful amenity or two at your camping location, or you prefer to wing it (with some careful preparation, too, of course) and discover the beauty and uniqueness of Utah wilderness – you will surely find someplace you like among the following entries:

Moab 

With an appearance of a massive film set, this place has plenty of red rock formations, desert back-alley road RV pull outs, and no more than 5,000 permanent residents. You can pick up your bottled water, candy bars, and other amenities in the town itself, while the rest you might want to bring with you since most of the camping spots here have little to no amenities.

What you get here is fascinating night skies in the world, a rock climber’s paradise, and many camping spots that will make you think you’ve pitched your tent on the moon.

The Moab area is a reasonably tourist-heavy place. The downside is that some of the campgrounds can get occupied quite quickly.

On the other hand, the upside to this is the variety of activities you can engage in other than camping. Whether it’s fishing, hiking, or driving your 4×4 on one of Moab’s many scenic dirt tracks – you’ll never run out of fun things to do if you decide to pitch your tent or park your RV in the general Moab area. 

To learn more about this picturesque area with cinematic nature and camping-friendly terrain, check out my guide to dispersed camping in Moab.

La Sal Loop

La Sal Loop
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Visitor Frequency: Moderate
  • Water: no

If upon visiting the town of Moab (which is highly recommended, both for re-supplying and for learning more about this fantastic place) you discover that taking pictures of some of the local buildings against a backdrop of the nearby La Sal mountains puts a smile on your face, we have some good news for you.

Other than representing a perfect photo op, La Sal mountains are easily accessible and not even too far from the town itself. (You’re looking at some 20 miles, which you can cover in half an hour tops.)

What’s more, the road that leads into the mountains is so picturesque when you consider its breathtaking surroundings that many people consider simply driving up this La Sal Loop a unique tourist attraction.

Anyway, the La Sal mountains are an area that’s at least ten degrees cooler than its famous neighboring town, so do be prepared for this if you plan to head into these elevated parts of Utah and do some exploration.

This area features no toilets and no water, so make sure to bring them with you. (Water, in particular. A port-a-potty or two, and some pet droppings bags are a nice touch, too.)

Mammoth Dispersed Camping Area

Mammoth Creek Utah
  • Map
  • Toilets: vault toilets
  • Visitor Frequency: busy
  • Water: no (you can get some water from the nearby Mammoth creek, though)

Officially marked as a designated dispersed camping area, this large campground is loosely built around the eponymous Mammoth creek.

Since this camping spot has been prepared somewhat in advance by the local authorities, you will find vault toilets around this area. But, you won’t find any potable water source, nor designated spots for trash pickups. While the trash situation you have to address by picking it up and disposing of it elsewhere safely, what you can do about the water is get some from the Mammoth creek itself.

The water from the creek is pretty clean, but using a water filter is still highly recommended as it can help you get rid of any parasites, or other impurities that are often present in forest creeks and springs, no matter how clear and see-through the water is.

Despite this area being quite a popular camping spot, the sites themselves are fairly well spread out, so as long as you manage to get there before everyone else – you’ll have some privacy to enjoy the surrounding nature.

One of the best facts about this place would be that it’s RV-accessible for the most part. Again, this is quite a busy area, but if you do manage to arrive here on time, you’ll find several good camping spots near the creek itself, with more than enough space for your RV, tent, camping items, fishing tackle, and everything else you might want to set up.

This is also one of the reasons why some folks have organized their RV resorts complete with booking spots, dog parks, accommodations, and other advanced amenities.

Diamond Fork

Diamond Fork sign
Photo by An Errant Knight via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Visitor Frequency: busy
  • Water: no

Another fantastic camping destination that follows a major water source would be the Diamond Fork Road which goes along the river of the same name.

Unsurprisingly, this destination is also a popular fishing area, as the neatly-arranged campsites along the river offer the perfect spots to catch the elusive Utah brown trout.

Add to that the fact that many of the camping spots are easily accessible by RVs and even quite large RVs, and that this road is only an hour away from Salt Lake City, and you can get an idea of what makes this place such a camping hotspot.

Other than the clearings and easily-accessible entrance points for large vehicles, these camping spots also typically feature a fire ring each. However, there aren’t any toilets and potable water(You can try filtering the river water, but seeing how Salt Lake City is only an hour away, getting bottled water and other supplies won’t be that much of a hassle.).

If you’re looking to get more experience out of this location, what you can do is pay a visit to the nearby Fifth Water Waterfalls and Hot Spring. One of the more attractive ways to get there is a 10-mile trek south of the bulk of the riverside campsites.  

Jug Hollow

Flaming Gorge Utah
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Visitor frequency: busy
  • Water: no

Located in the famous Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, the Jug Hollow dispersed camping area is a large camping region with over 43 individual campgrounds and 700 campsites.

Possibly the biggest reason why this camping area has become as large and as developed as it is would be thanks to the fantastic-looking peninsula, with campsites themselves jutting out into the water.

Other than the fantastic view and the endless photo ops, this peninsula-like arrangement also makes this campground perfect for boating, fishing, and hiking. The crowds here tend to get quite busy, though, so getting there early is recommended.

It’s always recommended to contact the Red Canyon Visitors Center – especially to learn about the latest site updates.

Uinta Flat Designated Camping Area

Uinta Utah
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Visitor frequency: busy
  • Water: no

If you’re an OHV or an ATV enthusiast, this designated camping area is the place you want to be.

That said, what you’d need to pay attention to would be the noise levels, which are unsurprisingly slightly elevated in this area. Thankfully, this campground is more than large enough to accommodate all kinds of campers, whether you’re an off-roading enthusiast or not.

What’s more, since this area is flat enough for easy passage of different vehicles, getting here with an RV (even a particularly large one) won’t at all represent a problem.

Regarding the nearby locations of interest that you may want to look closer into, we recommend checking out the scenic Duck Creek Village. Also, this location is close to the equally enchanting Cedar Breaks National Park, where you can discover even more camping spots, trekking routes, forest paths, and endless Nat Geo-worthy photo ops along the way.

There are no toilets around here, nor is there a source of potable water, so bringing your own stuff is recommended. 

A quick end-note: This camping area is exceedingly large, so while approaching it, don’t get discouraged by the number of RVs and other vehicles already parked there. Even if it looks full, there’s always more room here if you drive a bit deeper into this area.

For more cool camping spots in the US, read our guide to primitive camping in Georgia.

Where Can You Camp in Utah?

Tent in Utah Campsite

A sparsely-populated state, Utah is unsurprisingly home to vast areas of uninhabited space, much of which is perfectly suitable for camping.

Of course, the relatively untouched nature of these areas also means that you will typically find little to no camping amenities out there in the wild. If you’re interested in free camping, this ‘no amenity’ state of affairs will not be a problem.

As far as the authorities in charge of the ‘campable’ land of Utah, there are two different organizations you’ll want to know about – the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and USFS (United States Forest Service). Whether it’s a mountainous area covered in Colorado Blue Spruce (Utah version of it, that is), or a ‘deserty’ patch around Moab that looks as if it came straight out of the Bible, chances are – the area’s overseen by one of these two organizations.

Unless it’s specifically indicated otherwise, most of both BLM and USFS-controlled land is free to use for dispersed camping.

BLM – Bureau of Land Management

Flowers in Utah

In terms of how much land in Utah falls under the jurisdiction of the BLM, rest assured that no matter how hard you try – you will pretty much never run out of space to explore and camp in. 

Regarding the regulations and fees connected with camping on BLM-managed land, the rules tend to be quite uniform across the US. For most US states, these rules include: 

· Most BLM campgrounds are free to use. Unless otherwise specified, most are first come first served. In rare exceptions, you can make reservations ahead of time to make the most of your stay once you get there.

· You can only camp for no more than 14 days within a month at a single location. Whether that’s a couple of days here and there throughout the month that makes a fortnight, or you prefer to stay at a single spot for two weeks and then move on – it’s entirely up to you.

· As a dispersed camper, leaving your equipment and belongings for more than 10 days unattended at a single location is prohibited. (For regular campers, this is shortened to 72 hours.)

· Many of the campgrounds are only available during specific seasons – mostly due to the weather. To learn more about a particular campground you’re interested in, checking in with the local BLM office is always the best course of action. 

Here’s the list of Utah-based BLM district offices with links to their websites:

To learn more about BLM-specific camping rules, the BLM website will give you more information. For more BLM managed lands in Utah where you can pitch a tent, see our guide to free camping near Zion National Park.

USFS – United States Forest Service

Uinta and Wasatch-Cache National Forests

Within Utah, there are six different National Forests, with two additional ones that are partially in Utah, but for the most part in neighboring Idaho.

The rules regulations tend to be fairly similar for each forest. That said, some season-specific variations do exist. Suppose there is a forest fire peril during a particular time of the year. In that case, the individual offices may issue warnings of varying degrees and corresponding recommendations regarding camping and starting campfires.

For these reasons, consulting the USFS office in question can be the best course of action if you plan to camp on land that this organization oversees:

There are also two additional National Forests that in small part also reach into Utah territory to the north. These are:

Best Online Apps to Find Dispersed Campsites

When it comes to finding the best camping spots in the state of Utah, the first thing to understand is that the number of different places you can choose from is quite staggering. One way to approach dispersed camping would be to simply start up your RV, load up your backpack with your toothbrush, water, insect repellent, and other necessities, and then simply drive into Utah.

That said, as wild as you plan your camping to be, it’s always a good idea to do some research in advance, so you can have a better idea of what to expect when you land at the place of your choice. (This especially goes for visiting forest areas and other parts of the state where weather conditions tend to affect the local regulations. The forest fire hazard, for example, is a seasonal liability to look out for.)

Other than visiting the official local premises of the USFS or the BLM, using an online app can be a great starting point. Here are some of the best sites and apps related to dispersed camping:

  • TheDyrt – Whether you’re into glamping, RV-ing, discovering rustic but inhabitable log cabins deep into the woods, or finding the most secretive fly-fishing-friendly creeks and pitching a tent next to one – TheDyrt is the app where you can find the top-rated spots across the US. The advanced filters on this app allow you to check in advance whether the camping spot you’re ogling features Wi-Fi connectivity, is pet-friendly, comes with water, toilets, showers, and many other amenities and features. Perfect for folks looking to search their potential camping haunts in detail.
  • Campendium – Based on user reviews, this app allows you to check out a vast number of recorded campsites and campgrounds across the US. The reviews will give you an idea of what to expect when you get there.
  • Freecampsites.net – Also featuring a load of filters that can make your search for the perfect campsite for you easier and more precise, this app is a breeze to use even for a complete rookie. Simply type in the area you want to explore and the map will close in immediately. Also, you’ll have access to several comments and reviews from previous visitors that can be quite valuable. 

Leave No Trace Principles 

Wildlife in Utah

For the record, this set of principles is not only exclusive to the state of Utah, as it should be observed and applied in any camping location you’re visiting.

There are seven core principles within the ‘Leave No Trace’ unofficial rulebook:

  • Plan Ahead – Nature can throw all sorts of curve balls at you once you land at your designated camping spot – from bad weather, emergencies, the local wildlife interfering with your affairs, your neighbors also interfering in your affairs, and then the authorities can get on your case as well if you forgot to buy a ticket at the entrance.

So, to make sure to avoid such unnecessary problems, make sure to check the local authority offices, see what the wildlife is up to these days, use a map, and always bring a map to your camping trips. (Along with the digital map, getting a real-life map can also be a good idea, in case your battery runs out.)

  • Camp and Travel on Durable Surfaces – Avoid trying to make a ‘brand-new habitat’ in nature because that can negatively impact the surrounding biodiversity and wildlife. Also, it can put you at odds with the local authorities who are responsible for maintaining that area.

Always camp on durable surfaces such as dry grass, snow, soil, gravel, rock, and similar terrains where no plants and animals can get endangered by your stay.

Also, authorities such as the BLM and the USFS strongly encourage campers to use already-existing campsites and fire rings, as well as roads and tracks. This way, the impact camping has on the environment is minimalized, which also guarantees an awesome camping experience for future generations of campers.

  • Proper Waste Disposal – Waste, whether it’s pet droppings, human waste, or empty chips bags and soda cans, needs to be disposed of carefully at the spots dedicated to this purpose, in particular.

If there’s a toilet and a trash bin at the camping spot, you are encouraged to use them. If there are no amenities of that kind where you’re camping, you should pack your waste and carry it with you. When it comes to getting rid of it, you should do it when you reach the first available trash can.

  • Leave What You Find – … represents possibly one of the most important rules to adhere to at all costs. The thing is, the urge to make an area you like more ‘camping-friendly’ can ruin it for some other visitors.

You should not alter historical monuments, cave art, rock formations, and other artifacts. Also, you should not build structures, dig trenches, or add furniture.

As for the local wildlife, make sure to leave it as untouched as possible by avoiding introducing new species that may disrupt the local ecosystem. A couple of irresponsible pet owners in Florida during the 1990s and early 00s and now Florida’s Everglades is the battleground for endless giant alligator vs. python bouts. (Not all are Jurassic Park-style battles in Everglades, of course. What’s more, this breathtakingly-beautiful area represents one of the most notable tourist attractions in the US.)

  • Be Extra Careful with Wildfires – Wildfires can represent a massive peril for the environment, especially in forest areas.

Organizations such as the BLM and USFS encourage campers to use already-existing fire rings rather than building new ones. 

When making fires, make sure to keep them as small as possible and before you leave the campground – make sure to extinguish the fire thoroughly. 

  • Respect the Local Wildlife – Keeping a distance from the wildlife is of massive importance when it comes to camping.

This is especially true for different times of the year when the animals are in heat, nesting, raising their young, or during the winter.

If you’re bringing your pets, make sure to always keep an eye out for them and keep them leashed.

Also, it’s vitally important for the local wildlife not to feed the animals, and to keep food and trash (with remnants of food in it) safely tucked away in containers.

  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors – Avoid emitting loud sounds and make sure not to interfere with other campers at your location.

This especially goes for the areas where there are a lot of campers, such as trails, roadside campsites, and other similar areas.

If you’d like to learn more about these seven core principles, you can visit the official National Park website dedicated to this purpose, in particular.

Motor Vehicle Use Maps for Utah National Forests

There’s one interesting thing about USFS that sets it apart from other authorities – MVUMs.

Short for Motor Vehicle Use Map, an MVUM is a specialized map developed by the technicians at USFS that tells you which forest roads are passable and where camping is allowed along these roads.

When finding the perfect camping spot in a forest area, using these maps along with one or more of the apps we listed above can be a great starting place. Even once you’ve found your perfect camping spot, having an MVUM of the area you plan to visit either printed out or on some sort of digital display can also be of massive help for finding your way in a forest’s often labyrinthine paths.

Here are the links to the MVUMs for Utah’s National Forests (Uinta and Wasatch-Cache National Forests share the same maps, by the way):

*Some National Forests have multiple MVUMs dedicated to their various sections – typically due to their size and road and trail network complexity. Some of these maps tend to get updated periodically, so make sure to read the official statements and instructions provided on the website that you can access from the link we provided in brackets. 

Conclusion

All things considered, containing such marvels of nature as the Arches National Park, the town of Moab and its stunningly-beautiful red-rock formation area, Bear’s Ears National Monument, and the very unique Bonneville cutthroat trout, Utah, is one giant camping ground waiting to be explored.

Whether you’re an avid fisherman, glamper, RV full-timer (or, just a part-timer, so to speak), or you like trekking, ATV-ing, snowboarding, and other exciting outdoor activities, Utah will provide you with all the desert, red rocks, winding forest paths, and snow-covered mesas and mountain peaks you can desire.

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