Complete Guide to Free Dispersed & Primitive Camping in Indiana

Free dispersed camping in Indiana is a surprise treat in a small state known globally for its immense steel production, the world-renown Indy 500 races, and even a charming town called Santa Claus, which receives misaddressed children’s letters from all over the US and beyond every Christmas season.

The state’s abundant forest potential, over 900 lakes, and numerous semi-urbane parking-type campgrounds provide plenty of exploration opportunities for campers and visitors. In this post, I will list my favorite primitive camping spots in Indiana.

As you will see, there are woodland roadside sites, excellent lakeside hideouts, and ample overnight parking lot options. Whether you’re an RV enthusiast, into backpacking, or prefer some excellent old tenting, you can rest assured Indiana will not disappoint.

Map of Primitive Campgrounds in Indiana

You can easily find the locations of the best primitive campgrounds in the state using this map.

Overview of Free Camping in Indiana

Free dispersed camping in Indiana

Indiana is so full of surprises that you can spend a lifetime in this state and still get astonished at a legislature that expressly forbids fishing with a crowbar. Also, if you’re in South Bend, forcing a monkey to smoke a cigarette can land you in jail. 

Many of the cheeky and, at times, downright bizarre laws and places in this state have an exciting story behind them, and the gorgeous forests, lakes, rivers, and vibrant urban areas undoubtedly provide plenty of inspiration for larger-than-life social activities. 

Camping, hiking, and fishing is a popular activity for both the locals and visitors.

Best Dispersed Campsites in Indiana 

Woodland campgrounds with excellent views of the forest, nearby lakes and valleys, fantastic scenic places, and sophisticated areas such as Walmart parking lots and RV museum rest areas – all of these unique places make up the curious and diverse dispersed camping map of Indiana. 

Here are my favorite dispersed campgrounds in Indiana. 

Sundance Lake Dispersed Camping

Sundance Lake dispersed camping area in Indiana
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no (you can filter some from the lake, however
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: low 

With its location within the scenic Hoosier National Forest and sitting on the shore of a gorgeous lake, Sundance Lake dispersed campground is a perfect camping option for anyone looking for a place to pitch their tent next to the water.

Sundance Lake campground is relatively secluded so it can be the perfect option for someone looking for a peaceful camping experience. Also, a gorgeous forest surrounds the lake, which adds to the overall atmosphere of charisma and charm. 

There are several sites within this campground, and they all feature pad surfaces made out of dirt. Parking up in a camper van or an RV will be fine, while tenting is also an option you can explore if that is your preferred type of camping. 

There are only a few visitors in this area. Still, the ones who come here are usually locals or fishermen (bluegill, Redear, channel catfish, and bass are predominant). Either way, the place is relatively private and usually receives few visitors. 

You won’t find any amenities at this campground, so total self-sufficiency is a must. 

A quick note for RVs: Accessibility is not always a given for forest roads and woodland campgrounds, especially after heavy rains. For this reason, scouting ahead before driving up to a campsite in a big rig is essential for ensuring you stay away from getting stuck somewhere.

RV Hall of Fame & Museum 

Meadow and trees at RV Hall of Fame & Museum premises in Indiana
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets:  no 
  • Visitor frequency: medium 

Open seasonally, from April to October, RV Hall of Fame & Museum is a unique place that is an absolute must-visit if you’re an RV enthusiast. The premise of this rather curious campground is quite simple – a large, wide-open expanse of asphalt that serves the purpose of a parking lot + plenty of grassy fields surrounding it. 

Thanks to the paved sites, coming here with an RV is the recommended way of visiting this campground. If you like RVs, you should also visit the local Hall of Fame & Museum, where you can see some of the most unique and gorgeous recreation vehicles in this part of the world.

You’ll get an idea of what your grand-grandparents used to camp in back in the day and indeed grow to appreciate the full-timer subculture even more. 

RV Hall of Fame & Museum parking lot and impromptu campground, so to speak, does offer dump stations, electricity, and water, but there is a fee involved. However, if you want to park up and stay a few nights without using any of their amenities, you can do so for free.

Mason Ridge Primitive Campground 

River in Morgan-Monroe State Forest near Mason Ridge Primitive Campground in fall
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: vault toilets 
  • Visitor frequency: high 

Sitting within the Morgan-Monroe State Forest near Martinsville, Indiana, Mason Ridge is a primitive campground with plenty of space, incredible amenities, and 19 individual sites. In addition to the rather sizable sites with gravel and grass surfaces, this area also features two lakes and a network of exciting hiking trails. 

Camping at Mason Ridge is free, but all campers must first register at the local forest office. There are plenty of enjoyable additional activities here, including gold panning, but this also requires a special license. 

Each of the nineteen sites features a picnic table, a fire pit, and grill grates. Also, plenty of dead tree branches are lying around, so you can use them for firewood (local authorities frown upon cutting down healthy trees).

The road leading to this place is gravel and only gets slightly bumpy at certain sections. For the most part, however, reaching the campground will be a piece of cake, so you don’t have to worry about arriving here onboard an RV or some other larger vehicle. 

Amenity-wise, besides the fire rings and picnic tables, you also get vault toilets and trash cans. Still, there is no source of potable water nearby (you can filter some water from the nearby lakes, however).

Apple Orchard Primitive Campground 

Lake Salamonie in Indiana at sundown
  • Map 
  • Water availability: yes 
  • Toilets: pit toilets 
  • Visitor frequency: high

Beachside campsites, boat ramps, plenty of space for all sorts of RVs and car + trailer arrangements – Apple Orchard Primitive Campground is a true gem for rural Indiana camping. The sites themselves are large enough for you to park up, pitch your tent, and even set up your foldable camping chairs, get a fire going, you name it. 

There are 38 sites in this campground; they are all well-spaced, so that privacy won’t be an issue. The premises are relatively well-kempt, and the campground is always clean. 

Since the campground hugs the shore of the scenic Lake Salamonie, you can get involved in various awesome water-based activities, including fishing, swimming, waterskiing, and boating. If you’re interested in boat rentals, you can learn more about them at the Pirates Cove Marina official website.  

Additional activities unrelated to water include hiking, mountain biking, and even cross-country skiing. There are also courts for basketball and volleyball and a couple of playgrounds for kids. If you’re looking for dispersed camping options for a family, Apple Orchard is one of Indiana’s best options. 

Regarding amenities, Apple Orchard features pit toilets and some water spouts. 

Blackwell Horse Camp 

Horses and RVs at Blackwell Horse Camp in Indiana
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: pit toilets 
  • Visitor frequency: medium 

As its name suggests, this scenic campground is a significant camping attraction for horseback riding enthusiasts. The facilities at Blackwell are intentionally horse-friendly, so if you’re an avid equestrian and you like camping, this campground is an absolute must-visit if you’re around Bloomington, Indiana. 

A couple of exciting horse and hiking trails lead away directly from this campground, so if you’d like to try and tackle one of these trails, you can use one of the sites at Blackwell as a base camp for further exploration. 

Both tent camping and RVing are viable options here. Also, there are plenty of examples of folks arriving here towing a trailer, so that would be another way to get to this place. 

The sites are exceptionally well-kempt and visitor-friendly, with mowed lawns, and the tree lines are always in perfect order. There’s plenty of gorgeous greenery wherever you look, and the weather is pleasant during the hot weather season (this campground is open year-round, for the record).

Amenities at Blackwell Horse Camp include pit toilets and plenty of horsing-related aid, including a loading ramp (including one for people with disabilities) and hitching posts. A picnic shelter is at the premises, but there is no secure source of potable water. 

Buzzard Roost Recreation Area 

Buzzard Roost Trail in Buzzard Roost Recreation Area
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: low 

If you’re looking for an Indiana campground near water where you can enjoy many activities besides camping, this charming woodland place can be a fantastic solution.

A place well-known and beloved for its excellent fishing, hiking, and wildlife-viewing opportunities, Buzzard Roost Recreation Area is a perfect place to spend a couple of days away from the hustle and bustle of city life. 

For hiking appreciators, a short hiking trail near this campground leads you through some beautiful forest terrain you’d struggle to find anywhere else in Indiana. There is even a mini waterfall at the trail’s end to cement its reputation as a must-visit – whether you’re a hiking veteran or a dispersed camper. 

The sites are flat and offer plenty of space for tents and RVs. In addition to these rather good woodland clearings, you will also find picnic tables and fire rings at Buzzard Roost. 

Here’s a list of rules to adhere to if you plan to roast marshmallows, sausages or dry your boots over the flames. The authors of this list are the representatives of the Hoosier National Forest – the official authorities for this campground.

For those who want a taste of different environments, consider the thrill of primitive camping in Michigan or Florida. In Michigan, you can immerse yourself in the sprawling landscapes, where camping possibilities are as diverse as the wildlife that inhabits them. The tranquility, natural beauty, and sense of solitude make for a truly satisfying primitive camping experience.

Alternatively, if you desire an entirely contrasting camping environment, Florida’s primitive campsites offer a unique blend of sun-kissed beaches, marshy Everglades, and dense tropical forests. The state’s diverse ecosystems and subtropical climate make it an alluring camping destination year-round. It’s a thrilling experience to add to your camping escapades.

Deckard Church Road 

Tent and RV at a campsite in Hoosier National Forest, Indiana
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: low 

Representing a relatively quiet and private woodland campground, Deckard Church Road is a place that you don’t want to miss out on – especially if you like forest camping and roadside sites. 

Since this campground is adjacent to a privately-owned site beside this one, you should pay special attention to a ‘no trespassing’ sign and avoid the area. As for the campground itself, it consists of a couple of flat regions besides the main forest service dust road, and there is enough space for about five to six tents. 

If you plan to visit this site onboard an RV or a similar vehicle, you should know that the road is relatively narrow. The individual areas are spacious enough to accommodate a larger vehicle (still, tenting is the preferred way of camping on this road).

If you arrive here before everyone else, you can even park next to the little pond in this area. Be aware that the approach to this pond can be quite muddy after rain.

There are no toilets and no reliable source of potable water, so total self-sufficiency is a must. 

Berry Ridge Road 

  • Map 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: low 

Sitting amidst a scenic forest with roadside pullout-style sites to the right and left, Berry Ridge Road has plenty of fantastic camping opportunities, whichever way you look. Some areas are beside the road, while others are far away. Those further-back sites can be a great treat if you want more privacy and are okay with being away from your vehicle. 

The road leading to this place is made of gravel so that the road will be smooth even after heavy rainfall. The campsites themselves, however, will get muddy.

Given the excellent road and the size of some of the sites, Berry Ridge qualifies as being RV-friendly, though navigating the forest service roads in an exceptionally large campervan can be challenging. For this reason, tenting or arriving here onboard a small-to-medium-sized RV is the best course of action. 

Amenity-wise, at Berry Ridge, you will find a couple of fire rings but no toilets and no source of potable water. Since this campground is under the jurisdiction of the local forest service, as long as you stick with their dispersed camping rules, you will have a great time here. 

Peninsula Trail Beachside Campground 

Dog swimming in Lake Monroe Indiana
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no (you can filter some from the lake ahead, though
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: medium

Suppose you like camping near a significant body of water in Lake Monroe, and you happen to be close to Bloomington, Indiana. In that case, stopping by the Peninsula Trail Beachside Campground can be a great way to spend a few days in nature. 

When the weather is good, the vicinity of this campground to the water gives you an opportunity to fish, swim, and boat to your heart’s content. Mind you. If you mean to boat around these parts, you must arrive in a boat because this campground is not vehicle-accessible. 

The campground is open year-round and works on a first-come, first-served basis. Since it is walk-in only, it is essential to pack everything you need in your rucksack and carry the clothes you need depending on what part of the year you’re visiting this place. 

You will find fire rings, some logs that you can sit on at this beachside campground, and a cooking grate. You can source your firewood locally or bring some of your own. 

All in all, a fantastic campground for backpackers and people who’d like to spend a couple of days near water, enjoy the views, cook some meals, open a couple of beers, and have a leisurely time around the campfire. 

A quick note: There are quite a few ticks around these parts during the summer, so come prepared.

Elk Creek Trailhead 

Knobstone Trail near Elk Creek in Indiana
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: low 

Open year-round and offering easy access to a beautiful local hiking trail, Elk Creek trailhead is a small campground with a broad parking lot on the side of a well-kempt gravel dirt road.

There’s enough space at Elk Creek parking for about five vehicles. Still, many visitors prefer to leave their cars at the parking lot and then proceed farther away from the road to find a dispersed camping spot where they can pitch their tent. 

Another reason why most campers venture away from the road is that there is a hiking trailhead, and the general rule here is – no camping within at least one mile away from the road, recreation area, or the trailhead itself. Also, the campsite you set up must not be visible from the nearby lakes as it will obstruct the view for the other visitors.

A significant attraction around this trailhead is the famous Knobstone Trail, the longest footpath in Indiana, measuring 60 miles of backcountry hiking trails. The path leads through cliffy and steep forest regions, low-lying farmland patches, and the marshy approaches to the great Ohio River on the north. If you aim to add a bit of hiking to your dispersed camping excursion, Elk Creek Trail can be just the place for you. 

Another tremendous nearby stop, Elk Creek Public Fishing Area, is an angler’s dream come true, as you’d need help finding a better fishing spot in rural Indiana. 

As far as amenities are concerned, you won’t find any at this campground, so total self-sufficiency is a must. 

Maines Pond 

Flowers next to the Maines Pond in Indiana
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: low 

As its name suggests, this small campground sits on the banks of a scenic pond, with the sites dispersing right next to the water. There are two distinct ‘campable’ locations around this pond – one is near water, while the other is at the parking lot, slightly away from the pond. 

Even though the pond is relatively small, the few campsites around it offer enough space to park your car and pitch your tent.

These campsites have a couple of fire pits, so you can make fish stew, roast marshmallows, and sausages, dry your socks, or enjoy a cold beer in the evening while the fire is flickering near the beautiful body of water nearby. 

Mains Pond is open year-round, and it’s attracting fishermen from all over Indiana and also from farther away. Thanks to its curious location and the unique ecosystem that’s a combination of open grasslands, bushes, thickets, and the pond, this area is home to some rather exciting flora and fauna. 

Beautiful rare birds such as meadowlarks, bluebirds, and quail, as well as the colorful wildflowers that attract them all, make this place an exciting spot for wildlife viewing. The best seasons for this activity are summer and spring.

Young Creeks Horse Camp 

  • Map 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: pit toilets 
  • Visitor frequency: high 

Young Creeks Horse Camp is an equestrian paradise with over thirty excellent campsites. Open year-round, this encampment is superbly well-kempt and has many facilities that visitors can use. 

The amenities available at Young Creeks include picnic tables and barbeque grills, so this place can be a fantastic location if you plan to throw an outdoor barbeque party. Also, there are hitching racks readily available and many great picnic shelters where you can organize a sit-down party after a day of riding horses or exploring the nearby hiking trails. 

Speaking of hiking trails, Young Creeks Horse Camp represents a one-of-a-kind encampment from which you can pursue many additional activities. Biking, hiking, RV-ing, tenting, tackling challenging horse trails, and wildlife viewing are some of the many activities you can enjoy.

A minor downside to this fantastic campground would be the visitor frequency, which tends to be rather high and often also means generator sounds and parties underneath the picnic pavilions – especially when the weather is nice. 

The individual campsites are reasonably spacious, so tenting, hammocking, and RV-ing are all viable options. Additional amenities include pit toilets. Unfortunately, there is no reliable source of potable water. 

Charles C Deam Wilderness 

Forest in the Charles C Deam Wilderness area
  • Map 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: vault toilets 
  • Visitor frequency: high 

Representing yet another fantastic dispersed campground near Bloomington, Charles C Deam Wilderness is a place perfect for tenting and wildlife viewing.

Since this campground spreads within an area designated as a ‘wilderness,’ motor vehicles are generally not welcome. For this reason, backpacking, hiking, horseback riding, and walk-in camping are the activities around these parts. 

Charles C Deam Wilderness is a network of 36 miles of scenic hiking trails that spread throughout the Hoosier National Forest. Take time to hike down some of the courses. You will go past gorgeous hardwood forests, low-lying flatter sections around Lake Monroe, and many varied terrains. 

Due to its massive popularity and increasingly heavy use by visitors, this area received its ‘wilderness status’ in 1982, and the official representatives of the Hoosier National Forest carefully protected it. There are quite a few restrictions that you need to respect if you plan to camp in this wilderness area. Contact the Brownstown Ranger District office for more detailed info.

This place offers no reliable source of potable water but features vault toilets. 

Ouabache Park Campground 

Road leading to Ouabache Park Campground in Indiana
  • Map 
  • Water availability: yes 
  • Toilets: yes 
  • Visitor frequency: high 

Ouabache Park Campground is an urban camping area in Attica, Indiana, functioning on a first-come, first-served basis. Although not technically a dispersed campground, one of Ouabache’s sites is available for $20. This fee is non-refundable and will give you access to all the campground’s amenities.

This campground is unique in its vicinity to the town and adjacent to the famous Wabash River. This body of water is a rather scenic place perfect for taking photos, enjoying water-based activities, or both. There is a paved boat ramp, a small shelter, and some handicapped-accessible restrooms. 

The padding is grass, and there is plenty of space where you can pitch your tent and set up your foldable camping furniture.

In terms of amenities, this campground has got it all – picnic tables, fire rings, trash cans, restrooms, potable water, as well as facilities related to water activities such as boat ramps and fishing sites. Ouabache is also big rig-friendly, so if you’re an RV enthusiast, this campground can be a great way to camp next to water in north-western Indiana.

Where to Next?

Overall, camping in the Hoosier state can be a massively rewarding experience, especially if you’re willing to venture to some of this beautiful US state’s more rural and remote parts.

The list of fantastic lakes and riverside, as well as woodland campgrounds, goes on and on, and goes on a cross-state RV or car-based expedition (with a tent or backpack in your boot) can be a great way to explore everything this small state offers. You can always use a Walmart parking lot for a night or two and then get back on track with your journey.

However, if you’re seeking a change of scenery or new terrain to explore, don’t overlook the wonders of primitive camping in the neighboring state of Illinois.

The diverse landscapes, rich biodiversity, and quiet solitude provide an equally intriguing and exhilarating alternative for your camping adventures. It’s a charming detour that offers a different taste of the Midwest’s natural beauty, making the camping experience in this region even more fulfilling.

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