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How to find the best backcountry campsites

June 27, 2024
6 min read

Truck camping in your Tune M1 offers the perfect blend of convenience and adventure, helping you escape out into the Great Outdoors. But whether you're a seasoned camper or new, finding the perfect campsite—especially backcountry ones far removed from the masses at the typical KOA—isn’t always easy. Finding the perfect spot requires research, planning, and other considerations. Following are a few tips on finding the perfect spot:

Advice from the Pros: For advice on finding a backcountry campsite, we first went to Gear Junkie editorial director Sean McCoy, an avid hunter and car camper from Colorado (who just so happened to test out a Tune M1 this May). And he should know, as Gear Junkie just published a guide to dispersed camping on public lands. For him, it all comes down to utilizing technology available at your fingertips. “My best advice?” he says. “Use the tools available to you to find and assess public lands, whether it’s onX, Gaia GPS or even apps showing specific campground sites. Those make it really easy these days. Do that step before your driving-around-and-looking step. Those are great tools that show you where you can camp.” Use them, he adds, to assess public lands: “National Forests are the oasis—they’re so big and vast that there are always places to camp. But sometimes it’s hard to find a spot that’s reasonable and not crowded.” To avoid that, plan your trip at the right time. “Get there early and not during high time. Don’t show up Memorial Day weekend on Friday night. Go on a random Tuesday during the shoulder seasons. It’s a lot better.”

Destination/Campsite Selection: Okay, so you know where you’re going. When it comes to camping there, or even in route, consider such factors as its proximity to home, landscape features, available amenities, and recreational activities the area offers. Also consider the terrain and landscape, looking for level ground, access to water, wind protection, and more. And, of course, everything else being equal, don’t discount the view, be it a mountain vista, waterfall, tranquil lake, or lush forest.

Online Resources: As great as it is to blindly stumble upon the ideal campsite, that’s not always the case. Utilize online resources such as camping websites, forums, and apps to explore potential backcountry areas for camping. While websites like Recreation.gov, Campendium, and Hipcamp provide detailed information, reviews, and photos of campgrounds across the country, for venturing more off the beaten path try such sites as The Dyrt and Harvest Hosts. The Dyrt lits everything from established campgrounds throughout the country to information on free, dispersed camping options, whether you’re near a national park or on BLM or forest service land. Harvest Hosts is a network of farms, wineries, breweries and distilleries, attractions, and more that invite car campers to stay overnight, giving its members safe, convenient, and unique places to stay during their travels.

Map Exploration: Study maps to identify national forests, state parks, and other public lands that permit camping. Pay attention to campground locations, nearby attractions, and regulations or restrictions, as well as options for dispersed camping. For additional guidance, use apps such as onX, which provides land ownership information for more than 852 million acres of public land. While initially founded for use by hunters, it has since become a go-to resource for campers looking to find public land available for camping.

Safety Precautions: Always prioritize safety when selecting a campsite. Avoid areas prone to natural hazards such as flooding, landslides, or wildfires. Familiarize yourself with local wildlife and take precautions to store food securely.

Regulations: Adhere to any land-use regulations and guidelines that might be in place regarding campfires, waste disposal, noise levels, and pet policies. Respect the environment and fellow campers by practicing Leave No Trace principles.

Flexibility and Backup Plans: Remain flexible in your camping plans, especially if you get to your preferred area only to find it already taken or if the conditions change unexpectedly. Have a backup plan (i.e. other areas) in place and be prepared to explore alternative options. Also consider camping during off-peak seasons or weekdays to avoid crowds and increase the likelihood of securing a desirable campsite for your Tune M1.

A Few Examples:

Heading out in Colorado, Utah, or California? Here are a few examples of awesome camping spots off the beaten track and well away from those more established campsites where you can hear your neighbor:

Colorado: Plenty of public lands exist in Colorado, but there are also a lot of campers. Need ideas? Try places like Buffalo Pass in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest up north; the Flat Tops and Elk Mountain ranges of White River National Forest outside Glenwood Springs and Aspen; and farther south, outside Durango, Silverton, and Telluride, 1.8-million-acre San Juan National Forest.

Utah: Heading to the desert? Dispersed (or primitive camping) can take place on most public lands in Utah, including BLM lands. Maps (physical and digital) are key, so try the Utah BLM interactive web map, stop by a BLM office or print one online. Many also offer a QR code that opens a geo-referenced mapping application (like Avenza). Hotspots include BLM land outside of Moab and Goblin Valley State Park (south of I-70 past Green River); and, farther north, McCoy Flats, a great mountain bike zone outside Vernal.

California: California is big, big, big, so we can’t cover it all. (You’ll have to do your own research.) But if you’re near Yosemite or Sequoia National Parks, here’s a couple hints. Near Yosemite, check out some options from TheDyrt, including such public lands options in Sierra National Forest as Goat Meadow, “Boondock National” and Hardin Flat Road. If you’re in the Mono Lake area, try Mono Lake South or Mono Lake Basin dispersed camping. Near Sequoia National Park, try such dispersed camping areas in Sequoia National Forest as Ant Canyon, Black Gulch, Chamise Flats and Brush Creek.

Bumps

National Forests are the oasis. They’re so big and vast there are always places to camp. But sometimes they’re hard to find a spot that’s reasonable and not crowded. My advice is to use tools available to you to find and assess public lands, whether it’s onX, CAIA CPS or even specific campground sites. Those make it really easy these days. You do that step before your driving-around-and-looking step. You need to use that as tool to know where you can camp. Also, get there early and not during high time. Don’t show up Memorial Day weekend at 9 p.m. on Friday night. Go on a random Tuesday during the shoulder seasons. It’s a lot better.

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