Hiking in brilliantly colored sandstone slot canyons, summiting nearly 12,000-foot peaks, or riding a raft down the mighty Colorado River — these are all possible in Utah, where adventure is the heart of everything. What’s more, these activities can be found just a few hours from each other.
Utah is also all about boondocking, with over 23 million acres of public land to camp on. Many RV travelers spend a whole season here away from the chaos of the city while enjoying the quiet evenings and incredibly dark night skies. Are you ready to explore the Beehive State? Do you want to take your RV travels to a whole new level? Keep reading to learn about some of the best sites for boondocking in Utah, along with some tips on how to make the most of your RV experience.
If you’re looking for boondocking near Zion National Park, we cover that too! Read on to learn more about the free camping Utah has to offer.
Is Boondocking Legal in Utah?
Not only is boondocking legal, but Utah might also be the best state in the whole country for this activity. Much of the land is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, which is generally amenable to camping as long as you don’t stay for more than 14 days, after which you need to move your RV at least 25 miles off.
BLM land is more common in the desert regions on the eastern, western, and southern edges of the state. There’s also plenty of Forest Service-owned land along the Wasatch Range if you’d prefer a more alpine boondocking experience.
Unfortunately, some areas that were previously open to boondocking are no longer available. This resulted from campers being disrespectful — littering, emptying their tanks outside designated facilities, and antagonizing other campers in the area. Be kind to the land and your fellow travelers if you want these spaces to remain open and free to the public.
Now you’re ready to tackle the most difficult question: Where do you start your Utah boondocking trip? There are so many choices, and it’s hard to pick just one. Here are some of the more popular locations.
Top Boondocking Locations in Utah
You can boondock just about anywhere in Utah, but your best bets are in the Wasatch Mountain Range, which runs down from the north to the center of the state, and the southern area where the Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef National Parks are located.
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
To get lost in the desert landscapes of southern Utah, you have to visit the Grand Staircase. Nearly all of the one million-acre monument is open to campers. If you can find a flat patch of ground that suits you, that’s your campsite. Camping permits are required for dispersed camping, but they’re free and available from the monument’s ranger stations.
Nearby Activities: Paddle the sandstone canyons of the Escalante River or go on an epic mountain biking adventure along the 160-mile Grand Staircase loop.
More Information: Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
If you’re in the mood for an otherworldly adventure, nothing beats Bryce Canyon National Park. Known for its hoodoos, or massive “rock fingers” jutting up from the canyon floor, this park is a hiker’s paradise, with the famed Rim Trail being the most popular. Inside the park, you’re limited to two developed campgrounds, the North Campground and the Sunset Campground. Options are more numerous outside the park, where dispersed camping is plentiful.
Nearby Activities: Go canyoneering in one of the park’s slot canyons. Enjoy a combination of rock climbing, rappelling, swimming, and hiking activities — it’s an obstacle course for the adrenaline junkie. For a less strenuous option, try fishing for rainbow trout in Panguitch Lake.
More Information: Bryce Canyon National Park
Box Elder Campground
Located in the far north part of the state, just outside Brigham City, Box Elder Campground is the perfect place for RV campers that don’t want to get too remote with their boondocking. It’s run by the Forest Service and charges a $22 fee — but it has flush toilets and clean drinking water. Mantua Reservoir is also close by, beckoning would-be swimmers with its crystal-clear and cool water.
Nearby Activities: The Wasatch Mountains envelope Box Elder Campground and offer endless hiking opportunities for peak-bagging RV travelers. You’re not far from the city when you stay here, though, and Brigham City has an excellent selection of restaurants, bars, and shopping outlets should you tire of those spectacular mountain views.
More Information: Box Elder Campground
This high-elevation dispersed campsite is ideal for boondockers hoping to stay close to the Salt Lake City-Provo region (It’s a little over an hour from the latter in American Fork Canyon). Dutchman Flat is also just outside the ghost town of Forest City, where you can still see the remains of the late 19th-century community, specifically its cemetery and smelter. There are no facilities at the campground, but, for many, that’s one of its draws.
Nearby Activities: The 11,700-foot Mount Timpanogos is about two hours to the north and is one of Utah’s most popular hiking trails. The Mount Timpanogos Caves National Monument is also close by and features three massive cave systems accessible to hikers of almost all fitness levels.
More Information: Dutchman Flat
Next, we’re going to take a look at the options for free camping near the oh so famous Zion National Park.
Free Camping Near Zion National Park
Zion National Park draws in many visitors each year due to its immense beauty and interesting natural history. Here are the best dispersed camping spots near Zion National Park. Read on to learn more about how to camp for free near Zion.
Lava Point Campground
Zion National Park is one of the five most popular parks in the national parks system. Unfortunately, it only has two campgrounds inside: the South Campground and the Watchman Campground. The park’s third campground is about an hour and a half north of the area at Lava Point. Campsites have pit toilets and trash cans, but there’s no drinking water and certainly no showers. Unlike most national park campgrounds, Lava Point is free, though it’s open only from May through October.
Nearby Activities: The main draw here is Zion itself. The park is known for its expansive views like Angel’s Landing, perfect for Instagram portraits. If you need civilization, the lively town of St. George is a little over an hour away.
More information: Lava Point Campground
Smithsonian Butte Camping
Camping off the Smithsonian Butte Backcountry Byway is perfect for boondocking and is right up against Zion National Park. Boondockers must camp at least half a mile off the Byway. Otherwise, set up where you please! This spot is a common refuge for locals and is surrounded by gorgeous Utah scenery.
Nearby Activities: While ATVs and motorsports are not recommended in this area — there are tons of spots for some truly spectacular hikes. Photographers also get the chance to whip out the night settings for some stellar panoramas.
More Information: Smithsonian Butte Camping
Flying Monkey Mesa Sites
Just off Mesa Road are two boondocking spots aptly titled Flying Monkey Mesa Sites. These boondocking areas are off a dirt road and up on a hill, making for some stellar scenery. This is a dry site so bring all the water and food you’ll need. Please note that these sites can only hold a few campers each, but if you’re looking for seclusion and beautiful hilltop views, then this is the spot for you!
Nearby Activities: The view down into the Virgin River Valley, near Monkey Mesa, is the real reason to stay at the Flying Monkey Mesa Sites. Bring a picnic and your camera for some proposal-worthy views.
More Information: Flying Monkey Mesa Sites
5 Tips for RV Boondocking in Utah
There’s a nearly endless selection of campsites to choose from when boondocking in the Beehive State, but preparation is critical to an enjoyable experience. Here are a few of the more important things to keep in mind when boondocking in Utah.
- Study the maps. Nearly half of the state is public land that is run by different state departments, so their guidelines could vary. Having one or more boondocking apps will help keep your RV adventure and camp planning organized.
- Bring the essentials. You need food, water, and shelter to enjoy the experience, and they are in short supply at some of Utah’s more remote campsites. Make your meals ahead of time and carry plenty of water.
- Know the terrain before you go. Some campsites are just off the highway, but most require a long journey down a bumpy dirt road. Does your RV have the ground clearance for it? Do you have the driving skills? Read up on campsites and the roads you’ll take to reach them.
- Watch out for the winter. Camping in the snow isn’t for everyone. Fortunately, southern Utah has some mild winters that are great for off-season boondocking and RV trips. Still, if it’s the winter season and you come unprepared for the cold, you can say goodbye to its wonderful snowtime activities.
- Monitor the weather. Utah has some harsh summer storms, and a little bit of rain on your tent isn’t all you’ll need to worry about. Flooding is common, especially in the desert where runoff is less likely to soak into the hard-packed ground.
RV Rental for Utah
Utah is your oyster, and the only limitation is the number of your vacation days. But as with any outdoor adventure, nothing is more important than reliability when camping in the middle of the desert or high up in the mountains. Fortunately, when you choose a Cruise America RV rental, you know you’ll reach your destination comfortably and safely. Each of our units undergoes a 110 point inspection before it’s rented out to you.
Think you're ready for a Utah RV adventure? Are the Wasatch Peaks calling your name, or do the dusty trails and shimmering red rocks have you longing for boondocking near Zion? Get the ball rolling and book your RV reservation today.