Where to Camp Free in (And Near) San Diego

Know the public access laws and find your spot in the wilderness
free camping trailer going through redwoods

Get our tips for finding free camping in San Diego and beyond.

Where to Camp Free in (And Around) San Diego

Pssst. Wanna see stars twinkling in all their glory? Then go where no human has trod and where there are no city lights. Obviously, we’re not talking KOA campgrounds. We’re talking pure escape, a no-cost freedom adventure in the woods, at an obscure lake, at the edge of a mountain.

It’s not as difficult as you might think to find your spot in the wilderness. Matthew Hofmann of Living Vehicle says that 15 percent of U.S. land is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. That translates to millions of acres of public land—that you own—where you can camp, free, for up to 14 days (some places 30 days!), annually. In fact, unless there is a sign posted that says you can’t camp, (Day Use Only or No Overnight Parking, for example) you can—on any federally designated lands including:

• National forests

• National grasslands

• Wildlife Management Areas (WMA)

If you see a brown-and-yellow sign, you are in luck because that means you are about to enter public land where you can camp. But free doesn’t necessarily mean without restrictions or responsibilities. An excellent idea before you head out on the open road or accidentally plow through a meadow (not allowed) is to check in at the nearest ranger station or call ahead to determine any regulations (campfire rules, for example) and the areas that are and are not legal.

More Resources

Here are some excellent websites and apps to aid you along the way to free recreation in the open air:




ultimatecampgrounds.com (paid and free sites)



Categories: Lifestyles