Camping for Free near Moab

By: Emily Thompson + Save to a List

There's so much public land surrounding Moab that you never have to pay for camping if you don't want to! You just have to know where to go and how to do it right.

Wide open spaces are a big reason to love the American West. Even better is that much of the open space is public land, meaning it’s owned by the federal government to be used by the people. There are different kinds of public lands (national parks are one example), but most of the public land around Moab is totally free to use, including for camping. There’s enough of it that you never have to pay for a campground in Moab if you don’t want to! You can simply drive a dirt road, pull over when you see a nice spot, and set up camp.

This is called dispersed camping (or boondocking), and it’s really pretty easy once you know a few things. You have to know where to go that camping is allowed, and you have to be totally self-sufficient. With dispersed camping there are no facilities or services, and no one is paid to clean up after you. That means it’s solely on you to pack in everything you need, then pack it all out without leaving any trace. It’s important to leave your public lands as good or better than you found them, in order to keep them beautiful and free for everyone in the future. So, first I want to talk about the best ways to do that, then I’ll reveal some of the best places to camp for free near Moab.

How to dispersed camp in the desert

A comfortable dispersed camping setup
    • Be totally self sufficient: Bring everything you need for comfortable nights in the desert, including extra supplies in case your stay goes longer than planned
    • Pack it in, Pack it out: Everything you bring with you needs to go with you, too. Don’t leave any waste!
    • Drive only on roads: Tire tracks on the desert take a long time to heal, so drive only on designated roads.
    • Use established camp spots: In general camping is allowed anywhere, but you need to stick to clearings that have clearly been used before. Don’t go trampling soil or vegetation to make a new campsite.
    • Don’t cut or collect firewood: You can make a fire (if restrictions aren’t in place), but you’ll need to bring your own fuel because wood is a valuable resource in the desert. Also, you should only use existing fire pits and don’t make them any larger. No need for bonfires!

In general you should just strive to Leave No Trace. There’s no reason to leave your mark on the places you go. That of course means no graffiti or carvings, but also means no trash, no unnecessary tire tracks, ashes, or human waste (ew…). Ever thought about investing in a portable toilet? They are actually pretty affordable, and more comfortable and more sanitary than you might think!

So, if you promise to tread lightly and leave the desert better than you found it, I’ll share some of my favorite free camping around Moab. These are roads and general areas, not specific locations, so you’ll have to drive around a bit to find your ideal spot. Also keep in mind that there might be certain restrictions within, so just watch for signs marking any place where camping is off limits.

Free camping areas near Moab

Dispersed camping site by a natural arch in Behind the Rocks area
  • Willow Springs Road - A road that goes from Highway 191 into Arches National Park, with lots of big and flat camping spots not far from the highway. It’s a very popular area, but the farther you go the fewer people you’ll see. It turns into a 4-wheel drive road before entering the park.
    Klondike Bluffs Road
    - Another dirt road off 191 that eventually leads into Arches, but a bit less busy than Willow Springs. This road also has trailheads for hiking and biking, in addition to the dispersed camping spots.
    Dubinky Well Road
    - One of a handful of good dirt roads in the Bartlett Flat area, which is on the way to Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park. Camp spots are abundant here, and there are some relatively unknown hiking trails worth exploring.
    Behind the Rocks
    - With a capable 4x4 you can venture into the “Behind the Rocks” area south of Moab, which is full of OHV and bike trails among crazy sandstone formations. Some of the roads are for advanced drivers only, but most of the camp spots are along the easier roads.
    La Sal Pass Road
    - This is different from La Sal Loop Road, which is a paved drive into the La Sal Mountains. The Pass Road is dirt, and links with the paved road but continues over the mountain range. You’ll need high clearance and potentially 4-wheel drive, but less traffic means there’s more secluded spots to camp among aspen trees and grassy meadows.

These are of course not all the areas where you can camp for free around Moab, but they are some of the common ones. It’s possible to find even wilder-feeling spots with no one else around, but it’s up to you to go search for them! Just always remember to Leave No Trace and to love your public lands!

This story is by Southwest Jeep Adventures, a Moab-based provider of camper Jeep rentals and trip planning services. Check out our site to learn more about Moab!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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