You love the appeal of escaping the crowds for your camping experiences, but aren't sure where to go? Read our latest blog by Escapod Trailblazer, Taylor Prather, where we share unique dry camping spots in Utah.
Utah is made up of five National Parks, 43 State Parks, and thousands of privately owned RV parks that swell with millions of people each year. While camping with conveniences like showers, electricity, and restrooms are nice, some prefer to escape the crowded parks and avoid overnight camping fees by camping in dispersed areas.
Dry camping, or boondocking, involves utilizing the nearly 23 million acres of public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service or BLM (Bureau of Land Management). This type of camping requires complete self-sufficiency - you must bring your own water, food, and firewood, and don’t expect amenities such as hookups, restrooms, or sometimes even cell service.
Often designated by a series of numbers and letters, forest roads with dispersed camping options can be found online through a simple search on websites like The Dyrt and iOverlander, or by stopping into a local ranger station. Dispersed campsites can be a few minutes from the highway or miles into the backcountry and are usually designated by a stone fire ring. Dry camping offers an abundance of recreational opportunities - and the best part is, that it’s completely cost-free and free from large crowds.
Here are 4 dispersed areas unique to Utah for you to explore with your Escapod.
If you’re traveling on I-70, Thompson Springs is an unassuming exit, but back in the late 1800s, it was a stop on the Rio Grande railroad. Now it has few residents and much of the town including the saloon, general store, and motel are all but abandoned. However, Thompson Springs' close proximity to Arches National Park and Moab makes it a quiet and enjoyable area for dispersed camping.
The washboard gravel roads are relatively flat without obstacles and are clearly marked with brown forest service signs.
Just be aware that LTE/5G cell service becomes more limited the further you go from the highway, but it can be accessible in some areas.
Check out Sunshine Wall for a great climbing option with fewer crowds. There is also a gravel road not too far from this area that takes you right into Arches National Park! From Arches Salt Wash, turn right on Sun Valley Road and follow for approximately 5 miles.
From there, enjoy one of the many arch hikes. Then drive through the main entrance and into Moab for a meal and a beer at Moab Brewery, or head north on Highway 191 to Klondike Bluffs for mountain biking if that's more your speed!
If you’re looking for something close to Utah’s most popular National Park (Hint: Zion) then head to Virgin. Just two miles from town and 20 minutes from Springdale, this little oasis is a perfect area to set up camp.
The bumpy, sandy roads offer a smattering of camping spots along the creek, most of which are accessible by any type of vehicle. Check creek conditions before enjoying the crystal clear water, as it may contain bacteria known in the area.
5G/LTE cell service is very limited.
Keep following Kolob Terrace Road north and you’ll enjoy a lesser-known drive through Zion National Park, ending at Kolob Reservoir.
Zion National Park’s main entrance via Springdale is the gateway to world-famous hikes like Angels Landing and The Narrows. Each October, mountain bikers flock to Virgin for the annual Red Bull Rampage event, where the world’s best big mountain free riders show off their best tricks and lines.
Located just 59 miles down the road from Escapod HQ, Whitney Reservoir is a great high alpine lake camp experience if you’ve just picked up your brand new Escapod trailer or are renting an Original TOPO.
The closer you get to Whitney Reservoir, the more serious the road becomes. A 4x4 tow rig with high clearance is recommended, especially if you choose to camp on the far south end of the reservoir.
There is no cell service near the reservoir, but there are a number of roads worth checking out that have spotty coverage.
Although it’s a two-hour drive from Escapod HQ, Whitney Reservoir is off of the Mirror Lake Scenic Highway, which offers spectacular views for much of the journey. If you have a kayak, be sure to bring it and enjoy paddling around the reservoir! Or if you’re into fishing, enjoy casting for one of the many types of stocked trout.
If you’re up for braving the driest of dry camping, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular night skies and otherworldly views of Goblin Valley’s hoodoos, which are mushroom-like rock formations that can be found in only a few places in North America.
Less than a mile from the entrance of Goblin Valley State Park, dispersed camping options abound with relatively accessible roads into canyons of all sizes.
Be prepared temps can get into the 100s during summer and there is very little shade!
Cell service is very limited; it’s non-existent in most areas.
For a $20 entry fee, enjoy hiking amongst the hoodoos in Goblin Valley State Park. Return at night for unparalleled views of the Milky Way, as Goblin Valley State Park is a designated International Dark Sky Park, virtually free of light pollution.
Dispersed Camping Tips
While these areas are great for exploring some of the best parts of Utah, some are more difficult to access or are further off the beaten path. If you’re new to dispersed camping, follow these best practices:
1. Check the weather, both for obvious reasons of enjoyment and for road conditions that could change within a moment's notice.
2. Visit the BLM or U.S. Forest Service website for info on where you can camp and what may be a factor in the area. You will be alone and most likely out of reach, so be mindful of areas that could be prone to forest fires or flooding, and keep your wits about you.
3. Know what your rig is capable of and avoid sticky situations by scouting a road or spot before pulling in. There aren’t always turnaround points available.
4. Camp only in designated spots, and keep in mind that some areas may be closed for regeneration. It’s always best to reuse a spot with obvious signs of camping, such as stone fire pits and driveways. Also, be mindful of the surface you’re camping on and avoid spots that can leave deep ruts, or worse, a stuck vehicle.
5. Follow Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly principles. You are a guest, so it’s important to treat each camp spot with respect by packing out all of your trash, using best practices for disposing of human waste, following area rules for campfires, and respecting the rights of others. Bonus camp karma for leaving a spot better than you found it, free from garbage, and maybe even with a couple of extra leftover logs in the fire pit if conditions allow.
Joining Tread Lightly! is a great way to keep up with tools to keep America's outdoor recreation areas beautiful, healthy, and accessible!
Whether you’re new to camping or looking for a budget-friendly trip, dispersed camping is a great alternative to crowded campgrounds and offers a vast variety of terrain and natural features. Consider bringing the creature comforts of home with you on your next dispersed camping trip with an Escapod trailer.
About the Author:
Taylor Prather is the co-founder of Podzilla Off-Road, a channel created to inspire, educate, and motivate overlanders and aspiring adventurers. Prather, her husband, and their two dogs are currently traveling throughout the west in their Escapod Original TOPO, affectionately named Podzilla. Follow their journey on Instagram.