Free camping has become a popular option for getting away and into less populated areas.
Free camping is often called boondocking, dispersed camping, primitive camping, and wild camping. Although called by different names, they all have the basics in common no public facilities such as bathrooms with flush toilets, potable (drinking) water, or hot showers.
These campsites usually are remote and have fewer people than a campground. Best of all, they are free.
Asheville can be an expensive place to travel if you include lodging. Why not stay for free somewhere, enjoy the Blue Ridge Mountains, and still visit famous local breweries and restaurants.
We will be focusing on tent camping sites, and if you are interested, we have another article about RV sites and van camping near Asheville.
Asheville is located between the two main sections of Pisgah National Forest, so these two locations will have your most options of free camping sites in the vicinity of Asheville. All National Parks allow dispersed camping. National Parks sometimes limit it to only designated marked sites, call the local ranger office and check before you go.
Most of the dispersed camping is off of forest service roads marked by FS (and then a number)on your Pisgah National Forest maps. Call the Pisgah Ranger Station 828-877-3265 to ensure the forest service road you wish to go on is open for passage, as sometimes they get closed down due to weather damages. You can buy a map at most outfitters in the area or order online. We suggest getting a map locally, giving you the opportunity to talk to the local employees who can add knowledge of the Blue Ridge Mountain area.
There are many options for free camping here. The North Mills River area has some great spots for tenters, vans, teardrops but not larger RV’s or large pull campers. There is a horse camp located on FS 5000, so trailers do drive down it, but it can be tight in some areas. Most of the spots are marked and have established fire rings, and some have tent pads. There is also a small fee campground North Mills River Campground, open year-round to accommodate larger RV’s and have vault toilets but no hot showers. To get to the free spots, take FS 5000, also called Wash Creek rd. This road connects the North Mills River area to the Blue Ridge Parkway and is a gravel road to get rough and bumpy in sections. I would always scout out this area before pulling anything down a forest service road. Remember that the Blue Ridge Parkway often closes in the winter so that you may get to the end, and it is gated off. The sites along FS 5000 are marked, so you will quickly see them. Go early in the day as they do fill up.
Another great forest service road is Yellow Gap road also known as FS 1206. Yellow Gap road goes from the North Mills River area all the way through to US 276. There are several camping spots along the way. The camping sites are all marked as designated camping sites. Head south on US276, and there is FS 475B Headwaters Rd. on your right, just a short distance down. FS 475B is also a winding narrow dirt road. Several sites are along this road, some with multiple tent pads and fire rings for larger groups. Check out Big Bearpen campsites. The south end of Headwaters rd FS 475B will bring you to Slick Rock Falls, a little-known waterfall across the road from multiple free camping sites. Another mile south, you will find the Pisgah National Forest Fish Hatchery. An insider’s guide tip go to the secret swimming hole near here for some deep river water or hike the less populated Cemetery Loop Trail to see some history of Western North Carolina.
An excellent place for dispersed camping and is close to civilization is in the Avery Creek area. You can find Avery Creek rd. FS 477 is just north of the Pisgah Ranger Station on US 276. The Avery Creek area is less than 10 minutes from Brevard, NC, with breweries, restaurants, and shopping. There is a large group camping site in the first mile with bathrooms but no hot showers. There are several more roadside camping locations farther up the road also with tent pads and fire rings.
In the Big Ivy area Coleman Boundary, there is free primitive camping off of FS 74. This narrow dirt road is not suited for pull campers or bigger. There are several roadside camp spots.
Neals Creek rd FS 2074 has great riverside primitive camping. This road is right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, making it easy and beautiful to get to.
Curtis Creek North dispersed camping is on Curtis Creek rd FS 482. This road is between Old Fort and Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a paved part of the way but gravel the rest. There are dispersed camping sites all along the road, but you can also find a small, very cheap campground located on this road. Some of the dispersed spots are close to the campground so that you can use the bathrooms(no hot showers) at the campground.
Always pack out what you pack in. Leave the site better than how you found it. Please bury bathroom waste and also toilet paper. We all enjoy these locations for their natural beauty and hate to get to a trashy site. Rangers have in the past closed roadside camping for all due to people trashing the area.