Arkansas is one of our favorite places to visit, and free camping is just one of the many reasons why. The Ozark Mountains and the scenic, wild rivers are a big part of Arkansas’ allure. We also love its historic hot springs and its flourishing wine country trail.
By taking advantage of free camping spots, it’s possible to see many regions of the state on a limited budget. Let’s make our way around this beautiful state by exploring the best free camping opportunities in Arkansas.
Is It Legal to Camp Anywhere in Arkansas?
Dispersed camping, also known as boondocking, means staying overnight in an RV off the grid in a self-sufficient way. You’re not setting up in a conventional campground, and you have to provide your own water and electricity. In other words, there are zero amenities.
You can’t just park your rig anywhere, however. To boondock on public lands, you don’t need to make a reservation or register for a space. You should, however, set up camp only in designated spots.
Pro Tip: Never boondock without these 25 items — you’ll thank us later!
Is There BLM Land in Arkansas?
Boondockers who have spent time out west are surely familiar with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. The BLM owns and maintains millions of acres of public lands, and much of it is open for free camping. Most of the acreage is in various western states, including Alaska. The BLM doesn’t oversee any land in Arkansas.
The good news is that another federal agency, the U.S. Forest Service, does. You’ll see that our list of the 10 best free camping spots in Arkansas includes lots of forest lands. The state’s wildlife management agency, the Game and Fish Commission, oversees some of the lands. So does the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
When Is the Best Time of Year for Camping in Arkansas?
The southern states have a well-deserved reputation for being excessively hot and humid in the summer. Because of the elevation in Arkansas’ mountainous areas, it does cool down quite a bit at night.
But to avoid the oppressive daytime heat, we recommend scheduling your trip for the spring, early summer, or early fall. Remember, you’re relying on batteries and a generator for power, so you’ll want to limit your AC and heater use.
How to Find Free Camping in Arkansas
Word of mouth is one way to find out about free camping spots, but there are many online resources, as well. In fact, it seems like there are more and more of them all the time. Some of the more reliable websites and apps include Allstays, Campendium, FreeCampsites, FreeRoam, and The Dyrt.
The ones with first-hand reviews from users are especially helpful. You can learn what to expect, what to avoid, and more from real people’s actual experiences. Recreation.gov also has a listing of all federal government lands. It’s extremely useful but not interactive like most apps.
Pro Tip: You can find camping all across the country with these 7 free camping apps.
The 10 Best Free Camping Spots in Arkansas
With some careful planning ahead of time, you can see quite a bit of Arkansas without paying for campsites. Here are our 10 favorite free camping spots.
1. County Road 122 Dispersed Camping
Just 45 miles east of Little Rock, County Road 122 dispersed camping is a peaceful layover spot or a base camp for exploring Arkansas’ largest city. The designated camping spots are marked with blue paint on trees. It’s near the town of Hazen and fairly close to Interstate 40, but the highway noise is faint.
Be careful not to stray off the gravel if possible because the ground can be soft, especially after rain. Other campers have reported problems with ticks and mosquitoes, so be prepared to put your best pest control practices in place.
2. Crystal Campground
Crystal Campground is even more of a destination because it’s located inside the south’s largest national forest, Ouachita. The Caddo River is nearby, and so is Mount Ida, known for its naturally occurring quartz crystals. You can actually mine for them yourself.
There are nine different sites to choose from, and all of them are level. Each site has its own picnic table, fire pit, and grill. You can even see both the sunrise and the sunset from some of them.
3. Richland Creek Recreation Area
We should put an asterisk next to this “free” camping spot in Arkansas. Richland Creek used to be free, but now there’s a $10 fee to help offset maintenance expenses. There are also vault toilets and fire rings. The road is a bit rough going in and subject to landslides, so it’s a good idea to scout ahead in a smaller vehicle.
The payoff is a beautiful campsite with 15 gravel pads and access to a small stream with rocks, bluffs, and waterfalls. Cell service is spotty.
4. Rattlesnake Road Boat Launch
Back in Hazen outside Little Rock, you can do some fishing or kayaking in the pond or just enjoy the scenery at Rattlesnake Road boat launch. It’s almost like having your own private pond, especially if there aren’t many other campers sharing the space.
However, you won’t be able to do much working online because cell service is severely limited. Road noise from the highway is considerable, but it’s a nice spot, and you can’t beat the price.
5. Fire Tower Road Dispersed Camping
Also in the Hazen area, Fire Tower Road camping area is a bit farther from the highway, so it’s quieter. Like #1 and #4 on our list, it’s a wonderful option for when you’re headed toward or away from Arkansas’ capital city. It’s also a nice place to pull over just to get off Interstate 40 for a bit. These are large, level gravel sites along the fire road and surrounded by woods or a meadow.
6. Fawn Acres Road Dispersed Camping
There’s so much potential free camping land in the Fawn Acres Road area that Arkansas manages it for hunting and fishing. That means that some of your neighbors at these campsites could be here for days at a time for outdoor excursions.
However, depending on the time of year, you could have the place to yourself. There are four grassy, level sites here with fire rings, and it’s convenient to I-40.
7. White River Launch Dispersed Camping
You can expect a feeling of solitude at White River Launch broken only by people occasionally driving by to use the boat launch. You can still hear the highway in the distance, but this pretty area has a few secluded spots near the water. The road is mostly gravel but dirt in some places. There’s a truck stop nearby for supplies, and it has a dump station.
8. Dagmar Designated Campsite 1
This game management area is close to where there have been reported sightings of the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker. Many biologists believe the bird is extinct, but keep your eyes and ears open just in case. The Dagmar wetlands area also has some massive cypress trees that may be more than 500 years old. There are a few dispersed sites down a gravel road with washboarding in places.
9. Lake Des Arc Dispersed
This quiet, free camping spot is about an hour’s drive northeast of Arkansas, closer to Interstate 30. Also managed by the state Game and Fish Commission, Lake Des Arc popular with boaters, especially in the summer. You can expect large, open sites and maybe some boat traffic on the lake itself and at the launch. The closest town is Griffithville, but you’ll want to stock up on supplies in the larger town of Searcy.
10. Lenox Marcus Campground
The Army Corps of Engineers manages this free campsite near Bismarck, Arkansas. Lenox Marcus Campground near the Ouachita National Forest and just off the amazing Scenic Highway 7 Byway. The campground on DeGray Lake has some improvements but not many. Some sites have tables and grills, and some don’t. The bathrooms get the job done but don’t expect them to be spotlessly clean. Cell service is better at the top of the hill.
Beautiful Places Are Waiting to Be Explored in Arkansas
For the budget-conscious traveler, these free camping sites are a terrific way to experience Arkansas without breaking the bank. And as any regular boondocker will tell you, being self-sufficient can give you lots of satisfaction. These sites may not offer the most spectacular scenery you’ll see in the state, but they’ll put you in the neighborhood. They’re solid and reliable spots for taking a break from the highway and jumping-off points for more adventures outdoors. Where is your favorite boondocking site?