Heading to an iconic mountain bike destination like Sun Valley, Moab, Sedona, or Fruita? You can camp for free on public lands within riding distance to the trails. Just be a responsible camper while you’re out there, please.
America has a vast amount of public lands, and we’re very lucky to be able to enjoy all those wild places. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allows dispersed camping for up to 14 days in allotted areas through the West, and a lot of national forests around the country also allow free, primitive camping outside of designated campgrounds.
The real perks to dispersed camping are a) it’s free, with no reservations needed and b) you’re out in the woods, enjoying a real wilderness experience on your own. But dispersed camping comes with major responsibilities, too. Leave no trace principles apply, so pack out what you packed in (that means all waste!). Follow all fire guidelines, which means no fires if there’s a fire ban (seriously). And you won’t get things like a picnic table, water spigots, toilets, or trash removal. You’re really on your own out there, so take care of the place and leave it better than you found it.
Finding dispersed camping near mountain bike trails can be tricky—you’re not allowed to camp overnight at trailheads, in most places, but if you’re savvy, you can find Forest Service roadways with pre-established dispersed sites or BLM land that’s riding distance to the trail network. Check out sites like iOverlander, Campnado, Campendium, Freecampsites.net, and The Dyrt to help narrow down your search for dispersed camping sites.
We’re not going to tell you exactly where to go dispersed camping—that’s up to you and discovering the perfect spot is part of the adventure—but we’ll tell you some general zones near mountain biking where, if you look around, you might find a good spot.
Forest Road 525; Sedona, Arizona
You’ll come to Sedona to ride buff trails through red-rock desert. The landscape is striking here, and the camping equally so. There are good dispersed camping areas in dirt pull offs on the side of Forest Road 525, which is within Coconino National Forest. From there, you can pedal from camp down the road to rides in the Boynton Pass area. Some of these areas are closing to camping due to overuse, so be sure to follow these updated guidelines on where to camp and where not to camp.
Gooseberry Mesa; Hurricane, Utah
The bluffs of Gooseberry Mesa are on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and dispersed camping is free and permitted here, but as always, mind regulations and signage and leave no trace on the land. You’ll camp on a red rock cliff with stellar views and an easy drive into the town of Hurricane or to nearby Zion National Park. As for the biking, you’ll pedal right from camp to the many technical trails that dot the Gooseberry Mesa area. The Jem Trail, which is also close by, is more flowy.
Trail Creek Road; Sun Valley, Idaho
Head outside of Sun Valley just a few miles and you’ll find yourself on Trail Creek Road. If you’re lucky, you can snag a first-come, first-served campsite at Boundary Campground, which has a $10 nightly fee but doesn’t take reservations—from there, it’s an easy pedal on a paved bike path into town. Or keep going down the road and you’ll find popular dispersed camping sites still relatively close to town and its miles upon miles of bike trails.
Mount Hough Road; Quincy, California
The Mount Hough downhill is one of the more fun, flowy descents in the Sierra. And a big thank you to the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, which is doing a lot of incredible trail work and new trail development in this area. To ride Mount Hough, book a shuttle for a lift to the top, or arrange a shuttle yourself. There’s free, dispersed camping in Plumas National Forest throughout the area and along the dirt road that climbs to the summit or in select spots near the creek at the bottom.
18 Road; Fruita, Colorado
There’s a big established campground on Fruita’s 18 Road, but this area also has a good number of dispersed sites on BLM land. Some of those sites now require fees, based on an honor system, so as always, mind the signage and check local regulations before you go. Either way, the camping here still feels wild and rugged, and you’re right at some of the area’s most beloved bike trails, like the Edge Loop, an IMBA Epic.
Highway 313; Moab, Utah
There’s a lot of dispersed camping on BLM land on the outskirts of Moab, and you don’t have to look far. Highway 313 has a handful of great zones with large camping areas, and from there, you’re close to the Mag 7 trail and all the trails in the Horsethief area. If you’d prefer a more established campground, the BLM manages the Horsethief Campground and the Cowboy Camp Campground in that same area, with self-service fee stations and no reservations. Or head down the road to Dead Horse Point State Park which has great campsites, yurts for rent, and easy trail access from camp.