Loyalsock Creek near the Onion Hole camping area, Loyalsock State Forest.
Pennsylvania features hundreds of free campsites for those looking for an inexpensive, isolated getaway, or refuge from the noise, crowds, and smoke of developed campgrounds.
Most of these free sites are on state forest lands. Most do not have any amenities, while a few may have picnic tables or a fire ring. Do not expect toilets, showers, or running water. These are primitive sites. Campsites are often along gravel forest roads which are usually in good shape, but can be muddy in spring, and impassable in winter. All sites are vehicle accessible, with your vehicle being at, or very close, to the campsite.
These sites are usually intended for tent camping. If you have a camper van or small trailer, contact the office to see if they are allowed or can be accommodated.
While free, all sites require registration and permit so be sure to call first.
Delaware State Forest: 29 sites with fire ring, picnic table, sign board. For anglers and paddlers, these sites are close to the state forests numerous lakes and ponds. For hikers, sites are close to the Thunder Swamp Trail system. Call 570-895-4000 for a permit.
Pinchot State Forest: 3 sites at the Manny Gordon Recreation Area, pit toilets are nearby. Sites are nestled among pine, hemlocks, and rhododendrons. The Pinchot Trail is nearby.
Moon Lake Recreation Area has 12 sites, most have a fire ring and picnic table. This is a best kept secret with a natural lake for fishing and paddling. Miles of mountain bike trails surround the camping area making this superb for bike riders. Also, Ricketts Glen is a short drive away, making Moon Lake an ideal alternative to that state park’s busy campground. Call 570-945-7133 for a permit.
Loyalsock State Forest: Some of the best free campsites are found in this state forest. Sites are often in scenic areas and hemlock groves. The perfect option for hikers, as sites are close to the state forest’s extensive system of trails to vistas, waterfalls, gorges, ponds, and rock formations. Beautiful Worlds End State Park is nearby.
There are 69 sites spread throughout the state forest. Loyalsock is unique for having four camping areas: Sand Spring, Masten, Onion Hole, and Bridle Trail. These camping areas have several sites making them ideal for larger groups.
Call 570-946-4049 for a permit.
Brochure and map.
Weiser State Forest: Has about 18 individual and group sites on its various tracts. The sites in the Haldeman Tract are recommended due to the existence of a hiking and mountain bike trail system, and an excellent view from the hang glider launch, which offers superb sunsets. Call 570-875-6450 for a permit.
Michaux State Forest: Has many designated sites throughout the forest. The Appalachian Trail is close by, as are many other hiking trails, and two state parks, Caledonia and Pine Grove Furnace. Call 717-352-2211 for a free permit.
Tioga State Forest: There are several sites available, which are close to excellent hiking along the Pine Creek Gorge and Asaph area. There are also mountain bike trails, rock climbing, and paddling. Call 570-724-2868 for a free permit. Tioga State Forest has two primitive campgrounds at County Bridge and Asaph, but a fee is required.
Susquehannock State Forest: The only designated sites for motorized camping are at the 2 Mile and Dyer equestrian camping areas, which are intended for horseback riders. Call 814-274-3600 for a permit.
Elk State Forest: Several sites are available in the forest, including an equestrian camping area and a primitive campground. Many trails are in the state forest. Do not miss exploring the beautiful Quehanna Wild Area. Wild elk herds are in the forest, and sites are close to the elk viewing areas. Sizerville State Park is a scenic, quaint park that is worth visiting. Do not miss a scenic drive on Ridge Road with its many excellent vistas. Call 814-486-3353 for a permit.
Tiadaghton State Forest: With an extensive hiking trail system that offers some of the best scenery in the state, Tiadaghton is camping paradise. The Pine Creek Trail, Mid State Trail, Golden Eagle Trail, and Black Forest Trails are all close. There are mountain bike trails and opportunities for paddling. Call 570-753-5409 for a permit.
Sproul State Forest: The largest of the state forests, Sproul covers over 305,000 acres. Enjoy the Chuck Keiper and Dount Hole Trails. Paddy Falls is a beautiful spot. There are many vistas, including famous Hyner View. Intrepid hikers should explore beautiful Clendenin Branch. Call 570-923-6011 for a permit.
Moshannon State Forest: Many designated sites are available throughout the forest. Enjoy the Quehanna and Allegheny Front Trails, Black Moshannon State Park, and the serene trails of the Quehanna Wild Area. There are ponds, elk viewing areas, and large rocks. This is an isolated and beautiful state forest. Call 814-765-0821 for a permit.
Bald Eagle State Forest: There are 45 designated sites with fire rings and picnic tables. The forest has many trails and natural areas. Enjoy the Mid State Trail, vistas, and many natural areas, including old growth forests. The Poe Paddy area is scenic with rugged ridges, canyons, and ridges. Call 570-922-3344 for a permit.
Map and brochure.
Rothrock State Forest: There are 8 designated sites with a picnic table and fire ring. Great hiking and mountain biking can be found here. Hike the Mid State and Standing Stone Trails with awesome vistas. Do not miss Rocky Ridge, Little Juniata Water Gap, or Alan Seeger Natural Areas. Penn Roosevelt State Park is a hidden gem. Call 814-643-2340 for a permit.
Tuscarora State Forest: Camp sites are available. See the remains of a train tunnel, views, and an old growth forest. Call 717-536-3191 for a permit.
Cornplanter State Forest: One site is available. It is close to the southwest corner of the Allegheny National Forest. Call 814-723-0262 for a permit.
Allegheny National Forest: There are many sites available with the most popular being along the gorgeous Clarion River and Millstone Creek. There are 17 sites along the Clarion and 9 along the Millstone. They tend to be popular.
Brochure and map.
Other sites can be found throughout the national forest where there are many trails, vistas, old growth forests, and cliffs. The Allegheny Reservoir is beautiful and ideal for kayaking its coves and bays. A world class mountain bike trail system is at Jakes Rocks. Hike the North Country Trail, Minister Creek, Morrison, and Tracy Ridge Trails.
For camping in the northern half of the national forest, call the Bradford Ranger Station – 814-362-4613, and in the southern half, call the Marienville Ranger Station – 814-927-6628.
Clear Creek State Forest: There are four sites. Enjoy trails to large rocks and along streams with rhododendron jungles that bloom in early July. Call 814-226-1901 for a permit.
Forbes State Forest: There are 6 sites throughout the forest, all near trails and other points of interest. Forbes State Forest has extensive recreational opportunities with many trails, natural areas, waterfalls, and Mt. Davis, the highest point in the state. Sublime Ohiopyle State Park is a fairly close drive. Call 724-238-1200 for a permit.
PA is a great state, and it doesn’t require a lot of money to explore it.