If you’re looking for an epic camping trip without overflowing trail bathrooms or packed campgrounds, you’re in luck: National forests stretch across 193 million acres in the United States, an area more than double that of our national parks.
Much of these forests are designated wilderness, and they’re often used for a lot of the same types of recreation you’d expect from a national park: hiking, camping, fishing, or simply enjoying an escape from the city. Surveys show that national forests rarely feel crowded to visitors, especially in designated wilderness areas.
Best of all, unlike in the NPS, you can often do “dispersed camping” in a national forest: Head in, find a nice spot away from everything, and pitch your tent. The Forest Service has a few guidelines for finding a good campsite. To minimize damage to wildlife, camp on bare soil or in an area where others have camped before, pick a spot that’s level, and stay at least 100 feet away from any water source (plants near water are especially fragile). And, of course, Leave No Trace.
If you want to get away from it all, particularly other human beings, consider these 15 national forests for your next expedition.