FreeCampinginBendOregon

Bend is a prime free camping location for many reasons. For one, being a famous mountain biking destination, right next to Smith Rock, an iconic climbing spot, and just a stone throw away from the Three Sisters mountain range, the city of Bend is an outdoor and adventure capital of the PNW. Second, nearly everything west of downtown Bend is designated National Forest land, open to the public for recreational use AKA a free camping haven.

It’s not just any free camping too. Free camping in Bend is a pristine experience with its beautiful old growth forests and natural features. Dispersed camping is totally legal, but for the sake of protecting natural places, ALWAYS follow Leave NO Trace principles.

Free Camping in Deschutes National Forest

Best for: Varies depending on the road quality
Nearby activities: Right at the trailheads to Phil’s Trail system (Bend’s best mountain biking), short drive to Tumalo Falls, and only 15 minutes from downtown
Toilets: None
Water: None

While most National Forest has great free camping, Deschutes NF is even more spectacular. Deschutes National Forest is just west of downtown Bend. This National Forest is very big and where Deschutes NF does ends, more NF areas like Cascade Lakes and Willamette NF begin. Point being, Deschutes NF is a large, dense forest with plenty of room for everyone who want to enjoy its dispersed camping.

By camping here you’re also only a 15 minute drive from the hustle and bustle downtown Bend as well as Tumalo Falls, which is even further west.

The best part about free camping here is that the campsites sit right at the access points to Phil’s trail system, some of Bend’s most epic mountain biking. Click here to read our guide to Bend’s best mountain biking.

one of a kind appearance,
Chopping wood and chillin on a dirt roads

Dispersed camping sites can usually be found off of any road marked NF within national forest land. Some roads are extremely popular while others are quite desolate and different roads are also better for different size vehicles. Here are the top places for free camping in Deschutes and tips for who it’s best for. There are large open areas that are great for big rigs, group camping, and more.

NF-4610, coordinates: 44.038352, -121.419245

Free Camping Bend Oregon
Big open campsites on NF-4610

This is one of the best spots for big rigs or groups tent. 4610 is a long forest road. Right where the road begins is where the largest sites can be found and is a popular access point for Ben’s MTB trail. Note however that these big spots are often taken. Get there before noon on a weekday and you should be able to snag a a spot.

Half a mile further up the road there are some big ruts that can easily be avoided if you straddle them but big rigs, you have been warned. Past the ruts you’ll reach more secluded campsites. The further out you venture, the less cell service there will be so be prepared.

NF-300, coordinates: 44.032063, -121.461899

This is not an ideal spot for tent campers but it’s perfect for vans and okay for big rigs. NF-300 is the access point for Bend’s iconic Whoops mountain bike ride. The parking area is great for vans to camp at.

If you have a larger vehicle/camper, it can be challenging to find flat parking. Instead you will have to drive another mile down the road to a flatter and slightly larger parking space at the bottom of a small hill. This is also the only turn around spot for large vehicles.

Needless to say, this isn’t a prime spot for big campers. This is however a great place for small campers and vans because of the proximity to Whoops trail. Mountain biking not your thing? Maybe opt for a different forest road.

NF-406, coordinates: 44.052061, -121.401747

Free Camping Bend Oregon
Watching the sunset from more secluded camp sites down NF-406

This is the most secluded forest road that also keeps you in close proximity to everything. NF-406 does do a few–I guess you could call them whoop dee doos–on the drive in so really long vehicles should take caution not to scrape. Besides that, pretty much any vehicle can drive in here.

The best spots can be found at the large, obvious junction. There aren’t a ton of sites here, but so few people come camp out here that there should be something for you to grab. The spots are very big and open here with plenty of space to throw up a hammock, slackfline, or make a mike fire pit.

This campsite is less than a mile from Ben’s Trail access point. Just head back the way you came from Skyliners and cross the street to the trail. This is also a good way to access Shevlin Park and off roading areas.

Related: Mountain Biking Bend, Oregon: 5 Epic Rides You Must Do

Free Camping on Cascade Lakes Highway

Free Camping Bend Oregon
Hiking to Doris Lake in the Three Sisters Wilderness

Best for: Vans and RVs
Nearby activities: Mountain biking the Tiddlywinks trail system, hiking/backpacking in the Three Sisters Wilderness.
Toilets: Pit toilets at Trailheads
Water: None

Since the wilderness along Cascade Lakes Highway is filled with dozens of beautiful backpacking trips, most trailheads allow free overnight parking. If there is a sign however that specifically says no overnight parking, please heed the rule and find a different trailhead. Since it’s really only allowed for the purpose of backpackers having somewhere to leave their cars overnight, I wouldn’t set up a large camp or pitch a tent. This is great free camping for vans and RVs though and often times the trailheads are tucked away in beautiful nooks of forest. A peaceful place to chill and get some sleep and you’re in close proximity to tons of epic hikes.

Note: A NW Forest Pass, Oregon State Parks Pass, or Interagency (national Parks) Pass is required for parking at any trailhead along Cascade Lakes highway. Either of the the former two can be purchased in Bend at the Visit Bend store or at the Cascade Lakes Welcome Center/Ranger Station.

Top trailheads for overnight parking:

  • Six Lakes Trailhead
  • Lucky Lake Trailhead
  • Green Lakes Trailhead

Related: 10 Things You Must Do in Bend, OR in the Summer

Overnight Parking at Sno Parks

Free Camping Bend Oregon
Sno Parks give you instant access to hikes like Tumalo Mountain trail where you’ll be greeted with stunning views like this

Best for: Vans and RVs
Nearby activities: Mountain biking the Tiddlywinks trail system, hiking/backpacking in the Three Sisters Wilderness.
Toilets: Pit toilets
Water: None

Along Cascade Lakes Scenic Highway there are a lot of options as far as NF-roads and disperse camping, however, if you’re looking or something easy and less rugged, all the Sno Parks along this highway allow overnight parking in the summer.

There are 6 different Sno-Parks along Cascade Lakes Highway over the course of only 8 miles so there are plenty of free camping spots to choose from. Wanoga Sno-Park is the best choice in my opinion since it sits at the trailhead to some of Bend’s best mountain biking trails, Tiddlywinks, Funner, and Tyler’s Traverse.

Since these Sno-Parks are really just big parking lots, tent campers will not be able to free camp here but this is perfect for vans or RVs that want peaceful, secluded overnight parking and quick access to outdoor activities along the scenic highway.

Use this map for quick access to all the free camping in Bend

Other Paid Camping Options

Smith Rock Bivouac Area

Free Camping Bend Oregon
Iconic Smith Rock State Park filled and its perfect climbing walls

Best for: Tent only
Nearby activities: Iconic rock climbing destination plus hiking and mountain biking at Smith Rock
Toilets: Pit toilets + showers
Water: Yes

It’s not free, but if you’re tent camping it’s worth the cost to camp at the beautiful, scenic Smith Rock State Park. The campground is walk-in, though the parking lot is short one or two hundred feet from the campsites. Unfortunately your vehicle must be less than 20 feet, you are not allowed to sleep in your car, and RVs are not allowed. This campground is first-come first-serve and fills up fast. It also has free showers, a charging station, and a communal sink.

Skull Hollow Campground

Best for: Vans, RVs, and Tents
Nearby activities: 15 minutes from Smith Rock
Toilets: Pit toilets
Water: None

Skull Hollow Campground isn’t free but it’s low cost and a more ideal location if you’re looking to explore Smith Rock State Park. There are 28 designated sites here, all first-come first-serve, and cost $10 for single sites and $20 for double sites. There are pit toilets at this campground. Even though it’s cheap, I honestly think Skull Hollow is a bit overpriced for basically the same camping you can get in Deschutes NF. However, you do get better star gazing here and you’re a 15 minute drive from Smith.

There is a large parking lot right before the campground that is popular to free camped at.

Tumalo State Park

Free Camping Bend Oregon
The elusive running water and electricity campsite at Tumalo State Park

Best for: Vans, RVs, and Tents
Nearby activities: 30 minute drive to Smith Rock or downtown Bend
Toilets: Flush Toilets + Showers
Water: Yes

Tumalo is not very scenic or in proximity to much as far as hiking, biking, climbing, and the city/nightlife. This State Park is simply good if you want to rest and recover with access to water, showers, flush toilets, and electricity. Tumalo also has a few sites with sewer hookups. There are 24 full hookup sites here ($40) and 54 regular sites ($20-30).

Related: 16 Best Campgrounds in Oregon

Tips + Facilities

Showers

Tumalo State Park is a great place to get a shower because 1) you don’t have to be camping in the park to use the showers, 2) It’s $2 for an unlimited shower, and 3) the showers are SUPER warm. This is the go-to place when you need a REAL shower.

Smith Rock’s Bivy Area (the tent only campground) also offers unlimited $2 showers for unregistered campers.

If you just need to freshen up a bit take part in one of Bend’s awesome water activities like:

  • Go cliff jumping at Steelhead Falls
  • Try river surfing at Bend Whitewater Park (Hint: It’s not as easy as it looks)
  • Innertube/float down the Deschutes River (Start from the Whitewater Park and get out
  • Go for a swim at any river access point in downtown bend (Drake Park
  • Splash in the river at Tumalo State Park

Water + Dump Stations

If you’re in a self contained vehicle you’re going to be looking for water and a dump station. There are two in downtown Bend. One is closer to the Deschutes free camping areas but the other one is free:

  • Free dump & fill station: Chevron station on NW Revere (Next to the Blockbuster)
  • Paid dump & fill station: Shell station on NW Galveston
  • Paid dump & fill station: Lava Lake Campground on Cascade Lakes Highway. If you’re free camping way out in Three Sisters Wilderness, this is probably a more convenient location.

Laundry

If you need to do some laundry there is a laundromat right across the street from the Shell station and it’s right next to The Lot food truck patio (see below).

Food + Drinks

Real quick summary of the top places to eat and drink. Pretty much everything you could ever need lies on Galveston St including…

  • The Lot: A food truck patio, chill hangout, great lunch spot, live music on weekends
  • 10 Barrel Brewing Co:
  • Coffee & breakfast (Not on Galveston): Bluebird Coffee, Backporch Coffee Roasters, Lone Pine Coffee Roasters, and Great Harvest Bread Co

Get quick access to these camping spots, showers, dump stations, and more with this custom map:

Leave No Trace:

Once again PLEASE remember to follow these basic Leave No Trace rules. It’s sad to see how few abide by Leave No Trace and it’s caused these free camping locations to go down in quality over the years because of simple things like leaving your campsite covered in trash.

  • Pack out all trash
  • Camp on bare soil to avoid damaging or killing plants and grass.
  • Don’t try to level or dig trenches in the ground at your campsite. Select a campsite with good natural drainage.
  • Use existing fire rings if they exist. Minimize the scarring of new rocks, soil and plants by using existing fire rings
  • Clear an area of combustible material six feet away from a campfire to reduce the chance of it spreading into a wildfire.
  • If you don’t bring your own firewood, collect only dead and downed wood that is on the ground. You should not cut branches off of live trees. If a popular camping area does not have dead and downed wood, bring your own firewood or use a camp stove.
  • NEVER LEAVE A FIRE UNATTENDED. You should have a bucket, shovel, and axe available to control or extinguish escaped fire.
  • BEFORE YOU LEAVE YOUR CAMPFIRE, MAKE SURE IT IS DEAD OUT. You should be able to put your whole hand into the ashes without being burned and it should be cool to the touch.
  • Dispersed camping means no bathrooms and no outhouses. That means extra care has to be taken in disposing of human waste.To dispose of feces, dig a hole 6 inches deep and AT LEAST 200 FEET AWAY FROM ANY WATER SOURCE.  When you’re done, fill the hole with the dirt you dug up and take your toilet paper with you to dispose of in a proper waste container.
  • Never defecate or leave toilet paper on top of the ground, it could easily get into the local water source and contaminate it.

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