With nearly 200 days of sunshine a year, 4.7 million acres of forest, and countless spectacular rivers, dunes, lakes, and caves, Indiana is full of natural sights ready to be discovered. Camping in Indiana is one of the best ways to experience them!
Primitive (dispersed) camping in Indiana is legal and free in public areas like the magnificent state forests here. There are also some free campsites beside the hiking trails in the state parks and forests, so camping really is a cheap and easy way to enjoy the landscape in the ‘Hoosier State’.
We cover wild (free) camping, the rules, and how to find Indiana’s free campsites in this article. As well as where to find cheap campsites that are also suited to RVs.
So grab your tent, and get ready for starry nights and spectacular scenery. Let’s start your camping in Indiana adventure!
Camping in Indiana
In our opinion, there’s nothing better than camping. It’s your chance to get back to basics, enjoy nature, and separate yourself from the hustle and bustle of 21st century life. It also allows you to experience some of nature’s best views for free.
The fantastic thing about Indiana is that free camping is legal, as long as you are camping on state ground and adhere to a few simple guidelines (we outline those further down).
Land looked after by the Bureau for Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will be state owned. Typically any areas that are green on Google Maps are also publicly owned. A great state map, such as this one, could help in finding free camping spots too.
Just be aware that there are a few areas where free camping in Indiana is forbidden – we list them a little further down in this article.
In order to minimize the impact on the environment many of the state forests and parks also have their own campgrounds, in the hope of encouraging campers to pitch their tent there. They are often situated in some of Indiana’s most beautiful spots, have decent facilities and are close to great hiking trails, so tend to be a cheap alternative to camping completely in the wild.
The fees for these campgrounds – many of which are suited for RVs – vary depending on what facilities are there. The more basic the campground the cheaper it tends to be. You can can see a list and the location of these state park campgrounds by clicking here and choosing ‘tent’ in the ‘I’m looking for‘ pull-down menu. Leave the reservation dates blank and the search function will take you to a list with all 33 state park campsites, along with information on their location and facilities. You can do the same for RVs – there will be 30+ choices to choose from too.
Free camping in Indiana: The guidelines and where to find free campsites
With hiking trails crisis-crossing the state, many hikers and walkers prefer to camp as they walk. This is free camping at its wildest, but there are several rules that hikers are expected to abide by when wild camping, or staying in the free campsites that are situated beside trails.
However you can camp anywhere in Indiana’s forests apart from these areas:
- Paid campsites
- Parking areas, trailheads, and day-use areas
- Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest (Orange County)
- Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower site
- Hemlock Cliffs area
The state forest authorities also ask that campers stay 300ft from trailheads, and camp 100+ feet away from waterfalls and trails.
You should also leave your pitch the way you found it, and minimize waste. When going to the toilet you should do it at least 100m from a water source (such as a river or lake), and use a trowel (like this folding one) when needed.
Furthermore, be aware of restrictions on campfires in whatever region you are. If in doubt, avoid making a campfire. We’d recommend using a storm cooker, then you can cook anywhere you want. Without a doubt, the best ones on the market are Trangia storm cookers.
It’s best to stay for only a limited time in each camping spot. However in Indiana state parks you can stay for up to two weeks at a time.
Be aware of the flora and fauna in the region of Indiana you’re planning to camp in. There is a chance you could come across bears, coyotes and even mountain lions while staying in forested areas!
If you’re looking to hike Indiana’s trails and camp at the same time, then along with the option of wild (dispersed) camping, many of the trails that are longer than 10 miles also happen to have free campsites too. These primitive campsite are situated along the trails (called back-country camping by the state) and are under a first-come first-served basis. Many are shelters, so will provide a welcome roof over your head if the weather isn’t ideal for a tent.
There are 17 hiking trails within Indiana nature reserves that are longer than ten miles and have a free camping option. You can find them by clicking here.