15 Boondocking Locations and Free Campsites in Pennsylvania



Do you get stressed out trying to make reservations for your campsites each summer? Do you wish the whole process could be simpler, leaving more time for enjoying the outdoors? 

Boondocking (staying outside of developed campgrounds and usually doing it for free) might be the perfect camping option for you. Ditch the crowds along with the RV hookups, and start boondocking today.

Pennsylvania has a wide variety of boondocking sites spread all across the state. In many cases, you need only pull off of the road to make camp. Read just a bit further, and you’ll learn about some of the very best areas for boondocking Pennsylvania. 

Can I Go Boondocking in Pennsylvania?

Not only is it legal, but Pennsylvania also has some of the best boondocking campsites on the East Coast. Sure, finding a good free campsite close to urban areas like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh can be challenging, but the vast swaths of state and national forest in between are ripe for boondocking.   

Pennsylvania’s state forests are usually light on amenities. Still, what they lack in luxury, they more than make up for with exquisite scenery, abundant wildlife, and plenty of peace and quiet. There aren’t too many regulations either, but it’s always a good idea to check the individual forest’s website. Below are some of the best places to go off the grid in Keystone State.

Top Locations For Boondocking in Pennsylvania

There are so many amazing places to start your boondocking in PA, but your best bets will be state forests, wilderness areas, and popular state recreation spots. You’ll need to be fully prepared, though, as these are bare-bones camping at its best.

Boondocking Locations in Northern Pennsylvania

Northern Pennsylvania is where the state’s residents (and residents of surrounding states) go to get away from it all. The towering Allegheny Mountains, tranquil lakes, and some of the basic hiking trails on the East Coast can be found here.

Sproul State Forest

This was the first state forest designated in Pennsylvania and is about halfway between Pittsburgh and Scranton. Like most of Pennsylvania’s state forests, it offers primitive camping on a first-come, first-served basis. There are several excellent trails in the forest, with a few of them over 50 miles or more in length.

Nearby Activities: Hyner View State Park is a great place to watch hang gliders take off.

More information: Sproul State Forest

Allegheny Reservoir

This 27-mile-long lake is one of the most popular spots for fishing, swimming, and sunbathing during the summer months. A few campgrounds line its shore, and they’re more developed than most, with flush toilets and hot showers at a few of them. Despite its natural beauty, there’s very little development along the lake’s shoreline, allowing you to experience nature in its purest form. 

Nearby Activities: A trailhead for the 4,500 mile-long North Country Scenic Trail sits at the lake’s northern tip. It’s the longest of America’s national scenic trails. 

More information: Allegheny Reservoir

Pinchot State Forest

Just over a half-hour from Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, this is one of the premier boondocking sites in northeastern Pennsylvania. Sites have fire rings and picnic tables, and most are just a short walk away from a delightful lake. 

Nearby Activities: The Pinchot Trail and Thunder Swamp Trail are both close by. 

More information: Pinchot State Forest

Hickory Creek Wilderness

Located in the far northwest corner of the state, about an hour and a half from Lake Erie, Hickory Creek Wilderness is perfect for dispersed camping. It doesn’t get too much use, so you may have the place to yourself.

Nearby Activities: The 12-mile-long Hickory Creek Loop Trail is a great day hike with only modest elevation gain.

More information: Hickory Creek Wilderness

Delaware State Forest

A few dozen campsites with fire rings and picnic tables dot this 83,000-acre forest in the Poconos. There are an abundance of small lakes, short day hiking trails, and shady trails to enjoy.

Nearby Activities: You’ll be near the Thunder Swamp Trail System, a challenging 45-mile-long network of trails traversing the Poconos.

More information: Delaware State Forest

Loyalsock State Forest

Just under two hours west of Scranton, Loyalsock is a fantastic spot for a boondocking angler. Loyalsock Creek flows through a spectacular canyon that’s both filled with fish and provides a wild ride for kayakers.

Nearby Activities: Loyalsock is close to Worlds End State Park, which has several hiking trails, great fishing, and whitewater floating during the spring.

More information: Loyalsock State Forest

Tioga State Forest

Tioga is one of the more remote spots for boondocking in Pennsylvania, about three hours west of Scranton near the New York state border. It’s home to the Pine Creek Gorge, also known as the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.” 

Nearby Activities: Tioga is near the 42-mile-long Black Forest Trail, one of the more challenging backpacking routes in Pennsylvania. 

More information: Tioga State Forest

Tiadaghton State Forest

An hour and a half west of Wilkes Barre and Scranton, Tiadaghton is the perfect boondocking site for hunters, anglers, and hikers looking to recreate on Pine Creek. As with many of the state’s forests, a camping permit is not needed if you only stay for one night.

Nearby Activities: The Mid-State Trail, Black Forest Trail, Bob Webber Trail, and Pine Creek Rail Trail are all close.

More information: Tiadaghton State Forest

Boondocking Locations in Southern Pennsylvania

The southern half of the state is considerably more urban and doesn’t have as many boondocking sites, but there are still quite a few if you know where to look. 

Rothrock State Forest

Just minutes from State College, home to Penn State University, Rothrock sees a lot of traffic from day hiking college kids. However, there are several designated campsites with fire rings and picnic tables—just be sure to get there early to snag a spot.

Nearby Activities: The Standing Stone Trail has some spectacular viewpoints, and you’re never far from great food and nightlife in State College, and you need some civilization.

More information: Rothrock State Forest

Weiser State Forest

Nearly two dozen campsites with fire rings and picnic tables can be found in the Haldeman Tract of Weiser State Forest about forty minutes northeast of Harrisburg. An extensive trail system leaves from the campsite that’s popular with both hikers and mountain bikers. 

Nearby Activities: Watch hang gliders take flight from a launching point at the end of Wolf Pond Road.

More information: Weiser State Forest

Forbes State Forest

This state forest is only a little over an hour from Pittsburgh and is one of the best spots for boondocking in southwestern Pennsylvania. It includes the highest peak in Pennsylvania, Mount Davis. Six state parks lie within its boundaries, but the rest is undeveloped and open to primitive camping.

Nearby Activities: Hike to the Mount Davis observation tower for some of the best views in the whole state.

More information: Forbes State Forest

Tuscarora State Forest

If you’re looking for some great hiking near the Pennsylvania capital of Harrisburg, Tuscarora is an ideal place for boondock camping. It contains four state parks: Little Buffalo, Fowlers Hollow, Colonel Denning, and the Big Spring State Forest Picnic Area. While the state forest permits primitive camping with a permit, the rules for camping in the state parks may vary.

Nearby Activities: Inside the state forest is 23 miles of the Tuscarora Trail, a 220-mile-long bypass of the Appalachian Trail.

More information: Tuscarora State Forest

Michaux State Forest

The 83,000-acre forest lies just an hour southwest of Harrisburg in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Inside the forest is Long Pine Run Reservoir, a popular spot for watersports in the capital region.

Nearby Activities: Michaux is close to Pine Grove State Park, home to the Pine Grove Iron Works ruins. The Appalachian Trail is also accessible for section hiking adventures.

More information: Michaux State Forest

Bald Eagle State Forest

An hour and a half northwest of Harrisburg, near the confluence of the branches of the Susquehanna River, this state forest has nearly fifty campsites set up with fire rings and picnic tables. There are also several great hiking trails that leave directly from the campground.

Nearby Activities: The Mid State Trail leaves from just outside the campground. The over 300-mile long trail through the Appalachians, from Maryland to New York, is called the “wildest trail in Pennsylvania.

More information: Bald Eagle State Forest

Buchanan State Forest

Nearly two and half hours southeast of Pittsburgh, near the Maryland State Line, Buchanan State Forest is one of the more remote spots for boondocking in PA. The area is popular with mountain bikers and anglers, but it’s primarily used by hikers utilizing the nearby Mid State Trail.

Nearby Activities: Hike up to Little Flat Fire Tower or paddle around Colyer Lake.

More information: Buchanan State Forest

Tips for RV Boondocking in Pennsylvania

Scope Out Your Dumpsites. Most of Pennsylvania’s campsites are on state forest land, which doesn’t have many amenities. The biggest concern is finding a place to empty your black water tank.

Be Aware of the Seasons. As in most states, Pennsylvania’s campgrounds see a lot more traffic in the summer months. Boondocking areas in Pennsylvania often have fewer than a dozen sites, so it pays to know which ones are popular.

Plan Carefully. Your first RV camping can be stressful, but with some forethought, you can work out the kinks before they ever happen.

Book an RV with Cruise America to Start Exploring Pennsylvania Today!

Are you ready to hit the road and do some boondocking? Cruise America has some of the finest RV rentals to get you started on your adventure. Cruise America vehicles are perfect for first-time RV travelers too. Our friendly staff can explain the ins and outs of your chosen vehicle and help you to get out on the road.

If an RV adventure in the Keystone State sounds right up your alley, take a look at the vehicles available in the area and start planning your trip today!