Ever since I started doing some serious exploring for prime camping spots I’ve learned that the hidden gems are down forest roads. I’ve been doing occasional camping since I was a kid, but usually at well-known, maintained campgrounds in the PNW area. Now that I have my 4×4 and some trusty apps, my world has been opened up to some amazing new places.
What are forest roads?
Forest roads are a type of road designed specifically for access into wilderness areas. They’re often used for forest management, logging, firefighting, and recreational activities. Some of them are paved roads, but often (or the further through them you travel) they will be gravel or dirt roads. Depending on how well-managed a given forest road is, sometimes it is only possible to access them with a 4×4 or high-clearance vehicle. And in other cases, they’re only accessible with small, non-highway legal vehicles such as ATVs. But in my experience, most forest roads can be accessed with any type of vehicle, up to a certain point.
Enter into any national forest or wilderness area and you are likely to find forest roads strewn throughout and off to the sides of main roads. Popular navigation apps like Google Maps sometimes don’t show them unless they are directly in route to your destination.
Finding the forest roads
Usually what I’ll do to find forest roads is use a combination of apps to narrow down good candidates. For example, I’ll use The Dyrt to find a decent campsite in an area I’d like to explore. Once I arrive to the area, I’ll load the app Gaia GPS which displays all of the forest road networks in the area.
Another tactic, if you have the time and gas to spare, is to simply head into the wilderness area you want to camp in and keep an eye out for unpaved roads off the main road. Make sure there aren’t any “No Trespassing” signs or anything, of course. Once you start travelling down forest roads, it becomes easier to identify them in the future when you’re just cruising through forested land.
Typically, the further you travel down a forest road, the more likely you’ll find some nice and secluded camping spots. Oftentimes what you’ll find are little pull outs where you can park and sleep in your vehicle, if that’s your jam. Larger areas where you can set up a tent are a little less common, but they’re out there! It really depends on what forest you’re in. You can also use Google Earth to identify spots along forest roads.
I went exploring the Olympic National Forest last summer and found a logging forest road that led me to a beautifully forested, secluded area with full reception. I camped out there in my car and worked remotely for a week!
Over the summer of 2022 I found countless hidden gems by exploring forest roads. I was able to do the type of camping I only dreamed of in prior years. My preference is for areas that are either lushly forested, or offer vast, scenic views in remote, secluded areas. All of that and more can be found along forest roads.