It’s no secret that I am not generally a fan of established campgrounds because they are too crowded and noisy for my taste. My idea of hell is camping next to RVs with a bunch of kids running around screaming. Ideal camping for me involves not hearing other campers… just owls, the wind, and maybe a coyote.
Plus, I like free. There is a slew of free camping sites that I regularly visit and continue to seek new ones… Most of these are primitive dispersed camping. That means no water, restrooms, tent pads, fire rings, or amenities except where noted. Here are some of my favorite car camping spots, all are USFS properties within 2ish hours of Atlanta:
A) Hickey Gap:
There are only FIVE campsites, and on a decent weekend, the place fills up quickly. The sites border Mill Creek. All have tent pads, fire rings, picnic table, and lantern post. There is a pit toilet and trash receptacles. There is no water (unless you bring filtration). There is NO alcohol permitted here – and the Rangers DO check. Also, make sure you keep your tent ON the tent pads. Ranger has been known to write tickets. There is a trail down to Mill Creek Waterfall along the creek that starts toward the restroom. I have never had an issue with wildlife in the area, but hiking up the other service roads, I have seen bear scat, so be smart. Also, negligible wood AT the campsite, but a lot of downed wood in area – bring your ax. The site is in a gap, and the wind gets REALLY amplified coming down – I have abandoned my tent and slept in my car with the wind shaking my SUV – so stake down everything securely! This is not the quietest spot – as traffic along the gravel road gets quite noisy and busy on weekends in particular. If you hike to the top of the hill of the campsite, you MIGHT be able to send/receive text messages; I encourage you to pay attention to the higher spots driving in so you know where you have a signal in case you need to make a call.
B) Ravens Cliff
Many people are familiar with the hike to Ravens Cliff Waterfalls, but there is also a lot of dispersed camping either walk in (behind the parking lot) or right off the road if you continue driving past the parking lot where you can camp along the creek. There are some spots where signage is clear that camping is prohibited. You can use the trashcans and restrooms in the parking lot. There ARE bears in the area, so be smart about packing up food/trash at night. If you have a high clearance vehicle, you can cross the stream, head up the switchbacks and get a full data signal (no camping up there). Bring you own water or purification methods. Plenty of wood if you do some foraging. Ravens Cliff
C) Above Upper Chattahoochee Campground:
A little more primitive, but, the distance between spots is considerable. No water, no bathrooms, no picnic tables, nothing but some dispersed spots with stone fire-rings. There are NO trails in the immediate vicinity but I hiked along some of the closed off forest service roads in the area for some beautiful views. There are a lot of trails in the vicinity if you want to drive from the campsite. The link is for the Upper Chattahoochee Campground, but the dispersed camping is along the road TO the campground. Upper Chattahoochee Campground
D) Blue Valley Campground:
This spot, just across the North Carolina line, blows me away because there is rarely anyone using it. Tent pads, fire rings, lantern posts, picnic tables – most spots are huge and by creeks.Wood availability depends a lot on the location. As you drive in, there will be 2 forest service roads on your right – both have campsites higher up, some with great sky views. Otherwise, if you drive to the “T”, if you go to the right, the end of the road dead-ends to the start of Glen Falls trail. If you go to the left, you will drive about a mile and see a spur road to the right up a hill, that is the path to Pickleseimer Falls. There are bears and coyotes in the area, so use common sense. The rangers do not patrol this area very frequently and cell service is limited, depending on location – you may be able to text. There is multiple hiking opportunities including Glen Falls (you start at the bottom and hike UP) directly from campground, Pickleseimer Falls, and multiple other longer trails. Blue Valley Campground
E) Noontootla / Three Forks:
Close to the BMT & AT, the dispersed camping here is completely primitive. The campsites are noted with signage – A thru I. Most will accommodate a large group of people and the sites are spread out. Do not camp in areas with yellow signs noting no camping – rangers WILL make you move and may give you a ticket. There is NO cell service in the area. Bring plenty of water or filtration. No bathrooms, picnic tables, etc. Fishing is good in the area, but make sure you have proper licenses. I haven’t seen any evidence of bears, nor had issues with other wildlife, but exercise caution.
F) Wildcat Creek
Not my favorite, but thought I would include as the dispersed campsites were without a view and unimpressive. However, if you are the fishing sort, the fishing here is pretty awesome. In warmer months, the creek is fun to explore with some small waterfalls. it is also close to other hiking and waterfalls, so could be a good free basecamp. Wildcat Creek
Additionally, there are a ton of camping opportunities along the Chattooga and Tallulah River Corridors: Tallulah Corridor
Finally, a few disclaimers: Always check the USFS website I linked to make sure the sites /roads are open as well as there are no prescribed burns in the vicinity. Also pay attention to burn bans and weather forecasts. I have had trees fall blocking my way out, so I recommend having some rope and a machete as well as a charger to jump your vehicle. (Roadside assistance isn’t particularly keen to travel to the boonies, trust me.) Take out ALL trash and leave it cleaner than when you arrived.
Have any others you recommend?