You’ve been so busy you haven’t even had time to think about where you might go. Work has been crazy, the kids have been busy with school perhaps, and while you’ve talked about going somewhere, you just haven’t had time to book anything.
For those of you out there who would like to go camping this weekend but just can’t believe there will be any campsites available, think again. We’ve compiled a list of some of our favourite free camp sites throughout Australia — perfect for that last minute camping getaway. No booking. No stress. There is still time to escape this weekend.
Free Camping in Australia
Australia is home to some amazing free camp sites. Most sites are located in National Parks, maintained by local Park authorities and governing bodies in the area.
Free camping is all about ‘no frills’, relying only on yourself and your gear; it's about truly experiencing Australia’s native environments without any distraction.
This list contains free campsites that are only a short drive from major centres and some that are more remote. In some states, campsites close to major centres tend to require bookings to manage numbers and keep up with park maintenance so we’ve also dropped in a couple of permit only sites. These are a great choice for last minute trips because sites are not reserved. It's first come, first serve, you’ll just need to obtain a permit from a local visitor centre before setting up camp.
Some of the sites listed here provide basic toilet facilities and pit BBQs, but as a general rule we advise that you take all you need to sustain your adventures rather than relying on the site itself. That way you are guaranteed to have a camping trip you won’t soon forget.
Let’s take a look at some great free camping opportunities throughout Australia.
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You'll notice that we don’t have images for the campsites listed in this article. We would love to add photos so that others know what to expect when they arrive, that’s why we are calling on you to contribute. Share photos of your visits to these campsites on Facebook, leave them in the comments section below, or use the hashtag #aworldofoutdoors on Insty, and we will feature them in the article with your name and a brief caption underneath!
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Now, let's find out where to go this weekend...
Great Free Campsites in Victoria
Meredith Park Campsite - Lake Colac
A bit of a drive if you are coming from Melbourne but well worth the haul, Meredith Park on the edge of Lake Colac is popular among anglers hoping to take in a haul of their own.
Campsites are strewn out along the lake providing great views of local wildlife and easy access to the local redfin population just waiting to take your bait.
There is boat ramp access available, but not much in the way of facilities other than drop toilets.
The Farmyard – Cathedral Range State Park
This free camp site is a decent hike up from the Jawbone carpark, or accessed by hiking along the Razorback Ridge Track in the Cathedral Range State Park. This site is perfect for couples who want to get away for a last minute camping trip and who are used to camping with the bare essentials. Sites are available on a first come first serve basis so get in quick to camp high up near the South Jawbone peak amidst the calls of the local lyre bird population in the heart of the Cathedrals.
The Cathedrals offer some the of the best hiking this close to Melbourne, and if you brought your climbing shoes and chalk with you, there are some great bouldering problems to tackle down at Sugar Loaf Saddle.
Anderson’s Garden Campground – Mount Disappointment State Forest
Located not too far from Kinglake National Park, Anderson’s Garden Campground can get pretty busy this time of year, so if you are keen for a quiet getaway perhaps consider one of the previous options.
This site was heavily damaged in the Black Saturday Bush fires but has since recovered remarkably well. Bring the mountain bikes or the 4WD and explore the nearby trails before taking a dip in Sunday Creek to cool off.
Bring your own firewood, but make sure you have a gas cooker as back up and check fire warnings and restrictions before you go as there could be a ban during the warmer months.
Free Camping in New South Wales
This is the perfect free campsite to aim for if you’ve always wanted to visit Wentworth Falls West of Sydney. Only half an hour’s drive to the falls, the Dam at Ignar Creek right by the campground offers immediate relief after a hot drive. The nearby trails are perfect for mountain biking, gravel grinding, or bushwalking in search of native wildlife.
It’s fairly remote out here so make sure that you come well prepared with everything you need for self-sustained free camping.
Newnes Campground – World Heritage Wollemi National Park
It’s not often you get stay in a World Heritage listed National Park for free. Newnes Campground is a once in a lifetime, free campsite find offering plenty of space if it gets busy during the weekend.
Pit BBQs and toilets are available here, but as always, bring your own backup gear just in case the weather doesn’t permit open fires.
Swimming in the nearby Wolgan River is the way to spend the day, and everyone will love exploring the Glow Worm tunnel which is only a short trip away by car.
There are even more sites across the river if the 80 sites happen to be full, but you can only access them on foot or by 4WD.
Beach Camping on the Cooloola Coast
We couldn't talk about camping in Queensland without mentioning the Cooloola Coast, even if it's not totally free. One of the best ways to experience camping in Queensland is right on the beach. Of course it’s not quite as simple as loading up the sedan and cruising down to the Gold Coast…we are referring to a range of beach camping specific locations along the coast that do require a permit.
Moreton Island, Fraser, Stradbroke – each of these destinations is suited to 4WD campers who are ready to spend only a little bit of money on a permit for each night they plan to stay. Head to the QLD Government Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing website to find out more about camping at these special sites.
Situated along the Mackenzie River, Bedford Weir is a great place to stop for a couple of nights. Make sure you bring your fishing gear, Barramundi are a popular catch along the nearby river bank.
The campsite is free but you can only stay a maximum of seven nights and donations are welcomed to help with the upkeep of the site.
Tiaro Memorial Park Campsite
Located inland from the Cooloola Coast, Tiaro Memorial Park is a great rest stop not far from Maryborough and the Coast.
You’ll find a range of basic amenities available such as electric BBQs and toilets. There is a 48 hour limit here for every vehicle so rest up and get ready to head to the next stop.
Free Camping Escapes in NT
Free campsites in the Northern Territory tend to be kind of a long way from major centres, so any suggestions are definitely aimed at those of you out there who a travelling with a caravan or motorhome and are used to being completely self-sufficient in the North.
Bear in mind that it might be tough getting to campsites as we are in the tail end of the wet season.
NT local birdwatchers (if they haven’t already) need to come to Longreach Waterhole. There are about 30 sites at Longreach which is situated in the Lake Woods wetland, home to a stunningly diverse range of bird species and wildlife.
Cool off in the lake by the campsite, but just be careful to leave as little a footprint as possible as this is a protected conservation site that is easily negatively impacted by careless visitors.
Kakadu National Park
There are a number of free bush camping sites in Kakadu National Park, but you will need a permit to enter. If you want to explore Kakadu, the best advice we can give is to head to the Parks Australia website to find up to date information about closures in the wet season, suggested itineraries, and links to buying your permit online.
Free Camping Escapes in WA
Lake Poorrarecup Camping Area
Bring the toys with you, Lake Porrarecup isn't just a great free campsite, it’s a destination for adventure. The Lake is popular among boaties, kayakers, waterskiers and wakeboarders, so get out there and join them.
It’s pretty dry out here from November through until March, so there is a good chance of a fire ban being in place. Bring a campstove for cooking and everything you’ll need for the weekend including food, water and fuel.
Update: Here are a few notes from local Shire of Cranbrook:
No pets allowed
No camping or cooking fires from 1 October to 30 April each year
Camping fees of $10.00 per passenger vehicle/motorbike per day for camping at Lake Poorrarecup during peak periods when caretakers are in residence
No portable water available
Camping is permitted in designated areas only and campers should report to the caretakers upon arrival to obtain a camping permit.
For more information phone (08) 9826 1008 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Francis Peron National Park
You’ll need a permit to visit this World Heritage listed area. Head first to the Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery & Visitor Centre to get you camping permit and then set out to explore the stunning red cliffs, white dunes and pristine waters of Francis Peron National Park.
Most of the park is only accessible by 4WD, so this adventure is for those who come well prepared.
You can only stay a maximum of one night at each campground, but as far as 4WD camping and caravanning trips go, you can’t get much better than a tour of Francis Peron National Park, spending one night at each of the beautiful bays along the way.
South Australia - Free Campsites
Important Note for 2016 visitors to the Murray River.
The Murray River is experiencing one of the worst blue-green algae outbreaks in years in 2016. While you can still visit the Murray, it is advised that you do not swim in the river, or drink from it as the algae bloom is extremely toxic.
But fear not, there are other places that you can camp for free in WA that aren’t reliant on the Murray for a good time.
Terowie Railway Yard Campsite
The little town of Terowie is made up of beautiful 19th century architecture, perfect for those who like their outdoor adventures with a bit of added history.
Camp in the nearby railway yard and learn about the town as you walk or ride bikes stopping to read the signs as you go.
Camping here is no frills, and there isn’t all that much shade, so make sure you have a good shade cloth or tarp you can set up to keep the sun off.
Burra Creek Gorge Reserve (also known as Worlds End Gorge Campground)
Get in quick, this one is popular especially during long weekends. There is plenty of space here however, caravanners choosing to park up and enjoy the shade from the tall leafy gums. Exit the Worlds End Highway at the Burra Gorge turn-off to find the sites located among the gum trees.
You can use water from the creek for washing, but it’s better to bring your own drinking water along with everything else you’ll need for a weekend away.
Camping in ACT
Free camping is hard to find in the ACT, but Namadgi National Park is a must visit at only $5 a night. Camping permits can be obtained at the Namadgi Visitor Centre for the Honeysuckle, Mt Clear and Orroral Campgrounds which all offer superb access to this stunning region.
Free camping in Tasmania is all about National Parks. Hiking camping is the way to go down here as the terrain can be rugged, better suited to carrying your gear in on foot. Some sites in the larger national parks such as Ben Lomond and Cradle Mountain require a permit, but there are some free sites if you know where to look.
Scamander Conservation Area – Shelly Point Campsite
Shelly Point is the perfect place to stop during an expedition to the east coast of Tassie. Nestled in the Scamander Conservation area this site is located about 800m north of 'Scamander Conservation Area' as it is marked on the map below. You'll see the wooden sign at turn-off leading you down a dirt road towards the beach front.
Fishing along the coast will reward the adventurous angler, while birdwatchers and keen bush walkers will find plenty to keep them entertained. As with all the campsites listed here that are located in conservation areas or national parks, it’s important to remember to take out what you take in and respect the fragile environment you are temporarily calling home.
Apsley Waterhole Campsite – Douglas-Apsley National Park
Douglas-Apsley National Park located on the east coast of Tassie is a very special destination. There are a range of walk-in camping options in the park suited to hikers and backpackers. The Apsley Waterhole is located at the southern tip of the park west of Bicheno along Rosedale Road. Park your vehicle at the carpark and hike the remaining way to the campsite itself.
The Leeaberra Track is a popular 3 day hike through the park. There are a number of basic campsites along the way, but again, this is suited to those who come prepared to fend for themselves.
Please note: This article is intended only to provide suggestions for campsites to visit around Australia. It is sometimes not possible to exactly show the location of remote campsites using google maps, so it is a good idea to also refer to a topographical map of the area you are visiting that contains more detail.
Have we missed your favourite free campsite? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook and we will add it to the list!
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