Can You Car Camp in New Hampshire?

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Man and woman sitting near an SUV under a tent - Can You Car Camp in New Hampshire?

Car camping has been common since way back. It has been even more popular recently. Have you ever heard of #vanlife? Vanlife, making your home out of a van, has become a cost-effective alternative to owning or renting a home.

Van life is essentially full-time camping or living out of your van. I personally have converted my 2018 Kia Rio into a camping car for myself, my son, and our two dogs. New Hampshire seems to be fairly car-camping-friendly.

You didn’t hear it from me, but rumor has it that if you set up a tent at your campsite, you won’t be bothered about where you’re physically sleeping.

In my car camping experience, setting up the single-man tent provided dry storage for my coolers and car seat for my son, and it may have been a deterrent to any questioning.


Can You Car Camp Anywhere?

In a perfect world, we would be able to camp anywhere and everywhere. But we do live in an imperfect world, so regulations are set in place to prevent undesirable situations. That is to protect not only residents, various environments, and businesses but campers as well.

Firstly, the only car camping in New Hampshire is at designated roadside campsites; otherwise, camping and campfires aren’t allowed in State Parks. Boondocking/dispersed camping is another car camping option.

For instance, White Mountain Dispersed Camping offers 24 campsites. Jefferson Notch Road offers 15 campsites with access to hunting, fishing, hiking, and swimming.

Plenty of places in New Hampshire will allow you to car camp, and a little research should send you in the right direction.


Where are the Best Places?

Isn’t that such a loaded question? Do you prefer hiking, maybe you would enjoy car camping on Kilkenny Loop. Here you will be close to four popular hiking locations in New Hampshire. How about swimming or fishing?

You might want to take a look at Haystack Road Dispersed Camping Area. Located in the Twin Mountains, near Little River, Haystack provides the perfect car camp location with easy swimming or fishing access.

If you were to poll the searches for “best place to car camp in New Hampshire,” a common answer would be Hancock campground.

Situated on the west side of Kancamagus Highway, it boasts a whopping 56 campsites. Near Lincoln, New Hampshire, you’ll have easy access to the Hancock Branch of the East Branch Pemigewasset River.


Where Can You Car Camp for Free?

In my opinion, the best option to car camp for free will be places where it is specifically allowed. Some folks choose to car camp on the sides of roads or in parking lots.

These options are out there, and you can find them legally, but it’s not always allowed or encouraged in many places. The good news is, there are plenty of locations all over the state to car camp.

Gale River Loop Road is a free car camping option in the White Mountain National Forest. The 11 dispersed sites are first come, first serve, so if you plan on this location, it would be a good idea to have a backup.

That’s a good plan no matter where you stay. Many of the free sites are first come, first serve, so always have a plan A and maybe even a plan B. Generally, you may be able to find free car camping in National Parks, some private businesses, and State Forests.


For How Long Should You Stay?

Some locations have defined lengths of stay, and some lengths of stays depend on car camping etiquette. Using Gale River Loop Road again as an example, you are limited to 14 days.

On the other hand, if you choose to stay at any big retailers, they may look the other way when you stay for one night, but if you push the limits, you may ruin the option for others in the future.

Some private businesses allow and possibly even encourage free camping. Again this would come down to what the company expects, maybe two days, maybe three nights only.

It is always a good idea to look for “no camping,” “no overnight parking,” or “no extended stay” signs. The most important thing is to not overstay your welcome, and don’t stay where you aren’t welcome.


Are There Any Places You Should Avoid?

As I mentioned above, always avoid places with signage indicating overnight or extended stays are not allowed. Don’t break the law.

Some streetside or roadside parking is illegal so avoid pulling over to undesignated locations for car camping.

If you feel uncomfortable in any given location, move! Avoid anywhere that gives you the heebie-jeebies. A lot of our intuitions can be correct. Better safe than sorry. Just to reiterate, don’t break the law!


Final Thoughts on Car Camping in New Hampshire

Car camping, also #Vanlife camping has become an identity to some. You get to flex your engineering skills by organizing a whole camping setup in a car, and you can make your way to so many beautiful locations around New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, the state offers many free or low-cost camping options if you’ve spent your life savings getting you set up just right. Always follow local rules and laws, be safe, and leave the place just as you found it or better. Happy adventuring!