Dispersed camping (boondocking to the RV crowd) typically involves heading down a road (often dirt) on national forest or Bureau of Land Management land and finding a beautiful spot to camp far from organized campgrounds, and usually far from other people. Best of all: it's legal and almost always free

Many of us want to explore Siskiyou County’s abundant beauty, and we’d prefer as few people around as possible when we do it – especially these days. Veteran outdoors writer and former Siskiyou County resident John Soares has the solution: dispersed camping.

Soares, who has written five hiking guidebooks on Northern California, is the author of the new book “Camp for Free: Dispersed Camping & Boondocking on America’s Public Lands.”

Dispersed camping (boondocking to the RV crowd) typically involves heading down a road (often dirt) on national forest or Bureau of Land Management land and finding a beautiful spot to camp far from organized campgrounds, and usually far from other people. Best of all: it’s legal and almost always free, Soares said.

“I’ve been doing dispersed camping for over 30 years all over the western United States,” said Soares, who lived in south Siskiyou County from 2005-2012. “For me, it’s the perfect way to find solitude and beauty, plus places to hike and explore that are distant from the crowded areas most people go. Nothing compares to a perfectly dark desert sky filled with stars, or a remote mountain range with no signs of civilization.”

While campgrounds have some benefits, Soares feels they have many downsides. “Campgrounds are often crowded, noisy, and smoky,” he said. “Plus they can be costly. If you travel for two weeks and spend $30 a night, you’ll be out nearly 500 bucks. With dispersed camping, your cost is zero.”

“Camp for Free” covers everything you need to know to enjoy dispersed camping, said Soares. It discusses how to determine which public lands are open to dispersed camping; how to find specific areas for dispersed camping; how to enjoy dispersed camping safely and ethically, including following Leave No Trace principles; and the pros and cons of different types of vehicles, from passenger sedans to SUVs to vans to RVs.

And there’s plenty of land for dispersed camping in the United States (more than 400 million acres), especially in the West.

“Much of the desert Southwest is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, while the forested areas farther north are usually run by the U.S. Forest Service,” Soares said. “Both agencies actively encourage dispersed camping, as long as campers follow rules, such as not driving off-road and obeying regulations about campfires.”

And while the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management control most of the public lands in the United States, the book covers other areas open to dispersed camping, such as national monuments, national preserves, and state lands, said Soares.

Soares stresses the importance of preparation. “You must have plenty of food and water, plus all the other supplies you need to take care of yourself, your travel companions, and your vehicle. Stores and services are often far away,” said Soares. “You also have to do your research, including making sure the roads you plan to explore are suitable for your vehicle.”

Soares said the overall best vehicle is a full-size, high-clearance van with four-wheel-drive. “However, you can do this no matter what you drive, even if it’s a sedan and you sleep in a tent. The key is finding roads suitable for your vehicle.”

Soares and his sweetheart Stephanie now do dispersed camping in a Kia Sedona minivan equipped with a sleeping platform, but he has also tent camped when driving a sedan and he has slept in a Subaru Outback, he said.

Dispersed camping has become more popular in recent years, not only with boondockers in RVs, but also with hikers, people disenchanted with official campgrounds, and those who are part of the van-life movement. To minimize competition for sites and maximize solitude, Soares advocates going to less-popular areas. “90% of campers tend to congregate in 10% of available land, especially near major attractions like national parks,” said Soares. “I stay away from those areas and instead head for territory that’s not on most people’s radar.”

“Camp for Free: Dispersed Camping & Boondocking on America’s Public Lands” is currently only available on Amazon. The print version is $11.95 and the ebook version is $4.95.

Soares is also the author of several other books, including “Day Hiking: Mount Shasta, Lassen & Trinity Alps Regions,” “Hike the Parks: Best Dry Hikes, Walks and Sights,” and 100 Classic Hikes: Northern California” – some of which are available periodically at local outdoor businesses and the Mt. Shasta U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station.

Find more information about the book and a wealth of resources about dispersed camping at the author’s website.