If you’re like me, you usually think of National Forests or BLM lands when you’re looking for free campsites. But what about the many Wildlife Management Areas in the country? These are full of often-overlooked opportunities.
I felt fortunate to score some beautiful (and free) lakeside camping in Wyoming, by lovely Ring Lake, in the Whiskey Basin Wildlife Habitat Management Area (WHMA).
What made this amazing was that this was right before the total solar eclipse, and this lake was directly in the zone of totality. Talk about the right place at the right time! 🙂
Free lakeside camping in Wyoming
A few hours east of Grand Teton National Park, is this real gem of a camping area. The Whiskey Basin WHMA is run by Wyoming’s department of Fish and Game. One of the world’s biggest herds of bighorn sheep lives in this area, though I didn’t see any. I assume there must also be fishing and hunting around here, though that’s not something I investigated. I just liked the free camping! 🙂
There are several lakes here, and 5 different camping areas. Ring Lake is the first campground that you come to. If you drive past Ring Lake, just on the far side of it you will see the turnoff for this campground. It’s a pretty big open space right by the side of the lake.
This is an official campground, but it’s pretty open as far as spaces go. The only delineation of one site from the next is where there are stone fire circles. You could squeeze in more campers than there are fire circles, and that’s probably what happened during the eclipse. (I had gone on to the Tetons by that time.)
The only facilities here are those fire circles, and a pit toilet. The only water is in the lake. When I was there, fires were prohibited due to extreme fire danger, but I’m sure they’re nice to have at other times of year. Just bring your own firewood!
The Ring Lake free campground is an open area, so there’s not much privacy between sites. If that’s what you’re after, one of the other campgrounds a bit further on may be a better choice for you.
I didn’t have any cell phone service with T-Mobile, though the same was true in the town of Rawlins, and most of Wyoming. Your results may vary!
Getting to the Ring Lake free campground
The road in is a gravel road that was in excellent condition when I drove it. You wind up and down and around, through really pretty countryside. A lot of the drive is through private land, and you’ll see signs warning you about that. It’s clear when you come to the area where you are allowed to camp.
Since Ring Lake is the first campground that you come to, those further down the road will probably have more solitude for you. The road is best for the first part of the drive, and gets more difficult as you progress.
Since I was staying here right before the total eclipse, I assumed that all of the sites would eventually be full, so I stopped at the first lakeside space that I found. Even 3 days before the total eclipse, I was lucky enough to grab a space right by the edge of the lake. By 7pm that evening, that was no longer possible.
Kudos to their organization!
Wyoming was expecting hordes of visitors to arrive for viewing the eclipse. The radio stations were broadcasting warnings to locals to prepare for the eclipse like they would for a major storm – stock up on food and water, make sure to do banking and buy gas in advance, and assume it will be difficult to get places by road.
With all the concerns about the number of people arriving, I was impressed by the way the Fish & Game people who ran this location handled things.
When I first turned off the highway (US 26/287), I met a couple of “Welcome rangers” handing out information on camping in the area. They had maps that clearly showed the roads, lakes, and all the different campsites, and gave me advice on where to go.
It also had detailed information about the eclipse – the exact time it would start at that location, as well as when it would reach totality and for how long.
I thought they did a great job, and appreciate the planning and effort they put into making this go smoothly. A big thumbs up! 🙂
Ring Lake Campground – Wyoming Fish & Game, Whiskey Basin WHMA
Official campground. Free lakeside camping in a pretty spot at Ring Lake, with options further along the road near additional lakes. Open area by the lake with a pit toilet. No water besides the lake, and no other facilities.
Rating: 3 ***
Altitude: 7,422 ft
GPS: 43.45008, -109.54118
Have you camped at Ring Lake or Whiskey Basin? Do you have other experiences camping at Wildlife Management Areas that you’d like to share? Leave your comments in the Reply section below, and thanks! 🙂
PHOTO CREDITS: Deanna Keahey