Beautiful Free Camping in Indiana
Deep in the Hoosier National Forest, less than one mile in from highway 446 and just a short drive from downtown Bloomington, Indiana is the Charles C. Deam Wilderness area that’s full of free camping. The Blackwell Horsecamp is where we ended up parking our RV for a week of quiet wild camping (or at least that’s what we thought). It’s a beautiful wilderness area that was dedicated in 1982 and encompasses almost 13,000 acres of National Forest Land.
We pulled into camp on Wednesday May 21st (just before Memorial Day) and there was only one lone tent setup way off in the corner. The torrential downpour that happened later that evening left us all alone for the night and most of Thursday.
A few people trickled in on Thursday night, several more on Friday, and by Saturday morning the Memorial Day weekend had kicked off in full force. There were RVs everywhere, kids running wildly chasing dogs, and hundreds of horses…it is technically a horse camp after all so it caters to equestrian users.
What’s interesting is this National Forest campground is completely free, yet the area is mowed regularly, there are multiple pit toilets, 37 miles of hiking and horse trails and a giant dumpster (which is extremely rare for free camping)! Just a short walk (or a horse ride) from the campground is a small pond and an 1890’s log cabin that’s pretty cool to check out too.
At the campground there are literally hundreds of spots to park, several horse corrals, hitching posts and a mounting ramp for those who can’t get on top of their horse without a little boost. A Permit is required to ride horses on the trails, it’s not expensive, but some chose not to pay and we did see rangers giving out tickets to those who thought the rules didn’t apply to them.
By Monday afternoon most people had left and on Tuesday we were all alone again.
Hunting is allowed in the National Forest so make sure you check the local hunting dates, rules and regulations. We’ve been told to wear “Blaze Orange” and “Do NOT under any circumstances wear White!”. I think we’ll keep out of this area when the hunters come.
For a little thrill, take short drive or hike to the Fire Tower. We’ve hiked up several towers over the years but most are made of strong, sold wood, so this slightly shaky climb was pretty exciting in the strong winds of Indiana. We had the entire view to ourselves; surprising considering it was such a busy weekend.
Unfortunately all the lakeside beaches were closed due to high water in Lake Monroe. The high water also shut down the hiking trails along the water. And with all the horses from Memorial Day we surely didn’t want to walk the land mine (poop) laden hiking/horse trails. We did manage to find some other non horse hikes just a short drive down the road and decided to take the four mile round trip Terill Ridge trail. We were hoping for some cool ridgeline lakeview…but the trail ends in a cemetery without any sight of a “ridge” as the name suggests. Cool in its own right with the ancient headstones, but not the payoff we were hoping for. Oh well, at least we got some exercise.
Our solar fared well but we were happy to have the auto gen start that kept our batteries topped up at night after the few cloudy days (This is actually the location we filmed our Solar Flex video).
Fair Warning: We did pick up a few “hitchhikers” on the trails so be careful and do your daily tick check. The late may weather was absolutely beautiful for three of the days, it rained like hell on one day, and our last days were brutally hot and humid.
Overall the campground was nice, the horse people were friendly and the town of Bloomington was worth a visit. Will we make it back? Who knows! One things for sure: we won’t be visiting in Summer cause it’s HOT AS HADES up there.
Have you stayed at a horse camp before? Do you have any crazy Memorial Day campground stories? Share in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you.
Hey my husband and I are wanting to go camping and wondered if this place allows fishiing? We have a permit.
Hello my name is Gene. I would like to go camping this weekend. I have 6 people that’s going with me. Here’s my number.. 321-362-1211. You can call your text me anytime. Thank you. Have a great day.
I forgot to check off notify button
Hi folks, I’ve just started tent camping full time, retired and wanted to see the country again ( the last time that I did this was over 40 years ago). I enjoy your blog very much and I’m always on the lookout for free sites. Maybe we’ll cross paths some day. Ed
Hey Ed, If you are always on the hunt for awesome free sites, check out these: https://www.gonewiththewynns.com/rv-wild-camping and here are some apps that will help: https://www.gonewiththewynns.com/road-trip-apps
If you ever make it back let me know. I’m just down the street in Bloomington myself. Would love to host you for dinner one night if you were interested.
Jim and Diana
What a great place to get away to! We are keeping track of these type of places, as this is the type of camping we would like to try. Thanks for sharing!
Kristin @ The Touring Camper
Beautiful campground–and super cool that it is free! We have really enjoyed reading your posts. 🙂
Sounds gr8 and i just can’t wait for the day we hit the road for Good. It was so great meeting you guys at the Pomona rv show. Thanks for all the great advice and fur trading so much time to talk with us. Safe travels to you.
so glad you came out to say hello!
Hi – it’s me again. Thanks for the write-up on the Deem wilderness. I’m not sure Indiana is an area of the country I’d want to RV in but it’s nice to read about places like this.
That said, I’ve asked this question on other RV blogs and given the dates of your Indiana visit I’ll ask you guys too: I’m still planning my escape to full-time RV life and love the idea of having the wilds at my doorstep but it seems a little bit crazy to me when I read about full-timers camping on the big 3 summer holidays and I wonder why? Why do full-timers choose to camp out on the 3 weekends that every camp site at every campground and even “wild” camp areas are packed? Why not stay at a hotel or otherwise urban camp for 3 days and leave the outdoors to families and all the 9 to 5’ers, then head back out on Monday to have the pick of the camp sites until the next holiday?
To quote one of my all-time favorite ads: Inquiring minds want to know…
Everyone tackles holidays differently and as for us as full timers, we enjoy the festivities as much as anyone else so why should we not join in? We enjoyed our neighbors, the kids and the horses. Forgive me if I am reading it wrong but you almost make it sound as if we were taking away from another family by taking up a camp site?
I hadn’t thought about holiday festivities being the focus. I was only thinking about the wall-to-wall crowds which to me is anathema to the camping experience so I’ll have to see what kind of special attraction campgrounds provide during the summer holidays. And I wasn’t thinking at all about full-timers taking camp sites away from the working crowd. Just that I was wondering why full-timers don’t take a vacation from their vacation and spend the summer holidays at a hotel or other non-campground facility and leave the camping to the masses for those 9 days. For myself I’ve lived the bumper to bumper urban life my entire life and crowds will be the last thing I want to see when I’m camping.
I think no matter what during the holidays it will be busy whether you’re staying at a campground, a hotel or out in the middle of the National Forest.
Beautiful place… however, I don’t see any 50amp, water or sewer hook ups for large RV’s.
Nope, that is why it’s called Wild Camping…just the way we like it! All natural!
The fire tower looked fun and the trees look incredible!!!
Thanks for the great campground review. Horse camping is the only type of camping my DH and I do. We try to go to a different camp at least once a month, but the Blackwell Horse Camp is one we haven’t tried yet. We’ll put this one on our “to do” list and give it a go sometime, probably mid-week to avoid a crowd.
I don’t think you should have any crowds other than holidays.
Looks like a lot of fun! Especially the view from the tower!
Looks Beautiful !!! Bloomington is where LIL BUB lives !!!!
Glad you enjoyed our Indiana. Southern Indiana is indeed a pretty nice place to camp. We have “retired” from camping for now, but vicariously camp through your adventures. Thanks for stopping in Indiana.