How good’s a free campsite? There’s something innately beautiful about a patch of ground you’re allowed stay on for no money, especially in regulation rich Australia. Weekend explorer and sometimes-dirtbag Pat has done a roundup of the best free campsites near Melbourne for your penny-pinching pleasure.
A few weeks back, I went for a hike up around the Mt Buller region of Victoria. We were gone for two nights and all we spent was 90 smackeroos, only $45 each. And to be honest, a fair chunk of that was on Maxibons and delicious country bakeries. We didn’t pay any park entry fees, needed no exy gear and we sure didn’t pay for the campsites. It was great.
This article is for anyone who appreciates a cheap weekend away, eschews the idea that adventure has to be expensive and just froths a good time amongst some mates and nature.
Beauchamp Falls Campground, The Otways
Distance from Melbourne: 204 km (approx. 2.5 hours)
Settled in the Otways National Park, the Beauchamp Falls camping area is green, lush and surrounded by some big ol’ trees. But the real kicker on this one is that you’ve got three of the best waterfalls in Victoria (Triplet Falls, Hopetoun Falls and Beauchamp Falls) just down the road, the epic redwood forest just off your doorstep, and the Great Ocean Road around the corner.
The icing on the cake for all you dog lovers out there is that this campground is also dog-friendly! So bring ya woofer!
Now, I’m not one to tell you how to live your life, but my advice would be to fang it down via the Princess Highway and then take your time cruising back along the Great Ocean Road, soaking up the beaches along the way.
Aberfeldy Bridge Campsite, Mt Baw Baw
Distance from Melbourne: 198 km (approx. 2.5 hours)
This free campsite is listed as 4WD access only, but people do access it with 2WD in dry weather. For those who do make it out there, you’ll be well rewarded.
I don’t want to go on for too long about this place because it would put you at risk of wetting yourself with excitement. However, with rock climbing, abseiling and a few cheeky swimming spots for summer, skiing and tobogganing in winter and walks all year round, it’s safe to say that you’re not going to run out of things to do around Baw Baw.
There are even some Grade 3 rapids for kayaking and rafting on the Thompson River (which need to be timed with the water releases from Thompson Dam). I guess there’s a reason why it’s one of the top five mountains to hit up in Victoria – check the feature image on this article for the view!
Plantation Campground, The Grampians
Distance from Melbourne: 261 km (approx. 3 hours)
At 3 hours, we’re pushing the limits of what could be considered ‘near Melbourne’, but hear me out ‘cause this place is worth it. It’s a spacious campground surrounded by gums and maybe a couple of roos, and it even allows fires in the provided pits for your very own campfire mulled wine. Not bad for a free campsite ay?
But while it’s a bang on campsite, that’s not really what you go there for. There’s rock-hopping up to Mount Zero, the Pinnacle, Venus Baths or the Balconies. And I’m only just getting started. There are numerous waterfalls, literally thousands of climbs, and plenty more walks to sink your teeth into.
With everything from gentle strolls to multi-pitch climbs and multiday walks, you can make your time in the Grampians as relaxing or ridiculous as you want. It’s got something for everyone.
Blue Pools Campground, Briagolong State Forest
Distance from Melbourne: 246 km (approx. 3 hours)
This one is for the fresh-water frolickers. The campsite is just off the road and can be a bit dusty, but let me tell you, you ain’t going to be spending much time at the campsite. Just 200m from where you’ll set up is the main attraction.
There’s a waterhole and gorge that is just begging for a swim, cliff jump or float. And for when you’re as wrinkled as a pickle and need to dry out, there’s a bunch of day walks and trails just waiting to be explored with your four-legged friend. Yep, that’s right, this campsite is dog-friendly too. Yipeee.
I’ve heard from some people that there can be some bigger and louder groups there on public holidays and whatnot but each time I’ve been there I haven’t had a problem. As with any epic spots near the city, you may want to pick quieter weekends to get down there.
Read This Microadventure: A Water Baby’s Playground // Blue Pools (VIC)
P.S. I’ve returned to the Blue Pools in the middle of winter since writing the microadventure and can confirm that what I wrote about the water staying the same temperature all year round was unequivocally false. It was freezing.
Sheepyard Flat, Howqua Valley
Distance from Melbourne: 247 km (approx. 3 hours)
Now this one almost didn’t make the list. Don’t get me wrong, it’s more than worthy – sitting in the stunning Howqua Valley surrounded by trees and with the Howqua River running alongside it. I’m just a spud and didn’t know it was a free campsite. Either my memory is failing me or some bloke made a killing last time I was there by pretending to be a ranger and collecting camp fees…
It’s a great jumping off point for a handful of multiday hikes in the area, supposedly a good spot for fishing and guaranteed to be more relaxing than a weekend at home on the couch.
It’s well set up with campfire spots to cook your meals and you’re even allowed to bring your shaggy best mate if you pinky-promise to keep her/him on leash.
The Farmyard, Cathedral Ranges
Distance from Melbourne: 120 km (approx. 2 hours)
This one is a special addition. It’s a hiker’s-only campground, but it’s free, beautiful and serves up a solid nature kick – so it well and truly makes the list.
The Cathedral Ranges is the perfect spot for a quick and dirty weekend away. It’s not far from Melbourne, has plenty to do, and of course, it’s free. There’s a 1.4 km uphill slog along Jawbone Creek Track to get there. Or if you’re looking to push yourself then tackle the full Northern and Southern Circuits over a weekend, treating yourself to the epic Sugarloaf Peak along the way.
For the cliff dwellers, there are also a handful of climbs in the area ranging from beginner to intermediate.
Just be aware that there’s no water available at The Farmyard, so you’ll have to walk in with everything you need (and some extra just in case).
Before You Go!
These are free campsites, they don’t all have rubbish collection and you’ll most likely need to take out everything you bring in to make sure you leave no trace. Pack some rubbish bags!
The campsites also don’t guarantee drinking water, so bring enough to keep you going for the weekend.
Finally, not all of these campsites are caravan or camper trailer friendly and may be tent only, so if you’re travelling in luxury, check up on that before you go.
Now get out there and get some fresh air, open skies and a whole load of free neature.
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