The Ten Best Free Camping Spots Near Melbourne
Weekend getaways don't have to cost an arm and a leg — at these campsites, all you need is enough money for snacks, wine and petrol to get you there (and back).
February 04, 2022
Escaping the big smoke every now and again is crucial to many a city dweller's survival. But weekends away don't always come cheap.
Luckily for Melburnians, Victoria is dotted with stacks of free campgrounds, where you can pitch your tent without forking out even a cent.
Here, we introduce you to ten of the best. Whether you want to surround yourself with ancient forest, sleep over in a volcanic crater, stay within a stone's throw of a tumbling waterfall or use your pitch as a base for exploring wineries and restaurants, your mission is, indeed, possible.
PLANTATION, THE GRAMPIANS
If you want to spend your weekend among the dramatic sandstone formations of The Grampians, park your tent at Plantation. Despite being the biggest campground in the Grampians National Park, it's free. By day, you can go sightseeing in your car, checking out well-known landmarks like The Balconies, Mackenzie Falls and Mount William; or conquer an idyllic hiking trail or two.
Meanwhile, Halls Gap is just nine kilometres south, so you're not far from good coffee, friendly pubs and cosy restaurants. There's room for 30 pitches at Plantation, which is in The Grampians' northern section, about three hours' drive northwest of Melbourne. Among the facilities are non-flush toilets, bush showers, picnic tables and fire pits fitted with barbecue plates, though you'll have to take any rubbish back out with you.
STEVENSONS FALLS, OTWAY FOREST PARK
This idyllic campground is sheltered in a valley in Otway Forest Park, just over two hours' drive southwest of Melbourne. On the Colac Water Pipeline Track, it's a lovely stop along the Great Ocean Road and a springboard for adventuring around Great Otway National Park. Here, 50 pitches perch on the banks of the Gellibrand River, where you're welcome to fish or swim.
Be sure to stroll along the closest walking track, which follows the river to a platform overlooking Stevensons Falls. Dogs are permitted as long as they're on lead, and facilities consist of composting toilets, picnic tables and wood-fired barbies.
ANDERSONS GARDEN, MOUNT DISAPPOINTMENT
Another quick getaway is Andersons Garden, located in Mount Disappointment State Forest, just nine kilometres off the Hume and a 70-minute drive north of the city. It's a pretty, grassy campground on the banks of Sunday Creek, which is filled with swimming holes that are ideal for cooling summer dips.
There are plenty of walks to keep you busy, taking in Strath Creek Falls, Sunday Creek Reservoir and the Summit of Mount Disappointment. If you'd prefer to drive, then jump in your car and cruise along the Mount Disappointment Forest Drive; a three-hour scenic adventure. Back at the campground, you'll find facilities including composting toilets, wood-fired barbies and picnic tables.
MEREDITH PARK, LAKE COLAC
This expansive, flat, grassy campground hugs the shores of Lake Colac. So prepare for tranquil water views and dreamy sunsets, which will make you feel as though you're worlds away from offices and trams. If you're keen on fishing, throw in a line and try your luck at catching a redfin or trout. Or, jump on your bike and cycle the entire foreshore along the shared path that circumnavigates the lake. There are also botanic gardens and the Colac Bird Reserve sanctuary to visit. Meredith Park is on the northern edge of Lake Colac, about two hours' drive southwest of Melbourne. It's kitted out with toilets, fireplaces and a boat ramp.
KURTH KILN, DANDENONG RANGES
If you're desperate to immerse yourself in trees, but don't have much travel time to spare, make a beeline to Kurth Kiln, one of the closest bush campgrounds to Melbourne and a dog-friendly one at that. This site is about 90 minutes west of the CBD in Kurth Kiln Regional Park, offering around 40 pitches across its two camping areas, Scout Loop and Magazine. Facilities are limited to bush toilets and Parks Victoria encourages you to take your own firewood with you; though the tranquil, leafy surrounds make any small hassles worth the effort.
While there, go wandering through mountain ash and heathlands, looking out for wombats, swamp wallabies, echidnas and yellow-tailed black cockatoos. As the name suggests, there's also a historic kiln, built during World War Two to make charcoal for cars.
MOUNT FRANKLIN RESERVE, NEAR DAYLESFORD
This rather spectacular spot puts you in the middle of a volcanic crater. You'll find Mount Franklin — known as Lalgambook by the Djadja Wurrung people — located 11 kilometres north of Daylesford and about 90 minutes northwest of Melbourne. The campground here is filled with towering deciduous trees, which are particularly beautiful during autumn. It's easy to spend your whole weekend wandering about, taking in the scenery, or you can treat Mount Franklin Reserve as a base for exploring Hepburn Springs. Given all the money you'll be saving on accommodation, a long soak at the Hepburn Bathhouse might be tempting. In terms of facilities, there are composting toilets, wood-powered barbies, picnic tables and access to washing water.
GUNBOWER NATIONAL PARK, MURRAY RIVER
Make a proper escape from the city with a visit to Gunbower National Park, on the banks of the Murray River, about three hours' drive north. This precious strip of forest dotted with billabongs and wetlands is actually an island, made up of 26,400 hectares of flood plain. The area is famous for its birdlife, which is extra active after heavy rainfall.
If you're a keen walker, conquer one of the park's idyllic walking tracks. Alternatively, take a canoe with you and paddle along the five-kilometre Koondrook Canoe Trail. There are loads of camping areas here, home to a hefty 139 pitches, which you'll find dotted along the Murray and Gunbower Creek. Just keep in mind that many have limited facilities.
Note: high river levels have inundated some of the camping areas and walking tracks within Gunbower National Park. For the most updated information and alerts, head to the Parks Victoria website.
BUTTS RESERVE, MALDON
Another spot that makes for a handy base is Butts Reserve, on the outskirts of Maldon, a gold rush town about two hours northwest of Melbourne. From here, you can wander among Maldon's beautifully-preserved 19th century architecture, grab some fresh produce from the farm gate at Maldon Cherry Farm and delight your gourmet side exploring the Taste of Gold Food & Wine Trail.
For epic vistas across the region, follow Mount Tarrengower Road to the Tarrengower Lookout. The campground itself is better equipped than most freebies — features include loos, water taps, bins, fire pits, wood-fired barbies, picnic tables and a large shelter.
ABERFELDY RIVER, BAW BAW NATIONAL PARK
For picturesque, sub-alpine scenery and proximity to some of the fastest white water rafting in Victoria, head for Baw Baw National Park to camp gratis beside Aberfeldy River. The campground is in Baw Baw's northeastern section, about 17 kilometres north of Walhalla, where you can tour a 19th century gold mine. Spend your time swimming and gazing at wildflowers or hike to the summit of Mount St Gwinear, passing through snow gum forests and heathland. You'll be well rewarded with extraordinary views of the Australian Alps. The campground has pitfall toilets, fire pits and picnic tables, and offers some primo fishing if you're keen to cast a line.
TOOLANGI RECREATION RESERVE, YARRA VALLEY
To pitch your tent near both stunning old-growth forest and wineries, make tracks to Toolangi, which lies about 90 minutes' drive northeast of Melbourne. The campground, kindly maintained by a bunch of local volunteers, is beside a cricket oval on the banks of Yea River. For adventures by day, don your hiking boots and explore Toolangi State Forest, where the enchanting Tanglefoot Track carries you through lush fern gullies and majestic mountain ash woods; or hop between some of the famed wineries and villages of the Yarra Valley. Campsite facilities include flushing toilets, gas barbecues and picnic tables.
Top Image: Uriel Mont via Pexels
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