Live in Melbourne and want a getaway without spending too much? There are plenty of campgrounds where you can stay for free, so all your weekend escape will cost is some food money, a cheap car hire and a few jumbo bags of marshmallows (because what's a camping trip without fire roasted marshmallows?). And if you want to bring your four-legged friend, never fear! There are free dog friendly camping sites available too.
As amazing a city as Melbourne is (and it really is), sometimes you just need to escape the hustle and bustle and get out into nature. And while the "romantic log cabin outside Melbourne" you've just spotted on AirBnb sounds incredible, the $800 a night price tag does not! So read on for a list of some great free camping spots outside Melbourne you can get to right now for your escape.
1. Meredith Park, Lake Colac
Distance: Two hours southwest of Melbourne
This massive campground is right next to the lake, so you will get loads of gorgeous water views and sunsets while you're chilling out by the tent. You can go fishing here or take a bike ride. The lake is also home to the Corangamite Water Skink, an endangered species of lizard, so keep an eye out for where you can camp, and if you're lucky you might be able to spot one!
2. Stevensons Falls (Dog Friendly Campground)
Distance: Two hours southwest of Melbourne
You can find this campground sheltered in a valley inside the Great Otway Forest Park. With picnic tables, fireplaces, caravan access, toilets and a dog-friendly policy, this site is sure to tick many campers' boxes! This campground is also along the Great Ocean Road, so it is a great place to base yourself for some stunning nearby hikes and views in the Great Otway National Park.
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3. Aberfeldy River, Baw Baw National Park
Distance: Three hours east of Melbourne
You can camp for free in the Baw Baw National park right next to the Aberledy River. You can go swimming in the river and hike to the summit of Mount St Gwinear for some beautiful views. The campground has picnic tables, toilets and fireplaces. Please note however, fuel stoves are preferred for cooking and collecting firewood is prohibited in the Park, so you'll need to bring you own. There are no garbage facilities, so take out everything you bring in here.
4. Toolangi Recreation Reserve (Dog Friendly Campsite)
Distance: One and a half hours northwest from Melbourne.
This campground is a small campsite next to a sports oval, surrounded by tall gum trees on the banks of the Yea River. It is generously maintained by local volunteers and welcomes your furry friends. It can get a bit busy on weekends with the sports field nearby, but you'll be right on the edge of the Toolangi State Forest that you can explore at your leisure. Make sure you check out the Toolangi Sculpture Trail, which showcases artworks from natural materials found in the bush, and is free and open every day.
5. Kurth Kiln (Dog Friendly Campground)
Distance: 90 minutes west of Melbourne
This is one of the closer free campgrounds on the list, and ticks the all important boxes of being free and dog friendly. Kurth Kiln has basic amenities: there are drop toilets and Parks Victoria asks you to bring your own firewood. There are some lovely walks you can do around the area which your dog will definitely thank you for.
6. Mount Franklin Reserve - near Daylesford
Distance: 90 minutes northwest of Melbourne.
Mt Franklin is a small volcanic crater that you can camp in for free. With gorgeous conifers and deciduous trees, this is a picture-perfect camping setting. Toilets, fireplaces and washing water are provided, and this is a great base to explore the local area (including the cute Victorian town of Daylesford).
7. Gunbower Island
Distance: Three hours north of Melbourne
This campsite is next to the Murray River and surrounded by Red River Gum trees. You can spot a lot of wildlife here, with the area particularly well known for its spectacular birdlife. You're also able to fish for Folden Perch on the river if you'd like, or there is the 14km Koondrock Track you can walk along to work up an appetite for your fresh fish dinner.
9. Johanna Beach
Distance: Three hours west of Melbourne
This free campsite is right on the beach, so if seaviews are your thing this is the perfect spot!For those travelling along the Great Ocean Road, this is a fantastic place to stop for the evening, with Cape Otway just south of you.
10. Andersons Garden (Dog Friendly Camping)
Distance: One hour north of Melbourne
Anderson Gardens may be in Mount Dissapointment State Forest, but don't let the name fool you! This free, dog friendly campsite is only an hour's drive from Melbourne and is located within the State Forest. The campsite is first come first served, and you'll need to take your rubbish out with you. There is a multitude of activities, from hiking, to fishing, bike riding and dog walking in the area. Campfires are permitted with certain restrictions, but make sure you check for days of total fire ban. The site also has wood-fired barbecues, toilets and picnic tables for your use.
11. Plantation, the Grampians
Distance: Three hours northwest of Melbourne
The Plantation is the biggest campground inside the stunning Grampians National Park, and it's free! The campground is set on the eastern edge of the Mount Difficult Range, and from it you can easily access sites like Halls Gap and Heatherlie Quarry. It's also an easy drive to the Aboriginal Rock Art in the Northern Grampians.
The Grampians cover over 1600km square kilometres, so there is no shortage of hikes, views, and other things to see and do. For the adrenaline junkie, the Grampians also hosts some pretty awesome rock climbing. The Plantation campsite has fireplaces you can use (bring your own firewood), unpowered sites, shared picnic tables and drop toilets.