A Guide On How To Find Free Campsites
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The great outdoors were meant to be enjoyed. However, there are a lot of essential factors that need to be considered when traveling. You can’t travel and explore the country without thinking about your accommodation status. If you include accommodation costs atop what you’re already spending on travel, it can get pricey real quick, real fast. Have you thought about camping? Well, it’s the best way to tour the world for little, particularly if you sleep in a tent and don’t need water or electrical hookups.
Your hard-earned money is meant to be spent on exploring and enjoying all that life has to offer. Nothing beats waking up to the sweet sound and nature without worrying about the expenses of your stay. If anything, it will be another day of adventure and fun in the great outdoors. If you’re going to be on the road for a while, be wary of staying in privately owned campgrounds or national parks. The $15-20 per night for camping fees can be a stinger. But there’s a way around it; you can use a range of tools to locate free campsites. It’s usually said that the sweetest things in life are free, and it doesn’t get any better than finding free camp spots.
What Is Free Camping?
Like the way it sounds, free camping basically entails camping overnight under a tent or in your RV at a location you aren’t required to pay a fee. Free camping goes by many names, including dispersed camping, primitive camping, boondocking, and dry camping. The majority of free camping sites aren’t located in developed campgrounds.
Free camping appeals to many campers mainly because one doesn’t pay a dime. Others find additional benefits to free camping, which include things like camping without access to modern pleasures and/or amenities, camping away from other campers, and merely the remote nature of most campgrounds.
Howver, there are a few guidelines to follow. Set up your campsite at least 200’ from water sources, when available select already established campgrounds, utilize existing fire rings, and you can try limiting your stay to around 14 days. Camping regulations for free campsites vary, which is why it’s important to inquire from ranger stations on their stance regarding fire restrictions, stay limits, and where the best locations are nestled.
What To Bring
These locations won’t have amenities and essential services like toilets, showers, trash cans, picnic tables, and water. So you’ll need to arrive prepared. If you want to camp in a remote, wild area (like on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands or in a National Forest), in addition to your tent or RV, make sure to pack:
- Garbage bags
- Containers for storing food
- Water for washing and drinking
- A table and camp chairs
- Shovel and Toilet Paper
- Permits (where applicable)
To ensure you have camped responsibly in the free campsite, having a working knowledge of ‘Leave No Trace principles’ will go a long way. This will include practical ways of disposing of your waste. In case you are camping in an overnight parking area, like a Walmart parking lot or truck stop, chances are you will a place for disposing of your garbage and a bathroom.
Places You Can Find Free Camping
You should note that free campsites are not the same and vary with regard to beauty, convenience, and enjoyment. Here are types of land free camping is allowed:
Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
For every 10 acres of land in the U.S., one of them is under the stewardship of the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM is a government agency tasked with managing land, mainly in the western parts of the U.S. and in open desert landscapes. The land is managed for various uses, including resource extraction, logging, grazing, and recreation purposes.
Usually, free camping on BLM lands is capped after 30 days have elapsed but can be longer or shorter depending on the area. This land is favorable for vans, RVs, and at times tent campers. Considering the various applications of BLM land, you may arise to a band of sheep or herd of cattle in your site. So doing a bit of research on what you may find ahead of time can help ready you.
Read our article on BLM camping for more information.
Forest Service Land (USFS)
The USFS oversees 154 National Forests and 20 National Grasslands. With 193 million acres of public land, you can explore any area you want. You can easily find National Forests on Google Maps – the green shaded parts that cover large swaths of land. Setting up your campground in a national forest is suitable for vans, RVs, and tent camping. The majority of national forests that allow free camping have a stay limit of 14 days, although it varies from a short stay of one day to a 30-day stay. Be sure to review the local regulations by stopping at a ranger station, or calling beforehand to know the particulars.
Another perk is that, although most national parks don’t allow dispersed camping, most of them are bordered by grasslands and national forests. Take a few minutes’ drive out of the park, park in a secluded part in the national forest, and enjoy your quality time with the outdoors.
Overnight parking in a parking lot may not be your idea of experiencing the great outdoors’ adventures. Some retailers throughout the country permit self-contained vehicles ad RVs to spend the night in their parking lots. Locations that may permit overnight parking include truck stops, Walmarts, Cracker Barrel, tow parking lots, rest areas, and casinos. So if and when you find yourself stuck in town stocking up on supplies, these locations can provide you with free overnight parking.
There are even some truck stops that offer coin-operated showers and laundry services to their overnight guests. You should know that overnight parking spots don’t allow tent camping and, therefore best suited for those with Vans or RVs. Even though overnight parking can prove to be busy, bright, and loud, the upside is that you get to spend the night for free. Note that not every location allows overnight parking, and as such, you should check with the management first. So make sure that you arrive late and leave before sun-up. As a gesture of appreciation, you can purchase something from the store.
Best Apps For Locating Free Campsites
Ultimate Campgrounds App
In 2019, this App came first as a comprehensive and user-friendly phone application that can be used to find free campgrounds while on the go. The Ultimate Campgrounds App is updated monthly and has more than 41,000 public campgrounds to select from. The interface is very user-friendly, and National parks, Forest Service, and campsites are easily distinguishable. The App has details on every campsite, including the road conditions, amenities, prices, etc. The App can also display pull-offs on roadsides as well as isolated legal campgrounds on dirt roads. The App will not display RV parks or privately owned campsites. The App goes for only $3.99.
iOverlander is a free site and App that can easily be downloaded on your phone. This App will enable you to locate nearby places on a map and see their full description, including a list of amenities and reviews, comments and photos posted by other campers like yourself. You can even do your search to include the amenities you want. Let’s say you want a campsite with showers, a pet-friendly place, or Wifi to get work done; the App has features that allow you to narrow down your search according to the parameters you want.
This crowdsourced database lists just about any detail you are looking for, including GPS coordinates, date visited last, and can also record your trip, adding new places and marking places you’ve been to share with other travelers or friends. The best part is that you can use all these features even when the App is offline.
All Stays Camp & RV
This App is downloadable on smartphones and goes for $9.99. Unlike the two aforementioned apps, this App features paid campsites, parking lots, and other locations you can stay. It also displays locations for filling up on water, RV dumps as well as other amenities you may require while on the road. Upon narrowing down on a campsite, click on the button linking to Google Images to give you direction in Google maps or Apple.
Nothing falls short of Google’s purview, and finding free campsites isn’t about to be the first that escapes the watchful eye of Google maps. It’s the best App to use to get step-by-step directions. You can use the satellite feature to find spots that give you the seclusion and solitude you’re looking for.
So before embarking on your camping trip, do some research to find the best free camp spots and see yourself save a significant chunk of money that you can use for your exploration escapades. Compared to traditional campsites, dispersed campsites are FREE and will provide you with the solitude you don’t get in the city as well as a chance to connect with Mother Nature.