How to find FREE (or almost free) Camping
Campgrounds Shouldn’t Require a Mortgage. Like everything else these days, camping is getting to be expensive. We love State and National Parks but most will set you back $35+ a night for dry camping and private RV parks are even more expensive. Being the
cheap ass frugal travelers that we are, we’ve found a few ways to not only save on campground fees (thus increasing our vital booze fund) but also snag some of the best camping spots ever!
So, here we go…
Boondocking or Wild Camping (my favorite term) is typically FREE and means camping in remote areas without amenities like electricity, sewer connections or bathroom facilities (although we have seen some with vault toilets). Wild Camping is not for everybody but if you’re willing to rough it a bit (or invest in some solar panels) it can save you a ton of money. This is our favorite type of camping because you are out in nature, no crowds and no rules other than leave no trace!
BLM (Bureau of Land Management) , National Forest and National Grasslands, Fish and Wildlife Managment and so on, are all public lands that allow recreational camping. To find out where the camping areas are, search the organization plus the state you want to camp in. For example: bureau of land management Washington. To make things even simpler, download this super handy Public Lands app that shows you a map with all the public lands in different colors and has links to the government website that manages that land.
Next, you will want to locate the regional or area office info for where you are headed and give them a call. If you are struggling to locate the regional office info, you can call the main number and ask for help. Let them know you are looking for primitive, dry camping or back country camping opportunities for an RV. They can help you out with directions, maps, road conditions, stay limits, let you know if permits are needed, and it’s a good idea to tell them what kind of rig you are driving (length and width). If you’re too tall or wide for certain spots they’ll let you know.
Apps and websites like UltimateCampgrounds and Campendium are great resources for finding free campsites in the U.S. and Canada as well. However, not every free campsite is listed so we always encourage checking the BLM / National Forest / Crown Land etc. websites for the most accurate info / locations.
Here are a few of our favorite spots so far:
Free National Forest Lands outside of Tahoe (hope valley campground)
Free BLM Camping 2 miles from Joshua Tree National Park
Free National Forest Lands Camping at Grand Teton National Park
Parking Lot Surfing is our least favorite option (because you’re in a parking lot) but sometimes it’s the only option. We are talking Wal-marts, Cabela’s, truck stops, rest stops and any other business or parking lot willing to let a weary traveler rest their head for a while. The key to this type of overnight camping is super simple…always make sure you have permission. It’s as easy as calling up and asking a store manager if they allow overnight parking, or calling the non emergency police line to ask about overnight parking at any local rest stops or parking lots. Why the police you ask? Because the best person to ask if what you’re planning on doing is legal, is the person who would write you the ticket. I can’t tell you how many times we have called the police to ask about safe and legal overnight parking. The best part is they are open 24hrs! We never thought of this option until a local sheriff gave us the suggestion.
This video will give you the run down on the do’s and don’ts of parking lot camping.
Discount and Club Camping: There are dozens of RV clubs to choose from, we suggest doing your own research on this one to see what club works best for you and your style (and locations) of camping. Here are a couple of our favorites:
Membership is $40 for 12months. This is hands down our favorite camping program that allows RV’ers to stay at farms and wineries. We love it so much we made a video about it and an article explaining the program here: www.gonewiththewynns.com/harvest-hosts-free-rv-parking-farms-wineries
Here are a few others to look into:
Good Sam Club – discounts at select campgrounds
Family Motor Coach Association(FMCA) – discounts at select campgrounds
Passport America – discounts at select campgrounds
Escapees RV Club