Did I catch you at free camping? Good. Because if you’re stuck wondering how to find free camping I want you to know that it is possible to travel and camp on a tight budget! Every state has areas available in the USA which makes those cross country road trips more affordable.
Related: Check out my tips to prepare for a safer road trip
It all just depends on what you are looking for. With free comes less amenities and more “toughin’ in out”. This is usually how I camp because I enjoy the $0 price tag and other perks that come with it. I find a lot of my camping spots simply from researching as well as driving around where I am already exploring. When you do that you end up finding new destinations in surrounding areas, and so on. Get my drift?
In this post I am going to share with you areas you can find free camping as well as resources to use. But first, let’s define a few different types of camping.
Free camping is otherwise known as the following:
- Primitive Camping
- Dry Camping
- Stealth Camping
Types of Camping
Also referred to as “dispersed camping”, boondocking typically means staying in completely undeveloped areas without hookups or other amenities.
Boondocking can take place on public lands because it is free and legal. There are usually no official campsites, you just decide where to set up- preferably without disturbing any natural vegetation or animal habitats.
When boondocking you are expected to pack-it-in, pack-it-out meaning you leave no trace behind.
You also are completely on your own, but in return that means you get to be secluded with nature and its beauty without having neighbors. This is why it is a popular choice among full-time nomads living out of vans, trailers, and cars.
Remember, with boondocking you’re in the middle of nowhere, many times without cell reception, and are responsible for providing your own amenities.
Primitive camping can be used interchangeably with back country camping, meaning you hike in and tent camp, then hike back out.
These are usually non-reservation campsites in remote areas without any amenities within state and forest parks. You’ll want to be sure to only pack what you need because you’re on your own out there and depending on how far you decide to trek, you could be carrying your supplies pretty far.
There are some parks that provide primitive camping with picnic tables and fire rings not far from parking. This means you’ll only have a short walk with your gear to the site but still, no hookups or bathroom amenities.
If you are unsure how primitive the camping will be, it is always best to call and ask ahead of time so you can be prepared.
Dry camping seems to be one that is very subjective because it lies in a gray area. It is much like boondocking, but the difference is it doesn’t have to be as remote. Dry camping can be done at truck stops, big-box store parking lots, rest areas, etc.. which is also a lot like stealth camping.
But with dry camping, most times you still won’t have the basic amenities at hand- restrooms, water, electricity, etc. You are camping without these amenities or providing your own.
Van-lifers and car campers should be pro’s at this one. Stealth camping is when you’re parking in populated areas that aren’t usually intended for overnight sleeping. This isn’t exactly legal, but is still done.
Blending in is key, and to successfully stealth camp some strategy may be needed. A lot of campers like to blend into neighborhoods and other areas with the idea that if no one knows they’re there, it is okay.
I’m going to leave the legality choice of this one up to you!
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Where to Find Free Camping
Finally! What you’ve been waiting for. Don don don…
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) / Public Lands
You can partake in any type of camping on BLM lands. From developed campgrounds to primitive and back country camping, these public lands are some of the most scenic.
If you visit their website blm.gov you can research areas to camp, keep up on news that will affect your stay, and look up any fees or permits required. If you’re already in the area stopping at a ranger station is also an option.
Primitive and back country/dispersed camping are free with a 14 day limit within a 28 day period. This may vary on location so it is important to research prior to arrival.
Campgrounds are usually first come first serve but depending on the location can sometimes be reserved ahead of time on their website. Like most campgrounds, there will be a fee.
National forests are one of my favorite places to camp. Many offer free dispersed camping which you can learn more about by searching their website here.
You can also find these on your phone’s google or apple maps! When I’m traveling I love to look on my maps for nearby national forests to explore. All you have to do is search for the green colored area on the map and if you zoom in it should tell you which forest it is. If you’re using Apple Maps a lot of the locations provide photos are more information when you click on the area.
State forests are another great area to explore and possible camp for free. Every state is different, though, so this may require a little bit of research ahead of time. Most state forests require either a free of very low cost permit.
Another great option to look into is obtaining a permit and primitive camping within US National Parks. If you have the National Park Pass (which I highly suggest getting), your entry into the park will essentially be free!
The permit is usually a very small fee, and if you plan on staying multiple days at the park it would be well worth looking into rather than paying $20+ a night at their campgrounds. It is best to look on the National Park website or call ahead of time.
Army Corps of Engineers
The Army Corps of Engineers are pretty awesome! They provide us with recreation areas by developing lakes, rivers, and damns. Not only that, but they provide the public with free camping at many of their locations.
You can search your next free camping spot on their website here.
3 best websites to find free camping
This website is one of my favorite to use! Whether you are researching beforehand or on the go, it provides you with free campsites all across the US.
Locations vary from BLM land all the way to rest stops and places within cities you can stay at. Just be sure to read the reviews and check out the photos before deciding!
iOverlander is a website and app resource to find free camping. Although I don’t use it as often as free campsites above, it can have a few places free campsites doesn’t. The one thing iOverlander has that free campsites doesn’t is the app and ability to work offline. I also appreciate their search filters so you can narrow down your type of camping.
Campendium is another website for searching camping locations. It has a free camping section as well as an option to search by RV parks, National Parks, National Forests, and State Parks.
So there you have it! The remote locations plus resources I use in order to find free camping. I hope I was able to help you find your next amazing destination!