Free camping spots in the US

How To Find FREE Camping While Traveling The USA

Did I catch you at free camping? Good. Because if you’re stuck wondering how to find free camping in the USA I want you to know that it is possible to travel and camp on a tight budget! Every state in the USA has free camping areas available which makes those cross country road trips more affordable.

It all just depends on what you are looking for. With free comes less amenities and more “roughing it”. 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 how you can find free campsites in the USA as well as the best resources to use!

4 Types Of Free Camping

Free camping is otherwise known as the following:

  • Boondocking
  • Primitive Camping
  • Dry Camping
  • Stealth Camping

1. Boondocking

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.

2. Primitive Camping

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.

Free camping spots in the US

3. Dry Camping

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.

4. Stealth Camping

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!

Where To Find Free Campsites Across The USA

Finally- what you’ve been waiting for! Below are common areas across the USA that typically allow free camping. These are the places I look to first when planning my trips, because they usually always work out, especially while in the Southwest.

1. 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 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.

2. National Forests

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 mobile 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.

3. State Forests

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 or very low cost permit.

4. National Parks

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.

5. 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.

6. Rest Stops And Truck Stops

These are great options when traveling across the country and needing to fit in a quick nap or slip in for an overnight sleep. Rest stops and truck stops are located along interstate highways throughout the USA. They are usually located right at the end of a short exit and you can identify them by the signage along the highway indicating an upcoming stop.

Rest stops usually include bathrooms, picnic tables, vending machines, and sometimes water fountains. Truck stops usually include gas stations, restrooms, convenience stores, restaurants, showers, and sometimes dog parks.

You can plan your stops ahead of time by visiting the Interstate Rest Area website!

Other Areas To Find Free Camping

Okay so let’s say you’re in one of the major cities in the USA and it would take an hour+ drive to reach the wilderness. There are other areas where it is essentially ‘okay’ to camp for a night as long as it is inconspicuous and doesn’t disrupt business hours.

Business Parking Lots

Sometimes business parking lots are your only option. The list below are common businesses that usually allow overnight parking, but when in doubt always call ahead or go in to ask beforehand!

  • Walmart
  • Costco
  • Sam’s Club
  • Casino
  • Home Improvement Stores- like Home Depot and Lowes.
  • Camping World
  • 24 Hour Fitness Centers

Areas Where It Is Not Okay To Camp

  • Parks- within neighborhoods, city parks with playgrounds, etc.
  • Airports
  • Military Bases
  • Schools, Universities, and Community Colleges
  • Private Property
  • Construction Sites
  • Any locations that have ‘no overnight parking’ signs posted
  • Any business that doesn’t allow overnight parking
  • Gated Communities

3 FREE Tools To Find Free Camping In The USA

1. Free Campsites

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!

2. iOverlander

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.

3. Campendium

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!

Recap On Free Camping In USA

There you have it- where and how to find free camping in the USA. I hope this post has been helpful in planning your next US road trip as there are countless beautiful places to visit across this country. Being able to camp free is a huge perk in helping make the trip more affordable.

If you have any questions regarding your trip, camping for free in the USA, or just want to say hi, feel free to leave a comment below or email me directly!

You may also like:

3 thoughts on “How To Find FREE Camping While Traveling The USA

  1. Pingback: Hike Battleship Mountain via. First Water Trailhead - Karabou Lifestyle

  2. Pingback: Packing list: 10 Essentials for hiking with dogs – Karabou Lifestyle

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. By browsing this website, you agree to our use of cookies.