What to Consider When Searching for the Perfect Free Campsite
There are two secrets to finding free camping: being flexible, and thinking outside the box.
Being flexible might include one or all of the following:
- Camping away from your intended destination
- Learning to become a better dry camper as you seldom find a free campsite with utilities
- Camping in less conventional places
- Taking advantage of what is available when it is available
Thinking outside the box includes coming to the realization that free camping can be located just about anywhere. Start by studying the definition of the word campsite:
“Campsite (noun): a place suitable for or used as the site of a camp.”
Once you change your understanding of “campsite” your options for finding free camping become much larger. As Megan and Michael from Fresh off the Grid say, “There are a ton of free camping options out there – you just need to know where to look.”
Check out these unconventional camping locations:
- Casinos: Most allow RVers to stay for free in their parking lots
- ORV Areas (Off Road Vehicle) Busy on the weekends, but nearly empty weekdays
- State Fish & Wildlife lands also known as Wildlife Management Areas (WMA)
- Federal Wildlife Refuges
- DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and State Trust Lands allow camping
- Corps of Engineers often offer dispersed camping, which is typically waterfront
- TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority)
- Roadside Attractions: Many allow you to stay the night, especially those on BLM land
- Welcome Centers
- Churches: There are many Bible verses about welcoming a stranger
- When visiting an attraction late in the afternoon, ask if you can spend the night
- Ski area parking lots during the offseason
- Many Walmart locations allow overnight parking. Read more about Walmart camping in this article.
- Many popular National Parks and Monuments have designated overflow camping areas. Two examples are: Joshua Tree National Park and Natural Bridges National Monument. Overflow areas are typically listed on the park’s websites.
How to find awesome free camping spots
- Many of the above locations can be found on RV LIFE Trip Wizard, now included with RV LIFE Pro.
- Free Campsites (Freecampsites.net) lists lesser-known campgrounds and boondocking locations that offer free camping across the country.
- Several bloggers and Youtubers share places where they’ve camped for free.
- There are even places in rural communities that offer free camping with hookups. Click here for more information and listings.
- Facebook: Join one of the many groups that share locations where free camping is allowed across the country. If you don’t find one in the area where you want to camp, just ask.
- Instagram: There are many RVers you can follow on Instagram that share places that allow free camping, such as Boondocking Life who often shares a photo of the free camping space he enjoyed along with coordinates of the location.
View this post on Instagram
Mowitz Spur E (FR 46N10E). Modoc National Forest. Ambrose, Northern California. (41.511927, -120.968263). Free dispersed camping with a 14 day limit. Good Verizon signal. Gorgeous area. Hope to explore it more after it thaws out. . . . . #modocnationalforest #modocplateau #norcal #wintercamping #snowcamping #nomad #digitalnomad #rubbertramp #offgrid #backroads #simpleliving #tinyliving #overland #camping #truckcamper #truckcamperlife #adventuremobile #fulltimerv #rvlife #vanlife #vanlifers #roadtrip #campendium #freecamping #boondocking #boondockinglife #december2019
You too can find places that permit free or cheap camping by being flexible, keeping your eyes open, and understanding that a campsite isn’t necessarily confined to the boundaries of a campground or RV park. Read more about Why You Should Become A Better Dry Camper here.
Dave Helgeson’s many roles in the RV industry started before he even had a driver’s license. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership before the term “RV” had been coined, and Dave played a pivotal role in nearly every position of an RV dealership. He and his wife Cheri launched their own RV dealership in the Pacific Northwest. The duo also spent 29 years overseeing regional RV shows. Dave has also served as President of a local chapter of the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), worked on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college, and served as a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. Dave’s reputation earned him the title of “The foremost expert on boondocking,” bestowed by RV industry icon, the late Gary Bunzer (The RV Doctor). When he’s not out boondocking, you’ll find Dave in the spotlight at RV shows across the country, giving seminars about all things RVing. He and Cheri currently roam in their fifth travel trailer, with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications to his own unit.
Jerry Blandford says
To find places to camp take up invitations from fellow campers. I have something good in each new place. Rough it. I started camping in Boy Scouts it it was rough. My sleeping bag was a canvas Bag used for hand harvesting cotton. My Mom made quilts from old worn out clothing, curtains, sheets, pillow cases, etc. Every afternoon my paper route took me by the cotton gin. I got permission from gin management to pick cotton from surrounding weeds that invariably escaped the processing from the gin. My neighbor, the widow Ledbetter would use “carding” brushes to hand clean the cotton and form small pads which were used inside the quilts for padding and insulation. Man those things were heavy and did not have a thermostat. When you crawled between five or six of those quilts it was like sleeping in a snow bank, and they were so heavy you could barely turn over. Where do you think the warmth came from? Duh! Your own body heat. Once you finally got your space warm enough to make your beautiful body warm you did not move cause the artic circle was only a few inches from from your epidermis. Cooking and bathing was somewhat different back then also. I can give you more information about camping 70 years ago but it might be hard for some people who find it a hardship to spend a little time in an RV without a microwave or satellite television. With a little exposure to “new” “old” methods people might find it easier and fun to “rough it or boondock it”. I have been camping over 70 years in New Mexico’s mountains and last weekend I met my daughter and family at a boondock area that I have passed hundreds of times going to Timberon, New Mexico. I passed the spot up because you turn off the paved road and drive through an abandoned gravel pit. After I got there I found beautiful mountains and free flowing springs about every 500 yards for 15 miles, lots of deer and elk, etc. If someone suggests a place then investigate it. You might find you do not need television.
Good luck, Gordo Pendejo
You might want to consider taking churches off your list. As a retired pastor, I don’t know a church that would welcome this unless it was an emergency situation. In that case make sure you get permission from the pastor.
Churches are targets for vandalism, hate crimes, breaking in to sleep by the homeless etc. Most churches I know of are on nightly police patrols because of this.
Winnebago Bob says
If your a member of fraternal group, like the Masons, Elks, Moose, etc. they usually have parking lots and would probably a fellow member to stay there as long as it wasn’t a meeting night.
Dalemarie Ellison says
County Fairgrounds and parks
David H says
Question: Camping is camping and parking is parking.
Can’t licensed vehicles park overnight on normal city outskirts streets? I can put my slide out 6″ and be quite comfortable for a quiet evening and a sleepover.
Comment: I’m really dismayed by the tsumani of RVers.