RVers have many ways to enjoy free RV camping in America. From questionable parking lot overnighters to remote vacations anywhere on the 109 million acres of American wilderness, the occasional free getaway is always within reach.
The Internet’s wealth of information about free RV camping might also create its downfall. Irresponsible RVers who don’t know or care about free RV camping ethics are causing government agencies to restrict the practice all over America. To keep free RV camping free, here are some things you must know before claiming a spot.
1. Urban or “stealth” RV camping could cost more than you think
The rise of the urban “stealth” camper is a growing phenomenon. One search for “stealth camping” videos on YouTube reveals dozens of RVers who teach others how to live without paying for RV campsites.
With more people than ever doing it, authorities are cracking down on stealth urban campers. Many cities like San Diego have outlawed overnight RV parking on city streets and dozens of municipalities like Anchorage, AK are considering it.
Don’t rely on free urban camping as a way to save money. If you do it, remember that one parking ticket costs far more than a night at the local RV park.
2. Free doesn’t mean forever
All public lands have designated areas where free RV camping is allowed. Before claiming your dream boondocking site, check with the regional office of the managing agency. Your goal is to learn the rules for camping outside of developed campgrounds. This practice is called “dispersed camping.” In general, here’s how different public lands agencies set time limits on dispersed camping:
- Bureau of Land Management dispersed camping rules generally only allow camping for 14 days within 28 consecutive days. After that, you must relocate to another spot at least 25 miles away.
- U.S. Forest Service dispersed camping rules generally only allow a 16-day stay limit. The US Forest Services says that “After 16 days, you must move at least five road miles for camping in another dispersed area. Campers may not return to the same campsite within the calendar year.”
3. Free RV camping requires more responsibility
Free RV camping on public lands requires RVers to be even more conscientious about the land on which they camp. For example, did you know:
- Dispersed camping areas don’t have trash collection, fire rings, or toilets. As a result, you are technically responsible for keeping the area clean and pristine.
- You must know where to camp and why. For example, did you know that camping less than 100 feet from a stream or river will damage plants and cause soil disruption? Or that staying to close to a wildlife water trough will put animals lives in jeopardy because they’ll be too afraid to approach?
- Camping in a meadow clearing is disruptive to the environment. When your RV is out in the open, it’s wrecking another camper’s wilderness experience.
RVing offers a ton of freedom that car and tent campers don’t get to enjoy—as any good American patriot will tell you, “Freedom isn’t free.” Campsites that don’t cost money technically do cost you time and effort to learn about free RV camping ethics. Set a good example and you’ll preserve these freedoms for years to come.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.