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We love camping but do you know what we love best? Free camping!
In fact, we recently reviewed the best guide to free camping that there is in America today. But if you don’t have the budget for that just yet why not use our guide to free camping to get started?
How To Camp For Free?
First, we need to be clear. This isn’t a resource to help you find a free tent or a free RV. You’ll need to find one of those before you start.
Though, we’d recommend freecycling sites if you need those items for free.
You might need to wait for somebody to be looking to get rid of them and you might need to travel a bit to pick them up, but eventually, you can get most things for nothing if you’re patient.
What we are going to help you do is find free places to camp in your RV and tent.
So let’s define some camping terms:
- Dispersed camping – parking up outside of a campsite on public land. Normally with some facilities and completely free. You must not block any roads, gates or trailheads when using these facilities.
- Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – the BLM owns nearly 1/8th of all the land in the United States and you are legally allowed to camp for up to 14 days on their land for free as long as there are no notices preventing you from doing so.
- City Parks – surprisingly, these are nearly always free to use and they contain a ton of amenities. The idea is to attract tourists into a town, and they want to make you feel welcome. Google for them before you go.
- County Parks – if there’s a good rule of thumb for these, it’s that the further away from any built-up areas, the more likely it is that a country park will permit dispersed camping on its grounds. Google first as many do charge for camping and worse, have many different bodies overseeing fee collections.
- National Park Service (NPS) – the NPS manages America’s 58 different national parks (check out our guide to the best 12 here) in most National Parks dispersed camping is banned but there are some that allow it.
- United States Forestry Service (USFS) – most of the land administered by the USFS allows dispersed camping for up to 14 days and this includes the 175 national forests and grasslands!
- Wildlife Management Areas – these are state-run pieces of land that are meant for hunting and fishing. Many do allow dispersed camping, but some don’t. It’s always best to do a Google search for WMAs in a certain area before you arrive to make sure.
How Can You Find Free Campsites?
Well, you can Google for an area and you can check out each particular body’s website too.
You can also check the website freecampsites.net which isn’t the most complete data source but does have some really useful information regarding some areas.
How Do You Make The Most Of Free Campsites?
You should always travel prepared when using a free campsite.
That means understanding that “free” doesn’t entitle you to very much.
- A full understanding that you should “leave no trace” when you’re camping
- Any permits you may need (you won’t need these for all sites, but you will for some)
- Chairs and a table if you want somewhere comfortable to sit
- Drinking water
- Food containers
- Garbage bags
- Toilet paper (and a shovel – don’t leave waste lying around for others to find)
- Water for washing in
What Should You Do If You Can’t Find A Free Camping Site?
OK, we’ve all been there. You need a place to sleep. You have no money for a campsite but you can’t find a free one to use.
So, what do you do? You find a Walmart or a Cracker Barrel or any big corporate with a nice empty car park and no security guard.
Then you park up there and sleep. If there is a security guard or a manager – ask them before you set up.
Don’t set up a fire or a tent, mind you, just get some sleep. Do make sure that you’re not breaking any state laws when it comes to doing this.
You don’t want to go to jail for a night’s rest.
Last Word on Free Camping
Everyone should go camping. In fact, millions of Americans do go camping.
We hope that our guide on how to camp for free has helped you realize that this isn’t a hobby for rich people – it’s accessible to all.
We like to use a pop-up camper for our camping (and we’d recommend that you do too if you have the funds – check out this guide to the best pop-up campers for ideas) but you don’t need one to get started.
All you need is a tent and a little initiative and soon you can be enjoying the great outdoors too!