Last updated on September 22nd, 2023 at 08:23 pm
If you’re looking for ways to save money on RV travel, reducing campground expenses should be at the top of your list. One great way to do that is to do some free camping. Whether you’re looking to just do it for a night or longer stretches, this article will help you figure out where you can camp for free.
What is the Catch?
The vast majority of free camping is without services or hook-ups like power, water, and sewer. You may also hear this type of stay called boondocking, primitive camping, dispersed camping, wild camping, stealth camping, dry camping. If this sounds a little intimidating, click here to learn more about how to dry camp with confidence.
Free Camping on Public Lands
You can camp for free on public lands in some of the most spectacular locations across the United States. Most of these free dispersed camping or boondocking sites are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Forest Service, and the National Park Service.
The video below shows several examples of free camping available around Las Vegas, Nevada including at Desert National Wildlife Refuge, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and the Bureau of Land Management in Overton.
We enjoyed this free dry camping site at a National Conservation Area in Arizona.
It is important to note that not all camping on BLM land is free, nor are all National Forests. For example, Finger Lakes National Forest in New York has some areas where free camping is available, but there are other areas that require a permit and fee. When in doubt, check in with local ranger/forest offices.
Some states have their own version of public lands offering free dispersed campsites. They may be called Public Trust Land, State Forests, and Wildlife Management Areas. While the vast majority of free camping is found in the West, there are plenty of places to dry camp for free in Florida. The Escribano Wildlife Management Area is a perfect example of totally free campsites in Florida.
Where to Find the Free Spots
While the National Forest Service has an Interactive Map to find potential free camping, BLM and state options are not quite as easy to locate. I think the best tool is Campendium, a free website where RVers share camping spots and reviews. I provide a tutorial on how to use it in the video below. The process is the same whether you are looking for free camping, boondocking, or established campgrounds.
Free Overnight Parking
The second type of boondocking is overnight parking. I hesitate to use the word camping because it typically involves pulling into a parking spot and staying overnight without any services. This usually occurs when RVers are traveling longer distances and just want a free spot to get a few hours of sleep.
Some of the most common places to find free overnight parking is WalMart, Cracker Barrel restaurants, and Cabelas. It is important to always ask if overnight parking is allowed and not take it for granted. Many of these establishments have a restricted area for overnight parking. In addition, some cities and counties have established local ordinances prohibiting the practice. If it is authorized, be sure to follow these tips for overnight parking etiquette provided by Escapee’s RV Club.
When we’re traveling and just want to park overnight, we prefer Casinos. We use the Casino Camper website to read reviews and get additional information. When staying overnight at a Casino be sure to get a player’s card inside for discounts on the restaurants and sometimes even “free play” on the slot machines.
Many states limit the amount of time you can park at a Rest Area so always look around for signage that indicates if you can stay overnight. While we haven’t stayed at a Rest Area yet, our friends Kenny & Sabrina of Moving Forward Adventures have several times. Kenny provides some of his lessons learned in this video.
There are a few membership programs that advertise “free” camping, but obviously if you are buying the membership, then they are not truly free.
We purchased an annual membership to Harvest Hosts for $79 to be able to stay at member wineries, distilleries, breweries, farms, and museums. In addition to the membership fee, additional costs are incurred by the obligation to make a purchase. Of course, we love these locations so much that we don’t mind. We get the opportunity to meet and support small business around the country like this one in Manteca, CA.
Some of our favorite Harvest Hosts stays include a farm with a petting zoo & camel right out our window, a Rum Distillery in Arizona, the General George Patton Museum near Joshua Tree National Park, and pretty much every winery we’ve visited.
Another membership program we’ve heard of, but aren’t members of is Boondocker’s Welcome. For $30 per year, you can stay on private land owners’ property. Most of the hosts are RVers themselves so it is a great way to get to know like-minded travelers.
Share Your Experience
We’d love to hear your experiences with free camping and boondocking. Do you do it often? Which type do you frequent the most?
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