Did you know that free RV camping exists? Many free campsites are gorgeous campgrounds set amid idyllic backgrounds.
But like everything else in life, not every free campsite will measure up to our standards. We’ve got a few tips on what to expect and how to access free campgrounds. Let’s take a look.
What to Expect When Camping for Free
When camping for free, you can expect changing weather, varying scenery, a lot of people, no people, some amenities, no amenities, and whatever else camping can throw at you. You can also expect more freedom than when camping in RV parks. Traditionally, there are no designated quiet hours and often no designated sites. Along with that freedom, though, comes some problems.
This includes locals coming to hang out late into the night. With no designated quiet hours or camp hosts to enforce rules, people can, and will, do what they want when they want. This could also mean more trash and less peace of mind for you and your family.
But when you do find that gem of a campsite that has the views and gives you peace of mind, there’s nothing quite like it. You may never want to leave. Unfortunately, many free campsites have stay limits.
Where Can RVers Camp for Free?
RVers can camp for free in forested lands, next to lakes and streams, or atop a mountain peak. You can camp in the open air of the Arizona desert surrounded by cacti or under a live oak in Georgia surrounded by mosquitoes.
BLM stands for the Bureau of Land Management. It manages one-tenth of America’s land base for multiple uses while maintaining natural and cultural resources, including some of the most popular free campsites ever.
Camping on BLM land is best for those looking to spend a few nights in a beautiful place. Not every site is beautiful, but a good majority of BLM land lies tucked away down dirt roads and off the beaten path.
So, if you’re only looking for a quick overnight rest, BLM land may not be worth the trek. If you’re looking to plant you and your camper in one spot for a few days and enjoy the surrounding area, BLM land can be a great option. Just be sure you have everything you need, as it’s often dry camping.
What to Expect:
Most BLM sites won’t have any amenities, but it’s also not rare to find a few. You may come across some campsites with trash receptacles, firepits, picnic tables, and sometimes even a vault toilet. While some of these might be in disarray, it’s just nice having them in the first place.
You may also find more organization and rules here than you would expect. Most BLM sites have 14-day stay limits, and many have designated sites. Some BLM camping may be close to town, offering easy access to dining and shopping, and others may be off in the middle of nowhere, offering a respite from the chaos of the city.
Similar to BLM land, national forests and grasslands offer great places to camp for free. These lands have been protected and maintained through a government entity in one form or another since 1876.
These sites are good for adventurous campers. Many sites, like BLM land, lie far off the highway and may require some skill to get there.
Again, be prepared for no amenities, meaning you’ll need to be self-sufficient and bring everything with you. On the other hand, you could find places right off the road, so some of these lands offer beautiful locations even for just an overnight.
What to Expect:
While you can find free campsites in national forests and grasslands, you’ll also come across many paid campgrounds, so be prepared for that. Similar to BLM land, you’ll generally have stay-limits, and some areas may have amenities.
But different from BLM land, you’ll probably come across a few more rules when camping in national forests and grasslands. For example, even the free campsites here could be more like a paid campground, with quiet hours and sometimes even a camp host.
Barreling down the interstate, you’ll come across several rest stops. Some will allow you to spend up to 12 or 24 hours there, while others only allow a few hours.
If the rest stops allow 12 or more hours, this can be a great place for a quick one-night layover before heading on down the road again. This makes them good for those who just need a good night’s sleep.
What to Expect:
Most rest stops will have restroom facilities and even a few vending machines for a midnight snack. You’ll probably also find a grassy area for your pets to explore, along with trash receptacles and a picnic table or two. Some, though, may just be a place to park for the night with no amenities at all.
Stopping overnight at a rest area is not camping. In other words, don’t pull out your camp chairs, set up your outdoor cooking station, and start a campfire in the middle of a parking lot. You should be able to use your slide-outs and generator if needed, but that’s all. You’re here to rest, not to camp.
While some businesses are no longer allowing overnight parking in their lots, some still are. Many Walmarts, Cracker Barrels, and Cabelas, for instance, still allow this. Along with those, you can also stay a night at truck stops or large gas stations.
Again, just like the rest stops, staying overnight at a business is best for those one-night layovers where you simply need to stop and sleep for the night. They’re good if you want to sleep but not camp.
What to Expect:
When staying at a business, you may have to ask permission first. Use apps and your people skills to find out whether you can stay. It’s not much fun getting a knock on the door in the middle of the night with commands to leave.
Follow instructions from the workers you spoke with or the signs displayed as to where to park and how long to stay. And whenever possible, patronize the business. You did just stay there for free. And you probably used their facilities.
Where Can You Find Free Campgrounds?
One of the best ways to find free campsites are through apps and online services. These allow you to focus your search on more than just a location.
You can search for cell service, available amenities, road conditions, reviews, and more. The most popular tools include Campendium, Allstays, iOverlander, Dyrt, Recreation.gov, Freecampsites.net, and FreeRoam.
Another way to find free campsites is to join social media groups. You’ll be sure to find a group that fits your needs. From camping with toddlers to camping solo, you’ll get advice, recommendations, and a community to get you to the best sites for free.
Talking to people in person may seem like a long-lost art in the 21st century, but it remains one of the best ways to find free camping. So don’t be afraid to stop at a local BLM or forest service office or even the local visitor center or tourism board. They’re usually quite happy to direct you to places to camp.
Also, get recommendations from friends. Many people before you have camped for free. Ask a friend where they’ve been. It’s always nice to know ahead of time what you’re in for. But take their advice with a grain of salt. One person’s worst place could be another person’s favorite.
Do Free Campgrounds Come With Amenities?
Many free campgrounds will not have amenities. However, there are campsites out there on BLM or forest service lands with amenities.
Those may be limited to trash receptacles and picnic tables, but it’s entirely possible to have vault toilets and water on-site, as well. You shouldn’t count on this, so arrive prepared.
If you’re camping at a rest stop or other type of parking lot, it’s possible to use their restrooms and purchase food and water from their stores. But generally, you won’t be able to plug in or have access to your own personal picnic table, nor a fire ring for that matter. When camped in a parking lot, you aren’t really camping. You’re sleeping there for a night.
Free Campgrounds for RVers Are Sweet Deals
Whatever free campground you’re seeking out, we hope you find your hidden gem among the thousands of places to stay the night. Whether you just need a place to sleep for the night or want to camp in seclusion for a week or more, free campgrounds are out there.
What are some gems you’ve discovered on your travels?
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