How to Find Free Campsites in the United States
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, camping and outdoor adventures have increased in popularity. You may have noticed that there is less availability at campgrounds when you try to make a reservation, and costs have gone up significantly.
Luckily, there is such a thing as free camping and there are way more free camping opportunities in the United States than you might think. The trade off for lack of campground amenities is more privacy, more adventure, and typically more incredible views!
However, keep in mind that at these free campsites, you will be dispersed camping. You will need to be self-contained and be fully prepared and carry in (and out) everything you might need. Practicing good outdoor ethics and following the Leave No Trace guidelines is the best way to ensure these free camping options remain accessible.
Where Can You Camp For Free?
Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
BLM Land, while mostly out west, is public land that offers visitors a wide variety of outdoor adventures, including camping! While their website doesn't clearly state where you can camp for free, you can start by looking through their regional maps.
National Forests and Grasslands
There are 154 National Forests and 20 National Grasslands in the United States, that's 193 million acres of vast, scenic beauty just waiting for you to discover. National Forests and Grasslands really make great dispersed camping options! Just be sure to check The U.S. Forest Service's "Know Before You Go" camping section before planning your trip so that you can be fully prepared.
Did you know that many businesses will allow you to stay overnight in their parking lots? While it might not be the most luxurious destination, after a long day of traveling, it may just be the easy, convenient, and free option you need! This is especially true for those with an RV.
Also, for those staying in RVs or vans, Wal-Mart, Cabela's, Camping World, Cracker Barrel, and even Costco, Home Depot or Lowe's, and some Casinos allow overnight camping. Every store is different, though, so don't just assume you can stay overnight. The best thing to do is call ahead of time and just ask.
When traveling through small towns, you may want to check and see if they allow free or low cost camping in their fairgrounds or parks. In addition, while it is not technically free, Harvest Hosts is a great idea for RVers and van livers. They charge a yearly fee in exchange for access to a large network of camping destinations like vineyards, golf courses, breweries, museums and more!
Finding Free Camping Spots
There are numerous resources out there that can help you find the perfect, free camping spot for your trip. You just have to do a little research! We always start by doing a few Google and YouTube searches, and of course check the BLM and USFS websites. From there, we have several additional recommendations.
Allstays Camp & RV- Tents to RV Parks is by far the best tool for finding the best camping spots. This is what we use and we haven't been disappointed! It is an easy to use app that lets you find and filter places and services with or without internet. It has extensive filters, so you can specify whether you are looking for tents, RV resorts, parking lots, fuel, rest areas, repairs, tunnels, or even inclines. It also allows you to find campgrounds with full amenities as well as the free, off the beaten path campsites. This app does cost $9.99, but it is well worth the money! This is in no way an advertisement, this is just what we prefer using and find it to be the most helpful.
In addition to their extensive guide to free camping, Campendium offers a search tool for finding free camping spots. Just follow these directions!
- Use a text search to zoom into the area you’re interested in.
- Select Category “All Public Lands.”
- Select Price “Free.”
Once Canada has reopened to the public, keep in mind that this search works in Canada, too! The best part of Campendium is the extensive reviews on camping spots from previous campers who stayed there!
This is our favorite free option so far. FreeCampsites.net is a very helpful resource whether you just want to find free campsites nearby, or if you are planning an entire free camping road trip! Another reason we like this resource is because it is community driven. While they update the map and add free campsites themselves, they also encourage users to add the free camping destinations they have personally tried.
If you would like to learn more about finding free campsites and how to be self-contained while camping at these free spots, check out Your RV Lifestyle!