Now that Li’l Homey is nearing the ready-to-live-in stage, I thought I’d start getting ready, too, for the “what happens once we’re on the road” stage. In my Google-ing around for stuff like “free camping” and “boondocking” and “vintage-trailer-friendly campgrounds,” I found websites that chronicle places on federal and state-owned lands and other places where you can stay for free or almost free. Even though I’ve been concentrating on the “free” part of the websites, almost free is good, too.
If you’ve been “out there” at all, you’ll already know there are many well-known places to pull your rig into and park overnight for free – Walmart parking lots, other retail locations, industrial area side streets, the road in front of your friend’s house, the rest area along the interstate, the parking lot of the nearest casino. It doesn’t really matter what your “rig” is – it could be a motor home, a trailer, your car or anything in between (except for maybe actually pitching a tent) – for the most part, no one will bother you in these locations I’ve listed, but it is always recommended that checking in with the local manager, if there is one, will go a long ways towards keeping you hassle-free for the night.
There are over 190 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands – the cool thing is that they don’t charge an admission fee and the camping is free, as long as you stay out of the official campgrounds. Your neighbors will be the local wildlife, and perhaps other people who want to get away from it all and stay somewhere for free. The website is the US Forest Service but it’s not very intuitive when it comes to finding locations. (At least, I didn’t think so; maybe you’ll have better luck than I did.) Click on Maps & Brochures on the left side, then click on Forest Maps, and you’ll come to this page where the United States is divided up into regions, showing the different federal forests that you can get information about. For instance, if you’re looking for the Columbia River Gorge, you would get this page by following the steps I just outlined. Clicking on Recreation will take you to another page where you can search for available camping. You can do this same process for any of the locations listed on the Forest Maps page.
Here are other sites that have more information about camping for free or almost for free:
- The Bureau of Land Management in the western part of the United States allows camping on most of its land for free or almost for free. On the left, click on Visit Us and then Recreation Opportunities. The linked site that comes up allows you to search BLM land in different states.
- Information on finding free or what’s called dispersed camping, in National Forests.
- Recreation.gov can help you search for National Forest land on which to pitch a tent or park an RV (my test search here revealed 313 locations in California!). Just type in the name of the state you’re searching in, click on any filters you want to use, and click on the Search button.
- Free or almost free camping places – Free Campgrounds lists camping places that are ten dollars a night or less – just click on the state you want to search.
- Freecampsites.net is another site that lists both free and paid camping sites in the US and Canada as well.
- Great information page on boondocking or camping for free – probably one of the better pages I’ve seen so far.
Also try searching on Google to locate more information on free or almost free camping. Seems more info keeps popping up all over. If you know of a website that might be helpful to those of us reading this blog, myself included, please include it in a comment below.
6 thoughts on “Free Camping on Government Land and Other Places”
Great research and info Lois! I’m saving this so I can take time to cruise through all of the links you provided. You are blazing the trail and a well rested traveler is always a much happier traveler. Good post.
Thanks, Nancy! As always, there’s so much info out there that weeding through it all to get to what you’re looking for can be time-consuming and sometimes frustrating, but if one considers all that research time as “relaxing down-time” before the adventure begins, one can head out into the great beyond with more information than they know what to do with! Travel on!
Informative posting and one I read with interest, especially the links to the forestry service and Bureau of land management.
I would offer a note of caution about camping too far off the beaten track or ‘camping’ in car parks, although it is romantic to imagine yourself submersed in Nature, accidents do occur and being isolated brings with it many disadvantages. I know this to my cost as whilst camping in Scotland, my dog cut his paw on some jagged rocks and the ordeal I had to locate a vet, stressful. Imagine how much worse that could of been if it was me, I doubt my dog would have been able to carry me to the car:)
So make the most of the ‘freebees’ but park within hailing distance of someone else. Happy trails…..
Thank you for your comments, Marina! The times I’ve spent camping in areas where I couldn’t see or hear my neighbors are some of my fondest memories – balancing the desire for peace and quiet with the reality of “what do we do if something happens” is a decision we each must make for ourselves as we are each responsible for ourselves and our choices. It’s nice we have so many options, isn’t it? I love it!
Great information. I would also do some checking with the local websites for ‘police reports’ or ‘crime statistics’ in any area you are thinking of visiting. My experience in the WalMart PLots are the more rural ones are positive, but any near a city tend to have more crime involved.
If you have areas that you know you are going to visit or are planning to see, let me know and I will give you experiences and/or places in a region I have been to. I have lived in multiple areas of the US (MO, HI, WA, OR, NH, MA, PA, FL, TX, NY) and have driven across the country five (5) times. So I have a little knowledge of the area and potential weather experiences you might consider.
Thanks, Micheil! There are plenty of books and websites that address the issue of boondocking on private property, such as Walmart parking lots or other retail locations and all have lots of good info about staying in these places. Most of us think of these as the only “free” options but there are lots of other places to park for the night, such as National Forest land, which is public property.
One of the nicest experiences I’ve ever had spending the night in a parking lot was several years ago in the middle of Los Angeles at a shopping center that had a Walmart in it. In this case, the Walmart did not own the property so permission to stay overnight was given by the security team for the shopping center.
Every day, I left during the daytime and returned at night, for maybe 3 or 4 nights (I don’t remember exactly – maybe more?) and there was another RV that did the same thing (they were from out of the country judging by the license place on their rig). The security team patrolled off and on all day and night – perhaps that’s the secret to having a pleasant experience in the city 🙂
I had my dog and cat with me, as well, and on the 3rd night I was there, I returned without my dog (long story for another time but she was spending the night at the local doggie spa for strays – or the doggie jail, whatever you want to call it!) – the very nice security guard saw me out without my dog and drove over to ask if everything was okay. Of course, it wasn’t and after telling her the story, she said that she would ask her prayer group to pray for me and my dog, that everything would work out perfectly the next day.
Camping out in the middle of Los Angeles in a 24-hour Walmart parking lot, in an urban area where I, as a white, older, solo-traveler woman was the definite minority, was an interesting experience and may be an anomaly but I still say that as long as one does their due diligence, ie. asking for permission, not just parking overnight, I think it’s possible to park just about anywhere.
Thanks for your offer to assist with location information – I’ll take you up on that offer!
PS. I was able to bail my dog out the next morning 😀
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