The United States offers countless opportunities for camping. National parks from the East Coast to the West Coast deliver scenic views, convenient campgrounds, and ample opportunities for exploration during your stay. Local parks and forests also provide spaces for camping. However, not all campgrounds are free, and some come with a price tag that might take a bite out of your budget. Fortunately, with some thoughtful research and planning, you can discover ways to camp for free throughout the U.S. When you do, you’ll have extra money in your pocket for excursions and meals on your road trip. So, before you hit the open road in your RV rental, consider these tips for finding free camping in the U.S.
Know Where to Look
Certain parks and campgrounds are known for their free camping, while others almost always charge. Understanding the best places to look for free camping is the first step in planning your getaway. Before you secure your RV rental and plan your trip, follow these tips.
- National Forests and Grasslands. First, check out National Forests and Grasslands for free camping. Established by the U.S. Forest Service, these National Forests and Grasslands are different than National Parks, which often do charge for camping. National Forests and Grasslands stretch across 193 million acres in the U.S. Camping on National Forests and Grasslands doesn’t just offer a spot to park your RV rental. These forests boast an impressive 150,000 miles of trails, 10,000 recreation sites, and 57,000 miles of streams. You can find National Forests and Grasslands for camping in nearly every state, so you’re never too far away from a free place to camp in your RV. Dispersed camping is typically permitted on these sites for up to 14 days.
- Bureau of Land Management. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management oversees 245 acres of public land that spans the country. These sites offer ample outdoor opportunities, including swimming, hiking, wildlife viewing, and, of course, camping. If you’re road tripping through the Western United States, you’ll have ample BLM sites to explore. Most BLM land allows free camping, which you can confirm on the organization’s website. In those areas that do permit camping, you can set up your site for up to 14 days as you explore all that the area has to offer.
- National Wilderness Areas. The National Wilderness Preservation System maintains more than 760 wilderness areas totaling 109 million acres. These protected sites feature untouched beauty and serve as a habitat for endangered species. As a result, they can be appealing camping locations if you want to get in touch with nature. Many of these areas offer camping. Typically, campsites do charge during peak seasons, which allows you to reserve your spot. However, in the offseason, some of these sites allow camping at no charge. So, if you time your RV getaway right, you might be able to secure a free camping spot in one of these areas.
Search Within Your Destination
If you’ve already designed an itinerary, you can conduct a more focused search for free camping along your route. In addition to researching potential National Forests and BLM land, you can also search for free state forest land for camping. Specifically, look for Wildlife Management Areas in the state that you plan to visit. State guidelines for camping in these WMAs vary, but you will find some that allow camping and, better yet, offer camping at no charge.
Similarly, look for city and town parks that allow RV parking. These parks might be more challenging to find, but they can be a convenient option if there’s one along your route. Use the web to identify any city or town RV campsites. You can visit the municipality’s parks and recreation site for a listing of parks, or you can explore Google Maps to identify parks and then research their rules and restrictions for camping. While searching for local free campsites might take a bit of research, the savings will make your effort well worth it.
Know What to Expect
When it comes to camping in the U.S., you get what you pay for. Paying for a campsite in a national park may afford you a designated space with RV hookups and other convenient amenities. However, those amenities come at a cost. Free camping in the U.S. tends to be dispersed camping. Dispersed camping, also known as wild camping, doesn’t come with a dedicated campsite and amenities. These free spots offer you a spot of land where you can set up your campsite, but creating comfortable surroundings requires your own doing. Fortunately, with a well-equipped RV, chances are you’re already traveling with everything you need. So, a spot to park the RV may be all that you truly need, and you can find this space throughout the country with no campsite fees.
Every state in the U.S. offers camping opportunities — and some of those are available for free. With a well-designed itinerary and some smart research, you can discover a spot to park your RV rental that won’t break the budget.