As someone who travels on a budget, I try to keep my camping expenses as low as possible. Which it can be a little hard in the States since campsites can be pretty pricey. Lately, campgrounds have been charging around $20 a night and sometimes I see even higher fees. I usually try to pay only $10 dollars for a night. But I can score even better sites by finding free ones. I usually try to mention my finds in my travel posts. Like this one which has a few great FREE campsites in Utah. Believe or not, it can be pretty easy to find free camping. Today, I would like to tell you guys how I find free camping and some of my tips.
This personally is my favorite way to find free camping. Honestly, most of the free campsites I have camped at have been found on this website. It’s easy to use and super helpful.
From the screenshot above you can see how amazing this site really is. You can search any National Park, Monument, Forest, or even search by State to find free camping. I checked Crater Lake National Park in Oregon and quickly found free camping only a few miles away! The website uses google maps to show you a display of campsites. There is also a description for each site with ratings and reviews. Which also usually includes directions!
While this site is amazing at finding free sites you have to do a little investigation before choosing a site. I always click on the campsite and read up on the description. Double check when it’s open, the road conditions, and the reviews of others. You don’t want to end up at a site that is closed or one that your car can’t make it to. Also while you don’t have to worry about most sites, there are couple sketchy ones on this site. Once while on a spring break trip with friends we got lead to a site we decided to not camp at. Mostly because it is filled with garbage and looked kinda illegal to camp at. Thankfully, if you just read reviews from previous campers you probably won’t run into this problem.
Also this website seems to be best for camping in the US and Canada. While there is some sites in Europe and some other countries, there isn’t many. I did I quick search for some in South America and could only find a couple for the whole continent.
Check Public Land Websites
Many times public land will have what is called dispersed camping. For those who are wondering what is dispersed camping, well it’s free camping on public lands. Usually it is not as developed as a paid campground. Sometimes they will include features like picnic tables, fire rings, and bathrooms. However, more often than not they don’t. Most dispersed sites will be a little turn off from the road and nothing more. But don’t be afraid. These sites often have great views and you get the area completely to yourself.
While you can find a lot of dispersed camping on the freecampsites.net, you can also check public land’s websites. National Forest and BLM often have dispersed camping and they usually publish it on their district sites.
Check Tourist Info Spots
If you aren’t find many sites online you can always try in person. There is ranger stations, tourists centers, and travel information stations to check. Often touristy towns have some place designated for tourists to get information about the area. (They also try to sell you souvenirs) When I couldn’t find any free camping online, I stopped at a forest service ranger station. Not only did they tell me about a great dispersed camping area, but they also gave me map on how to get there. I ended finding a great campsite just a few miles outside of Bryce Canyon National Park!
Go Backpacking Instead
If you still can’t find any nearby free camping, maybe try backpacking instead. Almost all Forest Service and BLM areas don’t charge to hike into your campsite. Sometimes they require you get a permit, but I found that those are usually free. National Parks and Monuments might charge for the permits, but some of them don’t! Not only is backpacking a free option, but it is usually a different experience from car camping. Sometimes the view is much better than ones you can drive to.
If you are looking for long term camping, consider becoming a Camphost. Public Land areas will pay individuals or a couple to “live” at a campground. So it’s even better than a free site! Camphosts make sure campers pay their fees and are following the rules. It’s not that hard of a gig and you get to call some amazing public lands home!
Tips While Camping at Free Sites
Most dispersed camping and free sites are not heavily managed. They usually don’t have a camphost and you don’t have to register when you get there. Which means nobody can hold you accountable to what you do there. However, you should still be responsible while staying at them. Make sure to pick up after your self and follow the rules of LNT. If there does happen to be other campers nearby be respectful. I have had couple free sites ruined by garbage and noisy neighbors.
These free sites can still might have a couple rules such as limits on how long you can stay. Just like normal campgrounds
Hope these tips are helpful on finding some sweet free campspots. Let me know if you have some other great ways you find dispersed camping.