So you've bought an RV or tent, have purchased all the top camping gear, and have filled up the car with gas. Why pay for a campsite if you don't have to!?! There are plenty of places around to set up camp with no extra costs involved! Learn how to camp for free!!
RV Dry Camping
If you have an RV, many places will allow you to camp for short periods of time in their parking lot. You can check out places such as Walmart, mall parking lots, casino parking lots, and places such as ski resorts. Be sure to check with the manager before you kick back though. You don’t want to be told to leave or have an officer hand you a ticket.
Dispersed camping, or "boondocking," is when you camp on public land but outside of the campground itself. It gives you the opportunity to get away from the busy areas of the campground and get closer to nature. There won't be facilities or extras provided, such as a bathroom, picnic table, or fire ring, so be sure you are bringing everything you need. When looking for a boondocking spot, as well as any other type of free camping spot, try to find an area that someone else has already used so you’re not doing additional damage to an area. The secluded nature of boondocking gives you a great opportunity to go birdwatching or to illuminate an otherwise dark campsite with these beautiful tin can lanterns.
The Bureau of Land Management manages many natural resources and the value they hold. Generally, since the land isn’t actually used for much other than preserving natural resources, you can find a camping site for free. If you check out the BLM website for the state you’re looking to camp in, you should find a list of areas that you can camp on.
The US Forestry Service is another great place to look for free camping spots. They manage and protect 154 national forests and 20 grasslands around the US and in Puerto Rico. Here you can find a decent amount of official dispersed campgrounds where you can set up camp for free. They do have some rules though, such as groups of 75 or more need a permit, you must set your campsite up at least 100 feet away from any water source, and you must follow their “leave no trace” guidelines.
The Wildlife Management Institute protects areas for wildlife. You can find campsites on their website, but availability will depend greatly on the state and season. For information on camping in these areas, you will want to look up the WMI for the state you’re looking to camp in for both sites and rules that you’ll need to follow. These lands are sometimes used for hunting, so take caution if you are camping during hunting season.
Being able to camp for free is great, but make sure you take precautions since you’re going into an undeveloped area with no rangers for safety. Keep an eye on your fire, don’t go alone, and stay somewhat close to the road so that if you have an emergency you’re not too far off the beaten path. All these steps will allow you to safely enjoy the beauty of America through the windows of your RV.