3 Secret Tips for Free Camping in the US

3 Secret Tips for Free Camping in the US

Mesa Verde
Camping in Mesa Verde, CO

 

So you want to see the US… and you’d like to do it on the cheap. Camping is already going to be less expensive than staying in hotels or hostels, but I assume you’re not camping because it’s cheaper. I assume it’s because you want to experience the outdoors and really see the US. Perfect! There’s more to it than that, though. I’ve traveled and camped all around the country. The best campsites I’ve found were all free or cheap! Why were they the best? Because they usually have less people, more adventure and more untouched areas to explore. Here are a few tips that most people don’t know about—some of the best-kept secrets of American camping, in my opinion. I’ll ramble on no further. Here they are:

 

1. FreeCampsites.net – This is one of the greatest things I’ve ever discovered. Seriously. I’d almost rate it higher than my discovery of Nutella or craft beer… okay maybe not higher than that… but it’s good. Freecampsites.net is a website where you can easily search for—you guessed it—free campsites all around the country. It’s really easy: You just click on a state and it will show you a map with a bunch of pins which each represent a free campsite. You can hover over the pin to get a quick summary, or click on it to get detailed information including GPS coordinates, reviews from other campers, and detailed directions to the site. I’ve used this site all over the country with huge success. In fact, most of the best campsites I’ve ever stayed at have been from this website and completely free! 

GE DIGITAL CAMERA
Free campsite in Southern Colorado

2. Bureau of Land Management – Here’s the quick gist—the United States government, in the mid and late 1800s, systematically relocated (and that is the absolute nicest way of putting the terrible, tragic and disgusting way our government treated these proud peoples) hundreds of Native Americans onto reservations. Gold was discovered, farming land, whatever reason deemed “necessary” by the US to obtain lands, and people were forced to leave. Here we are hundreds of years later, and where is all this land we needed so much? Sitting there. I try to keep this an optimistic and happy site, so I’ll try to keep on target.

The Bureau of Land Management was eventually created; and subsequently we can at least find some small benefit in the midst of tragedy. There are large swaths of land all around the West that are available for free and cheap camping.  You can visit the BLM Website and browse around the state(s) you’ll be visiting. Some sites are free some are just cheap. I’ve stayed at quite a few BLM sites, but usually they aren’t quite as good as the ones I’ve found on the aforementioned Free Campsites website.  Also, there are little to no spots in the East. This option is much better for exploring the West.

3. National & State Parks- This is almost always the most expensive of these camping options… and I know that National and State Parks aren’t exactly secret tips for camping, but hear me out: There are almost always cheaper camping rates than you see listed. These are usually backpacking sites, but many can be reached by road. Some are free, some are $3-5, you get the idea. Some National Parks, such as Black Hills National Park in Wyoming, offer free “wilderness camping” in some areas. Make sure to pay attention to the rules (Black Hills Nat’l Park doesn’t allow fires for wilderness camping) and follow them. The main reason I’ve mentioned this option is because the first two options don’t have the greatest success in the East. State and National Parks will probably be your go-to if you’re camping in the East. I also mention them because they are the option which usually offers showers, which believe it or not, may be useful at some point during your trip. (:

Also, don’t be afraid to ask! Sometimes I’ve gotten really cheap camping just by asking the person working the Park Office. This is a biggie while traveling and I mention it all the time—talk to the locals!

 

There you have it. Three great options for finding cheap or free camping around the US! Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and share this post with your friends 🙂

 

Do you have any other ways for finding cheap camping? Or have you tried any of these options? Tell me about them in the comments!

Peace and Happy Travels,

-Tom

7 Responses

  1. I’m going on a big road trip through the US in a few months and I’m pretty sure you just saved my bank account from complete depletion. So, so useful, thanks a ton!

    • Happy to help! Are you going west? Road trips are my favorite. Check back in with the site in a couple weeks as I’m working on a “Road Trip Hacks” post that should be finished soon with some good money-savers.

      • I’m planning on sticking to the South as much as I can (as it will be winter… sometimes I question my life choices, but just sometimes) and going all the way from California to Florida and back. I’ll definitely check back soon, muchas gracias!

        • I drove across country during the winter last year! Make sure you still make it to the Grand Canyon! The roads to get there from Flagstaff weren’t too treacherous compares to a lot of the other paths out West, but I’d still check the weather first. Good idea to head South otherwise. I got caught in a huge blizzard going through CO and it got pretty sketchy. And when some of those roads get hit by heavy snow you can be stranded for days. You’ll be fine though as long as you keep checking weather reports and talking to locals 🙂

          • Tiffany

            Sounds easy enough in theory 😉 and in the end, the sketchy situations make for the best stories. Anyways, thanks a ton for all the great advice!

  2. Christy Maurer

    Thanks for these! My son wants to do this when he graduates in 2016. He’s a guitar player too and it’s his dream to travel and play.

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