Free Camping

They say the best things in life are free, and when it comes to the thousands of camp spots across the US and Canada that don’t charge a dime for camping, who is to argue? Here is Campendium’s definitive guide to free camping: what it is, how to find it, and what you’ll need to bring.

What is free camping?

Free camping is camping overnight in your RV or tent at a location where you do not have to pay. Most free campsites are not in developed campgrounds. Free camping is sometimes called boondocking, primitive camping, dry camping, and dispersed camping.

Free camping areas appeal to some campers simply because it doesn’t cost money, but others may find additional benefits to a free camp site, including the pleasures of camping without amenities, the option to camp farther away from other people than can be found in a campground, and the remote nature of many free campsites.

What do I need to camp for free?

Because most free campsites do not have any amenities, you’ll need to arrive prepared. If you’re camping in a remote, wild area (such as in a National Forest or on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands), in addition to your RV or tent, be sure to bring:

  • Water for drinking and washing
  • Garbage bags
  • Containers to store food
  • Toilet paper and a shovel
  • Camp chairs and a table
  • Permits (if applicable)

A working knowledge of Leave No Trace principles is essential to camping responsibly in free campsites, including how to dispose of waste properly.

If you’re camping in an area that allows overnight parking, such as a truck stop or Walmart parking lot, you will likely have access to a bathroom and a place to dispose of garbage.

Where can I find free camping?

Free camping abounds through the United States and Canada, but not all free camping is created equal. From Walmarts to national forests, there is a wide range of convenience, beauty, and enjoyment to be found with regard to free camping.

National Forests

National forests are public lands owned by the Forest Service or another managing government agency. National forests exist in almost every state in the US, and though not all allow dispersed camping, many (especially in the western US) do.

Camping in a national forest is suited not only for RVs and vans, but for tent camping as well. Most national forests that allow dispersed camping have a 14 day stay limit, though it can vary from as short a time as one day to as long as 30 days. Check the local regulations by either stopping in at the nearest ranger station, or calling ahead before you arrive.

The added bonus? While few national parks allow for free camping, many national parks are bordered by national forest or grasslands. Drive a few minutes out of the park, pull into a quiet spot in the national forest, and enjoy the solitude.

How to Find Free Camping in the National Forest on Campendium

  • Use a text search to zoom into the area you’re interested in.
  • Select Category “National Forest.”
  • Select Price “Free.”

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is a government agency that manages land primarily in the western United States, and generally in open, desert landscapes. The BLM manages land for a number of uses, including recreation, grazing, logging, and resource extraction. Free camping on BLM is usually capped at 30 days, but can be shorter or longer depending on the location.

BLM land is suitable for RVs, vans, and sometimes (but not always) for tent campers. Because of the variety of uses on BLM land, you may wake up with a herd of cattle or a band of sheep in your campsite, so it pays to do a bit of research ahead of time to know what you might find.

How to Find Free BLM Camping on Campendium

  • Use a text search to zoom into the area you’re interested in.
  • Select Category “BLM.”
  • Select Price “Free.”

Other Public Lands in the United States and Canada

While national forests and BLM land are the most common places to find free camping, other types of public lands in the United States and Canada offer up pockets of campsites in different states and regions. State parks, city parks, and county parks sometimes maintain free camping areas. So do entities like water management districts, trust lands, conservation areas. Smaller US federal agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation have a few campsites, too.

Stay limits, access, amenities, permitting requirements, and the types of camping that are allowed at these sites vary greatly. Reading reviews on Campendium, and contacting the agency that manages these free campsites, will help to determine whether they are right for you.

How to Find Free Public Land Camping on Campendium

  • Use a text search to zoom into the area you’re interested in.
  • Select Category “All Public Lands.”
  • Select Price “Free.”

This search works in Canada, too! Who is ready for some free camping in British Columbia?

Overnight Parking

Overnight parking isn’t camping, strictly speaking. It is staying overnight in a developed area that allows for parking through the night. Examples of places that may allow overnight parking are Walmarts, truck stops, rest areas, and town parking lots.

Rules and limitations vary widely for overnight parking. A Walmart in one town may allow overnight parking, but the next town over will not. Be sure to read all posted signage and, if it is a business and they are open, go inside and ask permission from the manager. Overnight parking locations almost universally do not allow tent camping, so are best suited for those staying in RVs or vans.

Overnight parking can be loud, bright, and busy. Some places can also be on the shady side. Trust your gut, do your research on Campendium by reading past reviews and tips, and then make your decision.

How to Find Free Overnight Parking on Campendium

  • Use a text search to zoom into the area you’re interested in.
  • Select Categories “Parking Lot,” “Street Parking,” and “Rest Area.” These camping spots will be marked with a purple “P” on the map.
  • Select Price “Free.”

With over 2,800 free campsites listed on Campendium, why pay for camping? If you’re in the mood for a little adventure, a little solitude, or simply a way to stretch your budget, take the leap and check out the free camping near you on your next trip.