Destinations

Free Campsites: Where And How To Find Them

Finding free campsites can save you a ton of money on camping fees.

The art of finding free campsites can be difficult, especially when you’re new to being on the road and not really sure where to look. You’ll be relieved to know that you can basically find free campsites anywhere in the U.S.!

While it’s true that there are definitely more opportunities for finding free campsites out west, here are a few ways that you can find a place to crash for the night wherever you are.

van parked in free campsites
Save money while camping by finding free campsites. All photos via author (Jamie Leo)

Camping on BLM land

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages millions of acres of land that are free to camp on. Most of the time, this land has a two-week maximum stay, so you can be there a pretty good length of time before having to move on to the next location. You can find maps and more information online to find a spot to settle in.

There are typically fire rings at these locations to show you exactly where you’re allowed to camp, though it’s usually okay to find a spot anywhere – there will be signs posted otherwise. BLM land makes for some great campsites since they are completely immersed in nature. You can find yourself next to a hot spring, in the valley of a mountain range, or even on a beautiful scenic overlook!

sunset over water view

National forests

Another way to immerse yourself in nature with secluded campsites is in National Forests. Many National Forests offer free or cheap camping, with these spots also typically being marked with a fire ring. This is a great way to ensure a quiet night and potential wildlife spotting!

view of trees from inside of van

Recreation and OHV areas

Many recreation and OHV areas have spots for camping as well. These might cost you a few dollars to stay the night, but the most I’ve ever paid is $5! These campsites range from being established with picnic tables and pit toilets to camping in the middle of a sand dune.

In any case, you’re likely to hear ATVs or bikes driving around the land or the sounds of a shooting range nearby, so the noise might drive some people away. Regardless, these are typically a nice and safe spot to stay for a day or two.

City parking

If you’re passing through a city, you’ll most likely have to find a stealthy spot on the side of the road somewhere. Some of the best spots to look for are parks. There is typically street parking all around parks, and if there are no “No Parking” signs, you’re pretty much in the clear. However, it’s important to stay quiet and stealthy in these spots. It’s illegal to sleep in your car in some cities, so you don’t want to wake up to a ticket (or, even worse, getting towed!).

There are sometimes parking lots that allow overnight parking, but you’ll have to pay a few bucks to stay there, and it might not be your safest option. Some rest areas and travel/truck stops allow 24-hour parking, but those are usually better for just crashing for the night. They seem to be fairly safe, but it again depends on your personal feeling of security where you are.

Places that allow overnight parking

When all else fails, know that you can typically find yourself a store that allows overnight parking. Cracker Barrel, Walmart, Bass Pro Shops, and Home Depot are all examples of stores that tend to allow campers to stay the night. In these cases, it’s important to check with management first to make sure that camping is allowed, since all stores have different rules. It’s also a good idea to check reviews of the store and know the area that you are in to make sure that you’re going to be safe where you are. Don’t ever stay somewhere that gives you a bad feeling – have a backup just in case things feel weird.

van parked by beach and palm trees in free campsites

Online tools

To make your life a little easier, the RV LIFE Pro tools can help you find a spot basically anywhere. These resources are great to use since they have pictures and reviews of each spot listed, giving you ample time and information to decide which spot you think would be best for you for the night. They also provide you with GPS coordinates and directions to make sure you know exactly where to go and what to expect!

It’s extremely important in this lifestyle to know that you have a safe place to rest your head for the night. You’re likely going to have to be searching for new campsites often. Although all of this information might seem overwhelming, once you start hunting for campsites, you’ll quickly get the hang of it.

Campsites are nearly everywhere you go; you just have to look in the right places! Familiarize yourself with the location you’re in, scope out your options, and go with your gut. While some nights you might camp out on the edge of a canyon and others in a parking lot right off the highway, I can guarantee you there will never be a dull moment!


Find more free campsites

Drivin & Vibin shares 20 of the best free campsites in their video below:

Continue reading: 2 Important Safety Tips For Vanlifers