How to Find Free Camping
Let’s face it, finding free camp sites can be really hard depending on what area you are in. There are several sites to help you find free camping, including this one, but let’s concentrate on learning to fish instead of looking for fish dinners. We’re going to point you to some of the primary sources for free camping information and try to show you how to find what you’re looking for.
First, here’s a list of terms to be familiar with:
Dispersed Camping – Dispersed camping is camping outside of a campground area on public lands. Often, there will be existing fire rings, picnic tables and/or lantern posts in a pull off from the road. However, in most areas, as long as you are not blocking a road, gate or trailhead dispersed camping is fine as long as dispersed camping is allowed in that district.
Learn more about dispersed camping
BLM – Bureau of Land Management. The BLM administers public lands that encompass roughly 1/8 of the total land mass of the U.S. Most of these lands are in the western states. Often mineral rights or grazing land are leased from the BLM by private companies or individuals.
Dispersed camping is allowed on most BLM land for up to 14 days. Even if land is leased or has mining claims, you may camp there unless posted otherwise by BLM management. You may cross private land (as long as there is a public road) to reach BLM areas. You should not come across a locked gate, but if you cross a gate, please leave it in the state you found it – open or closed.
USFS – US Forestry Service. THE USFS administers the 175 national forests and grasslands in the United States. They are responsible for regulating logging, grazing and mineral rights on these lands as well as maintaining roads, trails, campgrounds and law enforcement in the area. The forestry service offers many developed campgrounds as well as a large number of ‘official’ dispersed camping sites. Regulations vary based on the ranger district, but for the most part, dispersed camping is permitted for up to 14 days.
NPS – National Park Service. The NPS manages all 58 national parks in the U.S. as well as 333 national monuments and historic areas. Many national parks offer campgrounds, but park lands are often more protected than forestry or BLM lands. As a result, dispersed camping is not allowed in many national parks, although this is not an across the board rule – dispersed camping areas do exist in some national parks.
WMA – Wildlife Management Area. WMA’s are state run areas of land that are often designated for hunting, fishing or simply preservation. Rules vary from state to state and often from one WMA to another within the same state. Some states allow camping in the majority of their WMA’s, some disallow it entirely. Some charge a day use or seasonal permit fee. The name of the agency that runs the state WMA’s varies, but a web search of “WMA <state name>” should point you in the right direction.
County Parks – County parks may be the trickiest of all to track down. As you would expect, the rules vary greatly, but depending on your area, there may be some great parks that allow free camping. The more remote an area, the better your odds are that it allows camping. You may also find that multiple organizations within the same county have their own park systems which means even more varying rules and fee schedules.
City Parks – City and Town parks may be the easiest of all to find if they exist at all. If a city park allows RV camping, they will often advertise the fact. Often you will find that they have dumpstations, drinking water, electricity and/or free wireless internet. The cities that maintain parks such as these are hoping to attract travelers in order to boost their economies. One such park we visited went as far as having signs on the outskirts of town advertising the amenities, directions and how long you could stay.
Now that we’ve got some definitions out of the way, where exactly can you find camping information? One important thing to remember is that while there are three primary federal agencies that are potential sources of free camping areas, they are all broken up into individual units.
For national parks, you only need to check the site for the individual park. For BLM lands, you begin looking in a specific state and then see that the districts are broken up geographically and select the district you are interested in. Forestry Service land is similar to BLM land, but often you will see contiguous districts within the same forest. The name of an area may change when it crosses a state border, but often the BLM or USFS area may be administered by the same district.
Once you’ve narrowed down your area as much as possible, start checking out the information provided on the website. Look for links such as ‘recreation’ or ‘camping’. Remember that not only does each district have different regulations, they also have different websites! Often these sites look very similar, but you’ll find that some links aren’t where you’ve grown accustomed to seeing them or on occasion the site will be completely different from the bulk of the websites administered by the same organization.
Some key things to look for are lists of campgrounds and camping regulations. Often you can find a complete list of campgrounds in the district along with prices and amenities. A surprising number of these campgrounds have no fees associated with them or very reasonable rates. Obviously, the more amenities a campground offers, the higher the price is likely to be. If you can find a list of camping regulations, often dispersed camping will be mentioned. Look for language that states camping is not allowed outside of designated campgrounds or language that states dispersed camping is permitted under certain circumstances.
If you’re unable to find any dispersed camping regulations or a campground that suits your desires, look for the district office phone number and give them a call! For the most part, employees at these agencies are very helpful and will be glad to point you to free campgrounds or dispersed camping areas. You may have to explain what you mean by ‘dispersed camping’ to some people, but we’ve yet to ask about dispersed camping and receive a rude response. If the person you’re talking to doesn’t know the answer, they will likely ask someone or transfer you to someone that does. We even had one lady scan a map and email it to us!
If dispersed camping is permitted, but there are no official areas or campgrounds in the area, you can still go out and pick your own spot as long as you comply with the local regulations. I think the best method for this is simply asking the locals where to find a nice campsite. Rangers can be a great resource as well as people that live in the area. If you stop in a district office, you can get excellent maps. Depending on the agency and what maps are available, the prices vary, but when you think of it as your ‘campground fee’, they will seem quite reasonable as you’re paying a few bucks to camp for up to two weeks.
Now, assuming you’ve found a spot you want to check out on the internet rather than by driving around, how do you figure out where it is? If you get lucky, the responsible agency has provided you with GPS coordinates, but don’t bet on it. More commonly, you’ll see driving directions. Typically, these directions assume you are coming from one town or perhaps two or three if it’s an area with multiple population centers nearby. On occasion, you’ll find nothing more than a site name and a description stating what road it’s on and perhaps how far from the nearest intersection. Some agencies may provide a detailed map showing the area and the local roads.
Getting these various formats plugged into a GPS system can be challenging at times. GPS coordinates pose little problem if they are a fairly standard format, but they are pretty rare, so let’s look at the ways to resolve the other types you may find.
One of the first problems you’ll run into is that many free camping areas are on very small roads. Often these roads have only numbers associated with them or, even more frustrating, the road may have both a name and a number, but your directions have one variant and your mapping software has the other. Another common problem is that the important roads for finding the campsite don’t show up on your map unless you zoom in to a high level of detail, making it difficult to follow the turns and directions. Finally, the road may not even exist in your mapping software as it is a new road or so small as to have escaped the notice of the cartographer entirely.
We have found that Google Maps can be an excellent resource for cutting down the research time when trying to pin down coordinates for a particular site. One of the first things I will try is going to https://maps.google.com and trying a map search. The important thing I have found is to click ‘Show Search Options’, which will bring up a drop down box to the left of the ‘Search Maps’ button. Often, you get much better results by changing the options from “All Results’ to ‘User-created Content’. If you have a site name, try the name along with ‘campground’ and/or the state abbreviation where it should be. If there is no name associated with the area, you can try the name of the district it’s in along with ‘campground’, ‘campsite’, ‘primitive’, ‘camping’, etc.
Many people that enjoy camping are actively putting up GPS coordinates for places they’ve stayed. Often you may find half a dozen GPS coordinates in the same general area for the site you’re looking for.
The last trick involving Google Maps is figuring out how to get that little marker into a plain old GPS format.
- If you have multiple pins, decide which one you want to use.
- Close the text box associated with the pin.
- Right click on the pin and select ‘What’s Here?’
- Google will put the Longitude and Latitude in the search box.
- You may now copy and paste the coordinates.
If you strike out with a Google map search for the camping area’s name, you can try to ‘virtually’ follow the given directions inside of your chosen mapping software. This can be a tedious process involving trying to match up road shapes from a provided map with unnamed or differently named roads. You’ll find you often need to zoom in to even see the roads you’re looking for. You may even need to use multiple types of mapping software as you find the roads you’re looking for don’t exist in one or the other. Don’t give up easily though, if you have a hard time locating the site, it just may be one of the more pristine areas out there and one you’ll truly appreciate.
Finally, if you’ve done all of the above and tracked down a keeper, why not share it with the community here at freecampsites.net? If we all contribute just a little bit of research time, we’ll all have many more sites to choose from with a lot less effort to locate them. After all, you’ve already done all of the hard work!
Please feel free to leave a comment with your own tips, tricks and resources for finding these obscure gems that we all love.
Replied December 25, 2012
If I search on map, I can find a site in southern Arizona called Gunsight Wash:
If I enter Gunsite Wash in the search field, it says it's not found. Is your search function broken or not working? Thanks.
Is this review helpful? 97 34
Replied December 26, 2012
Looks OK to me: http://freecampsites.net/?s=gunsite
There is a 'search box' at the top of the page that does context searches.
Are you using the location search box instead? The location search box looks for sites that are near a town, city, zip code, etc. It is not capable of finding campsites based on their name.
Is this review helpful? 98 17
Replied December 26, 2012
I went to the main page and it worked. I'll be sure to use the correct search field from now on. Thanks.
Is this review helpful? 87 12
Replied November 10, 2012
hi everyone..We have a question here...haven't been here yet..but we want to. Can we camp at this site in a truck?..because we don't own an RV and want to camp in our truck. We are having a hard time finding a place in the south-bay area that allows camping overnight in a truck. We would really appreciate any advice given! :)Thanks in advance for your help.
Is this review helpful? 46 33
Replied November 15, 2012
Generally, you can sleep in your vehicle at most of the campsites listed on our page. That is not always the case though. It depends on the individual campsite. Your comment was posted on our page about finding campsites that aren't listed on our website. If you are interested in camping at a specific location, you should contact the party that oversees it. Most of the time, you will find their contact information on the page for that campsite. In example, if you were interested in camping at Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, CA, you would go to http://freecampsites.net/alabama-hills and look for the contact phone number and/or website near the top of the page. Being the law makers and enforcers, they will be the best source of information.
Alternatively, if you are unable to find the contact information on our website or elsewhere on the Internet, you can leave a comment/review on our page for that campsite. You may or may not get a response as it is dependent on someone seeing your post and knowing the answer.
Thanks for stopping by. I hope that you find our website helpful.
Is this review helpful? 65 15
Replied December 19, 2012
Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.
Is this review helpful? 92 122
Replied November 14, 2011
Your explanations above are great, and really helpful for those who might not have a lot of experience. We like to camp on BLM and National Forest land. Although there are some good camping guides out there, we've found that stopping by the visitor center (if we can find one) is a good way to locate some of the more out-of-the-way places to camp. Last winter we camped near Sedona on some open land that was part of of the Coconino National Forest and never would have found the spot without some help from the National Forest Visitor Center people.
Is this review helpful? 168 14
Replied May 12, 2011
many areas have public boat ramps.. frequently toilets water and large parking to accomidate trailers .
been to one that had a shower. just google public boat ramps in area you want to stay. then look them up for aminities.
Is this review helpful? 86 19
Joined 14 years ago
Replied August 7, 2010
To make it even easier, I notice that google has recently added a menu item titled 'drop latitude and longitude marker' when you right click a place now. You can then just cut and paste from the marker.
Is this review helpful? 42 15
Replied January 12, 2010
Thanks for making this even easier Pepper. I'm not sure if Google added that or I just never noticed it! Sorry for the delay in updating the article... slipped my mind what with romping around Alaska all summer. =)
Is this review helpful? 32 11
Replied July 28, 2009
Love the tips.
It's easier than that to get GPS from Google maps, though.
Just right click on any area of any map, and choose "what's here".
The GPS pops up in the search window!!!
Is this review helpful? 113 10
A cross between Freecampsites.net and Hipcamp, with a robust library of paid campgrounds and boondocking sites. If you're exploring public lands such as BLM sites, National Forests or National Parks, this app is a great resource for finding epic free campsites.
Freecampsites.net: Simple, Yet Effective
It's a great resource that's simple yet effective. Because of the user reviews and submissions, it's also a trusted resource. So the next time you want to save some money on camping or find that perfect spot to watch the sunset, check out Freecampsites.net.
The websites for most National Forests often list their main dispersed camping areas which further helps you narrow down potential campsites. Tools like Campendium, The Dyrt, and FreeCampsites.net can also help you locate dispersed campsites with a convenient map search tool.Is FreeRoam a free app? ›
Helpful tools and a community for boondockers, all for free!Is FreeRoam a good app? ›
FreeRoam is an excellent app to add to your list. You may already use Campendium or The Dyrt, both also decent apps. However, adding FreeRoam opens you to even more free campsites for boondockers. You can also trust that over 27,000 users have given the app 4.9/5 stars for a reason.What state has the most free camping? ›
1. Arizona. Not only do you get a one-of-a-kind landscape in Arizona, but you can easily escape the chilly winter months if you head this way. Much of Arizona is public land, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service, and National Park Service, and there's free camping in many locations.What are all the states that have BLM & free camping? ›
You can camp on most BLM land for up to 14 days, even if there are grazing or mining claims (just watch out for cow pies), unless otherwise posted. Most BLM lands are in these 12 western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
The easiest and most efficient way to find BLM campgrounds across the country is at Recreation.gov, which allows you to search for outdoor activities on public lands, including the national parks, national forests, and army corps of engineer projects.Which is better Campendium or DYRt? ›
Campendium is similar to The Dyrt, except the app includes free sites as well as paid campgrounds. The app is a little clunkier and more dated overall The Dyrt, though some users prefer it because there are often more user-provided reviews and pictures for campgrounds.What is the best camping website? ›
- Go Camping America. ...
- Thousand Trails. ...
- RV Parks & Campgrounds. ...
- Boondocking. ...
- The Dyrt.
Report Ad. Stealth camping is camping without being noticed. Some people do this in urban areas, while some venture into wild locations. Sometimes stealth camping is legal, while other times it's illegal (which we don't recommend!).What is free camping called? ›
What is dispersed camping? Also known as free camping, pirate camping, boondocking, or just plain roughing it… whatever you call it, the rules in the US for vehicle camping in designated Forest Service Land are a godsend for any budget-minded traveler.Is there a search engine for campgrounds? ›
Go Camping America is one of the largest and most powerful campground databases available to provide RVers, campers, and outdoor enthusiasts with the resources to pinpoint their exact needs and compare parks along their route.What is the best BLM map app? ›
The Best Tool for Navigating BLM Land
The onX Hunt App helps you navigate BLM Land with confidence, so you always know where you stand. BLM land is shown in yellow in the App, and clearly marked property lines help delineate boundaries.
Park4Night. A great free app resource listing motorhome parking spots from aires and campsites to fields and lay-bys. We started off as seeing this as the last chance saloon but we now think it's the best of all the wild camping apps for Europe and the United Kingdom.Is there a BLM app? ›
Public Users. The S1 Mobile Mapper provides the public with a simple way to download and view BLM and U.S. Forest Service maps for use offline while enjoying recreational activities on public lands.Is Boondockers welcome the same as harvest host? ›
In June we added Boondockers Welcome to the Harvest Hosts family. And in October we merged the two platforms so that Members of both communities could see all 5000+ Host locations on one, easy to navigate, map.Is Boondocking app free? ›
FreeRoam. You can get this free boondocking app on iOS and Android devices. It has campgrounds by the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forestry Service. You can even use map overlays to get an idea of cell coverage and filter results based on road difficulty, safety, weather, and crowdedness.What does Boondocking mean when camping? ›
Boondocking in an RV is when you camp without hookups to electricity, water, or sewage. You can boondock in many different ways, like staying overnight in a business parking lot or camping on public lands.How much does the dyrt app cost? ›
How much does The Dyrt PRO cost? The Dyrt PRO is $35.99/year. PRO makes it easier to go camping with exclusive features like Trip Planner and Offline Search, discounts at 1000+ campgrounds across the US, and more.
You can freedom camp in a certified self-contained vehicle on most council-controlled public land in Auckland, including most roadsides. To freedom camp in Auckland, you must: use a certified self-contained vehicle. stay a maximum of two nights in the same road or off-road parking area (for example a council carpark)Where is wild camping allowed? ›
Wild camping in the United States
It is permitted on BLM lands (Bureau of Land Management), WMA (Wildlife Management Areas), national grasslands, and state forests. It is free, often remote, and may have some restrictions.
Best U.S. States for Camping Overall
Overall, Rhode Island is home to the best camping in the United States. The size of the smallest state was a contributing factor, accounting for a diverse experience in a singular camping road trip.
In comparison with national conservation areas and developed campgrounds, BLMs are undeveloped public lands that offer disperse camping options for those seeking solitude. Offering a variety of RVing and camping sites, BLMs can be either fully-developed parks to legit boondocking and dry camping experiences.What state is the best for Boondocking? ›
- Arizona. The Grand Canyon State seems to have best mix of federal land choices. ...
- Utah. The Beehive State was almost our pick for number one except that it's just not seasonally friendly in the winter. ...
- Wyoming. ...
- Montana. ...
- Idaho. ...
- Colorado. ...
- 7. California. ...
The BLM, through its Office of Law Enforcement & Security, functions as a federal law enforcement agency of the United States Government.How do I find BLM land on Google Maps? ›
Google Maps does show BLM land for places like national monuments as well as many developed campgrounds. However, it does not depict all BLM lands. Otherwise, there are only two ways to find BLM land. You can use the “interactive map” on BLM's website, or use the BLM map overlay on FreeRoam.What are the rules with Boondocking on BLM land? ›
BLM Dispersed Camping Stay Limits
You're typically allowed to dispersed camp for up to 14 days on most BLM lands. The full 14-day stay rule says that you can camp for a maximum of 14 days in a 28-day period within a 25-mile radius. After those 14 days are up, you must move to a new campsite at least 25 miles away.
Backcountry camping is a form of dispersed camping that always takes place in the wilderness, far from any roads, people and any other developments. However, not all dispersed camping is backcountry camping, because sometimes you're literally dispersed camping on the side of a road, or just outside of a National Park.What is the best free RV app? ›
- The Dyrt.
- Harvest Hosts/ Boondockers Welcome.
- Google Maps.
- RV Life.
Boondocking is camping without any hookups outside developed campgrounds. Federal agencies refer to boondocking as dispersed camping. Other terms used to describe boondocking include dry camping and off-grid camping.Are DOC campsites free? ›
DOC has basic campsites where you can stay for free. Usually you do not have to be self-contained to stay at DOC campsites because there are facilities available. Check the individual campsite for more information. Search for free campsites.What is the cheapest way to go camping? ›
- Shop the off-season. Most campers buy their gear in the spring to prepare for the summer camping season. ...
- Borrow gear from friends or family. ...
- Rent gear instead of buying it. ...
- Choose your campsite wisely. ...
- Bring your own food and supplies. ...
- Plan your activities in advance.
Put your fire out: Because you can endanger those around you, this is one of the most important camping rules, regardless of where you go. Be sure to put out your fire before bed, before heading out for the day, or when you leave the site at the end of your stay.What is the number 1 rule of wild camping? ›
The golden rule of wild camping: arrive late and leave early - remembering to leave no trace! Plan arriving at your chosen location late in the day to avoid disturbing others and leave early before other walkers are out and about.What happens if you get caught stealth camping? ›
Some areas have stiff penalties for getting caught stealth camping. If caught, law enforcement will likely knock on your window and ask you to leave. Additionally, law enforcement could issue you a fine or citation, depending on the situation or how you handle the interaction.What should you not do in an RV? ›
- Filling Up At Normal Gas Stations. ...
- Driving Through Storms. ...
- Packing Electronics. ...
- Buying a Day Pass at a National Park. ...
- Loading up on Canned Food. ...
- Bringing Too Much Water. ...
- Skipping Reservations. ...
- Driving Too Fast.
Sleeping in a van is generally not an issue for van lifers. There will always be some areas that are not safe, but most of the time, you will have nothing to worry about. If your van has decent door locks, and your van doesn't scream “this is my house,” you can sleep easy.Is the dyrt a free app? ›
The Dyrt is a free-to-use app that lets you find campgrounds for whatever type of camping you want — RV, tent, trailer, cabin campgrounds, & more, all in a single app built by campers, for campers. They call themselves the Yelp of campground reviews.Is the Hipcamp app free? ›
Hipcamp (Free) — Glamping, private land.
With the free version of The Dyrt, you have access to search all of the campgrounds in the database, but upgrading to The Dyrt Pro membership gives you all of that plus a road trip planner, access to dispersed camping maps, offline access, and exclusive discounts.What is better than Park4Night? ›
park4night.com's top 5 competitors in December 2022 are: wikicampers.fr, tcs.ch, campercontact.com, campingcar76.fr, and more.Is search for sites free? ›
Search For Sites and Park4Night Cost
Both sites feature a free version of both their website and their app. And both free offerings are perfectly serviceable – more on this later – particularly if you're just starting out on your campervan journey.
Download the free AppyParking app . Available on iOS and Android. Create a profile, register a payment card and vehicle registration number - it should only take a couple of minutes. If you are unfamiliar with the town, you can use the app to navigate to a location with spaces available in real-time.What is the camping version of Airbnb? ›
Telleen is one of a new breed of campers who book their campsites not on state or national park lands but on private property that landowners rent for the night through websites like Hipcamp, Tentrr and Harvest Hosts. Think of them as Airbnbs for the great outdoors.What is DYRT camping app? ›
The Dyrt is home to an active community of over 1 million registered members, and is the #1 camping app for iOS. Search 44,000+ campgrounds for tents, RVs, trailers, cabins, and glamping. Plan your perfect trip and reserve campsites near lakes, hiking trails, and more. Plan better camping for less. •