There is nothing like the great outdoors, and getting out there camping can be a fantastic way to recharge your batteries.
However, you can make your trip even more attractive with free camping. So, here we’ll explore how you can find “free camping near me”.
What is Free Camping?
As the name suggests, free camping allows you to camp overnight in your tent or RV without needing to pay a fee. Most free campsites don’t have developed campgrounds, so it can be a little primitive, but if you’re not bothered by a lack of facilities, it could be the ideal option for you.
Free camping appeals to many simply because there are no camping fees, but others find that this type of camping is more authentic. You can enjoy a remote camping experience as you’re likely to have more space away from other campers.
Where Can You Camp for Free?
There are lots of places throughout Canada and the United States, making it easy to find “free campsites near me”.
National Forests and Grasslands:
These are public lands that are owned by the Forest Service or other government agencies. There are national forests in almost every US state, and while not all allow camping, many do allow tent, RV, and Van camping. However, there may be a time limit, where you can stay for a maximum of 14 days, but some sites differ, ranging from a day to 30 days.
Each national forest site has its own regulations and while most allow free camping, some do require a permit. There may also be rules about not camping too close to roads or lakes, so be sure to check the specific regulations on a site before you set up camp.
You can easily find any national forest sites on maps, as they have a light green colored background. You’re also likely to find that the site borders grassland or parks, so you can enjoy hiking and nature walks without moving site.
Bureau of Land Management:
This government agency primarily manages land in western states, generally in open landscapes, with land used for logging, grazing, or recreational activities. There are over 400 BLM locations covering almost 250 million acres of land.
Free camping on BLM sites is usually limited to 30 days, but depending on the location, it may be longer or shorter. However, you shouldn’t expect to find any amenities including waste receptacles, water or bathrooms on the sites.
There is a potential to be camping in the middle of no where, which can be a great experience. Just be sure to do a little research in advance, as you may find that you wake up to a herd of cattle wandering into your campsite.
Other Public Lands in the U.S:
In addition to BLM land and national forests, there are other types of public land that offer free camping, such as city parks, county parks, and state parks. There are other entities such as conservation lands, trusts, and water management districts that maintain free camping areas.
The access, stay limits, permit requirements, and amenities vary greatly from site to site. You also need to check what types of camping are permitted on the site, as this can also vary.
You can search for free camping on all public lands and find some really interesting sites that will allow you to savor the great outdoors.
While this isn’t strictly camping, you can park overnight in places such as truck stops, rest areas, Walmarts, or even casinos. The limitations and rules for each site vary widely, so you’ll need to make sure that you read all the posted signage or get permission from the business manager. Typically overnight parking does not allow tent camping, but if you have an RV or van, it can be a good option.
The main drawback to this type of camping is that it tends to be bright, busy and loud. There are also sites that are a little shady, so make sure that you do your research before you head out. If you arrive and get a bad feeling about an overnight parking site, trust your instincts and try somewhere else.
What to Consider Before Free Camping?
Before you jump straight into looking for “free campgrounds near me,” there are some things that you need to consider.
Be Sure to Bring: Since the site is not likely to have any amenities, you will need to bring your own provisions. This should include:
- Drinking water
- Toilet paper
- Garbage bags
- Phone chargers
- Your regular camping items
- Permits (where applicable)
- First-aid Kit
Road Conditions: Many free campsites are in remote locations, so this means that there may not always be stellar access. At certain times of the year, the road conditions may be challenging, so you will need to consider how you will get in and out of the site.
The Leave No Trace Principle: This is essentially a directive to conserve the site. You should minimize any site alterations such as hammering nails into trees, clearing an area, or digging trench tents. You will need to plan ahead for this, properly disposing of waste, leaving what you find, respecting wildlife, and leaving what you find.
Mobile Network Coverage: Since the site is likely to be remote, you also need to evaluate the mobile network coverage. Although you may want to get away from it all, you may need your cellphone in the event of an emergency.
Nearest Emergency Resources: As above, you should familiarize yourself with where the nearest emergency resources are located.
Tell Someone Your Plans: As with any camping trip, you should also tell someone where you are going and when you will be back. This way, an alarm can be raised if you fail to stick to your schedule.
What are the Best Websites to Find Free Camping Spots?
Fortunately, there are lots of resources to help you to find “free campgrounds near me.” These include:
- FreeCampsites.net: This website has all types of free camping, but the site is not mobile friendly. The content is user submitted, so there are some duds among the great sites, but there are comments for each location to help you narrow down your options.
- Campendium.com: This website allows you to search by state for free camping. There are slightly fewer locations, but they are more vetted compared to other websites. You can look at reviews, images, and other information to help decide which campsite is best for your break.
- Boondocking.org: This is a public forum that allows you to search for accessible free campsites. While the database is not guaranteed to be error free, users need to agree to use the database responsibly.
- Allstays.com: Although this app may not have a comprehensive list of campsites, the admin does work on it full time. So, any errors are corrected as quickly as possible.
- iOverlander: This is a similar resource to Freecampsites, but it doesn’t have as many options. While you won’t get photos, there is an offline mode on the app, so you can browse if you’re on the road with spotty service.
- Google Satellite View: Finally, you can explore your options with Google Satellite view. If you browse the area you are interested in, you may find campsites and can click on any information links to check for charges and if they are free. You can also check an aerial view to ensure your camping spot is suitable rather than just relying on Google maps.
What are the Sleeping Options in the Backcountry?
Once you’ve found a free campsite, you will need to consider your sleeping options. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can enjoy your camping experience, including:
- Under the Stars: The most basic option is to simply lay out your sleeping bag and sleep under the stars. Of course, you’ll need to be completely confident in the weather forecast and the lack of wildlife in the area. You won’t want to wake up with a raccoon sharing your pillow or a bear raiding your backpack.
- Hammock: This is a slightly safer way to still stay in nature. A hammock allows you to get off the rocky ground and allows you to sleep horizontally while being easy to set up.
- Pop-up Tent: These tents are lightweight and easy to store, making them highly travel friendly, so you can carry additional supplies for your outdoor adventure.
- Regular Tent: A tent is a cheap way to get camping, particularly when you have access to free campsites. Just be sure to practice using your tent at home, so you can quickly assemble it when you arrive on site.
- Car: If you don’t like the idea of sleeping on the ground, but still want a cheap camping break, you could camp in your car. Some models are more suited to camping compared to others, so if you have a tiny hatchback, you may struggle.
- RV: This is a way to have a home away from home, but the money you save in camping fees is likely to go on gas.
How to Go to the Bathroom While Camping in the Backcountry?
While it is possible to have a portable camping toilet, this is not practical if you’re using a tent or trying to get back to basics. Fortunately, there is a “regular” way to go to the bathroom during your camping trip.
You will need to carry a trowel or hand shovel in your camping gear, so you can dig a hole at least a couple of hundred yards from where you’re camping. You also need to make sure that your hole is away from water sources or trails. Dig a hole approximately 8 inches deep and 8 inches wide, keeping the excavated soil in a pile.
Generally, urine will not affect the vegetation or soil, so you can do your business without worrying. You can even buy biodegradable camping toilet paper that can be buried with your waste in the hole. You can also use leaves, just watch for poisonous varieties.
Once you’re finished, you can fill in the hole and scatter leaves over the area to keep it looking natural. You should dot your holes around rather than using just one for several days, and be sure to wash your hands with organic hand sanitizer to stay safe from becoming sick.
How Long Can I Go Camping for Free?
This depends on the campsite you choose. Most sites do have restrictions for how long you can stay, but this does vary greatly. Typically, it is 14 days, but some sites only allow a night or two, while others permit up to 30 days.
So, it is crucial that you check the specific restrictions before you make your travel plans.