Finding free and inexpensive camping is both an art and a science. There are so many resources to help you find great camping spots, but sometimes all the technology in the world can’t predict how you’ll “feel” about a place. Always do your research in advance to ensure that you choose the best camping option to suit your style.
This article will provide you with both practical tips for finding free and inexpensive camping, as well as tips for feeling a place out.
Free camping usually means that you’ll be going off the grid, or at least without electrical, water and sewage hookups. This type of camping is called “boondocking”, “dry camping” or “dispersed camping” and involves camping outside of established campgrounds.
My husband and I didn’t even know this type of RV camping existed until we started RVing and learning the tricks of the trade.
Our first time dry camping wasn’t free, but it was inexpensive for the area we were in. We stayed at O’Neill Park in Orange County, California for $22 a night, which by comparison is much cheaper than anywhere else you’ll find in that area. It was a great experience! But we had to learn how to boondock within the first week of owning our rig.
It wasn’t hard once we figured out what we were doing. Here are the basic steps you should take to prepare for this type of RV camping:
- Fill up your tank with water, and bring extra drinking water.
- Make sure you have a generator or solar panels to stay powered.
- Empty your black and gray tanks in advance (trust me on this one).
- If you’re going far off the grid, ensure you have plenty of food and first aid supplies.
These are the essential preparations (consider them must-dos) for any free camping experience. For some more creative ideas, you can check out Pinterest and type “boondocking” in the search. You’ll get all kinds of great tips!
How do you find free and inexpensive campsites?
The following websites and apps helped us locate some great cheap RV campsites.
With Campendium you can search for various camping options, including land owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), national forests and traditional campsites. You will find reviews and evaluations of important features like cell coverage.
You may not find comprehensive information on every location, since reviews are left by fellow campers. In other words, the more popular the location, the more reviews there will be. Be sure to leave a review of your experience so that others can plan a trip based on information that you provide!
Allstays is a paid app that offers information on free campsites including truck stops, casinos, Walmarts (all places you can camp for free) and even RV stores in case you need to pick a few items on your way. Once you buy the app, you basically own it forever (no monthly subscription), and it’s a comprehensive, one-stop resource that many RVers say is well worth the $10 price tag.
For inexpensive camping options, check out Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Hosts. Each offers a different type of experience for a low annual membership fee.
This site lists individuals who have offered up land on their property for boondockers. These are usually one- or two-night stays and you can even find some sites to camp for free in the city. Click here to read my article about camping near big cities.
You can find some great camping sites on Harvest Hosts. These are typically wineries, ranches or even museums where you can stay overnight in exchange for buying your host’s products or services. (While you don’t have to buy their products, it’s nice to support local businesses and good hospitality when you can!)
We stayed at the Jaxon Keys winery in Hopland, California using Harvest Hosts. We camped just behind their vineyards and had a lovely wine tasting too!
5. Google Maps
Finding your own camping locations is another option. Free and legal camping is available on BLM land and in many national forests. With Google Maps, you can look for places in advance and scope out a site.
This is when the “feel” of a campsite comes into play: Search for the site on Google Maps in advance and then arrive early to scope out the terrain. It’s good to have a backup plan, since you might find that you need to navigate challenging roads or someone might beat you to the site.
Pay attention to how you feel in a location. Generally speaking, free camping on open land is safe, but be aware of your surroundings and ensure you have a good exit strategy if something like a storm comes through.
Free RV Camping Is Easier Than You ThinkThis style of camping might not be for everyone, but I believe that what holds many people back is a lack of information. A little planning, a few online resources and feeling a place out can lead to some truly memorable experiences!
Ready for your own off-grid adventure? Rent an RV on Campanda to get started:
Do you already own an RV? Don’t let it sit idle! List it on Campanda to share the RV life (and earn some extra money)!