How to Find Free Camping in the US
The United States is a big country. It’s also broken up into, you guessed it, 50 states–each of which can have drastically different rules and availability when it comes to free camping.
Firstly, you can almost never go wrong with a Walmart. Exactly why many of the parking lots outside of this national chain permit overnighting is riddled in RV folklore, but though they don’t all permit free camping, it’s a pretty solid option if you just need a place to stay for the night. They’re not the only chain to do this, Cabela’s sporting goods stores and Cracker Barrel restaurants are known for their nightly RV skylines, as well.
If sleeping in a parking lot isn’t exactly your idea of camping, you need to start looking at the country by region.
For example, most states east of the Mississippi offer very little in the way of free camping, but still may permit RVs to stay for six or eight hours in roadside rest stops. Is it really camping if you can’t fire up the lantern and roast some S’mores? Maybe not, but it’s a free place to stay for the night.
On the other hand, the American West holds about as many places to camp for free–amidst some of the most stunning nature in the world–as there are grains of sand on a beach. Most of these places are within National Forest or BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, which means they’re owned by the government. Some states offer similar land, such as Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife campgrounds. Others, like New Mexico, sell a pass that gets you heavily discounted or free camping all throughout the state.
While the big difference between free camping in National Forests vs. BLM land is usually the type of terrain (the former is usually woodlands while the latter tends to be wide open spaces, often in the desert), the sites, sounds and serenity you’ll experience at any given spot is as varied as the multitude of ecosystems in the US.
We’ll discuss nearly every state that offers free camping suitable for RVers below, to help familiarize yourself with where the best of the best comes into play…
Top 10 States for Free Camping
As the only state on the eastern half of the country to make it onto this list, you may think we’re just trying to be nice. Rest assured, we’re not giving Michigan any special treatment here; the state has earned its place on this list for an abundance of free camping options–from rest areas near the cities to gorgeous natural areas like the state’s National Scenic Lakeshores.
9. New Mexico
With a strong state park pass option that can get you camping for nothing, accompanied by a healthy side of BLM land, the Land of Enchantment promises free camping across the state.
What’s not to love about Oregon? From farmers markets to temperate rainforest, empty deserts to one of the nation’s coolest big cities, once you toss in a smorgasbord of free camping you just start to feel the “I Heart Oregon” phenomena.
One of the Northwest’s most overlooked destinations, Idaho is stacked head to toe with the classic camping experience.
The entire southern swath of the state is laden with National…everything. Parks, Monuments, Forests…and that’s just one side of the state!
While Yellowstone tends to get all of the attention, it’s Grand Teton National Park that’s responsible for more jaw-dropping surprised looks than maybe anywhere else on the continent. It only begins there, as Wyoming is nearly 100,000 square miles full of wide open spaces.
If campfires beneath thick forest canopies, rushing rivers and distant mountain peaks are your idea of a good time, well, you won’t find them in more abundance–and accompanied by more free camping–anywhere else.
From old mining towns turned tourist traps to the megalopolis that is Phoenix, from the Saguaros to tall pine trees, Petrified Forest to the Grand Canyon…Arizona has a cavalcade of sights to see and over 200 free places to camp, easily giving it the bronze medal.
The Golden State could take second place for all of the free camping along US-395 along the Eastern Sierras alone. If big cities like LA or San Francisco come to mind, or even places like Yosemite and the Redwoods, when you think “California”, you’re in for a completely other world when you head to the eastern side of the state.
Colorado takes the number one position out of sheer volume of free camping beneath the nation’s most rugged peaks. Exploring the western half of the state is a modern day mountain man’s dream.
Free Camping Options in the United States
The Last Frontier is as abundant in free camping as it is hard to get to by RV. For those bold enough to brave the crumbly dirt and gravel roads, long drive through Canada and thin window between frigid spring and frozen autumn, it won’t matter if money grows on trees or not, you’ll be able to keep yours in your wallet as you navigate the state.
Many a 5th wheeler or vandweller will recount epic tales of the times they beat the odds and scored a majestic, spacious spot all to themselves in wildest Alaska’s Walmart parking lots. For those seeking the elusive Alaskan Prius though, Wally World isn’t the only department store you can pull the parking brake into, though. Fred Meyers is getting in on the notion that RVers tend to head into the stores where they sleep. Not only does Freddies tend to stripe off spots just for big RVs, some of them will even have a dump station.
“I didn’t drive all the way to Alaska to park between a Hummer and a shopping cart corral,” you say? Heard that. So what’s a thrifty boondocker in search of freedom and grandiose vistas to do this far north?
Free camping is available in some areas of Alaska’s National Forests, such as Portage Glacier Road in Chugach National Forest, where you might just find yourself in the solitary heaven of your own private pond and easy access to the lake and glacier going by the same name as the road.
Lakes reflecting glaciers or snowy mountains tend to be a recurring theme in Alaska, and if you prefer nothing but a few trees between you and that sort of glorious home-on-the-road, Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge’s Lakeview Campground a go. Back in Chugach National Forest, you can call Whittier Airstrip home–for free–and watch the cruise ships roll in or the planes take off.
Snowbirds have been flocking to the Grand Canyon State ever since your grandma bought her first Airstream, and for good reason. It’s one of the few places in the United States where you’re just about guaranteed warm weather all winter long. That’s bread at least 200 free places to camp in Arizona, all of which can be found right here on Campendium.
With so many places to drop your leveling jacks and call it winter, though, maybe you’re looking for the absolute best in a particular region? No need to empty the tank in an endless pursuit of where to go, we’ve got your ditch-the-crowds, gorgeous-vista must-stop spots for finding free camping in all of Arizona’s most beautiful deserts and forests.
Best Free Camping Near the Grand Canyon
“Whoa, it looks like a painting,” is the unofficial slogan of the Grand Canyon. While not officially sanctioned by the National Park Service, a recent survey found that 107% of people utter this very statement upon their first glimpse of what is, no doubt, one of the most impressive sights in all of the world.
Getting an RV spot in the park’s official campgrounds can be a race to the reservation desk, though, and camping in this 8th Wonder of the World will cost you a penny prettier than the canyon itself. If you’d rather save your money for the gift shop, you’re in luck.
Most pilgrimages to the Grand Canyon will begin somewhere near Flagstaff, as the easiest trails and vistas are found near Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim. Forest Road 688 hosts a popular campground, particularly with the hunting crowd, and you’ll want to show up mid-week to snag one of the better spots (or a campsite at all). Expect plenty of room to stretch your awnings and even a few bars of cell signal, plus a commute of only 15 minutes or so to find yourself back in the park.
If 688 is too packed for your liking, head east on Highway 64 toward Coconino Rim Road. Less cell service, more dispersed camping, and plenty of room for big rigs and tents alike in this forested slice south of the National Park. If you love the idea of getting away, but still need to check your email every now and then, word on the forest road is that the tower at the head of the Arizona Trail (easily accessed by foot via this campground) will give you a lick of service when you need it.
Not interested in the crowds at all? Maybe give the North Rim a go. While it’s not as convenient to all of the visitor center and lodging restaurant hubbub that tends to overwhelm the southern side of Grand Canyon, it might be exactly what you’re looking for if solitude is your number one priority. Campgrounds that go by the names of Forest Road 248 and Forest Road 225 make for shady little patches to call home near a lake by the name of Jake (well, formally known as Jacob Lake, but nestle into one of these sites and you’ll sure to be all buddy-buddy in no time). Want to get even further away from civilization? Indian Hollow Campground will take you to the end of the road, but it’s not for the faint of heart (or long of trailer) as the road isn’t quite as easy as a Sunday morning.
If getting up close and personal with the North Rim is more of what you had in mind, and you’re in something a little more akin to a van or truck camper, give Point Sublime a highlight on the ol’ atlas. For larger trailers looking for something with a little easier access, Forest Road 611 East Rim is a phenomenal spot close to the rim and lodge, though cell service doesn’t come as part of the package.
Coming from Page, Arizona? There’s some endless vista to be had a little outside of town, more or less on your way to the Grand Canyon, by the name of Badger Creek Campground. You’ll get cell service, a big empty expanse full of that Arizona red rock, and relatively easy access back to Page and attractions like the ridiculously over-photographed Horseshoe Bend.
Best Free Camping Near Flagstaff, Arizona
Flagstaff is a hip little town that, while it’s collected its fair share of sprawl over the last decade or so, has managed to retain a downtown vibe that harkens back to the Old West–if they had organic cafes and sushi in the desert back then.
If decent cell service is the name of the game, give A-1 Mountain Road just west of town a shot, or Walnut Canyon in Coconino National Forest. Head north and get lost in the shade of Fort Valley, one of those spots that feels like the middle of nowhere but still gives you plenty of access to the big boxes and downtown Flagstaff has to offer.
Best Free Camping Near Phoenix
Some folks just absolutely love Phoenix. Others find it a complete mess, sort of the opposite of why we decide to get out and camp. If the allure of an international airport and big city vibes have you pulling into the largest city in Arizona, though, you can still get by on a free place to stay.
The name of the game? Casinos. There are a handful of dice worth in the area, one of which should provide you with minimum commute to wherever you need to be in the city.
Best Free Camping Near Tucson
Phoenix may be the big gun in town, but Tucson is the hipster younger brother who gets all the glory without as much of the big city hassle.
What started as a place to water your horse has become a growing metropolis that lives smack dab in the middle of Saguaro National Park. Indeed, you have to drive through the city itself to get from one side of the park to the other, and the twinkling lights of progress are ever-present regardless of where you find yourself in the surrounding area.
Go remote at Redington Pass for your best chance of free nature camping, or try and hide behind an unoccupied pile of rocks at the arguably less desirable Snyder Hill. If you didn’t blow the bank on free overnights in casino parking lots near Phoenix, the dazzlingly named Desert Diamond will be more than happy to give you a corner of their parking lot to call home.
Free Camping Near Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Organ Pipe is one of those National Park Service sites that few people go to–certainly compared to the deep draw of the Grand Canyon–because it’s just flat out of the way. If you prefer to shake hands with more cacti than people, though, it’s well worth the voyage.
Free Camping Near Bisbee, Arizona
No doubt about it, Bisbee is the most eclectic small-town Arizona has to offer. Once a thriving mining town full of bar fights and gunslingers, it was abandoned decades ago only to be “discovered” by hippies in the 1970s. Since then, and all while retaining its Wild West charm, the town has come to be a place where you can rummage through endless thrift store hallways or stick your fork in some of the finest dining the state has to offer.
Or just have a seat in the park in the middle of town and scratch your head as touristy families, bourgeoisie artists and tattoo-faced drifters coalesce as smoothly as turquoise and silver.
Free camping? Well, aside from van-lifers who can call just about any parking spot home, legally, within the city limits, there are some more official places to hitch up your wagon–if you’re willing to find yourself a haul’s worth of miles outside of town.
Free Camping on the Arizona / California Border
If you’ve been calling Arizona home all winter and are desperate to see another state’s license plates whizzing by as you barrel on down the freeway, heading West is your best bet to escaping AZ as early as possible without freezing your tailpipe. On the way to California, gas up the tank (the prices tend to jump fifty cents or so once you cross that border) in Lake Havasu or take the slow southern road via Yuma.
The former is perhaps best known for playing host to the London Bridge–that’s right, some guy with enough money disassembled a bridge in England, shipped it to AZ, and had it all put back together to prove his monetary point did just that–but it’s also a bit of an RVers mecca. Just outside of town is the dubiously named Lone Tree, though said tree may have gone and uprooted since then given the popularity of this free site.
If you want to head south toward Yuma, get your rims dusty via the expansive American Girl Mine Road for what’s more or less endless desert with a stunning mountain vista all within a few minutes drive to Yuma’s old town. For our money though (that is, paying nothing and getting the best you can find), Fortuna Pond on the other side of town offers a little cell service coupled with shaded spots along with a small splash of water.
We’d be remiss not to mention the snowbirding mecca of Quartzsite, too, where some 2 million boondockers migrate every winter to bask in the sure bet of Arizona’s share of the Sonoran Desert.
For what can easily prove to be one of the most expensive states to mosey on through, California inversely offers some of the most prevalent and scenic free camping anywhere in the United States. The next time you find your hood ornament shining in the setting sun of some western excursion, feel free to leave the piggy bank intact as you find shade beneath a Redwood or tuck away into the absolute solace of a desert. The Golden State boasts nearly every possible experience you can find in the US, from ocean to mountain, big city nightlife to an endless sea of stars.
Let’s loop California’s best regions for free camping and see what gold we can dig up then.
Free Camping in the Redwoods of California
They say a Redwood could make enough matches to keep Smokey the Bear in business for an eternity. Folks caught wind of that idea from just about the day the first European explorer set foot in these otherworldly woods, and so you’ll have to forgive the State and National Park services if they keep tight wraps on free camping in this area.
That said, just because you want to leave no trace beneath the largest living organisms on the planet doesn’t mean you’ve got to shell out for a place to call home at the end of the day. You just have to be willing to do it in what may be the exact opposite of what you’ll experience walking under the canopy of these temperate rainforests all day.
So what are we talking about here? It may seem a bit anticlimactic, but if you want free camping in this region, the answer lays in the casinos.
Free Camping near Mount Shasta, California
Shasta stands towering in her snowy wedding dress nearly all year long, and the town bearing the same name feels like one of those that’s always on the brink of blowing up. Take in the endless well of things to explore in this area and don’t pay a penny for camping while you’re at it.
You can snag a max of three nights in a row at Castle Lake, just outside of the town of Mt. Shasta, if you’re lucky enough to score one of the five first-come-first-serve spots available. If you could care less about daily strolls into town, and call a tent or very small RV home, then get away from it all at Orr Lake for one of those classic forest-on-lake-on-mountain-backdrop campgrounds. For something a little more in-between the two, Lake Shastina Campground sounds like the best place to snag a little cell service, feel somewhat secluded, but not be so into the wilderness that you can’t make a run to the store when needed.
Free Camping near Lake Tahoe, California
Lake Tahoe is simply one of the absolute best places in the US. It’s fun in the sun, longboarders and boaters, great food and big views. Even though it’s one of the most expensive places in California, it’s packed full of free fun whether you want to just take a swim on a secluded slice of the shore or hike into the mountains on a trail few tourists frequent.
Such a fancy pants locale, of course, comes at a high real estate price, but lucky for you we just so happen to know about a sweet spot by the name of Lake Tahoe East. If you’re hauling one of the bigger rigs, don’t even dare, but if you find yourself circling Tahoe desperate for a free place to call home in your van or small camper, cross into Nevada and feel free to call this place home…complete with a bit of cell connectivity.
While Tahoe’s cool, if you’re really looking to get a little more remote, head north a few hours to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lassen is one of those national parks that tends to get overlooked–given its proximity to the Redwoods and Yosemite–which means you can explore all of the towering trees, mountain vistas and calm reflective lakes, but without the city magnitude crowds.
Free Camping in the Eastern Sierras
Shhh! The Eastern Sierras of California are more or less the best kept secret in all of the West. For that exact reason, we won’t go on and on about why they’re so great, we’ll just clue you in on six epic spots to pay exactly no rent for the night and wake up every morning absolutely pleased.
While there are no guarantees in life, this is about as close as you get to winning the campground lottery, and free camping is more than abundant, it’s practically everywhere! It all starts only 40 miles south of Lake Tahoe in the largely uncharted Wolf Creek and Centerville Flat Campgrounds. Continuing your pursuit down through the latitudes along US 395, things just get better and better. Spots like Robinson and Buckeye Creek–just outside of Bridgeport–offer wide-open meadows, rolling foothills and opportunities for shade if that’s your cup of free.
If you’re looking for some of that wide-open desert that the Eastern Sierras are so well known for, it truly starts just south of the quaint roadside stop that is the town of Lee Vining, California, with one of our favorite spots to get lonely, Picnic Grounds Road. Another dozen or more spots await between Lee Vining and the swanky Mammoth Lakes, Glass Creek Campground stands out as one of the highlights.
Just north of the bustling small town of Bishop, you can once again get lost in the open air of the desert, the Sierras to your west, the Inyos to your east, in campgrounds of legend like the Casa Diablo sites and infamous Volcanic Tablelands.
No boondocking voyage of California would be complete without finding some boulders to hide behind in the Alabama Hills, just west of Lone Pine, and though cell service is spotty, it’s possible to make this the perfect basecamp for exploring Whitey Portal (the start of the trail to the highest peak in the Continental US).
Finally, as you’re leaving what is probably technically considered the Eastern Sierras, a few more gems await. Fossil Falls Dry Lake Bed is solace on a smorgasbord of endless desert, while Trona Pinnacles feels like you’re living amongst the backbone of some long-deceased dragon come to rest for an eternity of dramatic sunsets.
Free Camping near Joshua Tree National Park
While free camping for RVs and vans doesn’t exist within the national park itself, opportunities to skip on the rent and visit the park are still two nickels less than a dime a dozen.
Most people visiting the park go in through the northern entrances, but if you stick to the I-10 corridor along the southern leg of Joshua Tree National Park, your chances of scoring a free campground–even in the busier season–start looking better than sales on U2 albums in the 1980s.
Elaborate sounding places like Painted Canyon Mecca Hills and the slightly less creative Box Canyon afford plenty of wide open space for even the biggest rigs, but if you want to be as close to the park’s southern entrance as possible, Joshua Tree South is going to be your best bet.
Looking for something closer to Palm Springs or the Coachella area? You’ll be primarily parking in casinos like Fantasy Springs Resort, but Whitewater Preserve has the potential to place you directly in the middle of an oasis if you don’t mind being a little further out.
For those of you interested in hanging around Joshua Tree National Park’s more popular northern entrances, there’s a casino that offers free camping in Twentynine Palms, (Tortoise Rock Casino), or the infamously windy, often mud-bogged Joshua Tree North (which also goes by the name Joshua Tree Dry Lake Bed).
Free Camping in Mojave National Preserve
There are at least five legit spots to boondock, for free, in this national preserve. If it’s cell service you’re after, and want to be within the literal bounds of MNP, give Dharma Tower a go. If you could care less about keeping in touch with the world outside of the preserve, Sunrise Rock and Black Canyon North are some of the more beloved places to find free camping.
Free Camping in Big Sur
There are numerous places to find free camping in the mountains near Big Sur, but if you want to be as close to the Pacific Ocean as possible, Willow Creek Road and Nacimiento Road–both in Los Padres National Forest, put you more or less right on California Highway 1.
Neither of these spots, however, are necessarily recommended for RVs or trailers, and neither promises any cell service. If you’re looking for a decent spot nearish Big Sur but where you can still snag a lick of cell service and find basic amenities like a vault toilet, head inland a ways to Williams Creek Recreation Area.
Free Camping near San Diego
While the urban expanses of Los Angeles and San Francisco don’t provide much in the way of camping within a couple of hours’ drive, San Diego just so happens to have a few places that are within reasonable distance if you want to visit one of the more interesting downtowns California’s big cities have to offer.
Corral Canyon Campground is probably the most natural of the choices, but at an hour and twenty minutes away from downtown proper, certainly not the most convenient. Sycuan Casino offers up their parking lot–a mere 40 minutes outside of the center of town–for a day at a time, as long as you give security a heads up. Viejas Casino, a little further down the road, allows RVers to camp in their parking lot, too, for up to three days.
Free Camping near Death Valley
Within Death Valley National Park itself are two free camping spots that are crying out to be explored…but given their remote nature and the fact that they’re 7000′ – 8000′ above sea level–only miles away from the lowest point in North America–well, we’ll forgive ourselves and the rest of the RVing community who hasn’t exactly jumped on the chance to explore Thorndike and Mahogany Flat Campgrounds.
One of the more interesting places you’ll ever get a free night’s rent though might be The Pads. While riddled in legend and mystery, an old native tale passed down over the generations (of RV travelers, anyway), says that a man with a grand scheme to build an RV park near this swath of Highway 190 just outside of the park got as far as pouring the cement pads when the Spirit of the Old West swept in one night…and he was never seen again.
Whether you believe that (or we just now made it up), it’s certainly a great spot to call home when the RV park / golf course in the middle of Death Valley National Park is full up (or just seems like too much of a paradox to spend your money on).
Free Camping along the California / Mexico Border
Planning to head to Baja? If you’d like to get a fresh start on the (typically easy) border crossing, free camping is abundant along the California / Mexico border.
You could post up in one of the Walmarts near El Centro, California, for what’s probably your best proximity to actually crossing the border into Mexicali.
Closer to the Arizona side of things, if crossing over at Yuma is your game plan, you could pop in on Pilot Knob and make it a full two-week excursion, give away the last of your US dollars over an evening at the Quechan Casino Resort (don’t worry, the camping part is free!), or better yet, tuck into the desert and mountain landscape of American Girl Mine Road.
West of Interstate 25, Colorado is riddled with free camping. The Western Slope of the Rockies and the National Forests outside of Durango are particularly ripe with free places to camp in your RV. Let your beard down and take some time to look the aspens straight in the eye while criss-crossing this wonderland that, for many a traveler, marks the beginning of the “Go West, Young Man” mantra.
Free Camping on the Front Range
Just east of Boulder, and a few thousand feet farther from gravity’s pull, you’ll find mountain forests outlined in distant snow-capped mountains still wild. Wade through the wildflowers in one of those spots, Beaver Reservoir, or camp just minutes away from Nederland, CO, one of the hippiest free for alls in these United States, via West Magnolia.
Further south, in the foothills and forests living west of and between Denver and Colorado Springs, endless mountain roads leading nowhere but good are laced with free, if small, spots to stay a few nights. Goose Creek Trailhead Road features a variety of spots that’ll set you up with over 30 miles of hiking trails through tall pines and curiously shaped rocks.
Free Camping near Leadville, Colorado
If you’re looking to get high in Colorado, then keep your headlights pointed west for Leadville, Colorado–the town boasts the highest elevation of any city in the US–and the even more highly acclaimed campground at County Road 48. South of that, Twin Lakes has multiple boondocking spots and lives next to Mount Elbert, the second tallest mountain in the Lower 48.
Free Camping near Crested Butte, Colorado
A locale quintessentially “Colorado”, Crested Butte has it all: ski slopes, a cute, local-centric town that’s only 40% as haughty as most of the more expensive towns in CO, and of course, mountain-backdrop laden free camping.
North of town, three campgrounds live relatively near one another, and not all that far away from town proper either.
Digging deeper into the small towns that take Colorado from natural wonder to truly one of the greatest places on Earth, if you want to explore the little ex-mining town gone tourist destination of Silverton in more depth than the train ride from Durango permits, give Sultan Creek (or the similarly named Sultan Camping Area) a go.
On the other side of the ski resort from the town of Telluride, Alta Lakes promises pristine serenity–if you can handle the steep, twisting road it takes to get there. If you’re in a smaller rig and want to explore Gunnison (the town), there are spots available along Curecanti National Recreation Area, on Red Creek Road.
Free Camping Along I-70 in Colorado
Just flying through? If your mission is to simply get through Colorado, you’re probably on I-70. Just because you’re missing out on some of the best this country has to offer when it comes to natural eye candy, chill people, and untold recreational pursuits, that doesn’t mean you should have to pay to RV in the state!
On the Grand Junction side of the state, BLM land by the name of 25 Road puts you about 15 minutes outside of town, on completely free land, and even more areas live closer to the Utah border, with McDonald Creek Cultural Area being the star of the three.
On the other side of the mountains, still an hour outside of Denver, though, Pass Lake offers up a parking lot to set up for the night, providing you’re in a compact rig and the day-use folks aren’t hogging up the available asphalt.
Free Camping near Durango and Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park isn’t one of the most stunningly gorgeous natural areas, but it does have a history and cliff dwellings (cities carved into the sides of mountains thousands of years ago) that’s more interesting than most. Just outside of the park is County Road 34, which though a bit tough to get to given the conditions of ol’ 34, promises free camping only two miles from the entrance to Mesa Verde. That’ll still leave you about an hour west of Durango, so if seeing this bustling little town is on your agenda, Madden Peak Road puts you only 30 minutes from downtown (and nothing but a beautiful drive–and a little strip mall–to get there). If you don’t care about proximity and just want to get out into it, with grandiose mountain vistas, you may be looking for the camping in the West La Plata Mountains, which boasts multiple big peaks, including Mesa Verde.
These are just a handful of spots you can snag free camping in the great state of Colorado. Explore every corner. Even the plains side of the state has something to offer…just remember, it gets cold quickly, so chances are your summertime will run out before you even get to half of what you’d hoped to see!
The Sunshine State isn’t exactly known for being cheap, but there are plenty of options to snag an absolutely free spot in Florida in nearly every corner of America’s favorite tropical vacation destination.
Grab the state by its panhandle and you’ve got a few great options in the palm of your hand already, including Bayside Campground outside of Pensacola. It’s not only free, it’s relatively close to plenty of shops in the city itself, and even comes with basic services like picnic tables and a port-a-john. You’ll even snag some cell service there if you need it. More quiet, rustic spots can be found at Cotton Lake and Dead River Landing Recreation Areas, though note you do need to make a reservation via their website (www.nwfwater.com) or by phone (850-539-5999).
Small town life in Apalachicola more your pace? Battery Park offers free boondocking within walking distance to everything this coastal town has to offer.
Near Tampa and the “Florida Springs” area, an organization by the informatively delightful name Southwest Florida Water Management District offers several free camping areas (though again, a free reservation is required), such as Potts Preserve and Hampton Tract.
West of Miami, a casino parking lot can be had for a free night. Miccosukee Resort & Gaming is only 30 minutes (or so, traffic can get crazy) from Downtown Miami!
Here are our top picks for the best free camping in Florida (and FYI, there are plenty of affordable places to camp in FL, too).
Idaho feels like one of the few great secrets left in the Western United States, a last unopened chest unseen in the glimmer of sunsets closer to the Pacific Ocean. By some definitions, it’s part of the Rockies, by others it’s the Pacific Northwest…but regardless of what region we try and place it in, Idaho always seems to be the road less traveled for RVers.
That just means more to love for those of us who do make the trek, and like much of the West, there is plenty in the way of free camping.
Near Idaho Falls, at the eastern entrance to the state, absolute gems such as Forest Road 281 and Indian Creek come highly recommended–depending on season–and right in the city of Idaho Falls itself is the aptly named South Tourist Park.
Idaho has some amazing forestland, too, with Sawtooth National Forest being one of the easier ones to access from Interstate 84. Two rivers and three mountain peaks await you at the national forest’s Prairie Campground, though free camping is abundant on the way in, as well.
Heading north, a collection of free sites (many of which even come with a little cell service) can be had in the shadow of Williams Peak, a 10,000′ spectacle visible from any of a number of places to call basecamp.
If you’re meandering through the state’s panhandle via I-90, a handful of sites lie in wait, ranging from parking lots like Cabela’s in Post Falls, ID to a boat ramp with free camping for up to 3 days to more traditional camping, such as can be found on Old River Road north of Pinehurst.
If there’s a God of RV Camping, Michigan is the handprint he left on the Earth as a gift to everyone who owns a camper and finds themselves east of the Rocky Mountains. While many states “Back East” tend to be riddled with strip malls and don’t tend to give handouts when it comes to letting a guy pull up and camp for free for the night, Michigan comes packed with not only some of the most stunning natural scenery this side of Colorado, but plenty of free camping to boot.
Free Camping at Rest Areas near Detroit
We’ve all heard the storied tale of the once-bustling Detroit’s downfall, and though she continues to get a bad wrap anytime her name is mentioned on the television, Detroit is actually experiencing a lovely little renaissance period…especially in its eastern suburbs. The state also has several rest areas where you’re permitted to stay for a duration of time. Note that camping in rest areas is a funny thing…you’re not technically allowed to “camp”, but you can rest for a given period of time (which can fluctuate greatly even from rest stop to rest stop in one state).
So for best results, don’t pitch your tent, keep the awning rolled up and the slides tucked in, and no camp chairs on the pavement. Like camping at a Walmart, preventing yourself from becoming a nuisance is the key to your–and everyone else’s–continuing ability to enjoy this fringe benefit of our highway system.
On the other end of the spectrum, unlike sleeping in a chain store’s parking lot, rest areas in Michigan often offer a picnic table that you’re more than welcome to use, bathrooms that don’t make you feel guilty if you use them without making a purchase, and often even visitor information (because who can really say they have enough “Pure Michigan” brochures?)
If getting close-in to Detroit just doesn’t rev your engine, though, might we suggest giving Ann Arbor a look? It’s a hip little college town that’s really one of the best places to visit in Michigan outside of the natural areas up north. There’s even a rest area by the name of Northfield Church Rest Area that you can call home after you’re done exploring the town.
Free Camping Near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
From this massive pile of sand banking Lake Michigan, all the way to Traverse City, there’s plenty of winding forest roads, wide-open lake air, big sunsets and small-town charm to explore. Want to do it without paying for camping?
There’s a casino east of Traverse City offering free camping, but further south–near Manistee, MI–you’ll find even more choices.
Free Camping near the Mackinac Bridge
The great crossing from the relative civilization of Michigan’s “mitten” (the Lower Peninsula) to the grand escape that is the U.P. (the Upper Peninsula) involves a short drive across a long bridge by the name of Mackinac.
Regardless of what side of the bridge you want to call home for the night, you can snag a free campsite. French Farm Lake not only bears an appropriately quaint name–you’ll see what we mean once you start visiting the chocolate shops and white picket fence-lined streets in the towns to come–it doesn’t cost a dime, and you’ll be treated to a fire pit and lovely lake. While this will land you just a few miles outside of Mackinaw City and even leave you chatting up a storm with good cell service, you’ll want to make sure your particular rig can fit as it’s not necessarily built for the big boys.
Finding yourself on the northern point of crossing? St. Ignace Visitor Center welcomes overnighters, and the folks working there might even be able to help you with how to pronounce all of these strangely named places you’re exploring.
Free Camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Leaving the Mackinac Bridge behind, the Upper Peninsula has a reputation for being “full of nothing.” Indeed, the three things you’ll find here in abundance are pasties (not what you’re thinking, this is a regional pastry that can be sweet or stuffed with meat), smoked fish and free camping. Okay, okay, maybe the former isn’t quite as abundant as fishermen and ATVs, but there are certainly ample opportunities to explore some of the UP’s sweeter spots without paying for a campsite.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a cliffside of colorful layers of rock just outside of Munising, Michigan, and while you can overnight at Kewadin Casino for free, you might find the simple campsites at Hovey Lake Camping Area a bit more authentic, if you don’t mind the 12 mile drive back to town and lack of cell service.
On the other side of Pictured Rocks, a few miles outside of Grand Marais, Rhody Creek Trail keeps the fees at $0 while actually permitting you to camp directly within the National Lakeshore. Just watch your approach, your GPS may think you enjoy crumbling dirt roads rather than route you to the relatively easy, paved “main access”.
Further west, Sparrow Rapids Campground is one of the swankier free campgrounds you’ll find in the US, including picnic tables and fire pits at every spot, plus a nice bit of cell service. The Keweenaw Peninsula is just north of here, and this is probably your best bet for a free campsite to explore those areas, but both the booming City of Houghton and Copper Harbor (launching point for Isle Royale National Park) are worth the drive north.
Free Camping near Yellowstone in Montana
Yellowstone, any experienced traveler (or most tourists who’ve made the trek) will tell you, can be a mixed bag. Is it the first national park in the world? Yep. Is it gorgeous, from the geysers to the wildlife? You betcha. Can it feel like city streets when the summer traffic goes full bloom? OMG, 100%.
It can be tough to even get a spot right in the park, but lucky for you, if you’re the adventurous type and don’t mind playing the early bird, there are plenty of absolutely free worms in store.
There are a handful of spots around Henrys Lake, southwest of the town of West Yellowstone a few miles. Head north on Montana Route 87 and find a riverside spot replete with fish for the catching.
Closer to Red Lodge, Montana, more free camping awaits the adventurous.
Free Camping near Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is one of those quintessential natural landscapes. Countless peaks covered in snow, pristine bodies of water to reflect them, and all of the big forested areas you can shake a hot dog roasting stick at.
Thought it’s remote, it still sees more than a trace’s worth of footsteps for as long as its season lasts, and that’s often a short window depending on how much snow falls in the winter and how long it takes to thaw come springtime.
Approaching the park from the south, give Blacktail Mountain a chance and you’re not likely to be disappointed. Nestled in Flathead National Forest, it offers a panoramic vista sprinkled with a bit of cell service…the best of both worlds!
When you’ve conquered all of those trails, and want to be a bit closer to the entrance, just outside of the park and the town of West Glacier, a host of other free (and highly approved) campsites await. So even when Glacier’s summertime traffic and tour buses are taking up more than their fair share of Going to the Sun Road, you can find a little pristine solace right next door.
Free Camping near Butte, MT
Aside from a funny name, Butte’s got a Walmart that offers free camping, but who comes to Big Sky Country to sleep in a parking lot?
Not you? Well, you’re in luck…if you don’t mind a commute to the city (or are looking to get out of it).
Free Camping near Missoula, MT
Missoula is Montana’s answer to Portland, OR or Asheville, NC. Hipsters, eclectic food and craft beers abound. The skyline is often on fire, and it’s the home of the smokejumpers…parachuting forest firefighters. There’s a great skatepark, a place where you can surf on the river, and aside from some pesky sprawl, it’s the closest “big” city to Glacier National Park.
With all of that going on, you’d think “tons of free camping”, right? We hate to put out the flame just getting started in your boondocking heart, but unfortunately, aside from a Walmart or two, there’s not a ton close to town. If you don’t mind a 45 minute drive to town though, Gold Creek is BLM camping in Montana at its finest.
Free Camping near Billings, MT
Just passing through and looking for a decent spot to call home, for free, for the night near Billing, Montana? Forty-five minutes west of town, you’ll find Itch-Kep-Pe Park, in Columbus, Montana, where not only the sites are free, but the wood is, too.
On the other side of Billings, Two Leggins–a Fish & Wildlife campground–offers free camping on the Bighorn River, suitable for even the big rigs. If you’re coming from I-94, and can’t make that last hourlong stretch to Billings itself, Manuel Lisa may be a spot to tuck you and your truck camper, tent or van in for the night.
Really want to be in the city? The parking lot at Cabela’s parking lot is calling your name.
Free Camping near Bozeman, MT
If you need to be right in the center of whatever goes down in Bozeman, you can call the local Walmart and see if they’re good to go with you staying a night or so there. If the city itself isn’t a concern, folks don’t seem to mind the hour’s drive to Carbella Recreation Site, on the Yellowstone River, and Battle Ridge in Gallatin National Forest is only 30 minutes away from the city center.
More Free Camping in Montana
Some of the best Montana has to offer doesn’t come packaged neatly into a national park or just outside of one of the major towns. Big Sky Country is all about just getting lost in the wilderness, and though there’s plenty of opportunity to find yourself, that doesn’t have to mean driving endlessly in search of a free campground.
What comes to mind when you think of Nebraska? Just another flyover state? Maybe give it more of a chance than just zooming through on I-80 next time, as the Cornhusker State can be a lot more than just endless amber waves of grain.
In particular, if you’ve got to cross the country and aren’t looking forward to another seemingly endless trek across Kansas, but won’t be going as far north as the Dakotas either, US Route 20 through Northern Nebraska has a host of lovely small towns and surprising landscapes in store.
Small towns like Valentine offer a glimpse back into the 1950s era US, and who doesn’t want to swing by Carhenge to see a reproduction of England’s Stonehenge…made entirely out of cars.
When free-camping is the name of the game, the route has a few spots that’ll at the very least alleviate the 430 miles of gas you’ll need to put in the tank to cross the state on this road.
Near the Colorado border, Harrison, NE keeps the small town vibes going, and the Harrison City Park offers camping on a donation basis (and rumor has it, they even have water and electric hookups!) A little further east, Crawford City’s city park offers a few places to overnight as well, in a more traditional dry camping setting. Both are riding decent Verizon cell reception waves, too.
On the other side of the state, Chilvers Park in Plainview, Nebraska offers more free camping, though a $10 donation is recommended.
If the idea of free and hookups is lighting your night, take a look at Bayard City Park, near US Route 26 (a little south of US-20), where at least three of their spots offer 30 amp and water hookups…if you don’t mind the occasional wafting scent of cattle exhaust.
Had your heart set on freeway-ing Nebraska by as quickly as possible? The Nebraska Public Power Camping Area, just about in the middle of the state near Sutherland Reservoir Recreation Area, may be right up your interstate. Didn’t make it that far west? If you’re more into a free place to camp that’s near Omaha, Nebraska–the indie-rock capital of the Great Plains–the Cabela’s in town has the unusual combo of free camping in a big box store coupled with a little privacy, enough to maybe put a camping chair or two out for the evening.
The Silver State’s nickname may indicate that it plays some type of second fiddle to California (you know, the Golden State), but when it comes to free camping, it’s not looking for runner-up status. Whether you want to go rent-free in Vegas, explore Lake Tahoe, or just get lost in the alien abduction, howling coyote, dramatic sunset desert, you’re in luck in NV.
Free Camping near Las Vegas, Nevada
If you want to be as close as possible to the glammy glitter as possible, The Orleans Hotel and Casino offers free camping within a couple of miles of the Las Vegas Strip.
If you’re into this whole RVing thing for the nature more than the nightlife, though, an hour or so east of the city you’ll find Valley of Fire State Park, which is surrounded by great places to camp–for free. Stewarts Point will put you as far away from the city out of all of them, or Valley of Fire West gets you within a 45 minute commute back to town.
There’s plenty to love in-between, too.
Should you be more inclined to find a spot somewhat near civilization, but still looking for some of that high desert solitude, Eldorado Valley Dry Lake Bed, 8 Mile Road and Government Wash are all within 30 miles of downtown Las Vegas, and Champion Road on the west side of town is still relatively close, too.
Free Camping near Lake Tahoe in Nevada
Tahoe is one of the most stunning places in the US, and it would’ve been a national park if it weren’t for those meddling kids (some say mobsters, some say Frank Sinatra) who came here and built little towns and lovely lives…that eventually turned into some of the most expensive real estate and vacationing available in the Lower 48. Not a fan of high priced cabins in the woods?
Free camping on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe to the rescue.
The closest spot to that Tahoe Blue is Lake Tahoe East, dispersed camping in Toiyabe National Forest. Closer to Reno, you’ll find a couple of casinos willing to give you a free night’s stay.
Free Camping in Nevada’s Remote Desert
If you don’t have a specific destination in mind, but rather are simply after great free camping anywhere in Nevada’s rugged, remote deserts, there is plenty of that available.
New Mexico is a bit of a conundrum. Leaning against the eastern wall of Arizona, it faces a big PR problem in that snowbirders ’round the continent are looking to its neighbor when the time comes to settle down somewhere warm for the winter season. Similarly, the state is surrounded by big names in adventure such as West Texas, Southern Utah, and the entire state of Colorado.
So, can we blame you for not placing New Mexico–Land of Enchantment–on your to do list when visiting the Southwest?
The thing is, if you’re all about exquisite, astonishing camping, and absolutely love a price tag with nothing but a big fat $0 on it, New Mexico is the place to be.
Some 70 free spots to camp are just waiting for you to make your mark (and then leave no trace)!
Once you get hooked on free camping in New Mexico, you may wonder why you took so long to slow down along I-40 when buzzing across this part of the country. A fifteen-minute sandwich between Carlsbad and Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Dark Canyon Road is BLM land that provides the rare experience of free camping just outside of a national park, while still having access to decent services in a nearby town. On the opposite corner of the state, more BLM land–home to Joe Skeen Campground–goes out of its way to not only offer spectacular sunsets, but amenities like picnic tables, a concrete pad and vault toilets to boot. Just a bit further west, El Morro National Monument has camping jam-packed with history, more delectable sunsets, and even the chance of hearing the elk bugling if you show up in season. All of these places have cell service, too, mind you.
It will only get better from here.
If Santa Fe is the site you’re looking to see, Camp May Road is your closest option…if your rig can make the initial steep, tight turn the road in demands. Nearby is Los Alamos Overlook, another boondockers’ favorite, but also a bit hairy when it comes to the landing.
Once again, all of these free campgrounds have some amount of cell service. Why? They’re either in or relatively near civilization, but not necessarily with the noise and crowds. For those of you who full-time (or just can’t stand to be away from Facebook for the weekend), what better does life provide than scenic, forested camping accompanied by nothing less than a few finger taps away from instant communication with the outside world!
Other slices of magic in the Land of Enchantment include Lake Holloman, which is BLM land (where you’re more likely to encounter a military policeman than a park ranger) near White Sands National Monument, Rob Jaggers Camping Area in the Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area.
What if you could care less about chatting with mom while you’re snagging free camping in New Mexico?
Every one of NM’s National Forests have free camping. Santa Fe National Forest has Whirlpool Dispersed Camping Area. Carson National Forest has Tres Piedras and Cuchilla Campground, while just outside of Cibola National Forest you can camp for free at San Lorenzo Canyon Recreation Area.
New Mexico also has an unusually good (if mathematically interesting) state parks pass. While there are some stipulations and exceptions, in general, the pass gets you $10 off per night at state parks. It costs (for non-residents) $225 per year.
The state parks usually have a variety of sites available, some are dry camping sites for $8 – $10 per night. So, with your pass, that means you get those sites for free. For an entire year, except for the limit on how long you can stay at any one spot or park. So, if you take advantage of the pass and stay in these free spots for 23 days, you’ve made your money back. If you tend to hang around New Mexico for two months or longer, the notion that these sites are all free starts to sink in…even though technically you did pay to get the “free” access. Campendium users Watsons Wander got their nightly camping fees down to around $5 / night. Free? No. Awesome? Yep.
When you forego the tough-as-nails cred you get from boondocking for so long, the $10 off per night still gets you an electric site (normally $14 / night) for $4. Or, when available, full hookups for $8 / night. Eight dollars worth of flushing toilets, air conditioning and quite often cell service…in a state that is too often overlooked by the traveling kind.
Oregon has quickly gained a reputation for some of the best camping in the nation, with full-time RVers and the state’s residents alike. From endless desert BLM land to the temperature rainforests on the coast, small towns packed with charm and local persuasion to lush growth and myriad snowy peaks in the Cascades, the Beaver State brings their A-game in the PNW.
Regardless of what corner, what climate or what region you prefer to call the ideal setting for a perfect (and perfectly free) campground, Oregon has something offer…around fifty free places to pitch your tent (or drop your leveling jacks).
Free Camping in the Wallowas / Northeastern Oregon
The road less traveled in Oregon, the northeastern corner of the state is home to Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and charming small towns like La Grande and Joseph, Oregon…but without the crowds, the warmer half of the state draws all summer long. For the adventurous tent camper, Saddle Creek Campground offers something more akin to what your grandpa called camping, with a view of Hells Canyon (an impressively beautiful and remote valley offering a decidedly more serene location than the name might imply). At the other end of the spectrum, along I-84 and the Washington border, Rufus Landing Recreation Area offers a wide-open space sandwiched between the Columbia River and the interstate, a place where boondockers from all over congregate in a scene somewhat reminiscent of Arizona’s Quartzite.
Free Camping near Bend, Oregon
While Bend is equally becoming one of the coolest places to live in the US and one of the fastest-growing, there are still plenty of opportunities to find free camping in the area. Particularly in the Deschutes National Forest, campgrounds like Forest Road 4610 and Forest Road 300, you’ll find yourself within ten or fifteen minutes of downtown Bend…assuming you time the traffic correctly. Given the tendency of Bend’s residents to love the outdoors, you may have to hunt around for an open site at any of these spots, but luckily there are a plethora of additional campgrounds to choose from, many of which are still within a fifteen to thirty-minute drive of the city itself.
It’s a rarity to have so much free camping, so near to one of the most interesting and lively towns in the country.
Free Camping near Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake is one of those quintessential National Parks: big mountains, big trees, big outdoors, big everything. It’s also got a big-time issue with a reservation policy that allows about 1/3rd of the sites to remain first-come, first-serve unless they’ve somehow been reserved. If you’re having trouble getting into the official park campgrounds, the good news is that there is some free camping about 30 miles south, various spots surrounding Upper Klamath Lake. Though it’s not officially a national park, the views can be every bit as stunning, with Mount McLoughlin’s snowy cap visible in the distance.
Free Camping Near the Oregon Coast
Though every inch of Oregon’s coastline is public property, finding a place to camp for free is not going to be an easy task.
The rare slice of BLM that exists here, Bastendorff Beach, gets unusually sour reviews for Oregon, and other than a couple of casinos like Three Rivers Casino in Florence, there’s not much else in the way of free camping near the water.
If you don’t mind a little drive, though, God’s Valley in Nehalem gives you epic amounts of privacy in exchange for a really gnarly, and long dirt road to get back in there. On the southern end of the coast, three campgrounds–Sunshine Bar, Butler Bar and Laird Lake–put you similarly far out (about an hour from Port Orford) and back long forest roads.
Luckily, the Oregon Coast has a slew of state parks that can offer you something on the water…just not for free.
More Great Free Camping in Oregon
While Oregon has amazing free camping all across the state, they don’t all fall into a neat category or region like those above.
One of the hippest cities on the planet, Ashland, Oregon, can also be one of the most expensive to find lodging. Or, call Old Highway 99 basecamp while you explore town and the adjacent Klamath National Forest or Cascade-Siskiyou National Forest.
Further north along I-5, if you’re visiting Eugene and want to skip the cost of camping or a hotel, Valley River RV Center offers up to two nights of free camping in their parking lot.
Closer to Portland, French Prairie Rest Area Northbound permits a twelve-hour max stay…plenty of time to park, take a little time to yourself, get a good night’s sleep and be off to the city (about half an hour’s drive) after breakfast.
Finally, if you’re into flying machines, you can score a free night’s stay at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon (about an hour outside of Portland), where you’ll not only be primed to get into the museum the minute it opens, but even have access to some outdoor displays all to yourself after closing.
South Dakota has a wonderful reputation among full-time RVers for its easy regulations with regards to becoming a resident, no state income tax or personal property tax, low sales tax, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s the home of some gorgeous natural wonders like the Black Hills and Badlands.
This southwestern corner of the state is also where most of the free camping can be found. If it’s the Badlands you’ve set your sights on, there are three spots near the northern end of the park, all promising mountain view backdrops in a prairie setting where you’re almost guaranteed to witness the trifecta of grazing pronghorns silhouetted against a dramatic sunrise as the wind whips away any chance of too much summer heat. Of all of these locations, Nomad View wins the prize for Most Relevant Name for Travelers…and doesn’t tend to disappoint those who wander up to its cliffside abandon.
Residents of the Lone Star State–from ranchers in West Texas to hipsters in Austin–are well known for their desire to hold onto their personal freedoms, and free camping can be found in nearly every corner of the state. While the usual BLM and National Forest land doesn’t tend to exist in a state that was largely privately owned by the time it became an official member of the United States, the thrifty camper can call it a night via private county parks offering free camping in exchange for a promise to do a little shopping in town, rest areas along the highway, and state-owned lands that never got around to charging a fee.
Free Camping on the Gulf Coast of Texas
Near Houston, you can find a variety of free camping that ranges from a waterfront park on Trinity Bay by the name of Fort Anahuac to free full hookups in a county park only half an hour (if traffic cooperates) north of downtown Houston proper at Spring Creek Park.
If camping in the biggest city–and the accompanying urban sprawl–in Texas isn’t your idea of a weekend getaway, head for the coast and keep her pointed south. Starting near Galveston, get the full experience of the Texas “shop to pay” experience at Rollover Pass, a waterfront lot in the town of Bolivar Peninsula where you can pay $10 / night to camp…or pay $10 to any local business and camp for free. For less than the price of a twelve-pack of Shiner, you’ve earned your free night of camping.
A four-hour drive south–much of it along the Gulf Coast itself–to Matagorda Bay, Magnolia Beach offers no questions asked free camping right on the water. Onward along our journey to the tip of where Texas meets old Mexico, the fabled Padre Island National Seashore plays host to North Beach and South Beach, both offering free camping for up to 14 days.
Last but certainly not least (unless we’re ranking by latitude), a few miles from the Mexico border you’ll find Boca Chica State Park, a quiet slice of beach far from just about anything but all of the rest and relaxation a camper can want. If you’ve come this far south and don’t feel like stopping, the Walmart in Brownsville might be a good place to stay before crossing the border…
Free Camping in Texas Hill Country
About an hour outside of Austin, Camp Creek Recreation Area offers free camping. Further west, along I-10 in Junction, TX, Schreiner City Park comes with a whopping price tag of $0, or just outside of Abilene, not far from I-20, Seabee Park offers the same.
Free Camping in the Texas Panhandle
This part of Texas is all about drilling for oil, which can leave the air with an interesting “allure”, if you will. If you can look beyond the horseheads and the wafting breeze rolling through, though, there is plenty of free camping in the Texas Panhandle.
The Silverton Municipal Park offers free hookups (50amp and water) in a small-town setting. Further southwest is a park that any outlaw country lover should stay at least once in their life, the Waylon Jennings RV Park (more free hookups, for up to four days before they ask for a donation). The bulk of free camping in the Texas Panhandle is nestled around Lake Meredith, with at least nine places to pull in, park and play.
Free Camping in West Texas
Free overnighters are about as common as cattle in this remote corner of the country, if you’re okay with staying at picnic areas and interstate rest stops along I-10, I-20 and US-90 in West Texas. Pecos Picnic Area is just one example of how Texas tends toward leniency when it comes to who can do what, where, when and why…and this is some of the most beautiful country west of the, well, Pecos.
One of the more interesting spots to camp, and another freebie, is the Marfa Lights Viewing Center, where in addition to paying no rent for the night, you may be visited by a peculiar phenomena in the sky which some say is proof of alien life, others claim to be the spirits of native peoples from long ago.
If free camping in a parking lot is simply an oxymoron to you, head south to Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area for something a little more akin to roughin’ it in the wild.
Utah, especially the southern half of the state, is one of the most stunning places in all of the U.S. Then again, the drive from Colorado to Salt Lake City along US 40 is gorgeous, too. Oh, and US 50 into Nevada is every bit as beautiful. The state’s borders seem to be bursting with grand natural areas, and so it’s befitting that some of the best free camping–the “real deal, we’re out in nature” style of camping–can be found in Utah, too.
If Moab is your destination, Willow Springs Trail is just one of many free spots in the area, and one of the best when it comes to epic mountain views amidst a sagebrush high desert setting, close to town and still holding on to a few bars of cell service.
At the other end of the slew of National Parks, Monuments and Forests that is Southern Utah, Virgin Dam BLM land is said to be holier to boondockers than Freebird is to a Skynyrd fan, and just a glimpse at the stunning lush green hanging from red rock cliffs seems to set that opinion into the stone of hard cold camping fact.
If you’re inclined toward a more northern persuasion, something say along the fabled US 40, a little closer to Salt Lake City, Clyde Creek is BLM land large enough for the big rigs but trending toward the quieter side of life.
Free camping in Washington State comes, typically, in three varieties: National Forests, BLM land and the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. It also comes in troves, with over 160 places to boondock, dry camp or otherwise pay nothing for an overnight or more sans price tag.
Free Camping on the Olympic Peninsula
Olympic National Park is a tower of a wonder that can be seen from Seattle and is aptly named for the original home of the Greek gods. It’s a simply majestic piece of nature that feels as wild as a cougar and looks just as good. Most of the camping here is owned by the state’s Department of Natural Resources, such as Minnie Peterson Campground just south of Forks, Washington. The handful of campgrounds surrounding the national park–all of which come with, surprisingly, some cell service–could theoretically provide you with months of time to explore the park and peninsula.
Free Camping near Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia, Washington
Not everything about free camping in Washington has to mean roughing it hundreds of miles away from life’s most basic needs: REI, Starbucks, Nintendo of America…
If you want or need to be near some of the bigger cities in the Evergreen State, you’re in luck. When it comes to Seattle, two casinos sandwich the Emerald City, Tulalip Casino to the north, and Muckleshoot Casino to the south, considerably closer to Tacoma, should that be your destination. Olympia sits a bit prettier, with a Cabela’s just east in Lacey, Washington, as well as a few true campgrounds such as Porter Creek and Middle Waddel, both in Capitol State Forest.
Free Camping in the North Cascades
Let us get back to what really shines about Washington though, shall we? With a nickname like the Evergreen State, steep mountains draped in Douglas-fir and massive Redcedars, glacial till flowing down through rocky rivers and a crispness to the air all through the summer, these are the dreams of many a camper who’s made the pilgrimage to the great Pacific Northwest.
Enter the North Cascades. They hold vastly more beauty than simply what can be seen from the national park which goes by the same name. Small towns like Glacier provide the perfect respite from the big city life of Seattle, promising a chance to get to know your local bartender when you decide to descend from long stints of camping in places like Razor Hone, which offers free camping directly across from a national forest campground (where you’ll find vault toilets should you need one) and not far from Mt. Baker.
For a somewhat surreally alternative experience, Leavenworth, Washington is a town all dressed up like it was born in Germany, and abundant free camping in the area to boot, of which Napeequa Crossing Campground stands out.
Free Camping in Washington’s High Desert
There is ample free camping east of the Cascades in Washington, some of the best of which can be found outside of the Old Wild West towns of Winthrop and Twist. If you can get beyond the reality that this area catches on fire nearly every year, in a big way, and that you will often need a Discovery Pass to get the “free” camping, you can disappear into nature without finding yourself completely cut off from civilization. Places like Bear Creek Department of Fish and Wildlife come with cell service and a hunter’s campground vibe, while Upper Bobcat promises waterfall hikes and river floats.
Last on our list of states with an abundance of free camping, Wyoming not only lives up to the Wild West nature of its legend (and license plate) in scenic vistas that are mountain desert mixes of seemingly endless wild expanses, but the people tend to have a more cowboy attitude as well when it comes to how things should be…and how much you should pay for them.
While it’s certainly arguable that the Tetons are the biggest draw for the Cowboy State–as far as free camping goes–there’s vastly more here than that single northwestern corner.
Still, if you get the chance, boondocking with the Tetons in view can’t really be beat.
In the Bighorn Basin, city parks like Lander City Park and Riverside City Park lure campers in from all over, while Ayers Natural Bridge Park and Elgin Park Trailhead offer something a bit more rustic.
Still more free camping is to be had near Cheyenne, and even right along I-80 if you’re just passing through and looking for somewhere to hitch up your horse.
The seemingly endless free camping and boondocking available in the Western United States is largely due to the fact that it’s simply less populated than our eastern seaboard. The government owns a lot of land out there and continues to make much of it available for free camping. The nation began in the East, specifically, the region that now makes up New England, and it’s therefor one of the most populated regions in the country.
What’s all of this mean to those searching for a free place to camp in New England? Well, bad news: there is virtually no free camping whatsoever (or at least, legit free camping that we could find) in the entire region. Vermont offers up a few spots, though even those aren’t large enough for anything but a small RV.
The Mid-Atlantic: New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey
If you fired up the F-350, hitched up your trailer and tried hightailing it out of New England in hopes of finding more free camping opportunities in the Mid-Atlantic, well, sorry to disappoint you, but it doesn’t get much better in this region. Free RV camping is limited to a few scattered spots, save for big chain parking lots like Walmart and Cabela’s. Best to call ahead before deciding on using one of these spots for the night, policies can vary–particularly in the larger or more conservative parts of New York, PA and Jersey.
Free camping isn’t particularly plentiful in the Southeast of the United States, either. Though it tends to be a bit less crowded than the Northeast, the culture in the more antebellum belly of the US doesn’t seem to lean particularly toward giving you a break on overnights.
You can probably still get by with a phone call to the local Walmart, but otherwise, free camping is going to be harder to come by.
The main exception to this rule are the National Forests west of and surrounding Asheville, North Carolina, where there’s plenty of free camping, some of which can even accommodate larger RVs.
“The Midwest” is one of those peculiar naming conventions that doesn’t seem to make all that much sense. The states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, etc. are certainly not “The West” by any stretch of the imagination, so how then they can be in the middle of it is…well, let’s just say that it’s as peculiar a consideration as these places tend to lack great free camping.
Ohio has the most natural areas where one can also find a rent-free campsite for the night, particularly in the southeastern corner of the state.
Indiana comes in a distant second, although when a few free camping sites are available, they don’t tend to disappoint. Saddle Lake Recreation Area and Blackwell Horsecamp promise woodsy settings, sure, but if you find yourself trotting along I-90 through the northern part of the state, well, who wouldn’t want to do an overnighter at the RV Hall of Fame & Museum just outside of Elkhart.
The Seven US States with Little or No Free Camping
Unfortunately, and believe me, we use that word sincerely, not everywhere in the US is free camping friendly. Whether it’s simply because they were developed too early or simply have policies that trend toward paying for a night’s stay, these states tend to lack free camping either completely, or at least to a degree where they just don’t make the cut.
Delaware is a small state and was the first official state in the US, so we’ll give it a pass for offering no legitimate free camping.
Georgia is a peach, but it’s downright rotten in the eyes of those looking for free camping.
Hawaii…there’s just something about paradise that makes people want to charge money for the experience.
North Dakota is the big shocker on this list. Unlike its southerly brother (and neighboring states), you won’t get a free ticket to camp here.