A Guide to Free Camping in the USA

backroads last dollar road colorado

They say the best things in life are free, and when it comes to camping, it still stands true. When it comes to getting some fresh air, there is no better option than camping. There is nothing like camping in the great outdoors; especially when it is free! Whether you are going on an epic road-trip or just an outing for the night, enjoy some of the free primitive camping spots across the US to make your trip a true adventure.

What is Free Camping?

free camping blm carlsbad caverns new mexico
Campsite outside of Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico.

Free camping (also sometimes known as boondocking, primitive camping, dry camping, and/or dispersed camping) is exactly what it sounds like, camping overnight in your RV or tent in a location that you don’t have to pay for.  There is a small caveat to the free camping though.  Most of the campsites are not in developed campgrounds.  What does this mean for you? Primarily it means that there is usually no water, electricity, or bathrooms, so you will need to pack accordingly.

free camping elephant mountain wma texas
Campsite at Elephant Mountain WMA outside of Big Bend National Park, Texas

There are a lot of benefits to free camping besides the most obvious benefit of being free. There is a lot of contentment to be found in camping without amenities; to be away from it all; to primitive camping, if only slightly more so. Free camping sites usually have far fewer people and you have the option of camping further away from others than you would in a regular campground. The final, and possibly the best benefit, is that these free campsites are usually on Bureau of Land Management lands or in National Forests, meaning that they are more remote and wild areas.

free camping websites dyrt freeroam campendium
Screen shoots of the three websites; The Dyrt, Campendium, and FreeRoam

When finding free campsites there are a few websites and apps out there that I use to do just that; like Campendium, FreeRoam, and The Dyrt.

Things to Pack for Free Camping

free camping national forest redington pass tucsan arizona
View overlooking Tuscan from my campsite in Redington Pass, Arizona.

When you decide to go camping at one of the free sites across the US there are a number of things that you should take with you.  Since most of the sites do not have amenities, you want to make sure that you are prepared.

1.    Tent and camping gear…obviously!
            (Make sure you have enough bedding to stay warm if it is a cold night!)

2.    Water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning.
            (Scrubbing your dirty dishes with dirt first will save on water usage.)

3.    Toilet paper and a shovel.
            (Dig a hole, do your business, and cover it back up like the civilized animal you are.)

4.    Garbage bags.
            (If you bring it in, take it out…except for the stuff in the hole above…that can stay.)

5.    Food containers.
            (You’re not the only animal out there and you don’t want to attract the others when they are hungry.)

My Experience

free camping last dollar road colorado
View of people camping at a free site on Last Dollar Road, Colorado.

On my recent road trip across the American Southwest I used the sites above to find free camping sites almost every night.  I had a great experience every time and highly recommend it!  

I used all three of the sites at some point on my trip and they are all great.  The sites are slightly different from each other, but they all are fairly intuitive, allow you to search an area or by map, and have ratings and comments about the sites.  It should be noted that although all of the sites have a web version, only FreeRoam and The Dyrt have apps.  This isn’t so much of an issue since you can just bookmark Campendium on your phone’s web browser or set the website as a clickable button on your phones screen.  

night sky stars milky way camping
With little light pollution, you are able to see some amazing views of the stars.

The experiences I had at each of the camping sites that I stayed at were all amazing.  The campsites that I used were on land that ranged from  Wildlife Management Areas to Bureau of Land Management to National Forest; each as beautiful as the next.  Some were in the wide-open spaces of the desert with views as far as the eye could see and a night sky that was filled with so many stars there seemed to be more light than darkness in large vastness of space.  Others were deep in a forest, wrapped in trees that brought about feelings of solitude, tranquility, and peace.  

cooking dinner elephant mountain wma texas
Cooking dinner at night on a covered picnic table; Elephant Mountain, Texas.

I was surprised that all but one of the sites actually had a metal campfire ring at each of the sites; the odd one out did have stone ring though.  One of the sites also had a covered picnic table, a bathroom, and running water (from a spigot at the toilet).  All of them were on a dirt road, so were easily accessible, even in a small car like mine.  All-in-all, if you are looking for a way to save money, want a more primitive campsite, or just want to get away from the proper campgrounds, I would highly recommend looking into these sites as a way to do it.  10/10 (‘borderline 11’) highly recommend!

Have you used any of these sites or others to find free campsites?

What was your experience?  

Join my mailing list

a guide to free camping in the USA

No comments:

Post a Comment

4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14