How to Find Free Camping in the US & Canada

Camping doesn’t need to be expensive. Thankfully there are many places where you can still camp for free - the trick is just knowing how to find it. We’ll show you how!

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A campervan parked with a sunset and the Teton mountains in the background
A campsite we found this summer near the Tetons – and it was FREE!

UPDATED: January 2020. Finding free camping has changed a lot since we first wrote this article back in 2016. There are better websites, new apps, and just a lot more information available. This updated post has everything you need to find free camping in the new decade.

We’ve spent a total of 2 years living on the road full-time and have traveled all over the US and Canada. One of the most frequent questions we get asked is “How do you afford to pay for campsites every night?”

The simple answer is we don’t.

If we had to pay the usual $20-$30 per night to stay at established campgrounds, we would have gone broke long ago.

Instead, we’ve gotten very good at finding places where you can camp for free. (Yes, such places exist!)

Whether you call it dispersed camping, boondocking, dry camping, or wild camping, the end goal is the same: a place to enjoy the outdoors without having to pay a daily fee.

There are a ton of free camping options out there – you just need to know where to look.

We know what we’re doing now, but when we left on our first road trip, we were completely clueless. On our very first night out, we remember pulling off on the side of the road in Big Sur and frantically searching on our cell phones for the rules of dispersed camping in the National Forest. We couldn’t find anything definitive and in desperation, we ended up nervously sleeping in a pullout. It was awful. The next day, we drove straight to San Francisco to stay with a friend.

Little did we know, we were right next to some of the most epic free camping in the state!

Now that we have a little more experience with free camping, we decided to compile this guide to help anyone who is just starting out.

Below, we’ve outlined everything you need to know about free camping. From what to expect, what to pack, and where you are allowed to free camp, and most importantly, how to find it.


A white camper van parked in front of a lake with a grassy hill in the background

What is “free camping”?

Free camping is exactly what it sounds like: a place you can legally camp without having to pay a fee. Of course, nothing is free and most locations are taxpayer-supported (more on that later), but there is no cost to the individual user.

There are a bunch of names used to describe different types of free camping. Here are some of the more common ones we’ve seen:

Dispersed Camping: This is the official term used by the National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to describe free camping. If you’re reading a US government website that refers to dispersed camping in an area, they’re talking about camping in non-developed areas usually without a daily fee. If you’re going to call up a ranger station to ask (something we highly recommend), use the term dispersed camping and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.

Boondocking: We hear this informal term used most commonly among RVers, road trippers, and other long-term travelers to refer to all manner of free camping. Everything from camping in a national forest to spending a night at a Walmart can be considered a form of boondocking. This term is used a lot on personal websites and forums.

Dry Camping: The term dry camping is similar to boondocking, but we hear it less often. However, it does accurately describe the fact there will be no available water, which is the case at just about every free camping location we’ve visited.

Backcountry Camping: We occasionally hear this term to describe free camping, but we think of it as applying more to wilderness backpacking.

Stealth Camping: This term got its popularity with the rise of #vanlife, where people would park their relatively “discrete” looking campervans in mostly urban areas such as neighborhoods, parking lots, scenic overlooks, etc. The idea is to blend into your surroundings and look like a parked vehicle. The term stealth camping is most widely used in situations where you’re trying to avoid being noticed.

Wild Camping: This seemed to be the popular term for free dispersed camping in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Benefits of free camping

There are a lot of pros when it comes to free camping. Some are obvious (the cost), but there are a few unexpected benefits as well.

It’s free! Obviously the big draw is the cost. If you’re planning on camping or traveling for an extended period of time, getting good at finding free camping is one of the best ways to bring down your trip’s overall expenses.

Flexibility. It is nice to not be tied down to a specific campground. If you’re exploring or passing through an area with a lot of free dispersed camping it is nice to decide where you want to camp at the end of the day.

Last Minute Trips. Decide you want to go camping on Friday morning before a long weekend? Most established campgrounds will be booked solid months ahead of time. But when you go looking for free dispersed camping, you can almost always find a spot.

Seclusion and solitude. In most established pay campgrounds, you’re packed in like sardines in a tin. You can hear the guy snoring two sites down from you. Free dispersed camping is often in more remote areas, which offers a true sense of peace and calm.

What to expect

While the exact conditions will depend where you are camping, there are few things you should know about free camping that are relatively universal:

↠ No showers
↠ No potable water
↠ No dump facilities
↠ No trash
↠ No picnic tables
↠ No fire rings
↠ Roads are often rough and unmaintained
↠ Cell service is hit or miss


Michael cooking dinner on a camp stove atop a folding camp table.

What to pack for dispersed camping or boondocking

When choosing a free camping site on public lands like BLM or National Forests, you have to remember that since these areas do not provide any services like bathrooms, potable water, or picnic tables, you’ll need to be completely self-sufficient.

Here is our list of camping essentials while camping outside of established campsites on public land (these items are in addition to our usual camping gear items like a tent, sleeping bags, etc):

Folding table product image
Folding Table
Since there will be no provided picnic table, we highly suggest bringing your own folding table. An elevated surface is great for preparing meals, doing dishes, playing cards, etc. It helps to get one that has adjustable legs so you can transition from counter level height for cooking to low table for eating.
Folding chair
Folding Chairs
Folding chairs are also super helpful to bring along when dispersed camping. Being able to comfortably sit at a campsite can make all the difference.
Pop up shade tent product image
Shade Structure
When you are camping on BLM land, and in some national forest areas, you should be prepared for little to no shade – especially in desert environments. Bringing along a shade structure will give your camp some added comfort during the hot afternoon sun, and doubles as a rain shelter in case the weather goes south.
fire pit product image
Portable Fire Pit
If the area you are camping in allows campfires (check with the rangers’ or BLM office first!), seek out a pre-existing fire ring location. If you don’t want to search around for a pre-existing fire ring, consider bringing a portable fire pit to lift the campfire off the ground. We use this fire pit, which packs down small when not in use, has a heat shield to protect the ground from scorching, and meets federal regulations for fire pans. It also comes with a grill grate so you can cook meals right over the flames.
gravity water filter
Extra Water and/or Water Filtration System
Most free camping spots you will encounter have no potable water. You will need to either bring all the water you need for your trip (for drinking, dishwashing, and bathing) or, if there is a lake or stream nearby, you will want to bring a water filtration system. We love our GravityWorks water filter because it’s so easy to use. If you’re packing in all of your water, pick up a few refillable water jugs and fill those up ahead of time.
trowel product image
Potty Kit (trowel + TP + trash bag) or WAG bags
Since most (if not all!) free camping areas don’t have bathroom facilities, you’ll need to be prepared to properly dispose of your waste. You’ll need a small trowel to dig a cathole, TP, and a trash bag to pack your TP out. In some sensitive and higher use areas, you’ll need to pack your waste out as well. Check with the ranger or BLM office to find out about their specific policies.

Our friend Kristen of Bearfoot Theory wrote a great post about doing your business outdoors, which you can check out here.

collapsible sink
Dishwashing Sink Basin
If your rig doesn’t come equipped with a sink, be sure to bring along a basin to do your dishes in, as well as a sponge & soap. You can learn more about doing dishes while camping here.
Camping Essentials Helio Nemo Pressure Shower
Shower Bag
Depending on how long your camping trip is, you might consider packing a shower bag or solar shower. We use this Nemo Helio pressure shower, which packs up pretty small when not in use. It’s also useful for doing dishes and spraying down gear like bikes.
trash bag product image
Trash Bags
Whatever you pack in, you’ll need to pack out, so bring along a few trash bags. We always find trash left behind by previous campers, so bonus points to you if you pack an extra trash bag and leave the area even cleaner than you found it!
tire traction tracks product image
Tire Traction Tacks
Many public land roads are rough and not well maintained, so it might be helpful to pack tire traction tracks, particularly if you’re camping in desert areas. We have gotten our car stuck in the sand before while driving through BLM land, and these would have saved us a lot of headache!

Leave no trace principles for dispersed camping

Before we get into where to find free camping, we want to take a quick moment to explain the principles Leave No Trace. These are broad principles that can apply to any type of outdoor recreation but are particularly important to follow when dispersed camping.

Following these Leave No Trace principles is the best way to ensure free camping will be available in the future and to minimize the impact on our public lands. To dive deeper, head over to the LNT website.

Plan Ahead & Prepare: Do a little research ahead of time, bring the right equipment, and be prepared to be completely self-sufficient. Forgetting to bring a trash bag is absolutely no excuse for littering. You should also plan ahead to be aware of area-specific rules regarding campfires, limits on how long you can stay in one area, and how far from the roads you should camp.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Do not set up camp on vegetation. Look for barren dirt, rock, or sand to pitch a tent. In the desert environments, become familiar with what cryptobiotic soil (often referred to as “crypto”) looks like and avoid disturbing it.

Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack out all of your waste, including food scraps, toilet paper, etc. In some sensitive and highly used desert areas (like around Moab, UT), you might also need to pack out human waste – check with the ranger station.

Leave What You Find: At a minimum, leave your campsite as you found it. We’d really encourage you to leave your site better than you found it by packing out any additional trash you find.

Minimize Campfire Impacts: Only build a campfire in a pre-established fire ring or bring a portable fire pit with you. Keep your fires low, have water at the ready, and when you’re finished, drown the embers. They should be cool to the touch before you head to bed.

Respect Wildlife: Part of respecting the local wildlife is to ensure your food is properly stored and that animals are not habituated to human food.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors: If you’re reading this article, you probably already have a base level of consideration. And we thank you. But to state the obvious, don’t let your good time ruin somebody else’s. Keep your voices, music, and generators low after hours. Don’t crowd people. Pick up after yourself.

Two men sitting around a campfire in Big Sur

Places where you can find free camping

Below we’ve listed the different types of land where free camping is allowed. Be aware that each type of land is unique and may not be suitable for all forms of camping. Find the right type of land that matches your style of camping.

National forests and grasslands

Typically you are allowed to camp for free in US National Forests & Grasslands, unless otherwise marked. Each national forest has slightly different rules, so check ahead of time, but generally speaking you are allowed to camp anywhere outside established recreation areas and developed campgrounds.

Who It’s Good For: Tent & car camping, Vans, Trailers, and RVs.

What It’s Like: You have a lot of options when camping in a National Forest. You can find a nice pullover, backpack into the woods to set up camp, or find an attractive spot along a forest service road.

However, you’ll need to be self-sufficient, as there will likely be zero amenities. No picnic table, trash, or restrooms. In some places, you are allowed to have a fire if you obtain a fire permit and there are no fire restrictions in place (these can change frequently, so check with the ranger office).

How to Find It: National Forests are well marked on Google maps, but you can use the National Forest Map Locator or search state by state to find information about the specific jurisdiction you are looking to camp in. Again, the rules are different depending on the area, so check ahead.

You can also use Motor Vehicle Use Maps for the specific National Forest area you’re camping in. These are detailed maps that will show you vehicle use roads, road open/closed dates, and locations of established campgrounds. You can download them (free) from the NF website here. Choose the state & specific National Forest, then scroll down to “Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM)” and follow the directions to download. This way you don’t have to worry about whether or not you will have cell service while you’re trying to find your campsite! You can also pick them up at the ranger station.

Details:

  • Camping must be done outside of developed campgrounds.
  • Usually a 14 day limit, sometimes more.  
  • No amenities – picnic table, trash, or restrooms. Practice Leave No Trace.  
  • Set up camp 200 feet away from any stream or water source.

** This information does not apply in National Parks – but many National Parks are bordered by National Forests!


Friends sitting around a campfire in Borrego Springs.

BLM (Bureau of Land Management)

These publicly managed lands are commonly found in the western part of the United States and typically allow free camping outside of developed campgrounds. However, BLM manages a wide range of activities including cattle grazing rights and mining operations, so they can require a little more research to determine if they’re suitable for camping.

Who It’s Good For: Tent & car camping, Vans, Trailers, and RVs.

What It’s Like: While there is BLM land all over the west, the majority of it covers desert topography. Similar to National Forests, you can stay at pullovers, backpack in a little way, or find a secluded spot along an access road to set up camp. There are also some semi-established unofficial camping areas that are frequented by RVing snowbirds during the winter.

Again, there will be no picnic table, trash, or restrooms. In some places you are allowed to have a fire if you obtain a fire permit there are no fire restrictions in place (these can change frequently, so check with the field office).

How to Find It: BLM lands are not marked on Google Maps, making them a little more difficult to locate. To find BLM land, we use FreeRoam or the Public Lands app, or search on the BLM’s interactive map. The BLM map is great because it tells you which field office manages a particular area, so you know who to call with questions. The map also shows which areas are managed by other agencies (ie, national forest, national parks, tribal land, etc).

Details:

  • Camping must be done outside of developed campgrounds.
  • Usually a 14 day limit, sometimes more.  
  • No amenities – picnic table, trash, or restrooms. Practice Leave No Trace.  
  • Set up camp 200 feet away from any stream or water source.

Man cooking a meal at a campsite in Canada

Crown land (Canada)

About 89% of Canada is designated as “Crown Land” and available to Canadian residents for public use. (Non-residents can pay for a permit, which varies by province.) While you are allowed to camp for free on Crown Land for up to 21 days, there are many areas where camping is not allowed. The reason being that Crown Land is actually divided into different subcategories, which are managed both on the federal and provincial level, with varying levels of restrictions.

All this can be somewhat difficult to understand and navigate, but the sheer amount of Crown Land makes it worthwhile to look into if you are traveling through Canada.

Who It’s Good For: Backpackers, Tent camping, Vans, Trailers, and RVs.

What It’s Like: There’s a lot of Crown Land out there, so your experience will vary greatly on where you’re located. In some provinces like British Columbia, there are primitive campgrounds called Recreation Sites on Crown Land that function like traditional campgrounds, but with fewer amenities. However, much of Crown Land is located in more remote regions of the country, where infrastructure is limited. Because accessing the land can be difficult, many Canadians use public waterways to canoe or kayak in.  This is particularly popular in the eastern provinces, like Ontario.

How to Find It: Good question. How to locate Crown Land that is suitable for camping varies from province to province. Some provinces have interactive online maps, some have static .pdf maps, but other don’t have much information at all. Down at the bottom of the article we’ll link to a few resources to help find Crown Land near you.

Details:

  • Canadian residents can camp for up to 21 days
  • Non-residents can pay for a permit (varies by province)
  • Recreation Sites can be accessed by vehicle
  • Most Crown Land camping resembles backcountry camping 

Car parked at Walmart

Walmart

Here we get into the grey zone of what is considered “camping.” While many Walmarts across the country allow RVs, trailers, vans, and other self-contained vehicles to stay overnight in their parking lot, few people would consider this camping. Nevertheless, staying at Walmarts can definitely come in handy at times. Whether you’re trying to pull off an epic travel day and just need a place to sleep for the night, or plan on using Walmart as a staging place in order to stay close to civilization, there are a lot of reasons to spend a night at Wally-World.

Who It’s Good For: Vans, Trailers, and RVs.

What It’s Like: Again, let’s be clear: this isn’t camping. It’s sleeping in your vehicle overnight. Plan on arriving later in the evening and leaving early in the morning. When staying at a Walmart, it’s best to park towards the outer periphery of the parking lot so not to interfere with normal store activities like customer parking and late-night truck deliveries.

Being allowed to stay overnight at Walmart is a very graciously offered privilege, and by no means a right. (From a liability standpoint, it would be way easier for Walmart to prohibit this activity, but they have decided extend a helping hand to travelers.)  So, be courteous. The general rule is to keep as low profile as possible. No tents, no chairs, no hibachi grills. Everything must be done within your vehicle.

How to Find It: Not all Walmarts allow overnight parking. This is often the case for Walmarts in major urban centers. In some cases, the store managers have decided against it, in others, local laws prohibit sleeping in your vehicle overnight. Before you decide to stay at a Walmart, check this Walmart No Stay List.  You can also call the store and ask to speak with a manager. (We’ve found associates are usually unaware of the policy and will just say no out of over-caution. Speak with a manager.) 

Details

  • Must remain self-contained within your vehicle.
  • Arrive late, leave early.
  • Park away from the entrance of the store.  
  • Bathrooms are available during store hours.
  • Need anything? Chances are Walmart has it.
View from a car camper

Other non-camping “camping” options

While Walmart is the gold standard for overnight parking / urban stealth camping, there are a few other options that can be worth exploring as well.

Casinos

Many casinos allow overnight parking for RVs, trailers, vans, and other self-contained travelers. The situation will be similar to staying at Walmart. Basically, keep your activities within your vehicle and keep a low profile. You can check out the map locator on CasinoCamper.com to see what casinos allow overnight parking. For more in depth information on camping at casinos, check out this post by Desk to Dirtbag.

Truck Stops 

You can hardly drive a hundred miles on a major freeway without seeing a truck stop. While they primarily cater to long-haul truckers, some of them also provide accommodations for RVs, trailers, and vans. In addition to offering fuel, food, and other travel amenities, many of them allow overnight parking. If you’re uncertain, it’s always worth calling the location to find out.

National chain truck stops include:

Rest Stops

Along many US interstate highways, you can find designated rest stops. These locations have been specifically designated for drivers to be able to pull over and rest.

However, finding a rest stop that allows overnight parking can require a lot of digging. Rules differ state by state, county by county, and city by city. Sometimes it can be more trouble than it’s worth, but when it works out, they can be useful in a pinch.

If you’re looking to find a rest stop near you, you can take a look at this list by Interstate Rest Areas.


Couple reading a map

How to find free camping near me

By now you know what to expect, what to bring, and what land allows free camping. Now it’s time to dive into how to find free camping.

Since we first wrote this article, a ton of new websites and apps have launched that has made finding free camping so much easier – especially when you’re already on the road.

Below is a collection of up-to-date resources we use to find free campsites when we’re traveling. (Some of them are a bit redundant, so we’ve marked the ones we use most frequently with an asterisk*)

*Free Roam (Free): This desktop and mobile app has some really helpful features. First, you can toggle on National Forest and BLM overlays, making it super easy to find public land. You can also toggle on a satellite map and zoom in to see what the roads/turnouts look like, making it easier to identify if an area might be suitable for boondocking. Second, you can also overlay Motor Vehicle Use Maps, so you don’t have to go searching for the PDFs on the national forest website. Third, you can use the map layers to show cell coverage (by network) and national forest/BLM land. If you create a free account, you can also save sites or your own waypoints, making it great for multi-day planning.

*Campendium (Free): Awesome camping resource that allows you to search free camping by state. Read reviews, see pictures, and see the campground’s cell coverage. Works great on desktop and mobile, and they also have an app.

*iOverlander (Free): This app is full of user-submitted campsites as well as other traveler friendly information like dump stations and water fills. However, since the app relies on users to add and update content, it’s not 100% accurate, so it’s worth doing some additional research once you’ve found a spot you are interested in. But, generally speaking, it’s a great place to start!

US Public Lands App ($2.99): This is a pretty stripped down app that lets you overlay BLM & National Forest land over a satellite image. What we like about this one is you can zoom in on the map to see what the roads/turnouts look like, making it easier to identify if an area might be suitable for boondocking. However, you can get all the features of this app in the free FreeRoam app mentioned above, though the satellite map seems to be a little clearer on the Public Lands app.

Outly (Free or paid): This web and mobile app does a great job showing the boundaries of BLM, National Forests, state land, etc. Additionally, it will show you roads – as well as tell you if it’s a 2WD or 4WD road. If you get the Pro version, you can overlay cell coverage layers and create your own points and routes.

FreeCampsites.net (free): Another great resource that allows you to locate free campgrounds. Read reviews, get GPS coordinates and directions, find out the agency that manages the land. This site is best used on a desktop/laptop, though their map works on mobile as well.

USFS Motor Vehicle Use Maps (free): These are detailed maps that will show you vehicle use roads, road open/closed dates, and locations of established campgrounds. You can download them (free) from the NF website here. Choose the state & specific National Forest, then scroll down to “Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM)” and follow the directions to download or print. This way you don’t have to worry about whether or not you will have cell service while you’re trying to find your campsite! You can also pick them up at the ranger station.

Ultimatecampgrounds.com (US & Canada): Interactive map that shows all public campgrounds in the US & Canada. While not all the campsites listed here are free, the descriptions will let you know if they sites have fees and if so, what they cost. They also have an iOS and Android app.

Paper maps and guidebooks

While you can get a lot of the information you need for free online, it is always useful to have a paper map on hand. Cell service can be notoriously spotty in these remote areas, and if Plan A fails it’s nice to be able to research Plan B on the fly.

Four Benchmark Maps booksBenchmark Road Map & Recreation Atlas (US)
These large paper atlases offer detailed maps by state. Not only do they outline National Forests, BLM and other land agencies, but they’re filled with other helpful information like campgrounds, topography, drivable roads (by classification), trailheads, and water sources.
Check price: Amazon


BRMP Map book coversBackroad Mapbooks (Canada)
A collection of regional map books for finding Crown Land, backcountry roads, rec sites, hiking trails, lakes, and hot springs in Canada.
Check price: Amazon


Nat Geo Road Atlas coverNational Geographic Road Atlas – Adventure Edition
This comprehensive atlas covers Canada, United States, and Mexico, with a special focus on outdoor recreational activities. While it won’t give you the same level of detail as state by state or park by park map would, it will give you a good impression of all of North America.
Check price: Amazon


National Geographic National Forest Maps
These paper maps provide lots of detail about specific forests and ranger districts. While it would be expensive to buy all the maps, if you know you’re going to be exploring a specific area, the maps can be incredibly useful. Not only do they show National Forest boundaries and roads to camp on, but they also denote trails, drinking water, dump stations, and campgrounds with showers.
Check price: Amazon


How do you find free camping?

We hope you found this article on free camping useful and that you feel excited to enjoy some of the great camping opportunities out there.

If you have any special tips or tricks when it comes to finding free camping, please let us know down below in the comments! We’re all about sharing information, so let us know if you think there is anything we should add to this article.

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  1. Great article.

    If you use Google Earth or desktop software like Garmin’s Basecamp you can add POI (Point of Information) for many of the resources:
    http://www.poi-factory.com/poifiles/popular – Rest areas, Walmarts, Cracker Barrell, and truck stops are all potential over night places .

    This site will help you convert for different formats including KML for Google Earth –
    https://www.gps-data-team.com/convert/

    Another resource for RV POI including Escapee boondocking (must be a member and subscribe) here:
    http://www.discoveryowners.com/cginfo.htm

  2. Thank you for demystifying free camp sites! this is great information!! and i like your delicious recipes too. Keep livin the dream!

  3. This is excellent, thanks so much! I cannot believe how expensive some campsites can be! Sure, it’s nice to have a shower house or laundry facilities every now and then, but I’m planning a 3-6 month road trip next year and no way can I afford $30 a night. This will definitely come in handy.

    1. I can’t believe how expensive some sites are as well. If you stayed at a paid site every night, it could end up costing almost the same as rent for an apartment! It’s definitely nice to have access to showers and the nice restroom facilities that many paid sites provide, but if you’re willing to rough it, you’ll definitely be able to stretch your budget a bit! Enjoy your trip! 🙂

  4. This is a wonderful and informative post! Love all of the photos!!

    Growing up my dad was a total off the grid camper when it came to summer vacations, so we got to stay at some pretty rugged, yet jaw dropping gorgeous, out of the way dry camps in a lot of the National Forests in the NW corner of the US. Often times we would have the entire “campground’ area to ourselves. I will always treasure those trips, and have recently been retracing a lot of our camping adventures now, over 20 years later.

  5. Hi! I just discovered your blog and absolutely love it! My boyfriend and I are rebuilding a truck slide in camper and will be traveling for a year or so once it’s finished. Your pictures are amazing, what kind of camera and other equipment do you use? Also are you just naturally gifted or did you take a class to learn how to master photography? Thanks for the inspiration!
    -Erin

    1. Hey Erin! Thank you for the kind words 🙂 I picked up a camera back in high school and had intended to go to art school to get an MFA in photography, but went a different route in the end (art school is so expensive!). I did take a few basic photo classes in HS and my first year of college, but I mostly think that the way I got better was by just shooting – a lot, and studying other photographer’s work that I admire (what about the photo do I like/what makes it engaging – composition? Lighting? Use of color, texture, or subject?) I definitely still learn something every day! For equipment, we use a Canon 5D and most recently we picked up a Canon 70D for video, but it is also a great camera for stills as well (and much more affordable and lighter weight)! We have a few different lenses, our most used ones are a 10-18mm and a 24-105mm.
      Have a blast on your trip – will you be keeping a blog or an IG for your travels? We’d love to follow along if you do!
      -Megan

      1. Thank you so much for replying so fast! I love photography and took high school classes but I always have a hard time getting a crisp clean photo like yours, I will just keep trying and look into the canon 70D, it sounds like that one might be easier to carry. I want to start a blog but I have no idea how to, so there will be lots of researching for me to do, but once I figure it out I’ll let you know! I will keep reading your awesome advice, it is helping me get an idea on what to expect 🙂
        -Erin

  6. Hello,
    what a great and helpfull blog.
    We are planning a road trip through America and we would love to camp in parks ans forests. ( bonus are the no costs)
    As we are not from America there is a lot to researche.
    So far we are planning to buy a camper in America(not sure yet if it is possible for a foreigner) and than travel around for 1 year.
    I was wondering were do you shower and wash your clothes when you are staying on a place with no amnimeties?
    Because we are travelling with a little boy (4year) we will probably do 2 nights on a camping without amenities and 1 night with.

    If you do have any tips and absolute must sees, please let me know

    Kind regards, laura

    1. Hi Laura! So excited to hear that you’re planning your own road trip across America!

      In terms of showering and laundry: Laundry is actually fairly easy to take care of. We keep a laundry bag and when we pass through towns we’ll go to a coin operated laundromat. We can typically go 10 days between washes. That is definitely something to consider when deciding what clothes to pack for your trip. We find that while we don’t like to use up too much space with a large wardrobe, we do want to carry enough clothing that we don’t have to do laundry every few days!

      I’ll be honest, showering is a bigger issue than laundry is, especially if you tend to free camp often like we do. We have a portable shower that we bought from REI (Nemo Helio pressure shower) and that is what we use most of the time, along with biodegradable soap (Dr. Bronner’s is a popular option that is available at many stores in the US), and then we will pay for a campsite with showers when we can. I think your strategy of two nights camping without amenities and one night camping in a place with amenities like showers would be a good way of approaching it, especially with a little one in tow. Depending on the type of camper you’re looking for, you may be able to find one with a shower built in!

      As far as must see’s: so many! America is a huge country and the landscape is SO diverse. I see from your blog that you’re planning on visiting many of the National Parks – that is a great way to see the US! If I were to pick three “Don’t Miss” parks that we have visited, I would pick: Redwoods in CA, Glacier in Montana, and Badlands in South Dakota.

      We’re (online) friends with a couple who are currently traveling to all the US National Parks this year, so you may want to check out their blog to read about their trip! Their website is http://ourvie.com/

      Best of luck, and feel free to reach out any time if you have questions!

      -Megan

      1. Dear Megan,
        Thank you for youre reply.
        Off course it is possible to wash in a laundromat????( we don’t have that in holland, so i didn’t even think of that)
        We will probably use a camper with shower. Although we do have to refill it now and then. So i think 2 days camping in the wild and 1 day on a camping should be working.
        Glacier is absolutly on top of my wishlist. I have seen the beautifull picturs and i am in love.
        But i am basicly in love with every np i see.
        I will check out the site of youre friends for more inspiration.
        Kind regards,
        Laura

    2. I’ll share what we do for “showers” (you’ll see why it’s in quotes in a moment). This idea comes from years of backpacking. We have a small slide-in pop-up camper that has a small water heater and an outdoor shower, but the water tank only holds 20 gal. of water, so we like to be as water-efficient as possible since it can sometimes be challenging to find places to fill the tank. Plus, in addition to using a lot of water, the outdoor shower can be inappropriate in some places (even if wearing a swimsuit), and is not so pleasant in the colder months. What we do most of the time now is to turn on the water heater, put down an old towel on the floor of the camper, and then use small amounts of hot water to take a “sponge bath”. The old towel on the floor catches any drips. You can get remarkably clean this way between normal showers, even more so if you add some alcohol to each sponge-down. This approach also uses very little water, typically 1/2 or 2/3 gallon if you’re careful.

  7. One addition I discovered recently… Many wineries offer free camping in designated areas. We extended our trip across New York State last year by a few days after we discovered many of the wineries offered free space for RVs, trailers and other enclosed vehicles. I’m not sure this is valid in other places but seemed quite common across the Finger Lakes Wine region.

  8. Great information! thanks for putting all information together. My boyfriend and I are going on a 3 month US roundtrip by car in September…. would you say it’s save to camp on a resting area / casino / Wal-Mart? Do you camp the majority of your nights on free campground with no amenities? How do you keep yourself clean?

    I would appreciate your answer a lot 😉 since I am a little afraid of “wild” camping…?

  9. Hello, tanks for the good advice. We’ll travel like this already 15 years in Europe (2 months a year). In 1 week we’ll travel for a view days to Traverse City (USA, Michigan). From there we borrow a car and we’ll make a trip from Traverse City, to Montreal and Quebec and back by Vermond, Toronto and Detroit. We’ll like to be as much as possible in the nature areas. If someone have good ideas for those areas,… Please let us know.
    If someone wants to make a tour in Europe than let me know and I’ll give you some tips: Ewartvanderputten@gmail.com

  10. There’s a picnic site just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, as you’re passing through the Pishgah National Forest. It’s one stop away from the Pishgah Inn…and the site is PRIMO for free car-camping. You can’t tent camp there, but it’s mostly unpatrolled, dogs are allowed on site, AND there are bathrooms… This is all like 10 minutes out of Asheville and SUPER close to some great hikes leading to waterfalls (beat the summer camps and arrive at the falls around 7-9am for undisturbed swims!)

  11. Good article, lots of good info help.
    In a pinch if u travel on a scenic highways or the back byways often you can just pull over off the median if it is not private property and car camp. I like to call the local lawenforcement in the area and just give them a heads up that I’m not in trouble and just was tired, tell them the milemarker and 90% of the time they will tell you to be safe and have a good night.
    Hostels, & gyms are also a great way to get clean and take showers on the road, most will let you bathe for less than 5 dollars.

  12. Another great idea is to join a gym that has locations across USA they all have showers . You can also shower at truck stops. Pay per use but cheap. Great info. Getting ready to go for a minute nth or so across the states. Can’t wait.

  13. Missouri conservation areas have designated camping areas that are free and some even have grills… as far as Wal-Mart’s go, Ohio is the most anti truck/rv place you can get.

    They even have 13 foot high barriers at their entrances so trucks revs and busses can’t enter

    1. Pretty much ever offramp in NS you’ll see someone parked overnight. Truckers do it all the time and it’s just what is done there. For tenting I’m not as sure but I have done some free tent camping in NB along the Fundy foot path.

  14. thanks for the information. I love learning new things. I knew about Walmart and the various truck stops, but the National Forests was a new one for me. I have found that many free-campgrounds to be quite nasty but not because of the managers but because of some of the people. You get what you pay for, I guess.

    1. look our for terrorists in the us mountain states, esp arizona

      the rangers rarely go out to police these areas & fuss over non hunters/terrorists but the h’s/t’s are not bothered

      gov parks should be either for camping or for hunting & not mixt together

  15. This guide is absolutely incredible. I have bookmarked it and used it many time. Many thanks for putting this all together.

  16. Wal-Mart calls it customers that take longer to make up their minds. Second most Wal-Mart’s only own the footprint of the store. Their parking lots are often owned by the managment company that rents to other stores near the Wal-Mart.

  17. I’ve heard cabelas is a good place to spend the night. I’ve done it once when looking for a safe place to sleep (falling asleep at the wheel) and knew the parking lot was safe and well lit. I’ve heard they have a policy that encourages overnight RV parking.

    I’m building a camper van and will be doing a 6 week tour of the US for my business. I’m also planning on boondocking seasonally in Canada and am looking for something longer term for that.

    1. We’ve heard about Cabelas too. As always with these private institutions (Wal-Mart, Cabelas, etc), while the business itself might encourage overnight parking there can sometimes be local ordinances that expressly prohibit sleeping in your car overnight (on public or private property). It’s always a good idea to give the store a call and check with a manager.

  18. Hello,

    Great information. We are going to Canada summer 2018 and plans to rent a RV. But we thought IT would be to expansive with the camping fees – this definitely helps out!
    I have one question, how big is the bear threat at this free campsites? Do we need to worry?

    Thanks,
    Isac

    1. It’s Canada, so there are bears everywhere. However, if you keep all your food inside a hard-sided vehicle (ex: your RV) at night, then you should be fine. We didn’t see external bear box food lockers at any of the Rec Sites we visited.

  19. Hey love this so much. I’m planning a road trip to the US. just wanting some insight into when you have stayed at campgrounds or looked into them what is the general price range and what is the atmosphere like. is there much of a community when camping through america?

    1. Price ranges from as low as $5 (with very few ammenities) to up to $45 (usually they have bathrooms, hot showers, and are in a great location). There are some campsites that have great communities vibes and others with less. The more popular destinations usually have a good, communal vibe. The more remote and cheaper campsites, tend to be more isolated.

  20. Hello. You mentioned crown land in most of the provinces. I didn’t see anything about Manitoba.. Are there no places on crown land in Manitoba?

  21. So thankful to find your site, we are both active seniors (retired) and healthy, while trying to plan a trip and finding even now in January that parks that are reservable are booked up and the cost is prohibitive, we decided to explore the idea of wild camping. Thanks guys for this site and all the great tips. We plan a practice run soon.

  22. Hi! You mentioned that non-resident have to pay for a permit to camp on Crown’s Land in Canada. Do you know if it would be the same for the US? As a Canadian can I camp for free in National Forests or do I have to purchase a permit?
    -Thanks!

    1. We have not read anything to date that specifies you need to be US resident to disperse camp in the National Forest. Not ruling it out completely, but there seems to nothing publicly posted about it. And from our experience, the likelihood of running into a ranger (never mind them asking to check your legal status) is pretty low.

  23. Great info…we have been to all 49 states, dry camped most of the way to Alaska several times from Florida in our RV. Canada has been a pain to find free sites in BC…lots of rules, might as well plan on staying in a camp site about $50/night. WATCH OUT FOR THE MOSQUITOES!!! We did find grocery store in St George to dry camp in for the night but that was it. Once you get to Yukon, there are pull offs and places to stop. Alaska is a dream for dry camping. Pull offs, free water, free dump, etc and the most beautiful scenery ever. We stay off most of the interstates and travel country roads. Very important to know that lots of Canada has NO cell service but people are good about helping. Such a blessing to see America….even the wide open spaces and miles of corn fields.

  24. I am planning to load up my car (Nissan sentra) and heading up north to pa area from fl, and am looking for sites that are free for tent camping, and possible a water source since I may stay 1 day or a couple. Any suggestions for free sites up the east coast?

  25. Hey erin, Thank you veru much for great write. I’ve tried different ways to find free ideas to travel around the world but its always hard to get the free & best deals. You did a great work by revealing some of the uncovered ideas. It’ll surely work.

  26. Great info!

    Anyone have a resource for disbursed RV camping in Newfoundland? We have a 28’ with dolly and toad.

    Thanks

  27. My Dear Girl,
    many,many thanks for your superb and generous sharing of information and your time in doing so.
    I’m an old English chap ( old aged pensioner to be honest ) who has a small motor home here in UK
    Although it’s hard in our overcrowded little island I’ve been ‘ free camping ‘ off and on for the last few years.
    I do occasionally go on a paying site, mainly to make use of the facilities as required.
    Am planning to buy a v small used ( RV I believe you call them ) in USA or Canada and keep it there for several years. That way I can pop over once or twice a year and tour your beautiful countries.
    A keen fisherman, nature lover ( not nudist ! )and cook, your wealth of information on free camping and cooking will no doubt prove to be invaluable.
    PS any hints or tips on buying / insuring and running a motor home in North America gratefully received.
    Yours most sincerely,
    Chris green

  28. Thanks for your blog! There is so much interesting info on free camping or just camping freely!! I have started building my own camper that I will slide-in on my utility trailer. I will go for a few trial rides this coming spring in southwestern Ontario and then on a month long trip this summer to Quebec north shore region to Baie- Comeau, on the ferry to Matane on the Gaspe peninsula and then off to Grand Manan island in the Bay of Fundy, with a few stops to visit with my family In Dalhousie, Grand-Sault and Saint-Antoine. I’m really lookinf forward to this summer. I will document my trips on a regular basis on my blog.

  29. How do you feel about leaving your tents unattended during the day while free camping? Obviously, don’t leave valuables, but what about stealable things like chairs, camping stove, etc? Any experiences with this? Thanks

    1. For the most part, we would pack up all the stealable items into the tent, so they are out of view. Ideally, it just looks like a tent to anyone passing by. This has been fine for us for the most part, but we have had a few items stolen before. (a hammock once, and a water jug). If it’s just a for a few hours during the day, we think it’s worth the risk, but longer than that, unsavory characters might be emboldened to take a closer look.

  30. This was such an amazing read and perfect timing to find your web page 🙂 My hubby and I are in the process of planning our travel across Canada and the States via Jeep + Travel Trailer! The only thing I keep catching myself going stir-crazy over is the thought of night time – sounds ridiculous but I keep thinking “what do we do if something/someone knocks on our trailer, what if someone/something popped our tires etc” all the things that could go wrong, pop into my head!! How on earth did you manage to just travel and ensure you were safe and your mind didn’t wonder? Of course when I start thinking out loud, my hubby gets a tad anxious! I grew up camping/back packing in the middle of the mountains and never thought a single crazy thought mostly because we had quite a few of us and of course, naturally you feel safe with your parents but with just the 2 of us, our younger years we camped and had no issues… being a bit older and aware of things, I dont want this to be the only thing that freaks us out and not explore as much as we’d like – into the bush – any tips on how you managed, is a appreciated. AGAIN – LOVELY read!! 🙂

  31. I have read many articles on camping, off road travel etc but this is one of the best. I travel for extended weekends for mountain biking-hiking trips and most of the time these trips are away from hotels/motels and if there’s one, either very expensive or booked. I’m planning as we speak in buying a little rv trailer or van so I don’t have to worry about the hassles of modern conforts and crowds. With the information you provided I will be able to just “pack-leave-park-camp” and start enjoying the few “free resources” that are left out there.

    Thanks so much, continue enjoying and sharing!

  32. Absolutely loved this post. SUPER informative. I will definitely be using this when my boyfriend and I take our road trip across North America. We LOVE backpacking and hiking. I’ve started making videos about it, posting on YouTube and my blog. Check it out if you have time! sunshinelanding.com

  33. My family is looking to take a vacation somewhere off the grid that has a lot of trees and streams for us to explore. I love how you mentioned that in National Forests there are areas to backpack to and set up a campsite. These are the types of activities that my family thrives on with our vacations.

  34. You offer some great advice to everyone. We’ve camped all over the US for free in our Airstream. There’s really so many free camping sites available, but it can be difficult to know where you can camp legally. We really like BLM and US Forest Service land for camping.

    BLM is a little more open and easier to find camping spots, especially for RVs. But the USFS has recently release a great new mapping tool that helps you find free camping spots on US Forest Service land.

    We made a tutorial to show how to use the USFS free mapping tools to find RV camping spots in national forests. The approach would work for tent campers too. Check out the tutorial at http://www.rvhive.com/boondocking-on-us-forest-service-land/

    Hope to see you out there!

    1. Camping is most existing bcs there was difficult and different types there was no guide Lin the place was very peaceful like…..no one say I’m single always happy we

  35. $20-$30/night to camp? Try $40-$60+ /night in an RV! Only people on vacation can pay those rates, not full-time travelers, that’s for sure! 🙂

    Thanks for the Canada resources! This page came up first in a search on “free camping on crown land in Canada”

    Excellent article overall!

    1. We just upgraded to a camper van, which many campgrounds categorize as an RV. We have quickly been introduced into a whole new whole of campground pricing. Woah, so expensive! Glad you found the Canada section helpful. We’re looking forward to going back up there in our van.

  36. Another great idea is to join a gym that has locations across UK they all have showers. I’ve definitely read this list of best travel tips a couple of times!

  37. This is a superb and instructive post! Love the entirety of the photographs!!

    Growing up my father was an aggregate off the network camper when it came to summer get-aways, so we found a good pace some quite rough, yet stunning beautiful, off the beaten path dry camps in a great deal of the National Forests in the NW corner of the US. Customarily we would have the whole “campground’ territory to ourselves. I will consistently love those excursions, and have as of late been remembering a ton of our outdoors experiences now, more than 20 years after the fact.

  38. You made a great point about last-minute trips and how free dispersed camping can help you find a spot. My husband and I are looking for a recreation area that we can go to for our next family trip. We will keep these tips in mind as we search for a professional that can help us best.

  39. Wow – this is a super helpful article for planning a road trip in the US. Thank you. We will be pinning this to our Travel Blog Pinterest board and can’t wait to get started on our plans 🙂

    We are taking a west coast road trip late September to early October. Do you think it would be likely that we could find free camping in nearly all the major national parks? We are planning to visit Sequoia, Yosemite, Redwood, Joshua Tree, Tahoe, Death Valley, etc.

    We would love to not plan in advance and just go with the flow … but would hate to arrive somewhere and be unable to stay. Any tips and advice you have for these popular parks would be greatly appreciated.

  40. Just looked up NJ camping. Nothing anywhere near me free, if anything. What a rip off! I live by the woods and I just cannot begin to comprehend why I can’t just walk in and camp out of a tent for the night. All this land and it’s untouched. Smh. Thanks for writing a great bit of info for everyone. You can always learn something if you are willing. 🙂

  41. Super helpful info, thank you! I’m hitting the road to go cross-country for the first time, and I’m making the trip alone, planning to take my time as I go. Having these resources brings a lot of peace of mind.

      1. We travelled to the States for 3 months with a 9 yo and a 10 yo. As we wanted to experience as much as we could the variety of accommodation and places visited had us in tents, hostels, the car and motels.

        It was amazing – although a little scary sleeping in the vehicle with two kids in bear territory – Northern California – the Redwoods.

        We began the journey in British Columbia (Canada) and ended up travelling through Washington State across the country to the East Coast and then down to Key West and back over to the west.

        Washing our clothes at Laundromats, which was often as we travelled light. We stayed in a tepee, (kid’s choice) – it was cold!

        Crater Lake was a favourite and had us returning a couple of years later.

        Great memories with wonderful people.

        Now I invite you come to Australia and experience our beautiful country.

  42. This is great! I’m considering doing a cross country camping trip with my kids in June. Depends on the virus situation, but if we went I’d want to avoid people and crowds so I have been thinking about dispersed camping and BLM land. Love this page, and how it links to many resources to one spot. Thanks!

  43. Wow, I have to express my gratitude for this guide! Thank you for sharing great information! You have put all the information I was looking for in one spot. Thank you for making it easier for us!! <3

  44. Great information. Unfortunately, there are very, and I mean very few Wal-Marts that allow trucks or cars to stay overnight anymore. They used to accommodate RV’ers without a hitch. Nowadays, the City Ordinances keep that from happening. I traveled from North Carolina across to Arizona and all stops in between 2 years ago. Flagstaff AZ Walmart right off I-40, had 15+ of us there camping then. I went back last year, and the Flagstaff Police have cleared everyone out and the city put up signs all over saying “No Overnight Parking – Violators will be towed away”.
    Walmart proclaims that it is up to the specific store manager as to whether you cab stay, but that has been halted by the City Councils. In Flagstaff, Walnut Canyon is great, and right up 84 is the forest. Great place to stay for free.
    Thanks for your article.

    1. Totally agree, the number of Wal-marts that allow overnight camping has been dwindling recently. That being said, we did stay at a few Wal-Marts in Utah last year without much issue. But they’re definitely getting harder and harder to find. Good idea to have a few backup options when rolling into a new area. We’ve stayed in the National Forest outside Flagstaff for a week a few years ago. Hopefully, all the dispersed camping is still available out there. We’d love to go back.

      1. I’m leaving on another off grid living venture in a few months. Heading towards Colorado,then down to Cottonwood/Sedona. Lots of spots to stay free. Karvel Lake outside Limon is a nice 14 day spot. Then. Just outside Hugo is another little lake for 14 days. Then. Meet up with 2 other motorhome friends in Arizona. Enjoying the retired life on the road and camping.
        Happy Trails and keep safe.