2020 – BLAH!
LET’S GO CAMPING FOR FREE
Hows That for a Affordable Family Vacation
Who could have thought a year ago today our lives as we knew them would play out so differently. 2020 will definitely go down into the record books.
For most of us these days, the magical, tropical, wow factor destinations still feels so far away.
With things easing up a bit, gas prices at rates our kids have never seen, more than two thirds of Americans are taking to the US highways.
If you are waking up at home the first thing you see is waking up at home, wakeup in a camper, it’s up to you.
Ever felt like a balloon gently deflating when leaving the city in the rear view mirror
It’s all Science baby!
“We know that being surrounded by nature reduces our blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.
Whether it be the rivers of the Lone Star State calling your name,
That’s right: free RV camping. RVing has long been seen as a way to travel cheaply, but with private resorts charing per-night rental prices as high as $100 (or even more), the cost of being on the road can add up quickly. Free campgrounds allow you to save money on your accommodations, which gives you extra cash to spend where it matters: fuel, food, and fun!
Why spend insane amounts of cash just to park your RV when you’re not even going to be there for most of your vacation? Free campgrounds are a great way to lower your overall travel budget and focus on the experiences you really value.
So why not try to find a cost-free option no matter where you’re planning to spend your next vacation.
Many full-time RVers retreat to Lake Havasu during the harsh winter months, and even if you’re just a weekender, a quick trip will show you why the spot is so popular. Nestled along the California border with access to hiking, biking, and water-based outdoor activity opportunities, Lake Havasu is an amazing desert destination.
There are a variety of free campgrounds for boondockers in the area — which is one reason it’s such a popular winter spot. But perhaps the best is the stretch of BLM-owned land known as Craggy Wash, which is located an easy drive from the city and offers clean, gravel-lined spaces and decent data coverage for Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint users.
Although the access road is a bit rough, RVers traveling with rigs up to 42 feet in length have successfully accessed the campground.
Sedona may be a popular hiking destination, but it’s as well-known for its expense as its expansive views. Good thing there’s a great free campground in the area nestled right along National Forest Road 525, also known as The Main Drag.
Along with its proximity to all the Sedona attractions that drew you to the area in the first place, this campground is also quite expansive, offering space for up to 15 rigs or more according to some campers’ estimates. However, keep in mind that as you progress deeper into the campsite, the access road becomes rougher, so if you’re traveling with a large or burdensome rig, you’d do well to find a spot as close to the highway entrance as possible.
If the Grand Canyon is on your travel bucket list — and let’s be honest, it probably is — you definitely don’t want to skip a trip to Flagstaff.
Although it’s a bit of a hike from the national park gates, this northern Arizona town offers a charm all its own, including lots of shopping, restaurants, and live music thanks to its collegiate vibe.
Flagstaff also offers close proximity to Sedona, home to some of the very best hiking opportunities in the southwest. And the U.S. Naval Observatory campground is a great free camping option, offering beautiful forested paths, tree cover for shade and temperature control, and close proximity to all the attractions of town. Many campers who have stayed there report finding good data connectivity with their devices, though your mileage may vary depending on the type of service you have. Of course, with all the beauty of the natural landscape in this area, you may find yourself wanting to disconnect completely, regardless!
American Girl Mine Road – Winterhaven, California
Formerly known as Karmack, Winterhaven is a small town in California situated just across the state line from Arizona and only a few minutes from the Mexican border. It’s an expansive desert vista and a great place to camp if you’re looking for a free boondocking site that makes international travel easy.
As if its great location weren’t already enough of a draw, the free campground along American Girl Mine Road has the additional benefit of being a great beginner boondocking site. It’s easy to access even for larger RVs, and just 15 miles away from the city of Yuma, where you can stock up on supplies if you forgot anything.
You might first think of Florida or Hawaii when you think “sand dunes.” But the southwest has some amazing mounds of its own, and Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park is the place to see them.
Located in a surreal and remote landscape in the south-central section of the state, this national park is a hidden gem, and certainly one you’ll be glad you took the time to get to.
If you’re looking for free camping in this part of Colorado, one great option is the BLM campground at Sacred White Shell Mountain. Campers rate it five stars overall, citing its stunning views, solitude and great location. It also has decent data coverage from all of the major service providers and can accommodate even large rigs, like a 39-foot fifth wheel trailer.
Jackson Mountain Road – Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Looking to enjoy all Colorful Colorado has to offer? Pagosa Springs is a Rocky Mountain paradise, complete with hot springs and a river perfect for tubing. And although the free campground at Jackson Mountain Road doesn’t have many amenities, it does offer totally free camping in close proximity to this well-loved destination.
Given the elevation, this campground is only open seasonally, and some larger RVs may have difficulty navigating the access road. Those who make it will find a beautiful and clean campground with lovely surrounding views, forest cover, low noise levels, and even passable data connectivity for those who need to get work done even when they’re off-grid.
Cherry Creek Road – San Juan National Forest, Colorado
Another southwestern gem off the beaten path, Durango, Colorado is a destination worth adding to your list, even if it’s not there yet. The town itself has an array of shopping and dining options to offer, and San Juan National Forest is easily one of the most beautiful places on earth, with snow-capped mountains in the distance year round over a foot of dense, green trees and alpine lakes.
As far as free camp grounds go in the area, the location on Cherry Creek Road is hard to beat. Although it’s not right in town, you get all the silence and solitude of one of the most beautiful landscapes in America while still having access to the urban adventures of Durango. Some connectivity is available, depending on your carrier, though if you’re serious about staying connected, a cell booster may be helpful.
Where to Rent A Camper
Miami Beach may get all the glory, but the southwestern portion of Florida is, by our account, a whole lot nicer. You’ll notice a more laid-back pace and quieter waterfronts less ravaged by rampant tourism, nestled into woodland communities where southern hospitality is still a thing. Deep Creek Preserve is a campground offered by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and it’s free to camp in for up to seven days.
Because the campground is immediately adjacent to the highway, there is some noise, according to Campendium reviewers… but given the price and the fact that it’s less than a half hour’s drive to the gulf, we feel like it might be a worthy trade! (Please keep in mind that reservations are still required, even though the accommodations are free.)
Another campground offered by Florida’s Wastewater Management District, Hickory Hammock offers free camp sites just outside of Sebring, Florida, making it the perfect home base for your central Florida adventures. It’s dry camping, so you may want to plan your travels for fall or winter so as to avoid the hottest portion of Florida’s calendar year… but no matter when you come, it’s a convenient location with spacious campsites for rigs of up to 36 feet in length or so, with vault toilets, wooded walking trails, and fire rings available.
(Please keep in mind that reservations are still required, even though the accommodations are free.)
Blackwell Horsecamp – Hoosier National Forest, Indiana
It’s a lot harder to come by free campsites in the midwest than it is in the far west. But still, if you do a little digging, you can occasionally find a hidden gem — which is exactly how we’d characterise Blackwell Horsecamp. This green spot in the Hoosier National Forest looks like something out of a magazine ad, with rolling green hills and picturesque fences, and yet it’s totally free to camp in and even offers pit toilets. The location is convenient to the city of Bloomington, so you can easily get to town if you need to — but given the solitude, silence, and scenery in the forest, chances are you’re going to want to stay put.
Maine’s coast the kind of place you have to see to believe — all waves crashing against granite rock faces, punctuated by lighthouses. Located just outside of Eastport along the Canadian border, Reversing Falls is a great home base for those looking to make serious inroads in their northeastern explorations.
The campground offers generously-sized spots with waterfront views and a secluded locale for quiet camping filled with solitude. Moose Island is the center of life in this area, so be sure to take the toad out for a visit and to discover some new shops, restaurants, and neighborhoods.
Just on the south side of the epic bridge into Michigan’s famed Upper Peninsula, French Farm Lake Campground gives you easy access to all of Michigan’s attractions, including Mackinaw City itself, for free. According to Campendium reviewers, there are 6 marked sites and approximately 6-8 unmarked sites to choose from, and the access road is a little rocky, so beware if you’re driving a large or sensitive motorhome or travel trailer
Glacier National Park is one of those places that’s so freaking pretty, it doesn’t even look real. It honestly feels like walking into a desktop background.
That said, it’s not surprising that the word’s out on exactly how gorgeous this location is… and given its very short window of opportunity (thanks to its extreme northern location), the nearby campgrounds can get very crowded — and very expensive — during the short Montana summer.
In most cases, there aren’t many ways around these problems. In all honesty, we recommend you make reservations well ahead of time and don’t make last-minute plans to visit Glacier. But if you do find yourself in the area with a few days to spare and you’re driving a very small RV or sleeper van, there is an option that we couldn’t resist putting on this list: a free camp site right outside of the gateway town of West Glacier on the Middle Fork Flathead River, right off of Blankenship Road.
Although it’s free and the views are generous, access to this campground is quite limited. Campers have reported success with trailers of up to 20 feet in length, but generally, the smaller and spryer your RV, the better your chances are of getting to this location.
Telephone Cove Road – Searchlight, Nevada
Lake Mead is considered an outdoor playground for those who call this part of the desert southwest home, and even if you’re from further afield, one visit will show you why it’s so popular. Nevada is home to lots of wide open spaces, making it a great place to find BLM-owned land that’s friendly to dispersed campers, but Telephone Cove takes the cake when it comes to location and cleanliness.
The access road is more than four miles of dirt, and it can be a bit of a bumpy ride, but Campendium reviewers say that even larger motorhomes and fifth wheels can make it with patience. Just take it slow and don’t rush… which shouldn’t be a difficult task, given the beautiful surroundings.
Northern New Mexico is simply stunning — and the word is out. Maybe it’s partially Breaking Bad tourism or maybe it’s just plain old word of mouth, but no matter how you slice it, Taos, Santa Fe, and even Albuquerque are experiencing an influx of visitors.
Particularly around Santa Fe and the resort destination of Taos, prices can get pretty steep for campsites. Which is why we recommend the Cebolla Mesa Campground, where you’ll get all the stunning New Mexico skies and easy access to nearby attractions like the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, and the ski slopes (and in summer, hiking trails!) of Taos.
Cebolla Mesa is located in a small town called Questa which is on the Enchanted Circle, an 80-mile scenic drive you absolutely have to take while in New Mexico.
Sugar Hill Fire Tower – Watkins Glen, New York
Watkins Glen is a stunning segment of the Finger Lake area of upstate New York, home to what is sometimes referred to as the Grand Canyon of the east. And while the campgrounds in the state park fill up fast (and do still come with a nightly fee attached, even if it’s not as much as you’d pay at a resort), there is a free camping option in the area that’s so nice, Campendium reviewers agree that it’s hard to believe it’s actually free.
The free campsites under the Sugar Hill Fire Tower offer bathrooms and water spigots throughout the property, and while there are no showers, there is a designated area for dish washing. Reviewers say the campground is sparkling clean and the on-site staff are courteous and helpful, making this free campsite a no-brainer if you get there in time to find a spot.
Portland may be the best-known part of Oregon these days, but there’s so much stunning countryside to see outside of the city — including the alien-looking landscape outside of the Rufus Landing Recreation Area in the town of the same name. A couple hours east of the state’s major city, this smaller town offers outdoor recreational opportunities as well as much-needed solitude along with its epic scenery. Campendium reviewers say the site is easy to access and offers data connectivity for Verizon and AT&T users, and it’s nestled right along the mighty Columbia River. Stay for free for up to 14 nights!
Nomad View – Buffalo Gap National Grassland, South Dakota
If you think South Dakota is nothing but long, flat stretches, think again. This state is home to a wild diversity of sights and denizens, including Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore National Monument, and roaming herds of buffalo along its rippling grasslands — which, even if they are flat, are certainly not boring.
The Nomad View dispersed camping area is aptly named; it offers some of the most stunning and surreal views in the entire country completely free of charge. RVers with rigs of up to 44 feet in length have reported success in accessing the campground, where you can set up for up to 14 days without paying a dime.
Magnolia Beach County Park – Port Lavaca, Texas
Yes, it does exist. These stunning waterfront sites in Port Lavaca, Texas will make you feel like you’ve taken an epic, tropical vacation without ever leaving the states — and you’re just a short drive from southern Texas comforts like barbecue as well as all the things to do and see in Houston and San Antonio.
This campground’s high camper ratings are thanks to its location, ease of access, and straight up beauty. Plus, it’s got data coverage with all major carriers, so you can stay connected while you disconnect from reality.
North Beach – Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
Padre Island is a popular vacation spot for Texans as well as folks from further afield, boasting a diversity of sea and avian life it’s hard to come across anywhere else in the country. It’s a barrier island about as close to a Mexican beach town as you can get without crossing the border… and if you stay at North Beach, you’ll get access to all of it without paying a dime in campground accommodation fees. Almost sounds too good to be true, right?
Although there’s very little cell phone service (which you may just consider a benefit rather than a drawback), North Beach does have dump station and water access, and it’s right on the water, close enough for the sounds of the surf to sing you to sleep. And it’s easy to access, which means that even big rigs can camp out in style, totally free of charge.
Where to Rent A Camper
Wedge Overlook – Little Grand Canyon, Utah
With five national parks and far more state parks, national monuments, and other sites of interest, Utah is a veritable dreamscape for the outdoorsperson — and as such, yes, it can be very expensive to camp there. That’s especially true during the most popular travel seasons in spring and fall, when the weather is just gorgeous and the crowds are flocking in.
Fortunately, all that empty space Utah boasts does equate to some great free campground options, including Wedge Overlook just outside of the community of Emery. In fact, the campsite is directly adjacent to a beautiful stretch of land that’s sometimes called the Little Grand Canyon of Utah — you might be able to camp right on the rim, in fact!
Separated from the highway entrance by 20 miles of dirt road, this free campground offers scenery and solitude in spades, which is probably why it’s earned five stars in almost every Campendium category. Stay for up to two weeks in this dreamlike vista completely free of charge — but there’s no water access, so be sure to bring in what you need.
Willow Springs Trail – Moab, Utah
This just in: Moab is awesome. Awesome enough that staying there can be pretty pricy, especially during the high season.
Which makes sense. This quirky Utah mountain town is the gateway to not one but two stunning national parks: Canyonlands and Arches.
Although it’s a little hard to find, the free campground at Willow Springs Trail is a total Easter egg. You’ll get quiet, star-filled nights and an incredible proximity to Arches (which helps you get in the gates early enough to actually enjoy your day) — and yes, it’s entirely free of charge. However, that kind of deal doesn’t stay a secret, which means that this free campground gets pretty crowded. You’ll want to roll up early to have the best shot of actually getting a site, and be sure you have a backup plan in place just in case.
Looking for a home base from which to explore Zion National Park
– or the southwestern Utah towns of Hurricane or St. George? The BLM’s North Creek dispersed campground is a great retreat, with beautiful views and the wide-open southwestern skies that make this area so special.
RVs of up to 38 feet in length have successfully navigated into this free campground, which also boasts workable cell service for users of Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.
The site is also popular with tent campers, so if you are planning on running your generator, please be courteous to your neighbors!
Forest Road 29 – Sappho, Washington
If you haven’t been to the Olympic Peninsula yet, boy, are you in for a treat. Within one (admittedly gigantic) landmass, you can travel from snow-capped alpine mountains to dense rainforest to coastal beaches lined with haystack rocks, all within the same day — if you’re dedicated.
You’ll find plenty of camping options along the way, but most of them will charge you a good deal for their services. But the campground off Forest Road 29 in the small village of Sappho, Washington is free for up to 14 days for the lucky few who get there in time… there are only three campsites!
The good news is, this location remains unknown to most, and some campers say they had the space entirely to themselves for nights on end.
An easy drive to the Bamforth National Wildlife Refuge, Curt Gowdy State Park, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and so many other destinations, Laramie, Wyoming is a great spot to set up camp while you’re wandering around the mountain west — and if you’d like to do so for free, don’t miss the Lake Hattie Public Access Area. Clean, level campsites are available right along the Lake Hattie waterfront, giving you great access for boating, fishing, or just plain drinking in the view.
While nights are quiet and starry-skied, the campground can fill up during the daytime, when visitors use the area’s boat launch to take to the waters. Keep in mind also that this boondocking site is quite remote, so you definitely need to pack in all the things you need for your adventure… and pack them back out afterwards, of course!
Yellowstone National Park is the absolute tip-top of many RVers’ to-travel-to lists — and we certainly understand why. After all, this landscape is so stunning and special it inspired legislators at the time to name it the first national park not only in America, but in the entire world.