One of the questions we are asked most frequently is where we sleep while traveling.
Possibly the most expensive parts of traveling and road tripping is the cost of finding a place to camp, and we have saved a ton of money by camping or car camping for free. Out of all the nights we’ve spent on the road, we have paid for only a handful of them.
Though we appreciate the need for a safe place to sleep, we are
cheap not so keen on paying a ton of money just to pitch a tent or park the car.
Especially because we tend to frequent National Parks, which are often the most expensive and difficult places to find a reservation, we truly love that we can camp right outside many of the parks at no cost.
Ok, here’s our big secret: freecampsites.net.
This website, along with others like campendium.com, and apps like UltimateCampgrounds are awesome resources for finding places you can sleep for free in the Unites States- from highway rest stops and Walmart parking lots, to BLM or National Forest Service lands.
If you are looking for a place to camp, and don’t want to pay 45 dollars to be surrounded by RV’s, drunk neighbors, and screaming children, and you don’t mind not having access to water, bathrooms, or trash cans, this is the way to go. We especially love the BLM and National Forest Service campgrounds that are featured. They lead you down long dirt roads to some incredible places to pitch a tent. Pulling into one of these locations in the dark, we never know what to expect. And we almost always wake up to the most beautiful forest or mountain sceneries, after a quiet and peaceful night’s sleep.
America’s Public Lands do offer great fee-based campgrounds- some of the best places we’ve stayed cost $40 a night, and we woke up in the center of Yosemite National Park. However, most National Forests and BLM lands also offer free, dispersed camping. These primitive sites generally don’t provide bathrooms, hookups for electricity or water, or even fire pits- but we think it’s a fair trade off!
If you do decide to seek out free camping on public lands, we urge you to do your research first. Some locations may require camping permits, have limits on your allowed length of stay, or have different restrictions based on the time of year. Many of these remote areas may be impassable in the winter. Fire restrictions are often in effect due to drought and risk of wildfires. Check with local recreational departments, or online at the BLM or Forest Service websites to get up-to-date information.
Make sure you are prepared ahead of time, as you can expect to lose cell coverage the deeper you venture into the wilderness. We frequently spend an hour or so in a coffee shop deciding where to spend our next night, and still we are always (pleasantly) surprised by where we end up. We have spent several late evenings bouncing down a long dirt road, pondering if we should have turned around miles ago, when suddenly we arrive at a designated spot and are home for the night!
If you are willing to spend some time exploring, and forego luxuries like toilets and garbage cans, we promise that you will not be disappointed!
**The only time we have ever had a negative experience while boon-docking was due to human disrespect of the environment. We arrived at a beautiful wooded campsite, and found an ugly amount of trash scattered all over the surrounding area- the fire pit was even overflowing with garbage.
We were astonished that people could just toss their beer cans, empty propane tanks, food wrappers, and cigarette butts into this pristine woods. We immediately cleaned up the site and were able to enjoy the rest of our evening, but it left an extremely sour taste in our mouths.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE respect our public lands. Practice Leave No Trace principles, and leave the places you visit even better than you found them.