The first thing to understand is that free RV camping is not the same thing as free RV parking. RV Camping, on the other hand, entails staying multiple days in an RV at a specific location. You will find most of these free sites on public land. There are also some free RV camping sites on private property. For instance, timber companies will often allow camping on land they own. However, the majority of the free RV camping sites will be found on public land.
The Best Places to Go RV Camping for FREE are:
- BLM Locations
- National Forests
- National Parks
Free RV Camping at BLM Locations
Within the United States, you can often find free RV camping sites on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas. You will also discover free RV camping opportunities in Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), state forests, and grasslands.
It is essential to check with the proper authorities when taking advantage of free RV camping opportunities and to obey any rules or regulations. You may find certain high-use areas or wildlife habitats marked with “no camping” signs.
Other fragile environments may have specific rules to minimize damage. These rules could entail things like avoiding the living biological crusts found in specific desert environments or damage to vulnerable plants found in higher alpine areas.
However, a great deal of public land is available for responsible use. Obeying these rules and restrictions will help guarantee that they remain so into the future.
Free RV Camping in National Forests
Free camping in national forests can save you a great deal of money. Often called “dispersed camping,” these sites offer a quieter, more rustic camping experience. However dispersed camping usually means no provided amenities such as restrooms, shower facilities, hookups, or fire pits. It will be just you and your RV. Dispersed camping is legal camping in undeveloped campsites which are often located on forest access roads. To find info on every national forest in the US just click here!
Dispersed camping does require a bit more effort than pulling up to an established campground, and it may not be for everyone. Forest access roads aren’t always easy to find, and you’ll have to be willing to search for that perfect spot. However, for those RVers who enjoy more solitude and the pristine wilderness of our national forests, it can be an enriching experience.
Dispersed camping in national forests is not just a great way to save money. It is also a way to protect the more popular campsites from overcrowding. It is essential that, when using these undeveloped campsites, you practice the “Leave No Trace Behind” principles and leave your site as you found it. Following this practice will help guarantee that continued used of sites like these will continue.
If you’re interested in exploring a more primitive form of camping, this is a fantastic opportunity. You may find that dispersed camping in our national forests becomes your preferred way to see the country.
Free RV Camping in National Parks
National Parks are a different animal altogether. There are 59 areas which have an official designation as a “national park.” Managed by the National Park Service, these are historical and protected areas in the United States and include things like national monuments, seashores, and other places of historical interest. For a free list of US National Parks just click here!
National Parks can be vast, such as the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Parks. They can sometimes be as small as a single building such as the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania. Many areas designated as National Parks do not offer camping, and of the few that do, few provide campsites suitable for RVs.
However, all is not lost. There are a few National Parks that allow overnight RV parking, but generally camping is restricted to established campgrounds.
As an alternative, there are areas located just outside a National Park’s boundaries that offer free RV camping. And sometimes they even have a great view of the National Park.
Three examples are:
- The “Wall” is a rugged escarpment, or steep slope, bordering and overlooking Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Dispersed camping is allowed along the top of the wall, just outside the park boundary. The view of the park is spectacular.
- “Spread Creek Meadow” offers dispersed camping with a great view of the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. You can splash around in Spread Creek to cool off. Access can be hard bot doable for larger RVs. Watch out for mosquito season!
- Carbella Recreation Site in Montana offers dispersed camping just north of Yellowstone National Park with a terrific view of the Yellowstone River and the mountains.
RELATED READING: Check out our article 11 Essential Tips for RV Camping in National Parks to learn some great info about camping in National Parks.
List Places to RV Park for Free
There are other places you can consider when you need a free overnight RV camping or parking spot. It is highly recommended that you ask for permission before using an open spot for parking your RV for the night. If you don’t ask permission and “sneak” into a place, you may find yourself dealing with a trespassing ticket before you move on. Also, the smaller your RV, the better your chances are of finding places to stay.
Be smart! Be Safe! Always ask for permission.
- Truck Stops: Be considerate of the big rigs!
- Walmart: Read our article Overnight RV Parking At Walmart – Know Before You Go for a full understanding of Parking overnight at Walmart.
- Nightclubs: If you had one too many.
- Fraternal Organizations: VFW, Elks, etc. often allow free RV camping for members.
- Parks: Community, City, County, and State parks sometimes offer free RV camping.
- Churches: Call ahead for permission.
- RV Dealers: Some dealers allow overnight stays.
- Cracker Barrel Restaurants: Typically allow overnight RV parking. Check out our article called Can RVs Park Overnight at Cracker Barrel? for full info.
- Highway Rest Areas: All rest areas allow a few hours of free RV parking.
- Big Box Retailers: Kmart, Best Buy, Sams Club and Costco will often allow overnight RV parking.
- Roadside Parks & Picnic Areas
There are a lot of free RV camping and parking possibilities. Often the key is to ask first. Always play it safe. It is a good idea to consider your surroundings carefully. If you feel uncomfortable with the area, it may be a good idea to move somewhere else. Better safe than sorry! You can also use our favorite App called OvernightRVParking to find great FREE places to park your RV for a night.
Are There Free RV Camping Locations that Provide Hookups?
There are some free camping facilities with hookups available around the country. A few might require a small donation. Most of them provide water fill and dump stations. Some also offer water and electric on the site. There are a few that even have full hookups.
Waylon Jennings Park in Littlefield, Texas, is an example. To thank them for supporting him early in his singing career, Waylon Jennings donated this campground to his home town. The thought was that having a campground would help bring revenue to the small community. Parks like this, either publicly or privately owned, can offer free campsites because small towns or businesses subsidize them.
For less adventurous RVers, campgrounds like those mentioned here with free or low-cost sites might be safer than dispersed camping or parking off the beaten track where there is no security.
Best Resources for Finding Free RV Camping
So, how do you find these free RV campsites? Finding free RV camping locations does become more comfortable over time. It can take a while to understand how to find them. However, there are several ways to get off to a great start.
One of the best ways to find free RV parking spots is to ask the local police or sheriff’s office. Drop-in or give them a call. You might be amazed at the terrific camping spots they will direct you to, especially when dealing with smaller communities.
Maps are also an essential tool for finding good free RV camping sites. Another option is clear and concise directions from another RVer (You will still want the map). A great map choice for finding free RV camping locations in the west is Benchmark Maps. For all other states, National Geographic Recreation Atlas and the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer are highly-recommended.
Electronic navigation has dramatically improved, and GPS systems with added topographical mapping will get you just about anywhere. This equipment is perfect for the adventuresome RV explorers. Also, the USA RV Camping Map provides links to information on each state’s public land resources, as well as many free RV camping locations. Public land does offer the best free RV camping locations. But you will have to do your homework to find the best places, especially if you are heading into an unfamiliar area.
Tips When RV Camping for Free
It is essential to keep the size of your vehicle in mind as you venture out into more remote sites. When it comes to dispersed RV camping locations, often, the smaller the RV, the better. You don’t want to get stuck and then have a long walk through rough country to get help.
Free RV camping is widely available on public lands throughout the western USA. And to some lesser extent in the eastern US, where there is much more privately owned property. Some states allow free or low-cost RV camping on public lands. As an example, Arizona offers a public lands recreation permit ($20) that allows free RV camping on state lands. While it is not entirely free, it is pretty darn close.
As you can see, there are many opportunities for free, or at least, extremely low-cost, RV camping here in the United States. These free options can offer RVers watching their budget a great way to save money on their open-road vacation adventures and still have a fantastic experience. They can also provide the more adventurous RVer with opportunities to experience quieter, more primitive RV camping experience.
And, while it can take time to learn the ins-and-outs of locating free RV camping sites, or locating those remote “dispersed” campsites, there are many tools available to help you get started. Once you have learned to make the most of this kind of RV experience, you may find it becomes your preferred method for exploring the country.
For some more info about free RV Camping, please check out some of our other articles below:
- How To Find Free RV Camping
- The 5 Best RV Campground Memberships
- Harvest Hosts – A Great Way to Camp for Free!
- 10 Best Tips for Living In a Camper Full Time
- Can RVs Park Overnight at Cracker Barrel?
- Is Overnight RV Parking at Costco Allowed?
- Overnight RV Parking At Walmart – Know Before You Go
- Free Overnight RV Parking
- Why Are RV Park Rates So High?
- Can I Live in an RV on My Own Property?
Do you have any great free places to camp in your RV that you would like to share? Please leave your comments below and help a fellow RVer!