With the right planning and preparation, you can cut campground fees from your life. It’s easy to find free overnight RV parking for your road trips. You can also find free long term campsites throughout the United States. All it takes is a little bit of research and networking.
Most free RV camping sites and overnight parking spots do not have utility hookups. You must be prepared to dry camp if you want to save money. Dry camping is often referred to as boondocking.
This means that you have your own source of water and electricity. Most people who dry camp at free campsites have a large water tank installed in their RV. Generators and solar panels supply electricity when you are off the grid. You may want a satellite internet connection if you camp in very remote locations.
In cities and large towns, you will be able to find places to park for a night or two before moving on. Long term free RV camping sites are usually located off the beaten path. You will find them in rural and wilderness locations. Smaller RVs with good ground clearance are best for these types of campsites. Make sure you have a full tank of gas before you leave the last town on your route. You will also need groceries and other essentials before you leave civilization.
Boondocking requires more self-reliance than the traditional RV lifestyle. You will need a well-stocked first aid kit and basic CPR and first aid training. You should enjoy being in nature and understand basic outdoor survival skills. You can expect to encounter wild animals, insects, severe weather and isolation. While your RV provides a radical level of comfort, when you boon-dock you are still camping.
If you are new to camping and boondocking, take some time to practice before going to your first long term site. Spend time living in your RV without hookups at a traditional campground or even in your own yard. Research dry camping and boondocking online and build your skill set. Build a social network of people who are experienced with free RV camping. Make sure you have a support network!
Learning how to find free RV camping sites is worth the effort. A slow paced low-cost lifestyle outside of the rat race is what most of us are looking for. Let me show you how it’s done!
Finding Free Overnight RV Parking
Going on road trips is what RVing is all about. When you’re on the move all you need is a place to stop for the night. Whether you are in a big city or a small town, there are almost always options for free overnight RV parking.
Most free overnight RV parking sites are going to have issues with light and noise pollution. Pull down your blackout shades, take a dose of melatonin and put on some chill background music. You will get you the solid night of sleep you are craving.
Staying Overnight at Truck Stops
Truck stops and travel centers are a favorite option for many campers. The Flying J, Love’s and Pilot are three major truck stop chains that provide free overnight RV parking. Most other truck stop franchises also provide free overnight RV parking. it is always wise to check with the manager on duty to confirm that there are no fees.
Truck stops usually have showers, laundry centers and restaurants available. You can refill your water tank at many truck stops and some of them have dump stations. They also have a good selection of merchandise geared towards people living on the road. Truckers going your direction can be priceless sources of information. Talk to them when you are researching the next leg of your trip.
Most truck stops have a separate lot for RVs, but when it is full the employees will often tell you to park in the truck lot. Look around and consider how full the truck lot is. You are smaller than the trucks. There is a chance that you could be hit by a driver who was not looking out for an RV sized vehicle. If the lot is almost full you should drive a bit further and look for another overnight parking location.
Be considerate of the other people at the truck stop. Don’t hold up gas and water filling stations. Don’t extend your slides. Remember that everyone there is as road-weary as you are. Be a good member of the traveling community.
Catch A Nap At An Interstate Rest Stop
Sometimes you get stuck on a long stretch of road where there isn’t a town or city. In these situations, interstate rest stops are the way to go. Just like truck stops, there are usually designated parking areas for large vehicles.
Many rest stops have nice public restrooms and good lighting. Some have on-site security and public areas for picnics and outdoor recreation. Other rest stops are nothing more than dark deserted parking lots on the side of the highway.
When you’re nodding off at the wheel on a long stretch of road, you’ll be happy to see the rest stop sign. Be prepared for a short stop if the place turns out to be sketchy.
Pay attention to your surroundings and safety. Don’t get out of your RV after dark. Don’t get out during the day if the rest stop appears to be deserted and un-patrolled. Lock your doors, get some sleep and move on when you are refreshed.
Some rest stops are patrolled by the police to reduce crime. This means that you may be approached by the authorities. You may be asked about your identity and activities, even if you have done nothing wrong. Make sure your paperwork is in order and within reach.
Some states do not allow overnight parking at rest stops. Do a quick Google search for the state’s rest stop policies when you pull in. If they have a limit on how long you can park then make sure to set an alarm and move on in time.
For a much more in-depth discussion about free overnight RV parking check out our article called Free Overnight RV Parking. There is a big difference between overnight parking and free camping so check out this article for all the details about free overnight rv parking and where to find it.
Big Box Stores Love Campers
While you can only find truck stops and rest stops on the interstate, almost every town in America has a Wal-Mart. Several big-box retailers let 18-wheelers and RVs park in their lots overnight. Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, Cabelas, Lowe’s and Home Depot are all known for hosting campers.
Many cities are cracking down on overnight parking. This is a side effect of their war on the homeless population. Some stores have also banned the practice after bad experiences with inconsiderate campers. Never assume that it is okay to park. Always get permission from a store manager.
Sometimes stores have a dedicated parking area for large vehicles. If you can’t find one, the best strategy is to park at the far edges of the lot. Make sure that you are not blocking traffic or taking up prime spots that should be used by the store’s customers.
When parking in big box lots, don’t break out your outdoor living room. This is not the proper environment for throwing some hot dogs on the grill. Be a considerate low footprint camper.
Check out our Free overnight parking series for lots of good info on where to park your rv for free for a night.
- Overnight RV Parking At Walmart – Know Before You Go
- Can RVs Park Overnight at Cracker Barrel?
- Is Overnight RV Parking at Costco Allowed?
Rural Solutions For Free Overnight RV Parking
What happens when you find yourself way out in the sticks and looking for a place to park? The best option is a call to the local sheriff’s office. Explain that you are traveling through the town and need a spot to park your vehicle overnight. Most small town police departments will be happy to help.
You may be given permission to park in a government-owned spot. They might put you in touch with local churches or businesses. You might even make some friends and share a meal.
Some small towns and rural areas have a history of hostility towards outsiders. Some areas have corrupt police forces that like to extort travelers for revenue. The best way to avoid these situations is to call before you arrive! If the sheriff’s department is not welcoming and helpful, heed the red flag and keep on trucking.
How To Find Long Term Free RV Camping Opportunities
Go West, Young Man!
Finding free long term camping opportunities east of the Mississippi can be challenging. Most land in this area is privately owned. The state and federally managed lands are much smaller than their western counterparts. They see more traffic and are heavily regulated.
If you are the type who loves the remote backcountry, go West. Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and California have abundant remote camping opportunities. You will need to be skilled with a map and GPS, but you will be rewarded with amazing secluded campsites.
You will have to be more creative in your search for free RV camping sites if you want to stay on the East Coast. Long term opportunities can still be found through work exchanges.
Free RV Camping On Government Land
The United States Forest Service allows free dispersed camping for 14 consecutive days. The BLM also offers free dispersed camping, but their lands can be harder to navigate than the USFS. I recommend that you start your adventure in a National Forest.
Dispersed camping requires no reservations or notification. You simply show up and camp almost anywhere within the boundaries of the public land. Many of the remote access roads have pull off spots that are perfect for parking a small RV.
You must follow Leave No Trace camping principles. You will have to take in everything you need and pack out everything when you leave. You should make as little impact on the natural environment as possible.
You will be allowed to make fires as long as there is not a fire ban in place. You should always check with the local office to find out the current fire restrictions. You may only burn dead wood, you cannot cut down any live wood to use for fires. Make sure that you know how to safely start, supervise and put out fires.
There are no amenities or supervision available, this is true wilderness camping. Make sure you are prepared before embarking on this adventure. It is important to have a first aid kit and an emergency plan. Get started by reading this guide on dispersed camping.
Once you are ready for this style of camping, you need to identify the area that you will be staying. For the US Forest Service, you can use this map to locate a National Forest or Grassland. When you’ve identified a forest or grassland you want to camp in, pull up the information page for that property.
As an example, this is the info page for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests in Arizona. On the left-hand side of the page, you will find the contact information for the Supervisor’s Office. Give them a call and tell them that you are looking for detailed maps of the area. Also, ask for information about any fire restrictions. The rangers can give you recommendations for good spots to park an RV for dispersed camping.
Make sure that you have a printed map and a well-stocked RV before heading to the spot you have chosen to camp. Some areas will not have cell service, so you may not be able to call for help. Forest access roads are not included in most GPS programs.
The USFS produces maps of its internal access roads for each property that they manage. These are called Motor Vehicle Use Maps. You can find them online, or request a printed version at the local office when you arrive.
It is a good idea to arrive in the morning and check in at the Forest Service office before finding a camp spot. The rangers are very helpful and can give you valuable information. As you become more experienced you may skip this step sometimes. Stopping by the office is always recommended for newbies.
Work Exchange Opportunities for Free RV Camping
There are many work exchange opportunities that offer long term free RV camping sites. Some of these sites will be for dry camping, but many offer full hook-ups. Sometimes you will be required to do a certain number of work hours per week for the property owner. Other opportunities simply need you to be present as a caretaker.
If you would like a long term campsite on government land, you can be a park host. Go to Volunteer.org and search for park host opportunities. Leave everything on their search form blank. Select “RV/Trailer Pads” for your Housing & Amenities options. My most recent result returned 487 volunteer positions that have a free RV space.
Workamping provides free RV camping spots on private property. You agree to do part-time work for the property owner. Snowbird RV Trails has published a comprehensive list of free online resources. Use this list to help you find the perfect Workamping opportunity.
There are several other work exchange websites you can search for opportunities. They do not cater to RVers. Use their search filters can help you find opportunities that offer free RV camping.
Use HelpX.net & Workaway.info to Find Free Rv Camping Locations
These sites both require low-cost annual memberships. They each have thousands of listings. About half of the listings are placed by rural property owners. They are looking for part-time general agricultural labor. These hosts have ample land available for you to park your RV.
IC.org is Another Good Way to Find Free RV Camping
This free website maintains a directory of intentional communities throughout North America. Many communities are in their beginning stages and are looking for people to come live on the land. You can stay in your RV while enjoying communal gardening and building projects.
Use their Advanced Search feature to identify communities that are a good fit for you. Remember to use the search term “RV” to find communities that offer free RV camping.
Gold Prospecting Clubs Have Free RV Camping – Sometimes
Gold prospecting clubs acquire rights to many gold mine claims. They manage the properties and their members have access to all the land. Many prospecting clubs allow their members to camp at claim sites on a long term basis. Most clubs provide training events where you can learn how to pan and mine for gold. Some clubs provide onsite equipment at the claims. You get to keep all the gold that you find!
Choosing a club requires careful research. Some clubs only let members go to the claims for short periods of time. These clubs are focused on providing hobbyist education and socializing. Other clubs are all about providing unfettered property access to their members. That’s the kind of club you want to join.
When you are researching prospecting clubs you should consider four things.
- How many claims do they own?
- How much total land do they manage?
- How many long term camping spots are available?
- How much are the membership fees?
The Gold Miner’s Headquarters provides a free directory of prospecting clubs. Many of them don’t have websites, so you will have to call them on the phone. You’ll have to figure out what you are looking for and analyze each club’s offerings. With careful research and due diligence, you can secure a beautiful remote campsite.
There are plenty of opportunities to find free RV camping all over the country to help save yourself money. And, you might find a beautiful location off the beaten trail.
For some other Free RV Camping options check out our articles:
- Harvest Hosts – A Great Way to Camp for Free!
- The Best RV Camping In (and Near) Yellowstone
- The 5 Best RV Campground Memberships
Do you have any secrets to finding free RV camping you can share? Please leave your comment below!
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