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Have you ever tried to go on a last-minute RV camping trip? If so, you probably know how hard it can be to find a campsite, if not downright impossible.
We’re sharing 10 of our best tips for last-minute RV camping trips in this article.
With these tips, you’ll be able to find last-minute RV camping accommodations almost all the time, as long as you’re willing to have a little flexibility and an open mind. Let’s get into it.
1. Find a Boondockers Welcome Location for a Last-Minute RV Trip
Boondockers Welcome is perfect for last-minute camping arrangements. If you’re unfamiliar with Boondockers Welcome, this RV camping membership is like an Airbnb for RVers.
Boondockers Welcome connects wayward RVers with land and property owners for free overnight parking all over North America. But, unlike Airbnb, Boondockers Welcome is free for guests, aside from the low yearly membership fee.
Boondockers Welcome is great for RV travelers who need a great spot to stay the night while on the road, and it’s also great for last-minute RV camping reservations when all the nearest campgrounds are full.
When you sign up for Boondockers Welcome, you get access to their network of over 2,975 locations across North America. For free!
Boondockers Welcome hosts open up their yards, fields, parking lots, and extra space for you to have private, free, and safe RV camping.
While Boondockers Welcome locations are dry camping only – i.e., no hookups – a significant portion does offer amenities like water, wifi, or even electricity.
When you book your reservation, the host’s profile will show you what hookups are available, but for a last-minute RV camping trip, plan for boondocking conditions.
2. Camping Last-Minute With Harvest Hosts Can Be Amazing
Harvest Hosts is another amazing free camping membership for RVers similar to Boondockers Welcome.
This membership differs by the type of property offered. Instead of offering stays with private property owners, Harvest Hosts has a network of over 3,400 businesses that offer their property up for RVers to stay one night for free.
Harvest Hosts locations run the gamut from wineries, breweries, churches, farms, museums, etc. Golfers can enjoy many courses and country clubs by upgrading their membership for the same price as a single greens fee.
If you’ve ever wanted a really unique RV stay (like camping at an alpaca farm) – Harvest Hosts is for you!
The best part is: even when most campgrounds are full, you’re likely to find a Harvest Hosts location (or several) in the area ready to accommodate you.
Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome used to be separate companies. But, these two companies have joined forces to bring RVers even more camping locations for free – all for one annual membership price for either membership type.
Look for their combined mobile app releasing in June 2022!
3. Find a Free Campsite on BLM land out West
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages publically owned land mainly in the western states. This federal government agency oversees the usage and preservation of the land, much of which is free to camp on.
Since they’re public, they’re open for recreational use. RVers can camp on many different acres of BLM land across the United States, usually for up to 14 days consecutively.
Some BLM areas will require a permit to access and camp on the land, but most don’t. If it’s required, it will be noted on the app or website that you find the spot on.
There are millions of acres of BLM land in the US, with the best and most abundant free RV camping being out west.
Camping on BLM land can be as remote as you want it to be, or you can meet up with other people or camping groups and clubs.
You’ll see a much more diverse group of people on BLM land than you will in campgrounds – and that can be a good thing! You can camp by yourself or meet people from all walks of life.
4. Camp in National Forests
Did you know you can camp for free in National Forests? Well, it’s true!
National Forests are also public lands that are managed by the USFS, United States Forestry Service.
And you can camp for free off of many National Forest Roads outside of developed campgrounds. Each National Forest website will have a map and it will tell you spots where camping is allowed and not allowed.
In most areas, you can camp between 14 and 16 days. There are rules which vary from forest to forest, but expect things like:
- No camping within 100 feet of a natural water source.
- No camping within # feet or # miles of a developed campground. (The specifics of this rule will be dependent on the local forest management offices.)
- Camping is only allowed in designated areas or off of campground roads – you can’t make your own campsite by driving off the road into the forest.
Check with your local national forest ranger office or website to find where dispersed camping is allowed. This is the perfect solution for those last-minute RV camping trip plans when all the campsites are full.
5. Explore the Best East Coast Dispersed Land For Camping Last-Minute
For the East Coast in general, your best bet for finding free camping is going to be dispersed campsites in national forests.
However, once you get to Florida, you can also find free dispersed camping on public lands in five districts managed by Florida Water Management.
The Water Management Districts in Florida do the obvious: they manage the state’s water and wetlands on public lands. And, since these are public lands, many of them are open for public recreation, like dispersed camping.
This is a great way to find free camping in a state and location usually jam-packed with RVers and campers.
Since each district has its own governing body, the rules and procedures differ for each district’s sites. Some will require a permit, some will require permission, and some will require access to a locked or gated area.
The five Florida Water Management Districts are:
- Northwest Florida- Camping Information & Reservation Website
- Suwannee River- Camping Information & Reservation Website
- St. Johns River- Camping Information & Reservation Website
- Southwest Florida- Camping Information & Reservation Website
- South Florida- Camping Information & Reservation Website
You can learn more about each district and campgrounds contained within each in this article on Lets See America.
Generally, you’ll find that all the districts require reservations, but there are some first-come-first-serve locations out there. Some locations close during certain hunting seasons, so get familiar with your desired district’s calendar.
6. Moochdocking is a Great Last Minute RV Camping Trip
Moochdocking is a term RVers use to describe dry camping at a friend or family member’s house or property. Essentially: parking on a friend or family member’s driveway, street parking, side yard, or field… a.k.a. mooching, but in a mutually agreed-upon friendly way.
Similar to boondocking, moochdocking usually has no hookups. Although you might be able to get a plug-in or water hookup, depending on who you know.
If you have any friends or family members who live in a cool location or out in the middle of nowhere, take a camping trip to their place!
Moochdocking is a great way to get away from home, have a unique place to stay, and catch up with friends and family members while you’re at it.
7. Find Those Hidden Gem Campgrounds
Let’s face it: these days, most people plan their travels and campground reservations around what can be found online.
And these days, most campgrounds are found online… but not all.
Hidden gem campgrounds include those lesser-known campgrounds that are off the beaten path – and some don’t have a big online presence. These campgrounds are light on amenities, but they’re also light on price.
Start looking for these hidden gems if you’re looking for a getaway, but all the campgrounds are totally booked.
You’ll find a little-known family-run campground with a quiet and cheap location that you can use as a landing pad for a weekend (or week) full of adventure.
You can find these campgrounds using Google Maps most often – and most won’t have a social media page or website linked. This means you’ll have to make a phone call – something most people these days don’t take the time to do.
8. Focus on Little Known National, State, and County Parks
When most people plan RV camping trips, they’ll choose the big, well-known campgrounds and resorts with many amenities and things to do.
However, there are amazing lesser-known campgrounds at city parks, state parks, and national parks.
Camping at a state or national park is a true camping experience. The sites are spread out with plenty of natural scenery and privacy. They may or may not have a cell signal. And finally, they may or may not have full hookups.
If you need last-minute RV camping accommodations, check the less popular city, county, state, and national park campgrounds. And look for nearby Army Corps of Engineers (COE) parks (COE campgrounds allow everyone, unlike military base locations that serve active, veteran, and family members).
9. Try Mid-Week Reservations as a Last-Minute Camping Trip
Sometimes camping on the weekend can be downright impossible, especially if you’re looking for a spot in a popular destination at the last minute.
So what do you do if you randomly decide you really want to camp in a popular place at the last minute? You become flexible.
Plan for a mid-week camping trip instead of trying to get a last-minute RV campground trip during the weekend. It’s much easier to find an open campsite on a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday night than during the end of the week or the weekend.
Taking a mid-week camping trip has upsides like fewer crowds and cheaper gas.
10. Use Campground Finder Apps for Last-Minute Availability
If you want to look for last-minute campsite availability all in one place without having to call a ton of different campgrounds, you can use a campsite availability checker app.
Here are a few campsite availability checkers to try out:
Wrapping Up Last-Minute RV Camping Trips
While it can feel impossible to find a place for RV camping at the last minute, it doesn’t have to be that way.
The vast majority of RV campers are using the most popular and well-known ways of booking and finding campsites. Most people are booking the most popular and well-known campgrounds and resorts.
However, after reading this article, you’re armed with 10 tips for last-minute RV camping trips. If you’re willing to drive a few hours in any direction, you should almost always be able to find somewhere to camp so you can shift, control, and escape.
About the Author:
Carrie Wilder is a part-time van lifer, full-time nomadic lifestyle enthusiast, and the advertising and SEO Manager at Escapees RV Club.
When she’s not camping or working, you can find her writing about her favorite marketing tips on her website, The World Wild Web, or befriending the nearest cat.