Camping is an activity that many people around the globe enjoy. It is so great because there are so many ways you can camp, and everyone’s experience will be unique based on how and where you camp. Our blog writer, Katie, has been camping her whole life. (Learn more of her camping story here!) In this blog, she shares her knowledge and tips on finding free campsites for anyone who wants to travel and camp on a budget.
One of my favorite parts about planning a road trip or weekend getaway is figuring out where I am going to camp. I like to make my trips as low-cost as possible, so I usually try to find areas to camp for free. Free camping has many benefits! Besides the obvious factor that it is budget-friendly, free camping is also convenient because you don’t have to register online or stop at a Visitor Center to check-in. You just show up whenever and enjoy! Free camping areas also usually provide more solitude from other people and stunning views. A big thing to note about free camping, though, is that you will usually have to sacrifice amenities that regular campgrounds provide such as bathrooms, running water, and electricity. If free camping is something you’ve never done before, this blog will give you all the tips and tricks to make your first-time free camping nice and smooth!
There are plenty of ways you can search for free camping areas. The one that I use the most is the website freecampsites.net because it is super easy to use, and it provides filters so you can find an area that is perfect for you. First, you type in the area that you’re looking to camp near. Then, you add your search filters. Even though the website is called freecampsites, there is still an option to search for paid sites and sites that require a permit. Other filters you can add are what kind of road the area is on—gravel, dirt, etc—and if you have an RV or will be tent camping. There is even a filter option for what amenities you’d like at the camping area. As I previously said, most of the time you’ll have to sacrifice the typical campground amenities when camping in a free area, but that’s not always the case. Some spots have pit toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables. These are all options you select when filtering your search.
When you click on a site, you’ll get the address and coordinates, a description of the area and how to get there, what amenities and activities are available, and reviews and photos from previous visitors. The reviews and photos from previous visitors is my favorite part of the site because I can see what the area looks like and if it’s worth going to.
Another way to find free camping is using the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) site. They have an interactive map that shows you BLM land that allows dispersed camping, most of the time for free! If you don’t know what dispersed camping is, it means camping anything that is not a designated campground. With dispersed camping, there are no services or amenities.
The US Forest Service (USFS) is also a great way to find free, dispersed camping. There is a page on their site that goes over all of the rules and regulations for dispersed camping, as well as where you’re allowed to disperse camp.
The Dyrt is another way to find campsites. It is both an app and a website that functions very similarly to freecampsites.net. The Dyrt has you plug in the area you’re looking for as well as the dates you’ll be there. After that, you’ll see a map with all of the campsites available. You can then filter based on your preferences: price, amenities, site type, etc. Selecting on a site will open a new tab that shows you everything you need to know about that camping area. The Dyrt also features reviews and photos from previous visitors.
No matter where you camp, whether it’s in a free, dispersed camping area, or in a designated campground, it is always important to follow the Leave No Trace Principles. Do your research beforehand so you know any rules or regulations for the area. Make sure you are only driving, hiking, and putting up your tent on durable surfaces. Whatever you pack in, make sure you pack it out. Take all of your trash with you so you can dispose of it in when you find a trash can. Research the rules for using the bathroom outdoors in the area that you’re in. You may be able to dig a cathole to do your business, but in some places, a wag pag might be required. If you’re wanting a campfire, first make sure they are permitted. If they are, keep your campfire small and maintained to minimize impacts. Make sure to completely put out the fire before going to bed or leaving the site. Being in a less-populated camping area may allow you to see more wildlife than you would in a busy campground. If you see wildlife, respect them by viewing from a distance, don’t feed them, and keep all of your food and trash secure. Lastly, if you happen to see any other campers in the area, be considerate of them and allow for everyone to have a peaceful experience camping.
The last thing to remember when going camping is how you’re going to stay safe. Whenever I am camping, especially if I am dispersed camping or staying in a free camping area, or if I am alone, I have a few ways to feel safe. I always make multiple people in my life aware of my trip and where I will be staying. My mom and some of my close friends have my location on Find My Friends, and I always update them when I’ve arrived to a site and when I am leaving. I have window covers for my car if I am sleeping in there, so no one can see inside. I also keep my keys close to me and have another safety device on me in case I am in danger.
Camping is such a special activity to me, and I love that there are ways to explore and experience the outdoors without always having to pay a fee. We would love to see your camping adventures, especially if you’re found a cool free camping area! Share it with us @peregrineequipment.