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The Ultimate Guide to Cheap or FREE RV Camping Sites (2022)

Buckle up, because here is everything you need to know on how to find cheap or free RV camping sites…

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Camping can be expensive. Especially if you are spending more travel time in outdoor spaces due to Covid. Or, perhaps you’re living and working from your RV. 

Traditional campgrounds can also be crowded and noisy. It can sometimes feel like the opposite experience you are seeking by getting away from civilization and into nature. 

That may be why you are looking for cheap or free RV camping sites and that’s why I’m here to help.  I’m going to introduce you to boondocking in off-the-beaten-path campsites and then teach you how to find them.

The following is my guide to finding cheap or free RV camping sites that are more remote, and farther away, from the camping crowds and pricey campgrounds. the big sections to this post are:

The Best Resources to Find Cheap or Free RV Camping Sites

Buckle up, because we’re going to cover a lot of helpful information and valuable resources!

But First, What is Boondocking?

Simply put, boondocking is self-contained camping without any access to commercial services like water, power or sewer. A lot of boondockers go to off-the-grid, remote areas to truly disconnect from city life. 

However, boondocking can also be near a city. For example, sleeping overnight in a parking lot while on a long road trip, is considered boondocking. 

Other common names for boondocking include dry camping, wild camping, and primitive camping. 

Boondocking in a Campground

image of camping on federal land free rv camping sites
Our Boondocking Spot in the Ottawa National Forest. Our National Parks Senior Pass. or America the Beautiful Pass got us a 5-% discount on the camping fee.

A third type of boondocking occurs at a campground. This form is not free, nor are you staying in a remote, off-the-grid location. 

Campgrounds usually have sites without hook-ups. They offer them for a reduced nightly rate! 

You are still able to use campground amenities, which may include restrooms, water, and other things. You just won’t have electric, sewer and water hookups at your site. 

If you are staying more than one or two days at a campground, it is a good idea to dump your grey and black water tanks. Then come prepared with a freshwater tank. 

You should also be able to run your generator during non-quiet hours to charge your batteries. That way you can still enjoy your power, but save money by not “plugging in.”

Many state and national parks also offer non-hookup sites. If you are open to boondocking there, it opens up more sites available for you to stay at. In other words, being open to campground boondocking can give you options! 

Boondocking at a campground allows you to enjoy simpler camping while enjoying nature. But, it also gives you access to some of the benefits of a developed campground. 

Boondocking in Nature

free rv camping sites
Pigeon River boondocking

Boondocking out in nature is my favorite type of boondocking! Jennifer and I love to truly escape civilization and be off-the-grid in nature. 

This is also what most people picture when they hear the word “boondocking.”

When you go boondocking in undeveloped campgrounds you are truly spending time in the wild. You have to gather your own firewood and use only battery-powered lights. 

If you do not have solar power, then you might find yourself powering up your generator to make coffee. 

Overall, this type of boondocking is truly remote, where you can “unplug” from normal life. 

Boondocking in nature is raw and requires you to be self-reliant. That means it can feel a bit nerve-wracking the first few times you do it. 

You will also want to be prepared when you go. But it is not hard to accomplish, and anyone can get the hang of it!

If you have never gone boondocking, and find yourself nervous about it, do not worry. Jennifer and I put together an ebook called “The Beginner’s Guide to Boondocking” to help ease you into this remote style of camping. In the book, we answer common questions and help you get prepared for your adventure. 

Save Money by Boondocking

Another benefit of boondocking is that it can save you money. 

Many RV parks and campgrounds can cost anywhere from $24-$100 a night. The cost adds up quickly! 

If you are a full-time RVer and you boondock for an average of 20 days per month out of 30, think about that savings! 

Staying at a campground every day for a month could cost anywhere from $720 – $3,000 (depending on the place). 

If you go boondocking for 20 of those days, then you are only spending about $240 – $1,000. Talk about saving yourself money!

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The Best Resources to Find Cheap or Free RV Camping Sites

photo illustrating end of camping season from Holland State park - free rv camping sites
Holland State Park

If you now want to give boondocking a try, you’re probably wondering exactly how to track down those campsites. 

Jennifer and I love to go boondocking in National Parks, State Parks, National Forests, State Forests, and BLM Land (which is public land that is operated by the U.S. Department of Interiors’ Bureau of Land Management). 

These types of sites can vary greatly depending on your location, and they can be difficult to locate. 

It can be frustrating to figure out their locations because each of these entities is run by different government websites. And most of them do not relay easy-to-use information. 

That is why I have put together a useful list of these websites, along with an explanation on how to easily use them to find excellent cheap and FREE boondocking locations!

Finding Free or Cheap RV Camping Sites on BLM Land

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages several different programs in the U.S. Public Lands. 

In fact, BLM manages about ten percent of the total acreage of the entire United States! If you combine that with National Forest land, you are looking at 25%! 

That means 25% of the United States is available to camp on for free!

Finding an RV site can be a little bit tricky. Let me walk you through the process. 

Step 1: 

The BLM website has useful information, but you are better off starting with Recreation.gov. Type in your destination. 

Step 2: 

Most likely a lot of options will appear as different dots on a map. To narrow down your search, click on the “More Filters” tab and select “Camping” under “Booking Types” and “RV/Motorhome” under “Allowable Equipment.” 

That will narrow down your search. However, many of these sites are “Group Sites” and can only be reserved as such. All of the other sites are first-come, first-served. 

This is not all bad news. The research has helped us. We now know the location of some BLM sites, and can assume there are individual first-come, first-served sites at the same locations. 

Step #3: Cross-reference your BLM research with another online resource. 

The one I like to use is Campendium. On that site, we use the process we did on Recreation.gov. To narrow down the results, I put “Public” under the “Category” tab and “$0-$30” under “Price.” That will bring up the various sites or campgrounds on public lands! 

The Campendium results also show us very useful information about the sites. Things like prices, reviews, images, number of sites, GPS coordinates, and cell service. 

You can also lower the “Price” tool on Campendium to $0. Those results show you only those sites that are completely FREE!

Finding helpful BLM information gets easier once you know where to look!

Finding Cheap or Free RV Camping Sites in National Forests or Grasslands

In America, we have 154 National Forests and 20 National Grasslands. There are more than 4,000 campgrounds in our National Forests! Many of those allow free camping. 

Camping in a National Forest is called “dispersed camping.” It is just another term for boondocking. 

So how do you go about finding these free sites? 

Resource #1: Buy a Benchmark Map

If you are spending a lot of time in one state, I recommend these maps. They are atlases that provide you with very useful information. 

They provide detailed descriptions of public lands, with point-to-point mileages. They also show campgrounds, recreation attractions as well as wildlife areas. 

Having a paper map is not a bad idea since cell service can be spotty at best when in the great outdoors. 

Resource #2: Use the National Forest Service App

In addition to a paper map, this app can be very useful. 

Go into the app. Click on “Camping & Cabins” and a U.S. map will pop up. The numbers show you the number of available campgrounds located in a specific area. 

Click on the region you want to travel to. As you narrow down your map, you will be able to click on the different options to find out more about the specific campground. 

You can see potential amenities, GPS coordinates, a description of the area, and whether the site requires a reservation. There will also be a link for more information located on the USFS website. 

You can also click on the “Trail” or “Road” option for even more information.

Once you have a specific area or some sites that you are interested in, it is not a bad idea to cross-reference it with other websites (like we did with the BLM example). 

Use Campendium or Recreation.gov, cross-reference your findings to locate a campsite that works for you and your RV. Then compile a list of some backups just in case the first-come, first-served sites are gone when you roll in. 

Resource #3: Visit the Ranger Station

Another option to help you find dispersed camping sites is to visit a ranger station in the National Forest you are visiting. You can find their office address on the National Forest’s website. 

Talk to the staff. They can provide you with a free map, and tons of first-hand knowledge, about the forest. Many of the maps offer Motor Vehicle Usage Maps that can help you read the map and find the right roads when navigating the forest. 

The staff can also tell you information on any current hazards or bad road conditions in the forest. 

Resource #4: ForestCamping.com

This website provides a ton of good information about National Forests. They also have useful guides in their bookstore

The Ultimate Guide to Cheap or FREE RV Camping Sites (2022) 3
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Finding Cheap or Free RV Camping Sites run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE)

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) is made up of nearly 40,000 civilians and soldiers that work to improve America’s infrastructure through hands-on projects. They construct things like dams or build lake reservoirs. 

The reason you might care about this as an RVer is because the COE is present in 43 states. It manages 450 campgrounds, which the public may access to camp, boat, or fish. 

These campgrounds are usually well-maintained, providing a clean camping experience. Most of them do not offer hookups but do have some amenities. You can usually find restrooms, potable water, picnic tables, showers, and fire rings. 

Some of the COE areas charge a day-use fee. You can purchase an annual pass for $40 to use the day-use areas, but that will not cover any fees for camping. 

The following are some resources to help you locate these areas. Otherwise, they can be a little difficult to find. 

Resource #1: Use the Corps Lake Gateway

free rv camping sites

Navigate your way to the Army Corps of Engineers’ main website. Click on the state you want to access. Next, select “Camping” and then click “Find Lakes.” This will show you various options for camping. 

Once you pick one, it may be a bit confusing. It may show you two options- one managed by the State of Ohio (for example), and the other managed by the COE. 

If you click on the “reserve” button it will take you to the recreation.gov website. When it does, you may see that there are only group sites available. 

In order to narrow down our findings to ONLY campgrounds managed by the COE, which is a place we can actually stay at, we will cross-reference with recreation.gov. 

Go to the main webpage on recreation.gov, and type in “Army Corps of Engineers.” This takes you to an interactive map. Go to “More Filters” and select “Camping” under “Booking Type” and “Standard” under “recreation Site Type.” This narrows down the map to only campsites. 

Does this seem like a lot of work to find a campsite? If so, you are right! However, a little extra leg work can save you a great deal of money. 

You can find some campgrounds with hookups for only $20 per night! Even less if you go for a site without hookups. The extra work will pay you back with savings in your pocket. 

Resource #2: Guidebook

A good, old-fashioned guidebook is another good way to locate COE campsites. I recommend “Camping with the Corps of Engineers: The Complete Guide to Campgrounds Built and Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” written by Don Wright. 

You can get this as a hardbound or Kindle book. It outlines details about COE RV camping throughout the United States. 

It includes directions to each campground, as well as descriptions of the facilities and amenities of each. 

Finding Cheap or Free RV Camping Sites in National Parks

There are 61 National Parks operated by the National Park Service in America. They are protected areas of land that make excellent boondocking sites!

In fact, I recommend them for beginning boondockers as a place to start. That way, you are not too far from help if you need a battery jump

You will find that National Parks have a few more rules in place than National Forests or BLM land. That is because they have more visitors, but also more resources at your disposal. 

One restriction in many National Parks is a size restriction for rigs. Usually, you can have a 20-40 foot RV. And there are not a lot of pull-thru sites to access. 

Many National Parks do not come equipped with hookups. If they do, they are likely limited. 

While some parks have a reservation system, many operate as first-come, first-served. To snag a spot, you will want to come early. Aim for being there by 11 am. 

Resource #1: Recreation.gov (Reservable Campgrounds)

To locate reservable campgrounds, your best resource is to use recreation.gov. Search for the park you are visiting. Your results will populate. 

If you wish to reserve a campsite, click on “View Details.” A new window will pop up providing a lot of details, such as nightly rates, directions, and the date that it is open. 

Do note that since National Parks attract so many visitors, getting a reservation can be difficult! Try to plan out your visit six months in advance so that you can be ready to book the day the sites open.  

Recreation.gov only shows campgrounds that are reservable. If you want to view ALL of the campgrounds in a given National Park, then check out Resource #2!

Resource #2: National Park Service (NPS) Website

To locate campgrounds, click on “Plan Your Trip.” Then click on “Things to Do” and select “Camping.” This will lead you to campground information that includes both the reservable and non-reservable sites. 

You can start with a handy map view too.

This site also includes information about campgrounds that are not recommended for RVs. This is usually due to poor road conditions.

Finding Cheap or Free RV Camping Sites in State Parks and State Forests

free rv camping sites
Stay in State Parks or State Forests

Another option is to stay in State Parks or State Forests. These areas are run by individual states, rather than the federal government.

This can be a little tricky since each state operates its own website. Sometimes they even have separate ones for parks and forests. 

It can be worthwhile, though. That is because State Parks tend to be less trafficked than National Parks. You can find beautiful places to stay without as many crowds. 

Resource #1: Search for a State Park Website

free rv camping sites
Arizona – for example.

My best tip here is to do a search for the state that you will be traveling to. Look for their specific website and go from there. Most websites will have a “Plan Your Trip” or “Find a Campground” tab to click on. 

You will likely pay about $18-28 per night in a State Park or $5-$20 per night in a State Forest. 

Resource #2: Wand’rly Magazine Article

This is another useful resource. I came across this Wand’rly Magazine article. It lists all of the state park campgrounds by state.

It also outlines the cost, number of sites, and hookup information for each. 

Free Camping and Overnight RV Parking Apps and Websites

The Ultimate Guide to Cheap or FREE RV Camping Sites (2022) 4
This is the Heron Hill Winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York, part of our Harvest Hosts Review video

Here are some additional resources that can help make your search much easier! While you will still need to book through many of the previously mentioned agencies, there are other resources that can make your search simpler. 

Resource #1: Togo RV Plus

Togo RV Plus INCLUDES access to all 14,000+ free boondocking locations in the OvernightRVParking.com app! Togo RV Plus also includes new RV GPS navigation that considers weight limits, low overhead clearances, grades of terrain, and propane restrictions to give you turn-by-turn directions specific to your RV. Just select a destination, add your vehicle size, and use the turn-by-turn in-app navigation. And it includes Roadtrippers Plus, where you can plan trips with up to 150 stops, collaborate with friends on route planning, and get real-time traffic along your route. Check it out – highly recommended! 

You can get $10 off your Togo RV PLUS annual membership using the discount code: RVLIFESTYLE21

Resource #2: RV Trip Wizard

RV Trip Wizard is now part of the RV LIFE Pro suite of tools! Now all subscribers have access to RV Trip Wizard + Premium features of RV LIFE – RV Safe GPS App + Maintain My RV!

Planning an RV Trip has never been easier than with RV TripWizard. It is a comprehensive tool that Jennifer and I use whenever we are planning a trip. It works seamlessly with all our devices and gives us access to the info we need on where to stop, what camping is nearby, and what we should do in an area.

Best of all, you can try it for free to see how it will fit into your trip planning process.

See all the information you’re looking for on your devices. The RV Trip Planner is set up so you can do everything from one screen. Your trip on the left panel, your map centered, and your research panel to the right to find campgrounds, points of interest, and potential hazards.

Use this link for a discount: https://rvlifestyle.com/rvtripwizar

Resource #3: Allstays Pro

Many RVers are familiar with the AllStays app. It is awesome. But since Jennifer and I discovered AllStays Pro, the browser-based subscription site, we rely on it almost exclusively in our RV travels.

We use it for finding interesting places that really stand out, especially out of the way boondocking spots and free places to stay

Using this link and the discount code: rvpodcast you can save 10% off your All Stays Pro annual subscription.

Resource #4: Overnight RV Parking

Overnight RV Parking lists 13,000 locations to find cheap or free overnight camping. This is a great tool for long road trips. It can help you find a quick place to stay, without breaking the bank. 

Resource #5: Harvest Hosts

Harvest Hosts is one of our very favorite places to overnight. It is a unique membership service that lets RVers camp overnight FOR FREE at lovely outdoor venues such as wineries, breweries, museums, farms, orchards, and creameries (it is recommended that you patronage these venues that you stay at).

There are more than 2,000 such places across North America to choose from.

There is also an upgraded membership where you can also camp overnight at golf courses!

Using this link and the discount code: HHFRIENDS15 you get 15% off Harvest Hosts annual membership.

While it is free to stay overnight, you are encouraged to purchase something from the business. 

Resource #6: Boondockers Welcome

Boondockers Welcome is now owned by Harvest Hosts, but has a separate site. It is another excellent service allowing you to stay overnight on someone’s private property. 

The hosts are usually like-minded, friendly people. Most people walk away from using the service with a new set of friends! 

Phew! You Did It!

free rv camping sites
Jennifer, Mike, and Bo say go for it!

Like I warned you, that was a lot of information and resources to cover.

But now you know how to find cheap or free RV camping sites all over the country. You’re equipped with lots of great resources to become a successful boondocker. 

Now it’s time to load up and head out. Happy Trails!

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