Where to find FREE or Cheap RV Sites Camping (2020)

 Where to find FREE or Cheap RV Sites Camping (2020)

Free or Cheap RV Sites & Camping

This has been a crazy year for RVers. With so many newbies turning to RVing and Camping because of COVID-19 concerns, campgrounds have become overcrowded and overpriced.

Frankly, given the current state of things, if your style of camping and RVing is more than one or two weekends a month during the summer – staying in traditional campgrounds can be a huge expense that, in all honesty, isn’t necessary.

Traditional campgrounds can be crowded, noisy, smokey, and above all expensive. Most of the time, there are much cheaper and more scenic locations that you can camp as long as you plan ahead and know what you’re looking for. If you can spend a night or two without the traditional comforts of hookups then a whole other world of RVing will open up to you.

There are TONS of places across the United States where you can find free RV sites and cheap camping but it’s easy to get stuck going to traditional campgrounds because it can be difficult and time-consuming to find these locations when you’re researching and planning out an RV trip!

In this post, we’re going to cover a lot so this is your warning in advance to strap in because it’s a long one.

We’re going to start with a general explanation of boondocking and the various forms that it can take as well as the cost advantages of boondocking.

Then we’ll go through in detail (and with screenshots to the exact websites) on how to find cheap campground locations on federal and state public lands including BLM land, National Forests, and Grasslands campgrounds, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds, National Park campgrounds, State Park campgrounds, and State Forest campgrounds.

We’ll also cover how to find free overnight parking at restaurants and other businesses when you’re en route to a final destination and just need a spot to spend the night, as well as our favorite apps and websites that aggregate campgrounds in a specific area to help you find all of these locations.

Intro to Boondocking

(Hint, It's Off The Grid)

By definition, boondocking is camping totally self-contained without connecting to commercial power, water, or sewer.

Boondocking Arizona – We found this free boondocking spot less than a half-mile from the North Entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park

We like calling it boondocking but you’ll see several other names for it including:

  • Dry camping
  • Independent camping
  • Cheap camping
  • Free Rving
  • Wild camping
  • Primitive camping
  • Dispersed camping

Personally, I think that boondocking just rolls off the tongue better but make no mistake, if you hear someone else using those terms we’re all talking about the same thing.

Boondocking For Quick Overnight Stays

Let’s run through a common scenario. It’s getting later on in the day, maybe even night time already and you’re almost through a long trip to get to a great location you want to explore (Yellowstone, Moab, Great Smoky Mountains, etc.)

You want to get there as quickly as possible so you aren’t stopping to smell the roses along the way. And you haven’t planned too far ahead so you don’t have a campground site waiting for you. Whoops! But it happens.

Here, boondocking can be extremely helpful.

Instead of trying to find an open campground and paying to sleep for the night only to get right on the road in the morning, you can find a parking lot for free to stop for the night.

We’ve done this at Cracker Barrels, friendly Walmarts (some people call this Walldocking), restaurants we’ve eaten dinner at, hotel parking lots, and even truck stops.

Boondocking at a Cracker Barrel parking lot.

As long as you go in and ask if it’s okay, most of those places will let you stay in the far end of the parking lot. You shouldn’t get the grill going or pull out your camping chairs but if you’re respectful of using the space most store managers don’t mind.

And I’ll admit, being in a more “stealthy” Class B rig helps with this. We’ll go into all of these places in more detail in Section 3 of this guide.

This form of boondocking can also be helpful when the weather changes quickly and you need a place to ride out the storm. Snow, wind, or excessive rain conditions can change your RV trips plans extremely fast and sometimes you need a place to stop and wait out the bad weather.

Another form of this quick overnight stay can be if you’re visiting an old friend or relative on your trip and decide to spend the night in their driveway. 

It can be a hassle to try and get out extension cords to plug in your electric or try to hook up to their water supply (if you can at all) so you can just boondock without hookups in the driveway. Many people call this “moochdocking” because you’re mooching off of their hospitality.

If they’re a close friend or relative, this is a great time to catch up on a long hot shower or do some laundry inside their house!

Boondocking at a Campground – Without Hookups

I can hear it now, “I thought this was only FREE places to camp!?!” Well, sometimes boondocking isn’t free but it can still save you some cash.

Many campgrounds have sites that don’t have hookups but they still want to make money off of them. So what do they do? They’ll offer the non-hookup sites for a reduced nightly fee!

You’re still paying for a site and you can use the campground’s amenities but you just won’t have the typical electric, water, and sewer hookups.

cheap rv sitesIf you’re staying longer than a day or two at the campground you’ll want to plan ahead a bit and dump your grey/black water tanks (even better if they have a dump station on-site) and show up with a full fresh water tank. But you should be able to run your generator outside of quiet hours time to charge up your batteries.

Many state and national parks have developed campgrounds with and without hookups so by boondocking you’re opening up a number of different sites you might not have otherwise been able to stay at or you can grab a great spot if all the sites with hookups are booked!

It’s also a great way to get a little closer to nature without completely giving up the creature comforts of developed campgrounds.

Boondocking in Undeveloped Campgrounds

Now, this is our type of boondocking! It’s also what first pops into mind when most people think about boondocking.

Getting out into the wild, gathering your own firewood, and using battery-powered lights. Maybe firing up the generator a few times to make coffee (if you don’t have solar panels charging your battery bank) and generally unplug from daily life – literally and figuratively.

cheap rv sites
Our boondocking site in eastern Montana.

If you’re relatively new to boondocking or RVing in general, this can be nerve-wracking the first few times you do it. You’re off the grid and need to be self-reliant. It takes some planning but it is absolutely within the reach of any RVer.

When we first started those same intimidating questions were running through our head. What happens if we run down our batteries and get stranded? What if we encounter some less than savory characters in the backwoods of who-knows-where?

If you have these questions, you may enjoy the ebook we put together called “The Beginner’s Guide to Boondocking”. In this post we cover the “where to go” of boondocking but the ebook covers the “how to do it” piece.

We’ll go into how to find these types of sites in the next section, you can usually find them in National or State Forests or public land managed by the BLM and boy are they worth it.

These are the sites that Jennifer and I enjoy and the upsides of boondocking in the wilderness are many. Privacy, serenity, uncluttered scenery, wildlife, and truly getting away from it all are at the top of my list.

Now that we’ve talked a bit about some of the forms that boondocking can take, I want to get into another added benefit: the cost savings.

How Boondocking Can Save You Money

Another huge benefit of boondocking is the cost.

Have you ever taken a second and looked at what staying in an RV Park or campground costs you in the long run?

Jennifer and I did this mental accounting around the time that we started boondocking. It’s one of those things that sneaks up on you and really starts to add up over time.

Let’s take two examples to show what I mean, Boondockin’ Bob and RV Park Joe.

Boondocking Bacon – The best-tasting bacon is always cooked outdoors in the wilderness!

Boondockin’ Bob and RV Park Joe are both part-timers and they’re on the road about 3 months a year from June to August.

RV Park Joe is locked into a set schedule of the commercial campgrounds that he booked months in advance because, during the most popular travel times, most campgrounds, RV Parks, and even state parks are booked almost solid.

RV Park Joe spends about ~$45 per night in a traditional RV Park or campground. Some places are much higher than that and some are lower but for the sake of this example, this is the number I’m going to use.

After 3 months on the road, that’s about 90 days so with an RV Park of $45 a night RV Park Joe is looking at a total bill of 90 * $45 = $4050.

Now let’s look at Boondockin’ Bob.

Boondockin’ Bob hit the road in June and is boondocking about 70% of the time. We’ll say that’s 63 of 90 days.

He isn’t locked into a specific schedule and is meandering around the country.

He can boondock pretty much anywhere so if he decides that Sedona, Arizona is where he was meant to spend a week then he can make his way over there.

The first stretch he only spends $1,215 (27 days X $45 per night) at RV parks and campgrounds that he finds every few days to empty his tanks and charge his house batteries versus the $4,050 that RV Park Joe spent.

For Boondockin’ Bob this is a savings of $2,835 in his first summer.

Come next summer and if he does the same thing, Boondockin’ Bob will save $5,670 the second season. And a total of $8,505 the third season.

And of course, this savings is compounded if you’re RVing more than 3 months out of the year.

A full-timer will save almost $11,500 per year boondocking 70 percent of the time! That’s a massive amount of money to put back into your pocket each year.

Where To Find Free & Cheap RV Sites & Camping On State & Federal Land

As we’ve said many times, our absolute favorite kind of camping is boondocking and our favorite places to do so are in National Parks, National Forests, State Parks, State Forests, BLM land (public land run by the U.S. Dept. of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management), and the like.

These sites vary widely depending on where you are. Many National Parks have campgrounds with and without hookups. Most don’t have anything but a picnic table and firepit.

They may cost a few dollars or they may be free. The only thing that doesn’t change is you’ll definitely need to conserve your electricity and water to be self-contained.

But man are they worth it, these sites are beautiful.

The problem that comes up with these sites is that if you’re not exactly sure where you want to go, it can be hard to find these campgrounds on federal and state land.

This happens because they’re run by different governmental bodies and their respective websites can be frustrating to use to find useful information.

We’ve run into this problem for years and we imagine that many of you have as well.

That’s why we’ve decided to compile a list of these different governmental bodies and a general explanation of the best ways we’ve found to use their websites and find great free and cheap boondocking spots!

Free RV Sites on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Land

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages many different programs on U.S. Public Lands, including recreation.

How much land are we talking about?

Well the BLM comprises 10 percent of the total acreage in the U.S. And combined, BLM land and National Forest land make up 25 percent of the acreage in the country.

In other words, one-quarter of the U.S. is available for you to explore and camp, usually free-of-charge.

However, finding RV campsites on BLM land is not as easy as you might think. There’s a bit of a process and it takes some know-how especially if you’re unfamiliar with the area.

In this section, we’re going to walk you through how to find a site.

One somewhat confusing thing is that BLM has its own website at https://www.blm.gov/, which is good for information about BLM land, but not extremely helpful in finding good information about boondocking sites.

Most of the links for campsites on the BLM website will take you to Recreation.gov.

This is a great website for finding reservable public land and seeing what sites are in the general area you’re looking to travel but as you’ll see in the example below it doesn’t show first-come, first-served sites which are the majority of BLM boondocking sites.

Let’s start by trying to find a BLM site in Moab, Utah. On the Recreation.gov home page, type in your destination.cheap camping

 

After you type in your destination and hit “Search” you will be presented with a screen with several options matching your request. In our example, it looks like this:

cheap camping

There are a lot of little dots to comb through there so to narrow it down click on the “More Filters” tab and select “Camping” under “Booking Types” and “RV/Motorhome” under “Allowable Equipment”.

cheap camping

Now, when we go back to view the results, we’ve narrowed our search down to camping areas that allow RVs.

Except, as you might be able to discern, there’s a little problem.

You can easily book a site at the Devils Garden Campground in Arches National Park but for everything listed on BLM lands the only sites you can book here are the “Group Sites” – see the image below there’s the Gold Bar Group Sites, Hittle Bottom Group Sites, and several others.

cheap camping

This is because, on BLM land, you can only reserve “Group Sites”. All other sites are first-come, first-served.

The research here does help us a little bit though. Now we know where a few of the BLM sites are and if there are group sites at a location, we can assume that there are individual first-come, first-served sites as well.

Cross Reference Your BLM Land Website Research

Now the question is – how do we find better information on those sites? The answer is that we cross-reference with another site or service.

My favorite site to cross-reference these is campendium.

On Campendium, we’ll run through the same process searching for Moab, Utah.

cheap camping

Here I’ve narrowed down the sites to “Public” under “Category” and “$0-$30” under “Price” and we can see that there are about 30 different sites/campgrounds on public lands!

One of the top options here is Gold Bar Campground, which presumably is the same place as the group sites above and we can look at it in more detail to find the price, images, reviews, the total number of sites, cell service, GPS coordinates, and lots of useful information on the campsite.

A campground right outside of Moab on the Colorado River for $19/night – not too shabby!

cheap camping

On Campendium, you can also look for free sites by setting the “Price” tool all the way to zero. When we do that in Moab – there are still 17 campsites that are completely, totally 100% FREE!

Make sure to read the reviews on any sites that you are looking at to make sure that the roads will be accessible for your rig. It’s never a bad idea to scout ahead or if you have a toad (ie. a towed vehicle) using that to check the road ahead!

There you have it! Finding sites on BLM land gets much easier when you know where to look!

How to find free or cheap RV campsites in National Forests and Grasslands

Want to get away from the commercial campground scene, and tired of the mad rush in the National Parks?

You might want to consider joining the ranks of individuals who visit our National Forests each year, taking advantage of the more than 4,000 campgrounds.

The United States Forest Service (USFS) is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the administration of 154 National Forests and 20 National Grasslands, most of which allow free camping.

What is dispersed camping?

Camping on National Forest land is called “dispersed camping.”

Confused? Don’t be.

Dispersed camping is the same thing as “boondocking” or “dry camping.” All three terms mean that you are camping without the benefit of electric, water, and sewer hook-ups.

So now that you know what National Forests are, the big question is: How do you find RV campsites in National Forests and grasslands?

The good news?

With highways carved through almost all National Forests, you’re normally only a turn onto a dirt road away from finding a personal, secluded area for dispersed camping.

The bad news?

You probably don’t want to aimlessly head into a National Forest without some sort of guidance.

Fortunately, guides can be found aplenty.

If you’re spending a lot of time in one state, I recommend one of the guides produced by Benchmark Maps, makers of atlases for just about anywhere you want to go in the U.S. (Amazon is the place to go for Benchmark Maps.

These show detailed descriptions of public lands, point-to-point mileages, recreation attractions, campgrounds, and wildlife areas. Since cell service can be spotty out in the wilderness, it’s never a bad idea to have a paper map to fall back on.

As well as getting a paper map, you can use the National Forest Service website to explore different sites.

Start by going here: http://www.fs.fed.us/locatormap/#.

cheap rv sites

Click on “Camping & Cabins” and a map of the U.S. will pop up. The numbers will show you the number of available campgrounds in a specific area. Click on one of the numbers in the region you plan to travel.

cheap rv sites

For this example, we’ll click on the “81” in Utah. You can see that it drills down further into the state by providing more information about available camping.

cheap rv sites

Now, we’ll drill down further by clicking on the “12” in Fishlake National Forest.

cheap rv sites

Next, click on one of the camp symbols to get information about the specific campground and more information will pop out including a general description of the area, potential amenities, GPS coordinates, if the site requires reservations, and a link to more information on the USFS website.

For additional details, you can click on the “Trail” or “Road” options.

There are an amazing number of campgrounds that you can explore using their map tool.

Once you have an area and a few sites that you’re interested in checking out, it’s always good to cross-reference with other websites just like we did when looking for BLM campsites.

When you use Recreation.gov and search for Fishlake National Forest, you’ll see that there are 6 reservable campgrounds within the National Forest.

And when you use Campendium and search for Fishlake National Forest, you’ll see that there are 13 campgrounds (6 reservable as we saw above and the rest first-come, first-served) within the National Forest.

 

Using all of these tools, you should be able to find a campsite that will work for your rig and have a few for backups if the free first-come, first-served sites are taken.

Visit The Ranger Station

Another very good strategy for finding dispersed campsites is to visit the ranger station in a particular National Forest district and talk to the staff.

Each national forest has several ranger stations, and their addresses and phone numbers are on the web pages for that particular forest.

Drop by or call them and ask about dispersed camping. They will give you a map with all the forest roads marked on it, and indications of where dispersed camping is allowed. These areas are usually marked by dots on each side of a road in the maps I have been given.

These maps are called Motor Vehicle Usage Maps and you can also find them online for each National Forest here. As a heads up, the maps can be tricky to read so I’d recommend stopping by the ranger station.

The staff at the ranger station will also be able to tell you about current road conditions, whether the road you're looking at is suitable for your vehicle (the road doesn't care much whether you think it's suitable or not – it's more a matter of whether your vehicle is suitable for the road), hotbeds of activity from off-road vehicles to avoid, recent bear or mountain lion activity in the area, any burn restrictions in effect, fire permit procedures, and other extremely useful information.

A final great resource for RV information and campsites in National Forests is the website of our friends at ForestCamping.com. They have a plethora of information about National Forests on the site, as well as in the many guides they produce that can be found in their bookstore.

For example, you can use this link to search for National Forests by State on their site. Using our example above, I was able to see all of the campgrounds in Fishlake National Forest and detailed information on them here.

How to find free or cheap RV campsites run by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE)

The mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is to deliver vital public and military engineering services during peace and war to strengthen our nation’s security, energize the economy, and reduce risks from disasters.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) is composed of nearly 40,000 civilians and soldiers working to improve the nation’s infrastructure through projects such as constructing dams or building lake reservoirs.

The reason this is relevant to RVers is simple: the COE is present in 43 states and manages more than 450 campgrounds, which the public can access for fishing, boating, and camping.

The campgrounds are clean and well-maintained. Most of the campgrounds do not offer full hookups but all have basic amenities like showers, restrooms, potable water, picnic tables, and fire rings.

Some of these areas charge day-use fees. You can purchase an annual access pass for $40 to enter the day-use areas but camping fees are not included with pass entry.

RVers who know about COE campgrounds consider them “hidden gems” because, quite frankly, it can be hard to locate the campgrounds and to find information about them.

In this section, we’ve put together a few resources to help you locate and make reservations at COE Campgrounds.

Using the Corps Lakes Gateway

First, we’ll go to the Army Corps of Engineers’ main website to find recreation opportunities, including camping locations.

The site lists all camping options – primitive, tent, RV, etc. and can be accessed by clicking here. You will be taken to a homepage that looks like this:

In our example, we selected Ohio under the “Select a State” option.

Then you’ll be taken to the screen below where we selected “Camping,” before clicking on “Find Lakes.”

After clicking on “Find Lakes,” we were taken to a screen showing all of the different options for camping.

In our example, we clicked on the first option “Alum Creek Lake” and were taken to a screen showing details about the park and a link to the park’s own website.

However, this is where it gets a bit confusing. There are two campgrounds here, “Alum Creek State Park” the top option which is managed by the state of Ohio and the “Dam Site” managed by the COE.

If you click the green “Reserve” button, it will take you to the www.recreation.gov site here where you’ll see that the “Dam Site” is actually only for group campsites and is $80/night which definitely doesn’t fit our criteria for cheap RV campsites.

A common drawback that you will find is that the Corps Lake Gateway website has slightly incorrect or incomplete information as many websites about campgrounds do.

So to narrow down ONLY campgrounds managed by the COE, what we’ll do again is cross-reference this with www.recreation.gov.

It’s important to note that recreation.gov features ALL COE offerings, including day use areas, recreation facilities, and campgrounds.

Start by heading to the homepage and typing in “Army Corps of Engineers.”

You will get an interactive map. For our example, we’ll stick with Ohio. It will show you COE sites.

There are a number of recreation areas and day use areas run by the COE as you can see by the yellow and green dots but what we’re looking for is campgrounds.

So to narrow it down, go to “More Filters” and select “Camping” under “Booking Types” and “Standard” under “Recreation Site Type”.

From here we can see that there is only one campground in Ohio truly run by the COE (Mill Creek Recreation Area) and another close by the border in Pennsylvania (Shenango Recreation Area).

If you think this is a lot of work to find a campground, you’re right. But Mill Creek is only $14/night for a nice site along the water without hookups and $20/night with electric hookups! Sometimes the best sites are the hardest to find.

Your last option to find COE campgrounds is to buy a good old-fashioned guidebook.

The best is “Camping with the Corps of Engineers: The Complete Guide to Campgrounds Built and Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers” by Don Wright.

The book is available for Kindle or paperback and has all the details about COE RV campsites around the U.S. You’ll find complete descriptions of facilities, amenities, and directions to each campground.

How to find free or cheap RV campsites in National Parks

The U.S. has 61 protected areas known as National Parks that are operated by the National Park Service, an agency of the Dept. of the Interior.

National parks must be established by an act of the United States Congress. A bill creating the first National Park, Yellowstone, was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, followed by Mackinac National Park in 1875 (decommissioned in 1895), and then Rock Creek Park (later merged into National Capital Parks), Sequoia and Yosemite in 1890.

The Organic Act of 1916 created the National Park Service “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in

The Organic Act of 1916 created the National Park Service “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

National Parks are Great for RV Camping

In fact, if it’s your first time boondocking, heading to a National Park campground is a great way to dip your toes in the water rather than setting up camp in a less-frequented area if you run your batteries down too much and need a jump.

Because they are more frequented and typically have more resources than National Forests or BLM land, RV camping in National Parks comes with a few more rules and regulations to watch out for and they can vary from park to park.

There are typically size restrictions on RV campsites and you’ll find sites that range anywhere from 20 to 40 feet. There are very few large sites in general and even fewer pull-thru suites, so if you have a larger rig you’ll want to make sure to get reservations as early as possible and if you’re not sure that your RV will fit into a standard campsite (or if you’ll be able to back it in) it’s always good to give them a call and ask.

Most National Parks have multiple campgrounds but of those campgrounds, only one (or maybe two) of them will have hookups. The rest will say something like “standard nonelectric” which means that they are designated for either tents or RVs and do not have any hookups.

Some National Park campgrounds operate on a reservation system for at least a portion of their operating season, while the rest operate strictly on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you want to get a first-come, first-served site you should try to get to the campground and check-in as early as possible. During peak travel times, even 11 am or noon can be too late to snag a site.

For reservable campgrounds, the best way to see if sites are available is to check www.recreation.gov.

For this example, we typed in “Glacier National Park” and you can see several of the campgrounds within the park.

If you want to reserve a site, click on “View Details”. As you can see below, a new window opened showing us lots of information on the campground including the dates it’s open, what you need to know, nightly rates, and how to get there.

You can then check the availability for reservations and book. That’s all there is to it but with the number of RVers and campers visiting National Parks, competition for the few campsites inside the parks can be fierce.

If you’re booking you’ll need to plan out your reservations almost 6-months ahead of time or find a campground outside the park and try to snag a first-come, first-served site when someone is leaving in the morning.

Now, the one caveat here (of course it isn’t that easy!), is that recreation.gov doesn’t have any of the first-come, first-served campgrounds listed for Glacier NP.

If you’re familiar with the park you might notice that all the campgrounds aren’t shown but if you aren’t you might just think that there are only 4 campgrounds when there are actually 13!

To see all of the campgrounds, you can go to the NPS website for Glacier National Park. To find campgrounds go to “Plan Your Visit” then “Things To Do” then select “Camping” which will lead you to a page with campground information.

Here you can see the reservable campgrounds and also first-come, first-served campgrounds.

It’s also noted that there are several campgrounds NOT recommended for RVs (most likely due to road access conditions).

However, here we can see that Avalanche, Sprague Creek, Rising Sun, and Two Medicine Campgrounds are all first-come, first-served and available to RVers!

How to find free or cheap RV campsites in State Parks and State Forests

State Parks and State Forests offer yet another opportunity to camp on public lands.

The main difference (if it isn’t obvious) is that these public lands are run by the individual state, rather than the federal government.

Now, where this gets tricky is that each state will have its own website that houses information about their parks and possibly another one for their state forests (if it falls under a different state agency). And on top of that, there may be different rules and regulations in each state.

The second complicated part here is if you’re unfamiliar with the area you’re trying to travel to.

Let’s imagine that if you’re planning a trip to Michigan and you’re from Tennessee, you need to know that the state park or forest is even there to help you find the right website and place to book a campground.

But, the process here is worth the reward! State Parks and State Forests are typically far less trafficked than National Parks and National Forests while still being much cheaper than a traditional campground. You can expect to pay anywhere from $18-28/night in most State Parks and $5-20/night in most State Forests.

A good tip if you’re spending a lot of time in one state is that many states have a State Park Pass. This is usually an annual pass that allows free access to all of their State Parks! If you don’t have one of these you’ll typically end up paying a small fee ($2-8) to enter the park as well as nightly camping fees.

The best way to start is by using Google to search for a specific state’s park system.

In our example, we started by looking for State Parks in Michigan and the first option was Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources website.

After clicking on the link, we were taken to the homepage below.

Here, you can click on “Camping” which is what we’re interested in to get to the page below.

cheap camping

If you know where you want to camp, it’s as simple as clicking on “Make Reservations” which takes to you their reservation site, https://www.midnrreservations.com/. Here you can search for Michigan state park camping based on RV length, hookup availability, and dates of availability.

Of course, if you’re not from Michigan, but know you will be in a certain area, you will want to look at a map of state parks.

In our Michigan example, you would click on “Find a Campground” in the example above.

On the next screen, click on “Campgrounds.”

The next option provides a list of available campgrounds and you can click on the “Map” view to see the location of all of the state park campgrounds.

If the area you want to visit is around Tahquamenon Falls (a great spot that we highly recommend!) then zoom into that area and you’ll see all of the available state campgrounds around it.

Here you can see that there are 9 state campgrounds in the surrounding area and look at details for all of them. We can also see that this map includes Michigan State Forest Campgrounds as well!

The final step is to click on “Details” and which will take you to all of the information regarding the campground and allow you to book the reservable ones.

As a final resource, in researching this I found a great article from Wand’rly Magazine here: https://wandrlymagazine.com/article/rv-camping-state-parks/. This article lists all of the state park campgrounds by state and tells average cost, how many sites each has as well as if they have hookups or not. It is a great resource and I suggest you use it in your travel planning!

With that, you should be armed with a veritable toolkit of knowledge around finding free and cheap campsites on government land!

Free Camping and Overnight RV Parking Apps and Websites

After running through all of these campgrounds and free sites to RV overnight, if you’re like us you may start to think: “Wow, that’s a lot of work to find cheap RV sites!”

Thankfully, there is a way of making it easier!

This is where we “pull back the curtain” and show you that although you can use all of the above state and federal websites to find RV sites (and you do need to use those sites to book your campsite!), there are several extremely useful tools out there which will show you several different types of campgrounds in a specific area at the same time.

That means locations of campgrounds in State Forests, National Forests, BLM land, Army Corps of Engineers land, National Parks, State Parks, casinos, Walmarts, Cracker Barrels, etc. all on one map!

Here are some of the best apps and websites we use to find free and cheap campgrounds:

AllStays Pro

AllStays Pro is a major go-to site Jennifer and I use for finding places to stay that really stand out, especially out of the way National Forest boondocking spots and dispersed camping spots. Many RVers are familiar with the AllStays app ($9.99 for iOS which is great, no Android, unfortunately).

But we like the AllStays Pro version because you can use it on a computer for a larger screen. This is a screenshot inside AllStays Pro for the area surrounding Cortez, CO and Mesa Verde National Park.

all stays mesa verde rv camping

As you can see, there is A LOT of info for campgrounds in this area:

  • Green dots indicate State or National Forests
  • Bright blue dots indicate State Parks
  • Brown dots indicate National Parks
  • Yellow dots indicate KOAs
  • Black dots indicate traditional RV Park and campgrounds
  • Walmarts, Cracker Barrels, Lowes, etc all are indicated by different dots

If you click on one of the dots, you’ll see information about that campground including address, GPS coordinates, general price range, when the campground is open, number of campsites and hookup availability, amenities available, phone number, reviews, and the campground’s website.

Below is a screenshot of AllStays for the Morefield Campground within Mesa Verde National Park. We visited here a few years back and it’s a great spot: https://rvlifestyle.com/mesa-verde-national-park-great-for-boondocking/

mesa verde national park

This is GREAT for planning because you can see several campgrounds in a specific area and find the ones that work for your rig.

If you click on this link you can save 10% off your AllStays Pro annual subscription ($29.95) using the discount code: rvpodcast

Overnight RV Parking

Overnight RV Parking

Overnight RV Parking is another subscription service we use which is very useful and lists something like 13,000 locations where you can camp overnight for free or at a very low cost.

This can range from inexpensive county and local parks, to boondocking locations, to the parking lot of welcoming businesses, to national and state forest campgrounds.

You might ask if I have something like AllStays – why do I need this?? Which is a fair question.

The thing to remember with all of these campground aggregators is that they are typically user-generated over a long period of time, so that means that there will be variations between each of them based on what users have found.

If we haven’t planned ahead too far, we’ve found that checking multiple options helps us find the best campsites.

Overnight RV Parking is extremely helpful for checking sites like businesses or truck stops that do NOT allow overnight parking even if they used to. This saves us from that dreaded tap on the window at all hours of the morning from local law enforcement.

This is a screenshot inside of Overnight RV Parking of I-70 outside of Kansas City, KS.

Going along I-70 is a common route you might take coming from the east side of the US to get to Utah or Colorado, or vise-versa. If you’re taking that trip, you might not want to spend money for a campground for the night, so you’d turn to Overnight RV Parking.

Here is what each of the pins corresponds to:

  • Light green pins that indicate where you can park overnight for free (these can be rest stops, truck stops, Walmarts, Cracker Barrels, etc.)
  • Dark green pins are for places that aren’t free, but are $20 or less (these are typically county/municipal parks, state parks, and state forests)
  • Red pins are places where you can no longer park, even if they may have been RV friendly before
  • Yellow pins are places where you technically aren’t supposed to overnight, but users have reportedly been able to camp without issue (i.e. prohibited parking rules are not strictly enforced)
  • Purple pins are for membership organizations like the Elks, the Moose, etc., where members can generally overnight (some have hookups)
  • Gray pins mean the location is simply known to exist, but Overnight RV Parking doesn’t have enough info to provide users any additional details

When you click on a pin, a menu will pop up on the side of the screen with information about that potential site including address, directions, GPS coordinates, phone number, and comments of important information to know.

In the example below it is a Cracker Barrel in Topeka, KS and the comments include useful info such as – make sure to call ahead of time and ask to stay, where the RV spaces are, if the sites are level, and a general note to try and grab breakfast or dinner if you use a site.

Cracker Barrel doesn’t need to let us park for free or at all so to keep this deal of reciprocity with them we should make sure to patronage their businesses! Plus, who doesn’t like a nice hot meal in the morning?

Overnight RV Parking is a subscription service, the cost is $24.95 a year.

However, we’ve had the owner on the podcast before. Listen to the “Stay in your RV overnight for Free” podcast episode and use this Overnight RV Parking Promo Link if you decide to subscribe, your one-year membership will be extended from 12 months to 15 months which works out to a pretty nice discount.

To get 15 months for the price of 12, use this link: https://rvlifestyle.com/overnight

Harvest Hosts

We have lauded Harvest Hosts many times throughout the past few years and we aren’t stopping now because it is still one of the best services we’ve found for extremely unique, interesting free overnight stays!

If you haven't heard of Harvest Hosts then you're in for a treat.

It's a unique membership service that lets RVers camp overnight FOR FREE at lovely outdoor venues such as wineries, breweries, museums, farms, orchards, and creameries across the US and Canada.

So far Jennifer and I have stayed at locations such as an alligator farm in Mississippi, an alpaca farm in New Mexico, a winery in New York’s Finger Lakes, and many, many other locations!

These experiences at Harvest Hosts locations have ended up being some of our favorite memories.

We were able to talk to the locals, get a feel for the local culture, and better appreciate the different areas of the country we’ve visited.

It is recommended that you patronage the businesses you are staying at but we usually were going to pick up some food or wine anyways!

When you search for a Harvest Hosts site, you can either search by state, individual city, or within a certain number of miles along your trip route!

You then can see your options and contact information to call ahead and see if there is space for you to spend the night. We’d recommend that you call ahead a few days or a week for most of these locations if you know when you’ll be driving through.

Listen here to our podcast with the owner of Harvest Host. 

You can get 15% off your Harvest Hosts annual membership ($79) using the discount code: HHFriends15

Boondockers Welcome

Boondockers Welcome is another great service that lets you overnight on private property, often at the homes of welcoming hosts.

They have over 2,000 members who have graciously opened up a spot on the driveway, or maybe out back, where you can find a safe, quiet spot to spend the night as you are passing through the area.

The hosts are usually RVers themselves and I’ve never heard of anybody that has stayed at a Boondockers Welcome place that hasn’t come away with a new set of friends.

Boondockers Welcome is a great place to turn to if you’re nearby a big city or in an area where it’s almost impossible to get a spot to camp or spend the night unless you book months or a year ahead of time.

You can use their website to search for hosts for free but in order to be able to contact a host and send them a message, you’ll need a guest privileges subscription ($50/year).

We did a search below for Destin, FL and you can see that there are about 8 hosts along the Emerald Coast where campgrounds can be very difficult to get and cost $80-100/night!

If you’re interested in hosting RVers on your property, it is free to sign up and for every guest that visits you, Boondockers Welcome will give you 3 months free to their subscription!

You can get 15% off your Boondockers Welcome annual membership ($50) using the discount code: RVLIFESTYLE15

Listen to our Podcast with the Owners of Boondockers Welcome!

Additional resources for trip planning and finding cheap RV sites:

There are several other resources we use for finding sites including:

For trip planning, we like to use hard copy maps and guidebooks as resources as well as these websites. Watch How We Plan For an RV Trip video here!

Maps:
Guidebooks:

Whew, that is it! This is a long post to read, but we hope it is a useful one for you.

If you learned something new after reading this, use it to plan out your next RV trip, or find a great, free boondocking site we’d love to hear from you. Please tell us in the comments below!

If you aren’t sure how to boondock in your rig but want to try it out, check out our digital guide, The Beginner’s Guide to Boondocking.

Get more RV travel ideas, tips, news and perks!

Each Monday we publish our RV Lifestyle Newsletter, where we share weekly articles about RV travel that inspire and inform. We'll start by sending you a free RV travel checklist. Plus, you become one of our Fellow Travelers, which gets you lots of special perks and RV discounts. It's totally free! Enter your info below and you are in!

Get a free Packing List for your next trip when you join our RV Lifestyle community and subscribe to our weekly newsletter. Plus free perks, discounts and exclusive RV travel tips!

Share this on Pinterest for quick access!

free camping rv lifestyle

Want to REALLY connect to the RV Lifestyle?

Become as a supporter of the RV Lifestyle and get inside access to exclusive tips, trip ideas, how-to RV info, private members-only campouts with Mike & Jennifer, and special perks, giveaways and discounts. CLICK HERE for info.
 

Where to find FREE or Cheap RV Sites Camping (2020)

Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.

18 Comments

  • Great guide, especially the walkthrough on finding places to park in National Forests. I’d also recommend services like Harvest Hosts. There’s an $80 annual fee but you get to park at 1,000+ breweries, wineries, museums, farms, and golf courses for no additional fees. We’ve used it a half-dozen times so we’re only “paying” like $15 per night at this point, and obviously it’s a better value the more you use it. Thanks again for the great write-up!

  • This is a great comprehensive article on camping in public lands. We’ll sure keep it and also get some of the books you mentioned, as, indeed, we do find ourselves in cell deserts. Thank you

  • This is a fantastic read. My wife and I are going to retire and travel and I can see myself coming to this page a lot to follow some of your suggestions. All of the information is very useful and I look forward to actually using the trip planner at recreation.gov. Looks great!
    Thank you, Thank you!!!!

  • Thanks for taking the time to put this together! I hope to go full time this summer.

  • […] Where to find FREE or Cheap RV Sites Camping (2020) […]

  • […] Click Here for Free and Cheap RV sites & Camping on State and federal land […]

  • […] Where to find FREE or Cheap RV Sites Camping (2020) […]

  • […] Where to find FREE or Cheap RV Sites Camping (2020) […]

  • Mike, this is the most useful post ever!!! And you have many useful posts. Thank you. We are in our RT Agile because we followed you for about a year first …your info on Rving with pets led us into this and info from you, Campskunk and Janet Arnold helped us try motorhome travel. PS I am glad to have an article to read, not so great on the podcast thing.

  • Wow! Mike you did an immense amount of work in putting this all together! Thanks so much from a fellow Michigander at heart displaced in the hi desert of Calif.
    Gary Hammond

  • My head is spinning, but thanks so much for all the great Information. I love following you and Jennifer. I can identify with both of you because you are in my “age bracket.”

  • […] Where to find FREE or Cheap RV Sites Camping (2020) […]

  • […] Where to find FREE or Cheap RV Sites Camping (2020) […]

  • Why are Cracker Barrell & Wal Mart boondocking? They are not in the boonies as the name implies.
    I call it mooching or sponging, you are too cheap to pay a fair price to a campground owner who is trying to make a living.

  • What a great article! So much good information. A must for anyone who wants to start boondocking. Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a complete guide. Very helpful. A new Canadian follower…

  • […] CLICK HERE for a list of websites and apps to help you find places to overnight […]

  • […] CLICK HERE for a list of websites and apps to help you find places to overnight […]

  • […] Table of Contents hide […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.