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RV Podcast 243: Our complete guide to free or almost free camping

| Updated May 22, 2019

 With the upcoming long Memorial Day weekend kicking off the 2019 camping season, a lot of RVers are going to be frustrated to discover no vacancy signs and if they do get a spot, overcrowded and expensive campgrounds that offer far from the idyllic getaway they hoped for.

We can help. In this episode, you’ll hear how Jennifer and I prefer to camp as we present to you our complete guide of free or almost free camping, from overnight stays to full two-week vacations. And along the way you’ll hear from a variety of experts.

We’ll have complete links to the places and services we describe in the shownotes on the travel blog as well, so stay tuned… you’re going to get some great suggestions.

Also this week, lots of RV News, your RV Lifestyle questions and a great off the beaten path report from the Burketts. But first, my lifelong traveling companion and my bride… Jennifer.



These are sure busy times for RVers, with the Memorial Day weekend now upon us and the summer camping season well underway. We’ve been traveling somewhere every week since we returned to Michigan a month or so ago. We had a wonderful time last week in northern Indiana in Amish country.


We were down there for meetings with some potential new sponsors and we took the time to explore a little. There are lots of fun shopping opportunities, one of the biggest flea markets you’ll find anywhere in the town of Shipshewana and down-home delicious food. I confess, my healthy eating plan went out the window when I found the bakery at the Essen Haus in Middlebury and, in particular, a raspberry cream pie.


But you are back eating healthy again and I’m proud of you. Little break and occasional indulgences are okay. But the key word is occasional. And you’ve been working out every day.  Which makes it not quite as bad when you give in to that raspberry cream pie which, I agree, was worth it.

RV Podcast 243: Our complete guide to free or almost free camping 1MIKE
Speaking of working out, we want to give a shout out to our new partner, Anytime Fitness. We’ve just become sort of traveling ambassadors for this chain of health clubs, which as regular listeners know we have been using for years. There are more than 4,000 Anytime Fitness locations around the globe and besides group exercise classes, well maintained equipment and a friendly welcoming atmosphere for visiting RVers, they all have clean, individual bathrooms with showers and privacy, which is great when you’re boondocking. Your membership gets you in any of their clubs and we always can find one as we travel across North America.

We’re working on a video that shows you how we use Anytime Fitness when we’re on the road. We stopped by the Portage, MI club last week. I did one a group class as Mike ran the camera. Hey, come to think of it, I didn’t see you working out that day!


Somebody had to run the camera! And I did. I got on a spinning bike.

That’s right. You did. Anyway, we’re glad to be partnered with Anytime Fitness. Exercise is vitally important to good health, especially as we age and especially when sitting behind the wheel of the RV for a long time as a lot of us will be doing now with the summer camping season in full swing

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Our 330 Rule T-Shirt, available at

For the summer of 2019, we have a fun promotion we want all us us to participate in: Telling the world about the 330 Rule! Here’s how: By wearing our very cool new 330 Rule T-shirts. They are now printed and available. They are very comfy T-shirts with Rule 330 printed across the back, celebrating our favorite way of RV travel, which is driving no more than 330 miles in a single day and/or stopping by 3:30 pm local time. We want to see a picture of as many of you as possible wearing those shirts taken in your summer adventures. Take the photo and then post it on Instagram, using the hashtag #rvlifestylemike . It will be fun to see where everyone goes and to evangelize the RV Lifestyle of not rushing, enjoying the journey and connecting with others. We have these shirts in all sorts of colors, in mens and womens sizes. And we also have stickers, coffee mugs and other merch with the same theme. Rule 330 is the motto Jen and I have for this summer and we’re enjoying wearing ours and explaining it to anyone who asks. You can find the 330 shirts and merch at Again, be sure and take photos of you wearing them and post to Instagram with the hashtag #rvlifestylemike.


Before we check the RV News of the week, two housekeeping notes: One, in this podcast we will mention a bunch of different resources, news stories and web links that will give you more information about the things we’re talking about. Whenever possible, we build in direct links to those topics on the shownotes page for this episode. You can find that at


Also, you may have a question you’d like us to answer, or a comment on the things we’re discussing. If so, we invite you to leave us that question or comment on the special voicemail number we have for the podcast – it’s 586-372-6990.  If you are driving and can’t write it down right now, just go to the RV Lifestyle travel blog at and scroll down the page. You’ll see that number prominently posted on the blog.


Record number of motorists expected to travel this weekend for the unofficial start of summer 
This Memorial Day weekend unofficially kicks off the summer travel season, and AAA predicts nearly 43 million Americans will be traveling, the second highest on record. Despite gas prices around $3 per gallon for regular, most will drive to their destination, according to AAA, with Thursday and Friday being the most heavily congested.
Check out these campgrounds for beautiful but less crowded spots to camp in Utah this Memorial Day weekend
Speaking of Memorial Day weekend, a story about breathtaking campgrounds in Utah caught my eye last week. The story by a Utah television station featured 10 camping spots that are breathtakingly gorgeous, but typically not crowded. At least one of the spots is also in our Southern Utah 7 Day Adventure Guide (for more info click here) that we issued last month. 
Rangers reminding visitors to stay away from mother elk and their young 
If you're heading to Yellowstone National Park anytime soon rangers are warning visitors to stay away from mother elks and their calves. Mother elk can become aggressive to anyone who gets too close. Last year two women were attacked by elk, and rangers this year are seeking to get the word out to stay far away – a good warning for anyone in wilderness areas near elk, or even moose, as we see reports of attacks each year when visitors get too close to moms and their young.
Michigan representative introduces bill to give state residents first bids on state campground reservations which are increasingly hard to get
We all know how hard it can be to get a camping reservation at a state park. A bill recently introduced in the Michigan state house would give Michigan residents a two week head start in making camping reservations, if it becomes law. The state representative who introduced the bill said he had heard from constituents who can't get a summer camping spot because reservations fill up six months ahead of time within minutes of becoming available. The interesting bill proposes giving state residents first dibs since state dollars help fund the campgrounds.JENNIFER
Zip-line opens at West Virginia state park and thrills riders 
A West Virginia state park recently opened nine zip lines for guests, continuing a trend we're seeing of state parks and campgrounds adding activities normally found in resorts. The Pipestem Resort State Park has 81 campsites and is located on  Bluestone River Gorge. In a story published in a local paper, a park worker talked about the importance of adding features to state parks to address requests of a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts. 

 This part of the podcast is brought to you by RadPower Bikes,an electric bike manufacturer offering direct to consumer pricing on powerful premium electric bikes. Now with free shipping  


Questions that came in this week…

Hey Mike, been following for years. One question I have is did you and Jennifer have someone that made you want to start the rv lifestyle? Keep up the good work,safe travels.  R.P.

  • We answer

Several months ago you showed us the “ roll up” bed you use in your Roadtrek, What is the name of it?



This week we want to talk in our interview section about free or almost free camping.

It’s no secret that many RV campgrounds now charge almost as much as some motels do. $50 a night is common. Some are even more.


And it’s also no secret that RV campgrounds are very crowded. Many of the most popular, in state and national parks, require reservations six months to a year out. Across North America, full campgrounds, or very crowded campgrounds are pretty much the norm.


First, we want to stay that we are not anti-campground. There are many we really like. It’s just that we prefer a little more elbow room when we camp than is offered by many campgrounds. And because we spend so much time on the road, saving money is important.


So let’s start with our absolute favorite kind of camping – boondocking in state or national forests, BLM land and the like.  Some are in campgrounds, though they are typically small and most do not have hookups or anything but a picnic table and firepit. They may cost a few dollars. So you need to have enough battery and solar power and holding tanks to make you self-contained. But man, are these spots beautiful.

For some expert advice on finding the perfect such boondocking spot, we turn to our good friend Campskunk. If you don’t know Campskunk, he had his wife Sharon, and their cat Fiona, are fulltimers in their campervan.


Very rarely do you find them in commercial campgrounds. Where you do find them is spectacular locations where they can boondock for free, or very little money.

We asked Campskunk to share some advice on how you can do the same thing:


RV Podcast 243: Our complete guide to free or almost free camping 3MIKE

There are lots of other places to camp inexpensively and boondock besides wilderness areas like Campskunk prefers. That’s where or friend Jim O’Briant comes in. Jim runs, a subscription service, providing details for over 13,000 free or nearly free parking locations. 


We start out our conversation with Jim by noting an alarming trend. More and more places around the country are prohibiting places like Walmart from allowing people to overnight for free.



Next up, we want to talk about a service that we have used a lot this year, a service called Harvest Hosts. We’ll put a link in the shownotes of a video we recently did that shows you how awesome it is to stay at Harvest Host sites.


Harvest Hosts members can stay for free overnight at member farms, wineries, golf courses and attractions all over North America. There are over 1,000 locations to choose from and our friend Joel Holland from Harvest Hosts explains how this service works and the uniqueness of the places where you can stay.



Okay. We have one more resource for you that will always let you find a great place to stay for free. It’s called Boondockers Welcome. This service lets you overnight on private property, often at the homes of welcoming hosts. It’s where people open 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.


It costs $24.95 a year to belong. But again, if you use the link we provide, you can get 15 months for the price of 12. Just go to


So there you go, we’ve just given you enough information to find that perfect spot to camp… no matter how crowded the commercial campgrounds may be in the areas you’re looking for.

Send us photos of the places you find. Remember, use the Instagram #rvlifestylemike. We hope this segment of the podcast has been helpful to you!

The interview of the week is brought to you by, where every new  motorhome is delivered to the customer free, anywhere in the country


BY Tom & Patti Burkett

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Patti and Tom Burkett

From Pittsburgh to New Orleans is two thousand miles by river.  You’ll pass Portsmouth, Ohio where professional football started, the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky, the town of Metropolis where Superman lives, and meet the mighty Mississippi in Cairo, Illinois.  Then it’s on down the line to Memphis and Vicksburg until you see the lights of New Orleans.  The first commercial voyage happened in 1812, though it’s unclear exactly how this was done, as the twenty-six foot falls of the Ohio stood in the way.

The Falls were the only obstacle in the entire two thousand mile route, and the lock and canal system that bypasses them was the reason for the founding of Louisville, Kentucky.  Louisville is on the upriver end of the Falls.  Shippingsport is on the lower end.  Until the canal was complete, ships offloaded in Louisville, the goods were moved overland to Shippingsport, and the journey continued onward to the Gulf.  Between Shippingsport and Louisville grew the town of Portland.  Home to shipbuilders, rivermen, outfitters, and chandlers, it was the hub of working life on this stretch of the Ohio.

The history of Portland is marked by the predictable ups and downs of river communities, and the little Portland Museum tells that story with documents, maps, models, and artifacts both historical and modern.  We arrived intending to see a special exhibit on river culture, and indeed we did, but that was not the highlight of the visit.  Just inside the entrance, standing in the wheelhouse of the riverboat Saline, we met Mary Millicent Miller.  Mary’s husband George was a boatbuilder in Portland.  The two saved their money until they had enough to build their own boat, and intended to both live on and make their living with it.

Imagine their dismay when George, an accomplished pilot, was not able to secure a master’s license because he was colorblind.  Undaunted, he taught what he knew to Mary and, (quoting here) “enduring questioning no man was ever put to,” she passed the exam and became the first licensed woman riverboat master in the country. 

RV Podcast 243: Our complete guide to free or almost free camping 5
animatronic Mary Millicent Miller on the bridge of the Saline

The two of them plied the river together for more than twenty years, traveling to the ends of the navigable waters.  In newspaper interviews over the years, this “lady riverboat man” was hailed by fellow masters as a deft and capable operator.  Despite her thirty-year-old animatronics, Mary stood boldly in her starched white dress and straw hat and captivated us with her story.

We also discovered, at the Portland museum, that this is the hometown of football great Paul Hornung, and the home of the Mackinettes, a storied early women’s basketball team.  The Falls of the Ohio also have a much older tie-in to our history.  For thousands of years the passage across the river created by the falls has been used by wildlife, Native Americans. and early settlers of the region.  It sits on a migration route the bison followed from the salt licks of Kentucky to the prairies of Illinois, and has also been used by humans as long as they’ve inhabited the region.

The Buffalo Trace, sometimes called the Vincennes Trace, appears in many reports and diaries from early travelers and settlers.  Along most of its length is can still be walked today, especially well-marked sections running through the Hoosier National Forest.  If you’d like to add a little something to your experience, start at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, which sits right on the trail.  A special historical tour there will take you below ground to see the original E.H. Taylor distillery, its 170 year old remains discovered only in 2016.



Mike Wendland

Published on 2019-05-22

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

2 Responses to “RV Podcast 243: Our complete guide to free or almost free camping”

July 25, 2019at7:50 am, Scott Allen said:

I’m listening to this episode on my car on the way to work, when the segment from Campskunk comes up. It sounds like some useful information, but I want to reference it later. So I came to this page, to read what he said, and Campskunk’s entire segment isn’t here!

May 27, 2019at11:58 am, Avid Reader said:

Do you know of a service that carries RVs on a barge down the Mississippi River? Or any other way to do this inexpensively. We would enjoy a riverboat cruise, but the cost is prohibitive.

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