How to Camp for Free In the USA

Updated on

Camping gives us an opportunity to escape from our busy lives and reconnect with nature. Also, camping is a powerful means of refreshing our minds, rejuvenating our bodies and relieving stress, anxiety, and depression. Unfortunately, camping costs can add up fast, especially if you spend more than a week in a private or public campsite. The good news is that you can still enjoy the benefits of camping outdoors, without spending a fortune, through free camping. Whether you intend to spend a weekend away from your home or you are planning to go for an extended road trip, here is how you can camp for free in the U.S.

National Forests

Most national forests in the U.S allow free camping. And the good news is that almost every state has one of such national forests that allows people to camp free. However, you should note that these forests and national parks have restrictions pertaining to camping. They will not allow you to camp wherever however or whenever you wish. Therefore, you should first contact the body managing the national forest that you intend to set up camp and check their restrictions. But regardless of the rules, regulations or restrictions, most of them will allow you to camp with a trailer or RV. In short, you are free to sleep in a vehicle, under a tent or using your preferred means of camping. Also, most of the national forests will allow you to camp for 14 days at a time. The 14-day limit can be extended for up to 30 days, especially during the off-peak camping season. Free camping in the national forests affords you the opportunity to enjoy some solitude, quietness, and peace of mind. While you may not have access to picnic tables, restrooms, trash cans, benches or similar amenities, you will have a great time in the wilderness, without being bothered or interrupted by other campers.

Bureau of Land Management Lands

Land that falls under the management of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) mainly features open lands or desert areas. You can find most of this land in the western parts of the U.S. It’s mainly used for resource-gathering projects, mining, and grazing cattle. Also, free camping is allowed on these pieces of land. As noted above, this land mainly features hills of dirt and sand, deserted plains and a few trees, or none at all. Therefore, if you decide to camp on this land, then you should make sure that you bring enough water and food. Also, just like free camping spots in national forests, there are no trash cans, restrooms, picnic tables, and other amenities, which means you will have to carry yours. Furthermore, you cannot stay on this land for over two weeks at a time. Unlike forest parks, there are no restrictions when it comes to campfires. Camping on these deserted lands is ideal for people who love wide-open spaces. And while plants and trees are few, you will have an opportunity to see sheep, cattle and other domesticated animals that graze on these lands. You will also get an opportunity to catch gorgeous sunsets and enjoy desert beauty up-close.

Walmart Camping

Some retailers across the country such as Cabela’s, Walmart, Kmart, Camping World, and Cracker Barrel Restaurants allow overnight RV camping. Therefore, if you don’t live near a forest park or you don’t have access to a BLM site, then you can still enjoy free camping outside Walmart and similar stores listed here. While this option may not give you the serenity and beauty that comes with camping in the wilderness, it’s still a viable option, especially if you are traveling across the country. Also, camping outside a retail outside like Walmart will give you an opportunity to replenish your supplies before you hit the road.

Also, if you have some waste that you want to dispose of during your travel, you can use the facility’s dumpster as you camp in the parking lot. With this type of camping, you need to arrive later in the evening and then leave as early as possible, so that you don’t inconvenience the shoppers. Also, you need to maintain a low profile, keep the area clean, and stay within your vehicle. Furthermore, cooking outside is not allowed if are camping on a parking lot. It’s also important to note that some Walmart stores don’t allow overnight RV camping. Therefore, ensure you contact the store management in advance to check whether you can camp there overnight with your vehicle, before heading there.

Truck Stops

If you are going on a road trip across the country, you will come across plenty of truck stops. Most of these locations provide a safe spot for camping overnight, and you will not have to pay anything. While truck stops provide food, gas, supplies, and accommodation to long-distance truck drivers, you can also spend the night there with your vehicle while heading back home or on your journey to your camping destination. However, just as their name suggests, truck stops are just that – truck stops. You should not treat them like an ordinary campsite. They are just a place where you can spend the night and then continue with your journey the following morning.


Casino parking spots are similar to camping outside retail stores. The majority of casinos in the country are privately owned, which means that overnight camping policies will vary from one casino to the other. Therefore, if you intend to park your RV in a casino parking lot and spend the night there, you should call the management in advance and ask about their policies. Also, as much as casinos are entertainment spots, you should not spend more than one night on a single facility. Nevertheless, you will enjoy free camping, free drinks, cheap food as well as an opportunity to try your luck at various games offered at the facility. And who knows, you might even win some money and supercharge your trip.

Rest Areas

Designated rest areas in most states are usually located along highways and interstate freeways. Therefore, you can use such areas to spend the night in your vehicle and take a break from driving. Most rest areas are equipped with welcome centers, featuring various amenities such as picnic areas, vending machines, and restrooms, just to name a few. Rest areas will provide you with a safe place to spend the night, especially if you find yourself in an unfamiliar area. But just other free camping spots, rest areas also have their limitations when it comes to overnight parking and camping. Therefore, ensure you check the rules and regulations of the rest areas that you will come across during your trips.

Benefits of Dispersed Camping

If you are unfamiliar with free camping, you may be asking yourself why anyone would intentionally opt to camp somewhere where there are no amenities. But despite the lack of luxuries and various amenities, free camping also offers numerous benefits. Here are some reasons why you should opt for free camping instead of campground camping.

Save Money

One of the main benefits of dispersed camping is that you will enjoy the great outdoors without spending too much money. Between food, gear, permits, access fees, and fuel, camping costs can add up quite fast. The amount of money you will spend during your camping trip will depend on where you will be camping. For instance, most of the private campgrounds across the country charge approximately $80 per person per night or even more. Therefore, if you are camping with your family, then the fees may be quite steep.

Even if you will be camping on public campgrounds, you will still have to pay an access fee of $15 to $20 per night. While $15 per night may not seem like a lot of money, you will end up spending hundreds of dollars if you spend more than a week at the park. With free camping, you don’t have to worry about such costs. Instead, you can spend your money on other necessities like gas and food.

Enjoy Peace of Mind

Dispersed camping is still a new concept. Therefore, when it’s time to go for a camping trip, most people flock to private and public campgrounds. And this means that such spots will always be full of people, especially during peak camping seasons. Free camping spots, on the other hand, give you an opportunity to enjoy some peace of mind and solitude.

Considering that you will be camping alone most of the time, you will enjoy plenty of space and quietness in remote areas that are rarely frequented. While not all free camping spots offer this serenity, most of them do. Therefore, if you want to enjoy some serenity, quietness, and peace of mind, then you should consider primitive camping.

More Adventurous and Enjoyable

The majority of people go on camping trips to have fun and enjoy some adventure. Unfortunately, most paid public and private campgrounds may not offer you the level of adventure that you may have been looking for. And this is where free camping comes in. Most free camping spots are remote and rarely visited. Also, they are not as closely monitored by forest rangers as paid camping spots. As much as you may have to give up some luxuries offered by paid camping spots, you can rest assured that you will enjoy the level of adventure that you are looking for, and even more. When you are camping in remote areas, you can go for a hike and explore some trails that are rarely traversed. You will also have an opportunity to filter your own water, cook over an open fire, and just have fun.

Stress-free Camping

Camping was all about getting outside in the wilderness, pitching your tent, and spending some time with nature – away from the noise and chaos in the urban areas. However, that is not the case anymore. Camping has gained massive popularity over the last couple of years, which means you will have to share the campgrounds will 100 other campers from different parts of the world. Unless you go for your camping trip during the off-peak season, you will always have to deal with crowds.

Furthermore, most campgrounds require you to book several months in advance, since the spots are allocated on a first come first serve basis. The good news is that you don’t always have to deal with such issues. If you are a spontaneous or a random camper, free camping suits you perfectly. With free camping, you don’t have to book a campground in advance. You simply pack your gear and head out. And considering that the majority of free camping areas are rarely frequented, you don’t have to worry about sharing the space with crowds. In short, you can go for your trip anytime you want, without calling ahead to reserve a spot.

Closing Remarks

As you can see, you can still have an enjoyable time in the great outdoors, without spending hundreds of dollars. However, there are several things to keep in mind if you intend to explore free camping. First, you should conduct some research ahead of your trip, and ensure you carry the right equipment and gear. Second, if you are hiring an RV or a campervan, you should ensure that your insurance policy can cover you wherever you might be, in case of emergencies. Third, be considerate of other travelers or visitors. And most importantly, dispose of your waste properly, respect wildlife and conserve the environment.

Photo of author

About the author


Hi, I’m Brian Bradshaw. I’m a super duper mega hiking enthusiast, with a love for everything that has to do with outdoors, hiking, gear, footwear and more.

Leave a Comment