When it comes to traveling on a budget, finding free campsites can be a game-changer. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available that can help you discover free and affordable camping options across the country. In this guide, we’ll explore some of the top websites and apps for finding free campsites in the USA, including iOverlander, Garmin Tread Overland, FreeCampsites.net, Harvest Hosts, and the All Stays app.
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Yes, free camping is legal in many parts of the United States, but it's important to know where and how you can camp for free legally. This is often referred to as "dispersed camping", which is allowed in numerous areas on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Forest lands. However, regulations can vary, and there may be limits on how long you can stay in one place. Always check local regulations and respect the environment by adhering to Leave No Trace principles.
Where can I camp for free in the USA?
You can find free campsites across the USA in a variety of locations. National Forests and Grasslands, as well as Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, are among the most popular destinations. These areas allow dispersed camping, but always make sure to check the specific rules for the area you plan to visit. Some states also offer free camping at designated State Forests and Wildlife Management Areas (WMA). Consider using apps like iOverlander, FreeCampsites.net, and All Stays, which provide detailed information about thousands of free camping spots across the country.
Leave No Trace principles for dispersed camping
"Leave No Trace" is a set of outdoor ethics promoting conservation in the outdoors, and is crucial to respectful and responsible free camping. The principles are as follows:
Plan Ahead and Prepare: Understand and respect the regulations and special concerns for the area you'll visit. Always have a backup plan in case your desired campsite is not available.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Stick to established trails and campsites, camp at least 200 feet from lakes and streams, and avoid altering the site.
Dispose of Waste Properly: "Pack it in, pack it out". This applies to all trash, leftover food, and litter. Where facilities exist, deposit human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails.
Leave What You Find: Preserve the past and allow others to discover them. Don't move rocks, plants or other natural objects.
Minimize Campfire Impact: Use a camping stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
Respect Wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance, do not follow or approach them. Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations securely.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
Remember, free camping is a privilege, not a right. By following these principles, we can ensure the availability of these beautiful, free campsites for generations to come.
iOverlander is a comprehensive app that not only allows you to search for free campsites but also offers user-submitted information on campsites, water sources, and other essential amenities. Its user-friendly interface and detailed maps make it simple to browse through hundreds of camping options across the country. Plus, it’s completely free, so it’s an excellent option for travelers looking to save money on camping fees.
This is the app we use the most frequently and it's generally how we find our most epic camping locations. Because it's user generated, there are oftentimes recent reviews of places including photos so you get an idea of what sort of spot it is before you even arrive. The downside to user generated information is that sometimes the information can be incorrect. We've seen lots of places marked on iOverlander that are clearly illegal parking. I can't emphasize enough how bad of an idea that is. Not only could you get in real trouble, but you're making this nomadic lifestyle harder for each person after you.
We use iOverlander on our Garmin Tread Overland since it's integrated into the maps in the GPS. We talk more about this below...
The Garmin Tread Overland GPS system is a fantastic tool for travelers looking for off-road camping options. This is a newer piece of gear for us and we absolutely love it! The device comes pre-loaded with thousands of public land camping sites, so you can easily find and navigate to free campsites deep in the wilderness. You can also use the device to track your progress and plan out your trip ahead of time.
Apps such as iOverlander are already integrated into the system and you can easily find campsites that are near you. The map boundaries showing public lands and private lands is incredibly helpful when looking for free dispersed camping.
This piece of gear comes with a price tag, but if you overland a lot, we'd highly recommend it for its ability to work far away from cell signal since its a GPS using sattelite. The only thing to note is that we still refer to Google Maps to search for things like restaurants and coffee shops since Google Maps tends to be a bit more up to date and intuitive to search through those types of locations. Typically we'll search for a restaurant on Google Maps and then input the address into Garmin.
FreeCampsites.net is an excellent resource for finding free campsites across the country. The website allows you to search for campsites by state, so you can easily find options near your planned route. Additionally, the site has a user-submitted review system, so you can read about other travelers’ experiences at different campgrounds to help you make an informed decision.
We use FreeCampsites.net far less often that iOverlander just because the iOverlander app is so convenient. That being said, FreeCampsites.net often has other camp spots listed that aren't on iOverlander, so it's always a good idea to check both.
Harvest Hosts is an innovative camping membership program that offers free or low-cost overnight stays at over 1,400 wineries, breweries, and farms across the country. For a small annual fee, members can access a list of unique and scenic camping locations that are unlike any traditional campsites. Plus, you get the chance to purchase the local produce and products of the host locations while you stay.
Technically Harvest Hosts isn't free since there's the annual membership (~$120), but after that you can stay at as many host locations as possible. It is expected that you support whatever business you're camping with that night, but usually that's easy to do since you can stay on farms with fresh produce, eggs, meat, flowers, and more! We've stayed at breweries, flower farms, wineries, blueberry farms, alpaca farms, and so many other cool places. While the annual fee is a bit steep, Harvest Hosts does offer some great options for a very low price.
Note: All vehicles must be self contained to join and use Harvest Hosts.
The Allstays app is a comprehensive resource for finding campsites, RV parks, and other accommodations across the country. The app includes over 50,000 campsites and allows you to filter your search based on proximity, price, and amenities. You can also save your favorite campsites and access user-submitted reviews from other travelers.
Allstays is our go-to on long days of driving when we're rolling into town late and we need somewhere safe to park. This usually looks like Walmart, truck stops, or other public places that allow overnight parking. Always ask permission to stay before setting up for the night and don't rely on reviews from past people since many businesses are rapidly saying no to overnight parking. The last thing you want is a knock on the door from a police officer at 2:00 am telling you to get out.
Traveling can be expensive, but finding free campsites can help you cut down on the costs. With these top websites and apps, you can easily find free camping options across the USA. Whether you’re using iOverlander to find user-submitted camping spots or the All Stays app to browse through thousands of sites, there’s no shortage of resources available to help you plan your next camping adventure. Happy camping!
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We're Chris and Sara
A creative husband and wife duo from a small-town in Tennessee with passion for all things travel. Checkout the links below to join us on our past, present, and future adventures!