So you want to see the US … and you’d like to do it on the cheap. Camping is already going to be less expensive than staying in hotels or hostels, but I assume you’re not camping because it’s cheaper. I assume it’s because you want to experience the outdoors and really see the US. Perfect!
There’s more to it than that, though. I’ve traveled and camped all around the country. The best campsites I’ve found were all free or cheap! Why were they the best?—Because they usually have less people, more adventure and more untouched areas to explore. Here are a few tips that most people don’t know about—some of the best-kept secrets of American camping, in my opinion. I’ll ramble-on no further. Here they are:
This is one of the greatest things I’ve ever discovered. Seriously. I’d almost rate it higher than my discovery of Nutella or craft beer. Okay maybe not higher than that … but it’s good.
Freecampsites.net is a website where you can easily search for—you guessed it—free campsites all around the country. It’s really easy: You just click on a state and it will show you a map with a bunch of pins which each represent a free campsite.
You can hover over the pin to get a quick summary, or click on it to get detailed information including GPS coordinates, reviews from other campers, and detailed directions to the site.
I’ve used this site all over the country. In fact, most of the best campsites I’ve ever stayed at have been from this website and completely free!
2. Bureau of Land Management
Here’s the gist—the United States government, in the mid and late 1800s, systematically relocated (and that is the absolute pleasantest way of putting the terrible, tragic and disgusting way our government treated these peoples) hundreds of Native Americans onto reservations. White folks discovered gold, farming land, whatever reason the US deemed “necessary” to obtain lands, and people were forced to leave.
Here we are hundreds of years later, and where is all this land we needed so much? Sitting there. I try to keep this an optimistic and happy site, so I’ll get back on target:
Somewhere down the line, the Bureau of Land Management was created; and subsequently we can at least find some small benefit in the midst of tragedy: There are large swaths of land all around the West available for free or cheap camping.
You can visit the BLM Website and browse around the state(s) you’ll be visiting. Some sites are free; some are just cheap.
I’ve stayed at quite a few BLM sites, but usually they aren’t quite as good as the ones I’ve found on the aforementioned Free Campsites website. Also, there are little to no spots in the East. This option is much better for exploring the West.
3. National & State Parks
This is almost always the most expensive of these camping options and I know that National and State Parks aren’t exactly secret tips for camping, but hear me out: There are almost always cheaper camping rates than you see listed. These are usually “backpacking” or “primitive” sites, but many can be reached by road. Some are free, some are $3-5, you get the idea.
Some National Parks, such as Black Hills National Park in Wyoming, offer free “wilderness camping” throughout the entire park. Make sure to pay attention to the rules (Black Hills Nat’l Park doesn’t allow fires for wilderness camping) and follow them.
The main reason I’ve mentioned this option is because the first two options don’t have the greatest success in the East. State and National Parks will probably be your go-to if you’re camping in the East.
I also mention them because they are the only option here which usually offers showers, which believe it or not, may be useful at some point during your trip. (:
Also, don’t be afraid to ask! Sometimes I’ve gotten really cheap camping just by asking the person working the Park Office. Talk to the locals!—this is a biggie while traveling and I mention it all the time.
Do you have any other ways for finding cheap camping? Or have you tried any of these options? Tell me about them in the comments!
Peace and Happy Travels,