Camping is one of America's favorite pastimes. Whether you're in a remote area or a more populated region, there are plenty of places to camp in the United States. In this article, we'll show you how to find the best campsites for your needs, and give you some tips on what you need to know before hitting the great outdoors!
More Things To Know Finding the Best Places to Camp
There are several ways to find places to camp in the United States. You can check on camping websites, campground directories, and local tourism agencies. Read more about each below:
- Camping websites: There are many websites that list campsites throughout the country. These websites usually have search filters to help you find the perfect campsite for your needs.
- Campground directories: There are also many directories of campgrounds, which can be found in bookstores and online. These directories usually list campgrounds by state or region.
- Local tourism agencies: Many local tourism agencies have information on camping in their area. They can provide you with maps and lists of campgrounds, as well as other useful information.
Once you've found a suitable campsite, be sure to read the rules and regulations before you camp. Every campsite is different, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the specific rules for the site you're visiting.
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National Parks All Over the U.S. for Campers & Hikers
There are many great places to camp all over the United States. Here are a few of the most scenic national parks available as camping destinations:
- Yosemite National Park, California
- The Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, and North Carolina
- Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
- Arches National Park, Utah
- Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
- Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington
- San Juan National Forest, Colorado
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
- Saguaro National Park, Arizona
- Acadia National Park, Maine
- White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
- Big Bend National Park, Texas
- Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland
- Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
- Glacier National Park, Montana
- Onondaga Cave State Park, Missouri
Make sure to check beforehand if you're going car camping, there might be some campsites that are not available as RV sites. Some of these even have scenic hiking trails and also for a beach camping trip. Whatever suits your preferences!
These are just some of most campers' favorite places to camp around the country. There are many other great options available, so be sure to explore and find the perfect spot for your next camping and hiking trip!
Finding Free Camping Spots
How Does Free Camping Work?
Free camping is when you camp at a location without charging a fee in your RV or tent. There are not many non-developed campgrounds available for free camping. Some people call free camping primitive camping, boondocking, dispersed camping, and dry camping.
Many campers find free camping attractive simply because they don't have to pay for it, but free camping also provides a number of advantages, including being able to camp without amenities, camping in remote locations, and camping farther from other people than can be found in a campground.
How Can I Camp for Free?
You'll need to prepare to arrive at most free campsites as there are no amenities. As well as your RV or tent, you should bring important items if you plan to camp in a remote, wild area (such as a national forest or some property managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)):
- Drinking Water and Washing Water
- Trash Bags
- Food Storage Containers
- A Shovel and Toilet Paper
- An Outdoor Table and Chairs
- Necessary Documents and Permits
Camping responsibly in free campsites requires understanding Leave No Trace principles, including proper waste disposal techniques.
You will likely have access to a bathroom and to a place to dispose of garbage if you camp at a place that allows overnight parking, such as a Walmart parking lot or truck stop.
Are There Any Campgrounds That Offer Free Camping?
Camping is available for free all over the United States, but not every free campsite is the same. Whether it be at Walmart or in a national forest, free camping offers a wide range of beauty, conveniences, and enjoyment.
The USDA Forest Service is in charge of managing national forests. Almost every state in the US has a national forest, and while not all of them allow dispersed camping, many (especially those in the west) do.
National forests are great for RV camping, as well as tent camping. Dispersed camping is generally allowed in national forests for no more than 14 days, although it may be possible to stay from as little as one day up to 30 days. Contact the ranger station or stop in before you arrive to verify the local regulations.
Most national parks are surrounded by national forests or grasslands, but few allow free camping. Pull into a quiet spot in the national forest a few minutes out of the park, and enjoy the solitude.
BLM (Bureau of Land Management)
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is a U.S. government agency whose primary purpose is to manage land in the west, primarily in open, desert landscapes. Among the uses of BLM-managed lands are recreation, logging, grazing, and extracting resources. In most cases, free camping on BLM land is limited to 30 days, though it can be much shorter or longer in some cases.
Vans, RVs, and tent campers can stay on BLM land sometimes (but not always). It pays to do a bit of research ahead of time to be prepared for what you may encounter on BLM land because of its variety of uses.
Free camping is most common on national forests and the Bureau of Land Management land. However, other types of public lands are scattered throughout the United States. Free camping is sometimes available at state parks, county parks, and city parks. The same is true for water management districts, conservation areas, and trust lands. A few of the smaller federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers also provide campsites.
The length of stay, amenities, access, permit requirements, and type of camping allowed at these sites vary widely. You can determine if a free campsite is right for you by contacting the agency that manages them.
As a rule, parking overnight isn't considered camping. This means staying overnight in an area where parking is permitted through the night. Some places, such as Walmarts, rest areas, town parking lots, truck stops, may allow overnight parking.
There are many different rules and regulations regarding overnight parking. The Walmart in one town might allow overnight parking whereas the Walmart in the next town would not. Check all signage and ask permission from the manager if the business is open and there is signage posted. Tent camping is almost never allowed at overnight parking locations, so RVs and vans are the best choices.
A lot of people park overnight, so it can be noisy, bright, and crowded. The environment can also be shady at times. You should listen to your gut, read past reviews and tips, and then make a decision
Considerations When Choosing Free Places to Camp
Leaving No Trace
If you're willing to put in the work, you can find special places out there. Fees go towards maintaining campsites, so without people paying the fees, the area may not be maintained as regularly. You as a camper have a responsibility to minimize the impact of your presence.
Don't forget to leave your site in the same condition as when you found it. Leave No Trace (LNT) is a basic tenet of wilderness protection, and is vital for the preservation of wild areas. Ensure you have buried or removed your temporary bathroom, dispose of all your trash, and destroy your fire ring.
Leave No Trace general guidelines:
- When packing it in, make sure you pack it out
- Use durable surfaces when traveling (rocks, gravels, dry grasses)
- Make sure that holes for human waste are 6"-8" deep and at least 200 feet away from water sources
- Do not disturb plants and other natural objects
Make sure to keep fires small, burn them to ash, then extinguish them entirely, scattering cold ashes afterward.
Free camping does not provide many amenities, as mentioned previously. Water, picnic tables, and fire rings are included, in addition to plumbing and electricity. Bring an outdoor table and folding chairs for meals and lounging around. You should also keep plenty of water on hand - especially when you are camping in the desert.
Various Road Conditions
Camping in dispersed areas usually occurs near or at the end of bumpy, pothole-filled roads that do not see much traffic. Make sure you check the local department's website before you venture into a secluded section of the forest.
All three organizations keep updated information about road closures in an area, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (NPS), and United States Forest Service (USFS). Make sure your vehicle is capable of handling the terrain you are going to encounter. You do not want to get stuck on these roads without a phone, because they often snake into areas without cell service.
Location's Other Uses
Another thing to consider is: does anyone else use this area? Mining, logging, oil drilling, hunting, and grazing are carried out on BLM and USFS land. Knowing where your boundaries are on BLM and USFS land can save you from a ticket or trespassing in many cases.
You might also want to consider: who else is using this area? Land administered by the Bureau of Land Management and the USFS supports logging, mining, hunting, oil extraction, grazing, and other activities. It is common for BLM and USFS land to back up to private or National Park Service land, so knowing where your boundaries lie could prevent you from getting a ticket.
GPS and Maps
If you travel through the heart of a forest or desert, you may lose cell service.
With everyone and everything connected to the Internet, we are often driven to the middle of nowhere for this very reason.
It is always a good idea to have an atlas or map of the place on hand just in case.
What Are Some of the Things I Need to Know as a Camper?
Camping can be a lot of fun, but there are some things you need to know before you go. Below is some information to keep in mind:
- Always camp in a designated area, and make sure to follow all the rules and regulations.
- Be aware of your surroundings, and take precautions against possible dangers, such as wildlife or hazardous weather.
- Make sure you have all the necessary supplies, including food, water, shelter, and first-aid supplies.
- Plan your route in advance, and let someone know where you're going and when you expect to return.
- Be prepared for anything, and enjoy your camping trip!
Whether you want to go camping in the U.S. or are looking for a place to camp outside of the country, we hope that our list has helped you find some great places to enjoy nature and disconnect from your day-to-day life. If not, don't worry! We have plenty more blog posts about finding outdoor adventures right here at Camp Dot Com so be sure to check them out if you need any help planning your next adventure with family and friends. Which state would YOU like us to explore?