The joy of traveling in a JUCY mini RV is that you have the freedom to go anywhere! Unfortunately, that freedom doesn’t come free of charge, with the cost of campsites sometimes over $30 per night. While campsites can be awesome, and worth paying for because of the handy facilities they provide, the cost adds up quickly. As experienced budget travelers, we’ve pulled together a guide on where to find free 'camping' spots in the USA (we use the term "camping" loosely as many of these places are more just places to park for the night with no facilities).
Note that rules can change with time and vary between states, counties, and cities. Be sure to do additional research before setting up camp!
NATIONAL FORESTS & GRASSLANDS
There are 154 National Forests and 20 National Grasslands across the United States, totaling over 191 million acres of land you can find free camping spots on unless otherwise marked. Generally speaking, you can practice dispersed camping anywhere outside established recreation areas and developed campgrounds. These areas usually have no facilities or amenities for waste, water, or toilets, so you’ll need to be self-sufficient and leave no trace of your stay.
- Usually, the limit for staying in one place is 14 consecutive days in a 30 day period.
- Usually, you must park at least 100 or 150 feet from the nearest road, trail, or official campground. This can extend to half a mile in popular areas.
- You must park at least 200 feet away from water.
- Keep things clean and contained.
- Obey fire rules.
- Beware of wild animals.
Locations: Nationwide. Find them marked on Google Maps or via the United States Forest Service National Forest Map Locator.
BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT (BLM) LAND
This agency administers over 247 million acres of public land, equating to almost one eighth of the total area of the country! Similar to National Forests & Grasslands, you can practice dispersed camping for free anywhere outside established recreation areas and developed campgrounds. Some of the land is unsuitable for camping so do your research!
- Usually, 14 days stay in a 28 day period limit. After this time period, you must relocate to another site at least 25 miles away.
- Park and camp no more than 300 feet from an established road.
- You must park at least 900 feet away from water source.
- Keep things clean and contained – leave no trace.
- Obey fire rules.
- Beware of wild animals.
Location: Across 12 states - Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
Use this interactive map by BLM to find different BLM jurisdictions and locate the office that manage them. (INSTRUCTIONS: select “Surface Management Agency” form the layer list to see BLM land, select "Administrative Units” from the layer list to find local field offices if you’d like to call them for more location-specific information).
RETAILERS: WALMART, FLYING J TRAVEL CENTERS, CABELA’S, CAMPING WORLD, CRACKER BARREL RESTAURANTS, COSTCO AND KMART
Many retailers across the country allow RVs and other self-contained vehicles to stay overnight in their parking lot. Be sure to check the store policy or get permission so you're not told off!
- Arrive later in the evening and leave early in the morning.
- Park towards the outskirts of the parking lot so not to get in the way of genuine customers.
- Feel free to use the store bathrooms while the store is open.
- Keep a low profile and stay within your vehicle.
- Keep the area clean and tidy, leave no trace of your stay.
- Call the store ahead of time to check the specific store's policy. We’d recommend speaking to the manager as associates are usually unaware of the policy and will just say no out of over-caution.
- Buy something from the store to say thanks!
Locations: Nationwide. See individual companies websites for locations.
Lots of casinos allow overnight parking for RVs and other self-contained vehicles, sometimes they even cater to this with designated lots or fields and facilities. Casino’s make for a great place to stay given that they are usually fairly safe and provide easy access to bathrooms, cheap food and drinks, and entertainment 24/7!
- Park towards the outskirts of the parking lot or in the designated area.
- Stay within your vehicle and keep things clean and tidy.
- Call the ahead of time to check the specific casino’s policy and clarify set up.
- Make yourself, and your intentions known, on arrival as some casinos have a process to be followed or forms to be filled out.
Locations: Nationwide. A quick Google search will direct you the closest one.
- CasinoCamper.com to find out which casinos allow camping and see reviews from people who’ve visited before.
While they primarily cater to long-haul truckers, most truck stops are happy to provide accommodation to RVs. Conveniently, they have facilities like dump stations, laundries, toilets, and showers available for you to use (sometimes at a cost) and sell food, fuel and supplies so you can stock up while you stay. Given the nature of the location, it may be noisy but if you scope out the area and pick your parking spot well, this shouldn’t be a problem.
- Park out of the way of trucks.
- Stick to the bigger truck stops so you’re not taking up a legitimate trucker’s space.
- Call the ahead of time to check the policy and facilities available.
Check out truck stop companies’ websites for locations:
- Travel Centers of America
- Pilot Flying J Travel Centres
- Love's Travel Stops
- Rip Griffin Travel Centers
Research shows that tired drivers have a far greater chance of falling asleep at the wheel or being involved in an accident. Rest stops are areas along highways specifically designated for drivers pull over and rest so they’re feeling fresh to drive! Rest area usage policies, which detail how you can use a rest area and how long you can stay for, vary between states so be sure to do your research.
- Check local Rest Area Usage Policies as rules vary between states.
- Keep things contained and tidy, leave no trace.
- See the Interstate Rest Areas website for locations.
This all comes down to who you know or, who you ask! Make friends on your travels and connect on social media to stay in touch, you never know who will have space in their driveway or front yard for when you need a last minute spot. Alternatively, if you're in a pickle and see a local business has space, ask them whether you can stay. The worst that could happen is them saying no.
- Boondockers welcome - It’s like Airbnb but for RV parking on private land, and for free! You must pay a fee to gain access to the site and service.
- Harvest Hosts - Digital directory of free overnight stays available at farms & wineries. You must pay a fee to gain access to the site.