In a world where everything comes with a price tag, knowing that you can go & and live in a tent for free during your trip is liberating. However, many times people know they can camp for free but don’t know how to, or what they should be thinking about. That’s precisely why we wrote this article: so that people can read all about free camping, and putting it into action in their next camping trip!
Free camping, aka boondocking, is camping outside of established campgrounds, without the fixed set of rules that campsites have and not surrounded by other campers. It’s about finding a spot where you can pitch your tent without worrying about paying fees.
But where can you find these hidden gems? The first thing you need to do is get familiarized with the policies of national parks, national forests, and lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (aka BLM).
National Forests and BLM Lands
National forests are a great place to start looking for free tent camping.
Many of them have ‘free dispersed camping’ areas outside of designated campgrounds that you should be looking into. These spots don’t have amenities like water, trash removal, or restrooms, but if you bring proper camping gear, you can have a great experience.
Similarly, lands under the Bureau of Land Management are also great for people seeking solitude and a true off-the-grid experience. These are areas that are remote, so you won’t find any campers and will be able to stay alone in a more introspective trip.
Finding Free Campsites
Although it looks like a dream, finding free campsites is not too complicated (at least in the US).
Like for many other things, you should start by going into the Internet and searching for websites and apps that focus on free campgrounds. One of the more iconic ones is the “freecampsites” – that you can find by clicking on that link.
Disclaimer: we are not sponsored by freecampsites and have no agreement whatsoever.
These platforms often have user reviews and GPS coordinates for free camping areas, making it much easier for you to plan your journey.
While national parks are beautiful places, free camping is often limited.
However, some national parks offer “free dispersed camping”, especially in less-visited areas. If you choose to go for one of these areas, you need to check the specific rules and regulations of each park before your trip, as they can change.
But What’s Dispersed Camping Exactly?
Dispersed camping is a middle-ground position between adventure and responsibility.
While it allows you to camp outside specific areas, you’ll have to respect nature by adopting the Leave No Trace principles (packing out all your trash, etc.) If you don’t and you’re caught, you will be fined. Why take a chance?
The Role of Land Management
If you’re into free tent camping, you should try to understand land management. Because this article is not specifically about this topic, we’ll just summarize in a paragraph the main idea.
The key principle is that different agencies have different rules. For example, national forest land is managed by the USDA Forest Service, while the Bureau of Land Management is in charge of public lands.
Each entity has its own policies regarding camping, fire usage, and length of stay, so you’ll have to know where to check depending on where you’re planning your trip.
Our Tips for Your Free Camping Trip
If it’s your first time reading us, we should know that our main goal is to educate people about everything related to camping, and many times the best way we can add value is by giving tips based on our experience.
If you’re going free camping for the first time, check out our tips below
Research, Research & Research: The first thing you should do when organizing your trip is to research the area you plan to camp in. You need to know the rules that are applicable there, forecast weather conditions, and any wildlife precautions
Be Prepared: Since free campsites usually lack amenities, bring sufficient water, food, and proper camping gear
Leave No Trace: Always clean up after yourself and leave the site as you found it, if not better. Remember the Leave No Trace Principles
Stay Safe: Be aware of your surroundings, especially wildlife and weather conditions. Create a plan for any emergencies (better safe than sorry!)
What You’ll Need to Camp for Free
Camping for free requires a bit more planning compared to staying at paid campsites.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind:
A. Finding Free Campsites and Overnight Parking
Research Tools: Use the Internet! There are a bunch of resources and apps online dedicated to camping. These will help you find free campsites and areas that let you park overnight for free. Keep an eye out for user reviews and recent information to make sure that things are still free
Legal Considerations: Always confirm that the area where you plan to camp in allows free overnight parking. Be aware that rules and regulations can change between different regions and types of land, so you need to check them every time you go camping
Safety and Accessibility: Although remote areas are the best to stay alone and in peace, you have to pay attention and see if they are safe and accessible. Again, the Internet will be your best friend
B. Equipment and Supplies
Tent and Sleeping Gear: You will need a good-quality tent and comfortable sleeping gear. Depending on the weather conditions you expect to find, make sure that the tent you choose to take with you is appropriate
Food and Water: Since free campsites rarely offer amenities, you should bring enough food and water for your whole trip
Emergency Kit and Tools: Always have a basic emergency kit, including a first-aid kit, a multi-tool, and any necessary medication
Waste Management Supplies: Be prepared to pack out all your waste, as free camping areas typically do not have trash disposal facilities
C. Respecting the Environment
Leave No Trace Principles: Follow the Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment
Fire Safety: Check fire regulations that are applicable in the area. If fires are allowed, use existing fire rings and make sure that the fire is completely extinguished before you leave
D. Keeping Up With Rules & Regulations
Local Regulations: You should always check local regulations related to camping and overnight parking. These can be fire bans, wildlife advisories, and specific area restrictions
Weather: Keep an eye on weather forecasts and be prepared for any weather conditions, especially if you’re camping in remote areas
So Where Can You Find Free Camping Spots?
Online Resources and Apps: We’ll say it again: you need to use the Internet! There are a lot of websites and apps dedicated to helping campers find free campsites
BLM Land: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is in charge of vast amounts of public land, much of which is available for free camping
National Forests: You’ll be able to disperse camp for free in many national forests outside of developed campsites
Going Car Camping?
Accessibility: When planning a car camping trip, you need to think about the accessibility of the site. Some free camping areas, especially on BLM land or in national forests, might not be accessible by all vehicle types
Free campsites near hiking trails offer the perfect combination, as you can kill two birds with one stone: you’ll be able to camp and hike
Research Trails: You should also research the hiking trails in the area. Check if they match your skill level and check for any recent trail updates or closures
No Amenities: Free campsites normally do not offer the amenities found in paid campgrounds, such as restrooms, water sources, or picnic tables
Duration of Stay: Many free camping areas have limits on the duration of your stay, often around 14 days. Make sure that you respect these
Seasonal Availability: Some areas might only offer free camping during certain times of the year. You should always check seasonal availability, especially in areas prone to extreme weather conditions
Free tent camping is a journey back to nature’s roots, a way to disconnect from the hustle of daily life and reconnect with the wilderness. Whether you’re setting up a free campsite in a national forest, exploring the vast lands managed by the BLM, or enjoying the rugged beauty of dispersed camping spots, the experience is as enriching as it is liberating. So pack your tent, embrace the adventure, and discover the freedom of living in a tent for free.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are There Any Legal Restrictions on Camping in a Tent for Free?
Yes. These legal restrictions will depend on the land management policies of the area and can cover topics such as the length of stay, fire use, waste disposal, and wildlife protection.
What Should I Consider When Choosing a Campsite?
You should think about accessibility, safety and proximity to water sources, and aim for a site with flat ground for your tent. A good thing to also consider is the exposure to elements like wind and sun.
What Are Some Challenges I Might Face?
You may face tough weather, might have to do your personal hygiene without facilities, and manage the waste. Also, isolation can be a challenge if you are in a remote area with no other fellow campers.
How Can I Stay Safe?
Read about wildlife and natural hazards in the area. Always keep a good distance from wild animals, store your food securely, and know basic first aid. It’s also a good idea to let someone know about your whereabouts and expected return date, and carry a phone with signal for emergencies.
What Are the Best Practices for Campfire Safety in Free Camping Areas?
Weve written an article on campfires that you should check if you’re interest in it. Bottom line, only make fires in permitted areas and use existing fire rings if available. Keep fires small and manageable, never leave them unattended, and fully extinguish them before leaving.