Alright folks! I think it’s about time that I help Megan out with the blog and write a post. So what better way to get my feet wet than discussing the best ways to find free and cheap camping through the US and Canada?
Disclaimer before we start: When picking a site, you will probably have to weigh the pros and cons for different types of campgrounds. For example, established campgrounds are nice because they usually have bathrooms, picnic tables, fire pits, and sometimes even showers. However, they can be pricey and reservable (read “full”). Walk-in sites can be awesome but you have to sleep in a tent (which we did on a few occasions but we liked sleeping in the Jeep better). Primitive camping, as you will read about below, is exactly what it sounds like – primitive. There will be no amenities but they are usually free/cheap and available. As you can see, depending on your overall disposition or your mood for a single evening, you will certainly have some choices to make. So here we go!
Timing is key! This goes without saying, but the weekends are ALWAYS packed. This means that if you want to stay at a developed campground, you should arrive early in the morning if you are looking for a spot for a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night. Campgrounds usually have a check out time of 11:00 AM, which means there is inevitably going to be some turnover each morning. Make sure you are there early to snag a spot! Side note – Tuesdays and Wednesdays are usually the best days for finding a spot without arriving early in the morning. Sundays and Mondays are hit or miss.
In the picture below you can see how packed this campground was on a Sunday afternoon. Luckily we arrived early Sunday morning and were able to grab a spot right on the ocean.
First Come First Serve Campgrounds (FCFS)
This was almost always our first Google search when looking for camping in a new area. Googling “Campgrounds in X” will not give you the information that you need, as many campgrounds require booking sites several days advance. Google “First Come First Serve Camping in X” instead. This will save you a ton of time calling around. You can usually find out how many FCFS sites are available at each campground to help point you in the direction of the one with the highest number (better chance of getting a spot).
Again, try to arrive before 11:00 am for FCFS campgrounds as the turnover after checkout is the highest. You’ll have the best chance of getting a spot as soon as the previous occupant vacates. FCFS camping usually cost between $10-$25/night. Below are a few photos of great FCFS we found along the way.
Forrest Service Roads (FSR)
Unless otherwise posted, you are allowed to camp on any FSR. The quality of these spots can vary from just a pull off on the side of the dirt road to a full on sweet site with a fire pit and great views. The quality of the road can also vary, from dirt that might as well be pavement to serious 4X4 terrain. Know what you and your vehicle can handle. FSR camping is a great option when you can’t find a spot at a developed campground or when you are trying to set up shop late at night. And they’re FREE! Pro tip – if you roll up on a site that has someone in it, don’t be shy to ask them if you can camp with them for the night. We met some awesome people this way!
One of the best tools we discovered this summer was a website called iOverlander (they also have a mobile app for iOS). This app is user maintained and is a repository of free and cheap camping all over the world. Simply plug in your desired location and everything gets plotted on a map for you. Each spot has reviews, pictures, prices (if applicable), etc. We found a TON of great spots through this app and know you will too. A similar resource we had success with was FreeCampsites. Check them out, and don’t forget to contribute for other road trippers! Below are two of our favorite sites we found through these online resources.
So! Whether you are on a 3-month road trip, or just looking to get away for a long weekend, hopefully these tips can help with the stress of finding a camping spot on the fly. If you have any tips or tricks of your own for finding spots, make sure to leave them in the comments so we can all benefit! Thanks for reading my first blog post ever – Happy Camping!