How To Find Free Campsites on the Road
One of the major perks of living in a van is being able to be completely self contained and off grid. The ability to not rely on established campgrounds is incredibly freeing. We built our van so that we can be off grid for a week plus so boondocking is our absolute favorite. There’s nothing like having a private campsite all to yourself, and not having to pay for it! Before we dive into how to find free camp spots, we want to share a little bit about Leave No Trace Principles so that we can all enjoy these places.
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How To Responsibly Boondock
As boondocking becomes more popular, we all have to do our part to keep these places pristine and beautiful for generations to come. Sadly, we have come across several campsites that have trash, shell casings, and other things left around. We always advocate for the seven Leave No Trace Principles. You can visit their website for more in depth explanation but we will briefly go over each point. Plan ahead when you boondock to ensure safety and minimize impact. Travel and camp on durable surfaces to reduce erosion and impact to the environment. Dispose of waste properly, this means packing out all of your trash, not leaving anything in the fire ring, digging catholes for human waste, not leaving toilet paper, etc. If you come to a particularly trashed campsite, do your part to help clean it up, leave it better for the next person. Leave what natural things you find and avoid damaging plants and trees. Minimize campfire impacts, this is a huge point especially with the historical fire seasons we have had. Always research if there is a campfire ban in the area you are staying. If campfires are allowed, never leave your fire unattended and be sure to put it dead out before leaving, this means drowning it with water until the coals are cool enough to touch. Respect wildlife, observe them from afar and be sure not to leave any food scraps at camp. Finally, be respectful of other visitors. If you are camping near others, avoid playing loud music, shooting guns, etc., these places are ours to share. Now that you know how to minimize your impact, let’s dive into how to find camp spots!
This is our go to app for boondocking. It can be used completely offline which is particularly useful when you don’t have service. It is also international, we utilized this app when we were in Costa Rica overlanding in a Toyota Hilux with a rooftop tent! For more information on that adventure head here. You can set to filter established campgrounds or wild camping. It also shows useful spots like propane fills, restaurants, and water fills. It is crowd sourced and you can read through reviews of campsites. This can help you determine if places are safe, cleanliness, etc.
Google Maps Satellite View
Eric is a cartophile so poring over maps is one of his favorite things to do. He browses for hours looking for clearings at the end of roads or near water. We found one of our favorite campsites in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan this way. It is important to pay attention to who owns the land you are on if you decide to camp this way. While this method requires more effort, you can be rewarded with some pretty epic spots.
BLM Land and National Forest Land
Dispersed camping is legal in most Bureau of Land Management land and National Forest land as long as there is not a sign posted stating otherwise. You can camp at most of these sites for 14 nights in a 28 night period. Some areas have shorter regulations such as 3 days, you will want to keep your eye out for signs indicating different rules. BLM land is incredibly abundant in the Western United States. There are times we will just drive around on forest roads until we happen across a spot, we are often rewarded handsomely! As always, follow leave no trace principles when practicing dispersed camping.
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OnX Hunt/OnX Off Road
This is another tool we utilize when finding dispersed camping sites. It is a paid subscription which was first popular with hunters and has since become popular with the off-roading community. OnX Hunt shows property lines and land ownership so you can ensure you are camping in legal areas. Generally if you are on National Forest or BLM land, you are in the clear as long as there are not posted signs. This offers a lot of peace of mind when boon-docking.
This is another popular resource for finding free campsites. We don’t use it as often as you are not able to access it offline. We do reference this website however when we are in an area that does not have a lot of spots on iOverlander. You can set filters to paid, dispersed, and permit campsites. It is crowd sourced like iOverlander and provides reviews.
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Business Parking Lots
Though this is our least favorite, it is a reliable method to find a place to sleep for the night. Each individual location varies however in general, you can camp for free in the parking lots of Walmart, Cabelas, Casinos, and Cracker Barrel. We stayed in a Casino parking lot for 4 nights when we traveled to Pictured Rocks. While it is not the most scenic, it has great security! Some rest stops allow overnight camping however this varies from state to state.
As you can see, there are many resources to find free camping. Do you have any other methods for finding campsites? We have heard good things about Harvest Hosts and Free Roam, we hope to try those out in the future! As always, get out there and Create Your Own Roadshow. Be sure to subscribe below so you never miss a post!