Where It Is Legal To Camp For Free

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Written By Jay Clatworthy

Off Grid Camping contributor.

Where It Is Legal To Camp For Free

Where is it legal to camp for free?

Most of the free camping sites are located away from the city, and these are definitely your go-to places if you want to spend your days in complete relaxation. There are various spots to choose from, and it just depends on your personal preference. 

It is vital to have access to a vehicle when looking for a free site to go camping. This is mainly considered a requirement since most of these spots are remotely placed and are not reached by public transportation. An important note to remember is that it is crucial to observe the laws, signs, and safety precautions to avoid violations and unwanted incidents whenever you are traveling to these areas. 

Some of the place that offers free camping include:

State parks, city parks, country parks

State parks, city parks, and country parks also offer free camping accommodation for campers to enjoy. Like some national forests and grasslands, these areas provide campers a variety of options on where to camp because of their vast space. 

However, the greater the space, the lesser the amenities they offer. In addition, due to free access, this camping venue becomes highly chosen and traveled by campers, making it sometimes less peaceful depending on where you want to set up your tents or RVs. State parks, city parks, and country parks are appropriately maintained parks, making it only fitting to observe the leave-no-trace principle.

Public beaches and rivers

Camping on beaches and rivers is a whole new outdoor experience. These venues have their advantages and disadvantages, which highly depend on the weather condition and water level.

The advantage of beach and river camping include accessible free camping accommodation, water supply, fresh breeze, and plenty of physical outdoor activities. 

On the other hand, the downside of camping in these venues is that they are sometimes crowded, loud, windy, and sometimes very hot during the day. Since the beach is one of the easiest and nearest places to spend time, they often become too crowded with people. 

Also, these sites usually become too hot during the day. Beaches generally have less shade than the previous sites, making it crucial always to bring a shade during your stay. A tip of advice is to pack a durable tent that can withstand strong winds, and always keep an eye on the weather and evacuate if necessary. 

Overnight camping

Camping is a well-known outdoor activity where people travel away from home with tents or recreational vehicles as their shelter. Some of the best campsites are typically very remote from the city, making locations that offer free overnight parking spots and spaces essential to consider during your journey. 

The locations mentioned below offer free overnight benefits to campers who have a strict budget to follow and have rented a vehicle for their trips–which aren’t cheap to lease. Free overnight camping accommodations will provide a place for campers to park and rest before traveling back again on their journeys, ensuring that they are in condition to drive safely.

Some businesses that offer free overnight camping include:

Restaurants

Restaurants and food chains usually have a spacious parking area. Aside from that, they are an excellent option to refuel your appetite and energy. There are various restaurants to choose from and are located almost everywhere, making them convenient for stopovers. 

However, it is advisable to observe any signages in the restaurant prohibiting overnight stay in their lots. If there aren’t any, go ahead and ask permission from the establishment’s manager or authorized personnel. Some famous food chains that offer free overnight parking stays include McDonald’s, Subway, and Burger King, which sometimes give you access to their internet connection. 

Stores

Some stores and outback service stations provide free overnight camping. These locations are spacious and provide a place to conveniently restock your supplies.

However, there are tips to observe when planning to park in-store parking lots. The primary thing to consider is that not all establishments have the same policy. 

The second tip is to observe the area for signs indicating “No overnight parking,” which implies what it states. Lastly, ask the manager or personnel in charge of the store to secure whether or not they legally allow overnight camping in their designated parking lot. 

They will directly answer you if they allow free vehicle overnight stays in their parking area or if you have to pay a certain fee. Whenever their policy prohibits overnight parking, they can help you by directing you to a site that allows you to park your vehicle.

How to find places to camp for free?

It can be challenging to look for places to camp for free, especially if you are unfamiliar with the area. To prevent problems from arising, you can research ahead of time and ask certain people for suggestions on where the best places to camp are located. This will ensure that you aren’t missing something you haven’t experienced or a place you have never been to. 

Ask the locals and experts.

When an area offers free camping accommodation, eventually, a lot of people know about it. In planning to experience someplace new, one advisable thing to do is to ask the locals. 

These people know and have been in more places in the area you plan to camp on. They can help recommend the best free sites to camp, directions in going there, and tips on making the experience more enjoyable.

Use apps and sites

If you don’t know any experts or are shy to ask the locals, an alternative is to use apps and sites that can provide you information about the available free camping sites. The majority of these sites showcase the different famous camping sites with their corresponding rating and reviews. 

Google maps, for instance, is one of the apps and sites that can provide you with these specific pieces of information. A tip to consider is to search for new listings constantly about a location’s reviews and ratings because you never know when they will offer free camping promotions.

Another great app to find free camp sites is Wikicamps. We have used this extensively with our family and have found many great camp sites. 

Ask online

Similar to the two previous techniques in looking for free camping sites, one action you can do is ask online. Nowadays, various Facebook pages are made by a community of campers dedicated to supporting you get the best camping experience. 

You can post your question on their feed, and then you wait until experienced campers respond to your question with their suggestions and opinions. You can also utilize other social media platforms, such as Instagram.

What are the pros and cons of free camping?

Campers are looking for free camping spots because rising camping costs aren’t likely to get much cheaper for a long time. It is natural for people to get attracted to free stuffs and great deals. 

However, that isn’t the best mindset to have, especially in free accommodation. It is vital to lower your expectations and be contented with what you get. Here are some of the pros and cons of a free camping site. 

Pros

Save money

The primary reason why campers look for free camping sites is to save money. Camping for free fulfills its initial purpose to provide a place or shelter for campers during their trips. They are great money-savers, especially when you rented an RV that isn’t cheap or want to extend your camping trips despite the tight budget.

Camping away from other people

Some campers value privacy more than any aspect of camping, especially since camping usually involves spending quality time with the people you love. Most campers look for convenience, accessibility, and spots perfect for the budget. 

Most of these free camping sites offer free accommodation promos because they are remotely located and are less visited by campers. Whenever both factors occur in a free camping site, you are assured that you are away from a crowd.

Flexible

Whenever planning to go on a free site to camp, it is vital to be prepared for any circumstances. You must always bring the necessary things you expect a free campsite can’t offer. 

For instance, in shower facilities, you must be flexible enough to carry along with you hygienic products or locate any nearby body of water to cleanse your body. Free campsites practice, you become more prepared despite challenges and struggles. Flexibility will enable you to become efficient campers.

Cons

No amenities

The primary reason free camping sites are free is that they only offer you a space to set up camp or park your recreational vehicles. These free sites either don’t provide any amenities or give you access to their facilities for free, especially if it involves a water or electric bill. They will always require payment for facilities that require maintenance.

Not developed

These sites are not developed compared to private campsites, but they are spacious. If you are lucky, some of them offer picnic tables, chairs, benches, and toilets. However, this is rare in free camping sites, and if ever they do have these, expect them not to be in the best condition. 

They usually aren’t that functional and are typically rusty, so it is crucial always to stay prepared and never expect too much from them when choosing free camping sites. 

If possible, even though they are free camping sites, you may leave donations to any of the camp’s authorized personnel for them to have financial support to develop and maintain the site for a better stay for your return.

What are the other names for free camping?

Boondocking, Dry Camping, and Dispersed Camping are all terms for free camping. These terms refer to camping outdoors on public land and away from designated campgrounds with the use of tents or recreational vehicles. 

Free camping also does not offer services like trash collection, table and chairs, and fire pits. This type of camping requires knowledge, skill, and responsibilities since you’re most likely to be on your own.

What are the basic rules for camping for free?

Leave no trace

The leave-no-trace policy is considered the golden rule of camping. It primarily refers to proper trash collection and disposal. 

Leave no trace means that whenever you leave your campsite, you must always leave it the way it was or make it look better than when you found it. This ensures that we preserve nature and that other campers can experience the campsite as much as you did. 

Respect the wildlife

Respecting wildlife is a crucial precaution to be observed to avoid any dangerous encounters with them that may cause significant injuries. It is a well-known practice to view wild animals from a distance and avoid approaching or following them. 

In addition, you must keep your food securely stored, and your trash properly disposed of to prevent attracting wild animals to your campsite. It is also vital to never feed wild animals to avoid damaging their health and changing their natural behaviors and perspective. 

For instance, if you have brought a pet with you, it is essential to always keep an eye on them to ensure that they avoid an encounter with wild animals or, worse, feed on by predators. Remember that wild animals are called “wild” for a reason. 

Respect others

When camping, it is an important etiquette to be respectful and considerate about your neighbors. Leave a boundary for your fellow camper to enjoy their camping time and experience. 

Never enter their camping grounds without permission, and always keep your noise to a minimal volume to prevent disturbing your fellow campers. Let nature’s sounds take the command for a much more relaxing experience. 

Get a permit if applicable

Camping for free requires entering public land. Ordinances and laws vary depending on where you plan to stay. Whenever you go camping on public lands, it is advisable to ask or apply for a permit from the local municipalities or from police departments to ensure that you avoid getting violations and fee tickets.