After nearly a year of full time travel in our Toyota Dolphin camper, we’ve discovered some serious tricks for finding beautiful, affordable campsites. When we first started traveling we were constantly frustrated by how long it took us to find cheap campsites, especially if we wanted to stay somewhere pretty. Nowadays we have the process fine tuned so that we can (usually) find somewhere to camp swiftly and easily!
National parks overflow camping
National parks are beautiful! They feature spectacular scenery, and some of the most beautiful natural wonders in the country. However, camping in the national parks can be difficult, especially for budget camping. The campgrounds tend to be very expensive and very crowded. If you’re lucky enough to get a campsite, you will often find yourself packed in tightly with other travelers, and you will probably be paying a premium price.
Bummer, right? Not to worry! A little camping secret we discovered is: Most of the national parks have “overflow camping” areas in the form of National Forest and/or BLM land right outside the entrances. These areas tend to get very little use, are much less crowded than the national park campgrounds, and still sit in the beautiful national park area. Camping in these areas is free, but keep in mind they do not have amenities.
***A special note about National Parks: We HIGHLY recommend purchasing the Interagency National Parks Pass if you plan to visit more than one National Park this year. This will cover your entrance costs to every National Park for an entire year, and it makes visiting the National Parks much more affordable!
Get to know our public lands- USFS and BLM camping!
There is a LOT of public land in the United States. The two main agencies that manage public land are the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and the USFS (United States Forest Service). Land managed by either of these agencies is free to camp on (this is called dispersed camping), unless there is an established campground there, or signs are posted saying no camping. There are a few apps out there that show public land boundaries (though we have yet to find one that works reliably), and you can also go directly to the BLM and USFS websites for information. BLM and USFS land tends to be very underused, and often you can find a beautiful, secluded spot to camp in these areas.
Check for BLM and USFS campgrounds in the area you want to camp
When you’re looking for cheap campsites be sure to consider BLM and USFS campgrounds! While BLM and USFS campgrounds usually require a fee for a campsite, the fee is generally much less than state or national parks. Also, BLM and USFS campgrounds tend to be situated in remote, beautiful areas, often hosting spectacular scenery!
Don’t forget county campgrounds!
When searching for a campsite people often only check for RV parks, state parks, or national parks. Don’t make that mistake! There are loads of county park campgrounds with beautiful campsites! Figure out the county you want to camp in and google campgrounds for that county. We’ve found some amazing, little-known, campsites this way.
Use free apps
There are lots of free apps that help you find campsites, and we find these apps far more useful than any standard camping guide we’ve seen.
Our favorite free app is ioverlander. This app is a compilation of campsites that is continually added to and updated by the app users. This app tends to lead us to virtually unknown camping spots, and most of the campsites on ioverlander are very cheap or free. Pro Tip: ioverlander is an absolute MUST if you are road tripping in Mexico. Do not leave home without it!