Tricks for Finding Beautiful, Affordable Campsites

This post was updated September 2019

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, and a lot of times we find free campsites!

FREE 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 campers.

The National Park 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 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 are boondocking sites (they do not offer any 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!

Use public lands for beautiful, cheap campsites !

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, 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.

In order to take advantage of these public lands your RV will need to be equipped for off the grid camping! To learn how to go off grid, check out my complete guide to RV dry camping and boondocking.

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 camping 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!

Free Casino Camping

Did you know that most casinos will allow RVs, camper vans, and trailers to camp for FREE in their parking lots? Casino camping is one of our favorite RV travel hacks, click here to learn more about casino camping!

Did you find these tricks helpful? Head over to the sidebar and subscribe to our newsletter. You will receive a FREE quick-reference guide to finding beautiful, affordable campsites!

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4 thoughts on “Tricks for Finding Beautiful, Affordable Campsites”

  1. Came across your post by accident found it very helpful I am getting ready to do same as you camping full time so any info I can find will truly help me out

  2. Generally you have a right to use National Forest anywhere there is as long as you follow their use rules. Is there certain times you can’t burn fires in a lot of National Forest. There are also what they call special use areas where you are restricted to the built-up campsites which are usually quite abundant in the special use areas. To give you an example there is a place called citico Creek in Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee. Along citico creek and a half a mile each way from the creek is a special-use area so you have stay in the developed campsite but there are roads leading off the main citico Creek Road every five or six miles. You drive up one of these roads more than half of miles and general use regulations apply and you can pretty much Camp wherever you want as long as you don’t damage the ground or cut trees. We have Camp many times right next to streams with the back end of our camper out over this cream listening to me music of the falling water. All across the northern part of this country Minnesota places like that a lot of towns have sponsored campsites that we have had wonderful times in even though they’re close to the old style RV parks. When did we are out west we often go into towns during the hot part of the day and then try to be up above seven or eight thousand feet in the mountains at night in a national forest where it cools off and we don’t need air conditioning. There are several map books that have all of the topographic maps for a state and could easily find National Forest places to camp and drive for hours and not see another person you have to be careful when you get this far out as there are wild animals including American Puma black bears and coyote and in some places wolves. One time we had our campsite invaded by a herd of wild horses. Just don’t leave food outside when you’re that far out in the wilderness. Good luck to everyone

  3. Hi Alan! Thanks for the great comment! We have also run into wild horses while camping, and they were SO amazing!

  4. Hi Donna! I would recommend using the menu at the top of the blog to access all of our camper life posts. We have LOTS of info about camping full time in North America.

    Good luck on your camper life adventure!

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