Like national forests, they may be used for resources like timber and minerals. Finding state forests that have free camping available is a little bit more difficult but not impossible. Many state forests offer free dispersed camping much like national forests. But you will need to look at each state individually. The rules for dispersed camping where allowed will often be similar to national forests or even a bit more strict.
Many state forests have hiking trails, like the Appalachian Trail, where hikers are allowed to camp for free within feet of the trail. Wildlife Management Areas are tracts of land set aside for the conservation of wildlife, preservation of local habitats, and for related recreational activities like hunting and fishing. WMAs can be owned and managed by national, state or local authorities. Do some online research or call the local office to speak to someone about the rules and if fees apply. Sometimes they will not charge fees for camping but will require that you purchase a season permit to use the area, whether that is for dispersed camping or hunting and fishing.
Private properties can be anything from local farms that allow campers and RVs to use their land for a few nights, to big box stores that loan out their parking lots.
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For RVs, check out BoondockersWelcome. It is kind of like couch surfing for RV travelers. The site matches RVers with hosts who have signed up to let other travelers stay on their property for free. After paying a very minimal yearly membership fee you can find hosts all over the country that will let you park overnight for free. Many of these hosts are wineries and farms. A much better alternative to truck stops and shopping center parking lots. The site does require guests to purchase something from the host business.
Walmarts are known for offering free overnight camping, especially for RVs. But always check with local management before you set up for the night as some stores do not participate in this. Work camping is a growing trend in the country that affords you the ability to travel, camp for free and earn some traveling money as you go. How does it work? Each organization, park, recreation site and campground may have different rules and contract lengths.
But in general, campers tent or RV can apply for positions at camping areas around the country where they work for a designated time during their travels. Often this time is seasonal and runs from May to October, but some contracts are much less. In exchange for your work, you will be paid wages and given a space to camp on the property.
Occasionally food and other amenities will be provided. Jobs range from front desk staff to landscaping or maintenance. Understanding that many times couples are traveling together, camping areas will post jobs specifically for couples. Millions of people visit national parks and monuments every year. And it is no wonder. They hold some of the most spectacular scenery in the nation.
The Complete Guide Free Camping In The US - Beyond The Tent
But if you are thinking of packing up your family and heading out for a getaway next week or even next month, think again. The campgrounds at these parks are heavily trafficked during the peak season when the weather is good and the scenery is at its most brilliant. Campgrounds often book up even a year or more in advance. And the cost to stay at these popular destinations can wreak havoc on your travel budget. An alternative is to stay in a nearby national forest. Did you know that most national parks are bordered by national forests? They are often only minutes away from the most popular parks in the country.
This gives these pristine areas a buffer zone from the rest of society and gives campers on a budget the opportunity to stay nearby.
Which national park are you visiting? Here are some great national forests to try some primitive camping while you are there. The red rock formations in Zion bring tons of sightseers, campers, and hikers from around the globe every year. Skip the crowds and head to Dixie National Forest. Since the park is so popular, especially in the summer months and campsites are pricey, you can look to nearby Schoodic Bay , a camping area not far from Acadia that offers 14 free tent campsites.
This forest is known for its inhabitants like lynx and grizzly bears as well as its numerous lakes and streams. But it is also one of the pricier parks to visit. Try some dispersed camping at nearby Gallatin National Forest , located just north of the north entrance to Yellowstone.
A short drive away is Shoshone National Forest , that hosts gorgeous views of its own and an abundance of wildlife like bighorn sheep, wolves, elk, and grizzlies. Likely the most popular destination in the whole nation, people from around the world travel to see the incredible views of Grand Canyon National Park. But skip the crowds and overpriced camping areas and head to Kaibab National Forest that has incredible views of its own.
Free camping comes with its own issues and challenges.
And despite its many benefits, many people avoid free camping areas. But overcoming problems is often part of the fun of a camping trip.
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And both being prepared and knowing what to expect can significantly decrease difficulties when free camping. There is an added level of difficulty when fires are not allowed in the area where you are camping. One easy solution would be to bring along some dehydrated meals. Look over our Complete Camping Food List to get even more ideas. We all tend to get dirty, especially if we are spending a lot of time outside.
But if no public or private shower options are available, what can you do? A lack of toilets in primitive camping areas is what gives people the most anxiety when it comes to free camping. The whole process is nowhere near as bad as it seems. Make sure to bring a good strong shovel especially if you will be digging in a particularly rocky area. Make your hole at least six inches deep and ensure that it is at least feet from a water source to avoid contamination.
In most of the popular free camping areas, there are designated dispersed campsites that are often cleared and flat. However, in other less visited sites, the terrain may not be quite so friendly to tent campers. If you are primitive camping where there are no designated areas, look for sites have been used by other campers in the past. Not only are they usually more accommodating to tents but you will have much less impact on the environment.
If there are no previously used sites that you can find available, look for an area that is generally clear and free of rocks and stumps. The goal is to disturb the area as little as possible. Unruly neighbors are unfortunately just a part of life. And dispersed camping is no different.
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The best thing to do is move to another area if at all possible. If the people near you are causing a danger to you or the environment, you always have the option of calling the rangers or the managing office of the area you are staying. If neither of those options is available, phoning the police to report the behavior may be the next option.
But another important part of dispersed camping is cleaning up your area. We know many not all free camping areas do not have restrooms or showers available. But most do not offer trash cans either.
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This means that any waste you carry in, or create while you are at your campsite, will need to be carried back out. This is not as challenging as you may think. The rule of thumb should be to bring as little packaging as possible. Remove outer wrappers and cartons and use reusable containers when possible to cut down on the waste you have to haul out of free camping areas. Remember to bring a trash bag with you and another bag for recyclables.
Keep in mind that while you are at your campsite it is important to store food, garbage and anything that has a fragrance, where animals cannot reach them.