How To Find Free Camping In The US – The Ultimate Guide

how to find free camping

There are many websites out there, that will help you find a free campsite in the US. 

After over 12 hours of research for this article, we like the,, and for booking our free campsites. These are great resource websites.

Additionally, you can go free camping in many National Forests, BLM-managed lands, and National Wildlife Refuges.

In this article, we will explain in detail how to find free camping and look in detail at the above options and many more.

Topics Covered

How to find free camping using resource websites

There are many great websites and apps out there, some free, some paid, that will help you find free campsites.

Below, I will list our favorite websites, explaining what we like about them and what can you expect from them. And they are all free to use. So let’s start. free camping

Freeroam can only be described as a fusion between a social media website and a free campsite search engine. 

Modern website design, many original user functions, and an interactive map are the main treats offers.

Users have the opportunity to create a free user account, which allows them to:

  • create a user profile
  • add friends
  • look for people nearby
  • plan trips
  • join groups
  • add your favorite places
  • and much more

You can search for a campsite either by typing in your desired location or by scrolling through the map and selecting the area you are interested in. 

Freeroam offers many filtering options, some of our favorite ones are:

  • Price – you can choose $0
  • Cell signal – lets you choose by carrier
  • Weather – allows you to filter by average low temperature, high temperature, and precipitation for each calendar month
  • Reviews – select how many stars (of 1 – 5) the shown campsite should have
  • Features & Amenities – this filer is mainly for RV campers
  • Safety, Shade, Noise, Crowdedness – the list goes on and on and on

Campsite information that is available for every campsite:

  • Directions
  • GPS location
  • Campsite details
  • Weather forecast and weather averages charts
  • Cell phone availability chart
  • Features & amenities
  • Season scale chart (shows crowdedness, noise, shade, safety, and many more by season)
  • Reviews

Additionally, you can share the campsites with your Freeroam friends or on other social media websites. You can add campsites to your Freeroam trip planner and search for nearby services like water supply, dumps, etc.

Freeroam also offers a free smartphone app. free camping resource website

Campendium offers a total of 6000+ free campsites, that are easily discoverable by utilizing their interactive map. The interactive map, coupled with very effective filters makes the website very user-friendly. 

Campendium boasts a very modern website design and offers the possibility to create a free user account. It will allow you to add campsites to your favorites, as well as share your reviews and upload your campsite photos.

You can search campsites by scrolling through the map and selecting the area you are interested in. 

Campendium offers many filtering options, some of our favorites are: 

  • sort by – distance, highest rated, most reviews
  • price – where you can and should select FREE
  • RV Hookups
  • Policy – 55+ only, Adults only, Pets ok, All ages ok
  • Categories – from Army corps of engineers campsites to Wildlife reserve and many more in between

Campsite information like address, GPS location, cell phone coverage, camper reviews, and photos are available for every location.

Check out all these and other features on free camping resource is a simple, map-based, free campsite search engine with a bit outdated website design. 

It is a platform, where campers like you and me, can share their favorite free camping spots.

You can search either by typing in the location or scrolling through the map. will then show you all known campsite locations in the searched area.

By default, you will see Free, Paid, and Permission-only campsites. You can use the filter button to filter out only the types of campsites, you are interested in. Additionally, filter options for access road type, activities, and amenities are available.

Campsite information like address, GPS location, 5-day weather forecast, reviews, and (if available) photos, are available for every location. 

Check out the features of for yourself.

Outly is a website dedicated not only to campers but instead to all the people that love the great outdoors. 

You can search for campsites, water sources, lands (like BLM lands, national forests, etc.), trails & roads, terrain, wildlife, and much more. However, a free user account is necessary, to access all of the website’s features.

The free user account allows you to filter only the dispersed (free) campsites, in total Outly shows 1700+ dispersed campsites. You can also start your travel journal, which is formatted and looks like a blog.

 You can search for a campsite by scrolling through the map, zooming in and out of the map, and selecting an area you are interested in.

Outly offers a few filtering options like:

  • dispersed campsites, campgrounds, dispersed camping areas
  • access type – 2WD, 4WD, and Trailer access
  • near water

Information like campsite introduction write-up, GPS coordinates, elevation, and the closest town is available for every campsite. A few of the campsites also offer user-submitted photos.

Outly also offers a free smartphone app.

Google Maps

Yes, good old google maps are also one of our favorite ways of searching for a free campsite. 

Type dispersed camping or free camping + the area into the search bar, for example: 

dispersed camping colorado (this search provided a list of 154 campsites).

Google Maps will let you filter campsites by their reviews, but unfortunately doesn’t let you filter out the free campsites. However, it offers the biggest list of campsites out there. So if you have a bit of time to research campsites, this is a great option.

Information like campsite name, link to website, user reviews (and many of those), user photos, and Q&A section are available for every campsite.  

Additionally, you can start navigation to the campsite from your location right there, in Google Maps.

We believe, the above websites will give you enough options, that will last you as inspiration for many years to come. 

Forests and other free campsites in nature 

There is nothing better than to camp out there, in the big wild outdoors, in the middle of nowhere. 

In this section, I am going to introduce you to the best available places in the wilderness, where to go camping for free. 

National Forests and Grasslands

national forests and grasslands free camping

National forests are a great place to camp for free. There are over 156 national forests in the United States and each one has limitless camping opportunities. 

That is if you are camping out in the wild, away from developed campgrounds. Dispersed camping is the term used for camping out in the wild, outside of the developed campgrounds.

You need to be self-sufficient and expect no amenities when going dispersed camping. There is no drinking water, trash cans, or bathrooms out there, so pack accordingly. 

Who is it for

Tent, Car, RV, and Trailer campers

Important Information

  • Camp in one spot for a maximum of 16 days of any 30-day period
  • Setup campsite at least 100 feet from a river or other water sources
  • Leave no trace principles to apply
  • Keep a pack-out, pack-in campsite
  • Groups of over 75 people need to obtain a special permit, no fees apply

Find all information in the Forest  Service’s responsible recreation guide and in the dispersed camping guideline

How to find it

The Forest Service interactive map can be found here

Bureau of Land Management Lands

BLM free camping sites

 The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is a federal agency that oversees more than 245 million acres of public land. Most of the developed campgrounds charge a fee, but when you’re camping outside of the campgrounds, you camp for free.

BLM-managed lands are located in the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Dakotas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Utah, and Wyoming.

Who is it for

Tent, Car, RV, and Trailer campers

Important information

  • Must stay outside of a developed campground
  • Your stay can’t interfere with the authorized use of the area
  • Camp in one spot for a maximum of 14 days of any 28-day period, then move camp outside of a 25-mile radius from the previous camp location
  • Don’t leave any private property unattended for more than 10 days
  • Read the BLM website for more information

** States may have their own rules and limitations

How to find it

BLM offers an interactive map of the lands they manage, which you can find here. From our experience allow a minute or two for the site to load correctly.

Army Corps of Engineers (COE) Recreation Areas

 The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates more than 400 recreation areas across the country, and many of these areas offer free camping opportunities. These areas include campgrounds, day-use areas, and even some fishing spots.  

Who is it for

Tent, Car, RV, and Trailer campers

Important information

  • Camp only in areas designated for camping
  • The maximum length of stay is 14 days within 30 day period
  • Campfires are only allowed in containers provided by COE
  • Cutting down trees or tree limbs for the campfire is not allowed
  • Possession of a loaded gun is prohibited
  • Quiet hours between 10 PM and 6 AM
  • Digging holes and leveling ground are prohibited
  • For more information check out the website

How to find it

Visit the website, to look for COE and campgrounds of 11 other federal departments.

National Wildlife Refuges

free camping at wildlife refuges

 The national wildlife refuge system manages over 560 refuges across the whole of the US. Many of these are not available to the public, but there are still many available for free camping. 

Some of these refuges offer developed campgrounds and others offer no amenities at all. To find the right refuge for you, check out the FWS website in the “How to find it” section below.

These areas are home to a variety of wildlife, and many offer hiking and fishing opportunities as well..

Who is it for

Mostly tent camping, only a handful of refuges are available for car, trailer, or RV camping

Important information

  • Camp for a maximum of 14 days in any 30-day period
  • Drive only on established roads
  • A permit is required to collect artifacts and harvest plants
  • Campfires are limited to areas or containers provided for this purpose

 How to find it

To find a refuge near you, visit the website of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The interactive map offers detailed information about every refuge, as well as a link to the official website of every refuge.

Parking lots and other free urban campsites

In this section, we will focus on options that not many people would even consider camping. Regardless, these offer a great overnight parking possibility, should you have forgotten to book a campsite, or have a sudden change of your travel itinerary, and are also perfect if you are on a tight budget.

Walmart parking lots

 If you’re in a bind and need to find a place to spend the night, Walmart parking lots can be a great option. Many Walmarts allow overnight parking in their parking lot, and many of them have restrooms and showers available for campers. 

Just be sure to check with the store before you park, to make sure they allow camping and to find out what their specific rules are. Walmart is great when it comes to free camping because they’re located in almost every town, so you will be able to find one no matter where you are. 

Their services are also stunning since they offer a pharmacy, food, gas, and other amenities all in one place.

Who is it for

Trailer, RV, or car camping

Important information

  • Arrive late in the evening to not disturb the customer flow to and from the parking lot
  • Park on the outskirts of the parking lot for the same reasons as above
  • Don’t put up tents, grills, tables, etc. Stay as low-key as possible
  • Bathrooms are available during opening hours
  • Always check ahead with the store if overnight parking is available
  • Keep your area clean
  • Be a good and helpful neighbor

How to find it

Use this website to check the overnight parking status for any Walmart store. The list is unofficial, so before your stay always double-check with the store’s management.


how to find free camping in casino camping lot

 Casinos are another great option for last-minute camping/overnight parking. Many casinos allow overnight parking in their lots, and many of them have restrooms and showers available for campers. A lot of them are open 24/7, which is great because all of their amenities are always available. 

Just be sure to check with the casino before you park to make sure they allow camping and to find out what their specific rules are. 

Other great amenities the casinos offer are restaurants, showers, laundry facilities, etc.

 Who is it for

Trailer, RV, or car camping

Important information

  • Give them a call to double-check the overnight parking availability ahead of your stay
  • Stay in the area designated for overnight camping, or if not available on the outskirts of the parking lot
  • If you’re planning to stay more than one night, check what the maximum length of stay is
  • Make sure, your camper is not leaking, and take care of it ahead of your stay
  • Keep your area clean
  • Be a good and helpful neighbor

How to find it

Check out this website to double-check the status of casinos in the area of your interest.

Other free urban overnight parking options

free parking lot camping

There are many other popular options out there, that allow free overnight camping (parking). 

Many of the below parking options offer great amenities like restrooms, showers, free wifi, 30- and 50-amp hookups, a dump station, and more.

Similar rules as by the Walmart and casino parking lots apply here too:

  • Always double-check with the store/restaurant ahead of time, if they offer free overnight parking and what their rules are
  • Be a kind and helpful neighbor
  • Keep your area clean and take care of your rubbish
  • Stay inside the camping area or on the outskirts of the parking lot

You can find free overnight parking at:

– Home Depot 

– Cracker Barrel

– Camping World

– Cabela’s 

– Menards

– 24hr Fitness Centers

 – Truck and rest stops

 – Costco parking lot

Advantages of free camping

you can enjoy views like this one when camping for free in the wilderness

Free camping comes with numerous benefits including:

– It is free 

Duh, obviously! Camping in national forests, at truck stops, rest stops, 24hr fitness centers, and Cabela’s parking lots come at no cost. You don’t have to pay for gas or any other service. That way you can save money on the total costs of your trip!

– There are many campsites available 

There are plenty of campsites available for free camping. You can find sites almost anywhere in the US!

– Flexibility

You don’t need any reservations ahead of time, you can take detours from planned routes and be more spontaneous. Usually, a free overnight parking spot is available in a bigger city near you.

– There are no restrictions

Unlike some other options such as camping at a KOA, there are no restrictions on what you can and cannot bring to the campsite. You don’t have to worry about leaving food or toiletries behind when it’s time for your trip!

– It’s easy to find 

There are many great online resources, that will make finding a free overnight parking spot very easy for you. You don’t have to spend hours looking for the perfect spot!

– You can enjoy nature

Camping is a great way to get out and enjoy nature. Spend time in the woods, by the water, or anywhere else you want!

Disadvantages of free camping

free camping can be crowded and dirty

Free camping does come with a few disadvantages that should be considered:

– There may not be many amenities available

While some campsites do have restrooms and showers, others do not. If you’re looking for a site with more amenities, you may want to consider paying for a spot at a campground.

– The sites can be crowded

Because these campsites are free, they can be quite crowded, especially the parking lots of stores and restaurants.  If you’re looking for some peace and quiet, free camping may not be the best option for you.

– The campsites can be dirty

Since these campsites are often used by people who are not campers, they can be quite messy. Make sure to clean up after yourself, and don’t leave any trash behind!

– You may not have access to a fire pit or grill

Some free campsites do not allow campfires, and others only offer grills. Be sure to check with the site before bringing your own!

– You should be aware of local laws

If you are camping in an area with strict rules about open fires, make sure to follow them. You don’t want your trip ruined by a fine!

– You will need to bring all of your own supplies

If you’re camping at a free campsite, make sure to bring everything with you. You don’t want to forget something and have an uncomfortable stay!

– You will need to plan ahead

Due to the lack of amenities such as running water or bathrooms, you should be sure that all needs are met in advance

Points to consider when going free camping

things to consider when going free camping

When looking for a free campsite, there are a few things you should consider:

  • Plan ahead – As mentioned before, because of the lack of amenities at free campsites, you will need to plan ahead. Make sure you bring all of your supplies with you and that you know what the local laws are!
  • Pack enough water and food – You should plan to bring enough water and food for your stay at the campsite as well as emergency supplies if needed. This is ideal because you don’t want to have to leave the campsite to find a store!
  • Dispose of waste properly – Since there are no facilities at free campsites, you will need to dispose of your waste properly. Make sure to pack a shovel or spade for this purpose!
  • Leave the campground as found – Everyone must clean up their area when leaving the site so that other campers can enjoy it too. Double-check that all trash and debris are collected before you leave!
  • Respect wildlife – Since these sites are often located in nature, it is important to respect wildlife and keep animals away from your camp. Make sure not to feed them or leave food out where they could get to it!
  • Respect other visitors – As with all campgrounds, it is important to respect your fellow campers. Keep noise levels down and don’t disturb others who are trying to enjoy their stay! Moreover, if there are signs posted about quiet times make sure you follow them!

How to stay safe while free camping

Free camping is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and save money on your trip. However, there are a few things that you should keep in mind when free camping so that you are safe:

Research the potential risks and warnings for the camp area 

You should always research the potential risks and warnings before you head out. Things like bears, poisonous plants, or insects can be harmful! Also, be aware of your surroundings when you are traveling through National Parks and other public lands.

Know your physical limits

If you are not in shape or have any injuries, then camping may not be the best idea for you. Make sure that your body can handle the physical activity before heading out. This is important because you will want to make sure that your body is prepared for the trip.

Pack for an emergency

Always be prepared for an emergency. Pack a first-aid kit, extra food and water, and necessary tools. If something were to happen while you’re out camping, you’ll be prepared! 

Trust your instincts

Especially if you are camping out there alone, far from other people, listen to your gut. So if something feels off or you feel like there is danger lurking, always trust your instincts and leave the area. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

Inform someone of your location

Make sure that someone knows where you are going. This will prevent any issues from occurring if something were to happen while camping at your favorite spot!

Make it easy to leave quickly

Always make it easy for yourself to leave quickly. This means packing light and having a plan in mind in case something were to happen while you are out camping!

Carry a weapon

It is always good practice to carry a weapon while camping. This could prevent any problems from occurring if something were to happen! A weapon can protect you from animals or people who might try to harm you.

Where it is not good to camp?

When it comes to free camping, there are some places where you should not camp. This is because they could be dangerous for various reasons. So don’t camp:

  • Close to the fire – Generally speaking, you would want at least 40 feet between the campfire and your tent. Otherwise, you could easily get burned and/or destroy your gear, if you’re not careful. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that you keep your kids close by and teach them how to stay safe around the campfire.
  • In a wet environment – It’s a bad idea to camp where it’s wet. May it be too close to the river, or in a boggy area, you do not want to camp there. You will get wet, you can suffer hypothermia and your gear will get damaged.
  • Under trees, slopes, or cliffs – As a general rule of thumb, if something can fall or roll on your tent, while you’re sleeping in it, it is a bad idea to put up your tent there. Falling branches, rocks, and landslides are a great danger for you, especially while wilderness camping alone. Additionally, trees can be hit by lightning during a storm.
  • Near water – There is a higher chance of encountering dangerous animals like bears or even people who might try to harm you. Water levels can also rise while you are sleeping and at the very least soak you. It is also recommended not to camp on the edge of a lake because it can be hard for your tent stakes to stay secure in soft ground and mud!
  • In valley floors – You should never camp on valley floors because they could easily flood or be filled with dangerous animals like bears or even people who might try to harm you. They also tend to have little vegetation, which makes it hard for your tent stakes and other equipment!

What to pack when going free camping

Only a small portion of the free campsites offer some amenities, so when you’re dispersed camping you will have to carry everything with you. It’s important for your safety and comfort that all of these items make it into your backpack before heading out on an adventure:

Enough water

You should always make sure to pack enough water for your trip, when camping at a dispersed campsite, especially in the backcountry! Make sure you calculate water consumption when planning your trip. 

Most experts agree on, half a gallon (or 2 liters) of water intake per day per person, which is also our suggested minimum. Consider your planned camping activities and adjust the water quantity accordingly.

Enough food

bring enough water and food

Most people need about 21-25 calories per pound of their weight per day. So especially when going free camping in the wilderness (backcountry), it is important to calculate the food supply correctly. Again, consider your planned activities and adjust the food quantity accordingly.

Potty kit

It’s important to have a potty kit for your trip. This will help you stay clean and comfortable while camping at a free campsite! A potty kit is ideal if you’re traveling with children.

Camp shower

bring camp shower when going free camping

A camp shower is a great way to stay clean while camping at a backcountry campsite. This will allow you to not have to rely on swimming in the lake or river near your campsite, which could be dangerous!

Portable fire pit or gas cooker

bring portable gas cooker

Cooking food is essential for any trip! A portable fire pit or gas cooker will help you cook up some delicious meals on your adventure. These are both safer options, especially when camping in the wilderness, to your typical campfire. The fire is contained and can be managed easier, so it is less likely to get out the hand.

Fire source

source of fire

This one doesn’t need much of an explanation, it’s vital for your camping. It could be a lighter, matches in a re-sealable plastic bag, or at least a ferro rod. 

Trash bags

bring trash bags when going free camping

You don’t want to leave your trash behind when camping at a free campsite. This is not only bad manners but also harmful to the environment! Take trash bags with you so that all of your waste can be disposed of properly after each meal or snack break throughout the day.

First aid kit

first aid kit

It will allow you to treat minor injuries like cuts and scrapes as well as things like insect bites. Be prepared with these items so that you don’t get caught off guard by a surprise visit from Mother Nature!

Headlamps and extra batteries

pack headlamps and enough batteries

It’s important to have a light source at night time. May it be cooking, reading, or using the potty kit, headlamps will make any one of your activities after nightfall a lot easier. And remember to pack extra batteries too.


camping lantern

Additional to headlamps lanterns are a great source of light while camping, we suggest you pack both. Modern-day lanterns are lightweight, durable, very bright, and offer some great functionality like solar panels and extra sockets to charge your mobile phones. Some lantern models will even help heat up your tent. In our opinion, getting a lantern is a no-brainer.

Mylar blanket

mylar blanket

Mylar blankets are great low-weight and low-bulk blankets for camping. They reduce your body’s heat loss and therefore are great for keeping you warm. They can also be used as a shelter when it starts raining, snowing, or hailing outside the campsite. In our opinion, a Mylar blanket is a must-have for every camper.



A multitool is essential for any camping trip. You will be able to fix things like broken tent stakes, zipper pulls with it easily. A good multitool won’t break your bank with a price of around 50usd, but it will pay for itself in repairs many times over.

The bottom line

While the website quickly became my favorite for its modern design and great user-friendly interface, I can appreciate, that not everyone might like it and it can be a bit overwhelming. 

The other 4 websites are great options as well, each of them offering a little bit different angle in their approach to putting their free campsite resources together.

Additionally, the possibility of going camping for free in many of the National Forests, BLM lands, Wildlife Refuges, and COE Recreational areas is awesome to have.

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