Camping for Free or Really, Really Cheap

Saving money matters but so does having a good time on vacation. Vacations, in general, tend to be expensive, although there are ways to save money – even when traveling in style.

Related: Cruise Away – It's Safe and Here's How to Save

On the other hand, if you enjoy the rugged outdoors, you might be able to travel for far less than you think.

Almost 40 million Americans participated in camping last year, according to a recent study by The Outdoor Foundation. That represents more than 14 percent of Americans over the age of six.

Many of those people choose to camp, “on the cheap.” They spend little or nothing for overnight accommodations, get to see amazing sights, and come home with money in their pocket.

Here’s how they do it.

Wilderness Areas

According to BargainBabe, one way to save is to camp in wilderness areas. A wilderness area is a tract of protected land where everything is in a natural state. Camping there may require a permit, but frequently there is no cost.

Cars and other mechanized vehicles are generally not allowed. To get to a camping area you must hike, canoe, or travel by horseback. In most cases campsites are not marked – you find your own – in the woods. Typically, wilderness areas allow you to hunt, fish, or hike. With no running water or toilets, you may have to treat local stream or lake water and dig a pit for waste.

To learn more, go to Wilderness.net.

Bureau of Land Management

According to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, 89 percent of BLM land is free to camp on. As with wilderness areas in general, some BLM locations require a permit, others do not. In addition, as with most wilderness areas, BLM sites are bare bones – as in no water, electricity, or bathroom facilities.

However that doesn’t mean the experience is always primitive. Kevin Mack, campaign director at the Wilderness Societyin Washington, D.C., told BargainBabe, “I have done car camping on BLM land. You can bring a cooler and have a gin and tonic at the end of the day. The only difference is you are by yourself and you have to think creatively about your bathroom facilities.”

A portion (about 10 percent) of BLM land is managed by the National Landscape Conservation System, and features more traditional camping options for a nominal cost.

For more information about BLM camping go to the BLM national website.

National Forests

National Forests – not to be confused with National Parks, where fees and traffic are higher – are mostly free or inexpensive. Many have actual campgrounds, although amenities vary widely. National forests that are frequently visited typically have better campgrounds – and fees.

The U.S. Forest Service recreation website has state-by-state links with complete information.

Other Free or Low Cost Options

The primary focus of Freecampsites.net is government land but the site also lists other options, including retail parking lots suitable for pulling over an RV for the night. The website features a map-based search engine to help you locate free or low cost camping options.

FreeCampground.com could be helpful if you have an RV and are seeking free or low cost camping options. The site claims to offer 17, 000 with more being listed all the time.

Another RV-based site, FreeCampgrounds.com, (different by the one above by a single letter), primarily lists places to park overnight for under $10. Many sites on the list, which includes parks, rest areas, parking lots, and more, are free.

Finally, RVCamping.org provides an interactive state-by-state map of all manner of low-cost (and free) RV camping options. The site also includes a plethora of camping information, including tips for newbies, guides to government lands, and much more.

Posted In: campingKevin MackNational ForestNational Landscape Conservation SystemNational ParkRVThe Outdoor FoundationU. S. Bureau of Land ManagementU.S. Forest ServiceVacationWilderness AreaWilderness SocietyTopicsTravelMediaPersonal FinanceGeneral

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