How to Camp for Free or Nearly Free

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How to Camp for Free or Nearly Free- Camping can be a frugal way to spend the summer and what better price than free or nearly free?

This title can be a bit misleading as it’s nearly impossible to camp entirely for free when you include supplies, equipment and food, but this post will show you how to find free camping sites as well as the discounts that are available for certain groups of individuals at the National and State Park level. Now, being that we live in the Pacific Northwest, I am most knowledgeable about that, but there are some discounts that can apply anywhere in the US. Here are my tips for how to camp for free or nearly free.

How to Camp for Free or Nearly Free

Did you know that there are hundreds of free places to camp, often right inside campgrounds? Many campgrounds in national forests allow seniors, the disabled and military to camp in them for just the cost of an entry fee (but you may get to waive that as well with free passes!). Check out this easy to use tool for finding free campsites. Northwest Thrifty Mom also has a great updated list of free campsites in the pacific northwest (Washington and Oregon) to check out.

Make sure to take advantage of discounts with passes– In many states and in National parks, many people can cam for a significantly reduced rate, often 50% less. These include seniors over 62, those with foster children, military and their families and disabled folks. Make sure to check with the specific place you are wanting to go before you head there to make sure they offer the discount.

Consider boon-docking or ‘dry camping’– Dry camping and boon-docking are gaining popularity, especially in the RV community. Basically, boon-docking or dry camping is camping without amenities such as restrooms, trash pickup, or even a clearly laid out site. It’s using BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, National Forest Land, State Land and in Canada, Crown Land, to set up camp. It is extremely primitive. There is no water provided or electricity hookups. You can camp in most places either in an RV or a tent. There are limits on stays, though and they are usually 14 days in a row. Also, keep in mind that you will need to leave no trace.

Become a campground host– You can apply to become a campground host and you can stay for free for months at a time or as little as 60 days, depending on which site you work. These sites also offer various other amenities (varies by location) such as uniforms, daily stipend (pay), water, electricity and sewer hookups, phone, and/or forest service radio. Often, all you will be doing is light maintenance, greeting people and helping folks who are staying at the campground. Check out the Campground Volunteer Host Positions site for more information.

Urban Camping– We looked into living full time in an RV a couple of years ago, and even bought one to start the journey, but we decided it just wasn’t the right time. However, there are lots of free options for urban camping if you are a full timer or just looking to do some RV traveling. Check out Walmarts  or truck stops (always ask before you camp!). Also, many highway rest stops allow for a sort of overnight of up to 8 hours of parking allowed. Don’t assume it’s OK to park until you check out each rest spot’s rules.

Additionally, check out camping at casinos and off the highway spots. We once were stranded in our RV at a place called the 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar in Haugen, Montana and it wasn’t terrible. They allowed up to a few nights and they are just off the way from National Forest land.

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