The road to our kind of place….

We’re in the very midst of planning our 2011 trip. Having wintered happily here in Markham, FL we’re starting to get the itch to move again and have decided (for better or worse) to start moving around Jan 24th. Since it’s still the cold period we’ll be hugging the South, travelling the West coast of FL, then along the Southern coast of Alabama, Mississippi, and on towards  Texas. There we’ll wait for things to thaw out before moving North to the mountains.

Now, all of this means we need to do some campground planning. We don’t always book ahead, but during “high-season” and for specific locations we’ll usually try to have a basic plan. On top of that we like to stay in unique and natural settings and, as a final cherry point, we want to keep our costs down. It’s not that we’re cheap as such, but campgrounds can take up to 40% of the monthly budget and since our budget varies with our investment income we like to keep things flexible. Choosing the right campground can mean the difference between spending $400/mo to $1000/mo in campground fees….or…camping for free! So, how does one go about finding these exclusive, natural, dog-friendly, frugal spots?

When we first started RVing we used to stay at private parks and used Trailer Life and Woodall’s as our campground guides. It was a tad pricey and most of the campgrounds weren’t exactly the “natural setting” we were looking for (plus some had dog restrictions). So, we ditched this approach and started looking elsewhere which brought me to the set of references we use now:

$5/night camping in South Carolina (Sumter Forest)

1/ Public Campground Locations - Public Campgrounds are usually great deals and include lovely, natural (and dog-friendly!) spots like National Forest, State Parks, City Parks, Army Corps of Engineers, Provincial Parks and so forth. There’s a ton of them around, and they’re not always easy to find. I used to laboriously work through each choice individually going to up to 5 different sites (city, state, forest etc.) to locate my sites. Recently however, I discovered http://www.uscampgrounds.info/ which magically combines everything for me. Just click on the map, or download it to your laptop or iPhone and presto! You have almost every public spot out there! The site gives  basic  details on each individual campground plus locations on the map. This has become my #1 reference site and from there I go check further details using the following:

  • Army Corps of Engineershttp://corpslakes.usace.army.mil/visitors/  is the best listing.
  • National Foresthttp://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/map/finder.shtml and http://www.forestcamping.com/ are the two best references. The first is the “official” forest website. The second is compiled by 2 full-time RVers who do all the research themselves.
  • State Parks – Most states have their own website (e.g. For FL, there’s  http://www.floridastateparks.org/), so just search on the State you’re visiting
  • RVParkReviews.comhttp://www.rvparkreviews.com/is the biggest, free campground review site out there and I always, always use this as a back-up to the above sites to see what people actually think of the campgrounds. Not all public campgrounds are listed, but many are. The reviews give you “insider” info on the campgrounds with real experiences from people who’ve stayed there. Invaluable stuff!

Boondocking on Quartzite BLM land, AZ

2/ Free Campgrounds & Boondocking - The next step over from public, developed campgrounds is to go totally free. That means zero $$, nada moolah and likely no facilities either. What a great combo! The art of camping in these remote locations is called boondocking and most of the sites are well-kept secrets by those who know them. But, there’s a couple of resources to help you discover the main ones and get started on discovering some of your own:

  • Online Free Campground Listingshttp://www.freecampgrounds.com/, http://freecampsites.net/ and http://www.boondocking.org/ seem to have the most complete listings that I’ve found.
  • Online communities – Lots of online RV communities such as Escapees, iRV2.com and RV.net have forums dedicated to boondocking. If you ask around and read the threads, you’ll often get ideas on where to go. If you become a member of Escapees, you can also get access to their “Days End” list with details of low-cost and free sites.
  • Books - Don Wright’s “Free Campgrounds” books seem to be the best we’ve found. Not all the campgrounds listed are free, but there’s a good choice of low-cost and free alternatives together with map locations.
  • Forest Service - Many National Forests will have “dispersed” camping locations  especially if they don’t have a lot of developed campgrounds. Your best bet is usually to visit the office in your area and ask them for tips. There’s a stay-limit (often 14 days), but you can usually also move between sites.
  • BLM Land - The Bureau of Land Management manages a ton of public land, a lot of which allows dispersed, free camping. They have a website http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en.html, and the local office can usually help to give more precise info on areas to try. Many BLM locations do have a stay-limit (again, often 14 days), but some areas allow longer term stays (LTVA – Long Term Visitor Areas) where you can stay up to 6 months at a time for a small fee.

This coming year we’re planning on sticking to public campgrounds, leaning towards more boondocking as we get out West and I’ll be sharing all our locations on the blog.  Should you should feel a sudden and generous urge to share your own secret spots with us, we’ll be more than happy to get the tip :)

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the product links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. That said, I only ever recommend products or services I personally use and love! Wheelingit is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

30 Responses to Finding Cheap & Natural Campgrounds

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Roy Scribner. Roy Scribner said: RT @wheelingit: today's post! How to find cheap & natural campgrounds http://bit.ly/g1XpfE #RV #camping […]

  2. Amanda says:

    Great post Nina! We just published a new guest post on “Where to Park your Rig in the Sunshine State (http://blog.rvparking.com/2011/01/14/where-to-park-your-rig-in-the-sunshine-state/). I’m sure you have plenty of thoughts on that.

    We’re looking forward to seeing more boondocking reviews from you guys on RVParking.com in the upcoming season!

    Amanda
    http://www.rvparking.com

  3. Daniel says:

    What do you use for charging batteries while camping in “no hookup land”?

    • libertatemamo says:

      We have a generator and last year that’s what we used. Running it once every day or so usually did the job. This winter we installed solar too (you can see details in the blog from Dec) so that will give us even more flexibility.

  4. Julia says:

    Thanks for the information, this is a real help in getting started in reducing my expenses and getting more fun out RV’n. The times I have stayed at Forrest Svc Camps have been good, I think I’ll do it more often. I am going to experiment with boon docking also. It sounds fun and adventurous.

  5. John Hicks says:

    Starting about an hour north of Tampa,
    http://chassahowitzkaflorida.com/
    It’s right where US 98 connects with US 19. Haven’t been there.

    I’ve read that you can boondock at Shell Mound in the Cedar Key Scrub, off SR 24 about halfway between US 19 and Cedar Key. Don’t know for sure.

    At Chiefland, Manatee Springs SP is very nice.

    Newport Campground, US 98 in Newport at the bridge over the St. Marks river. Was $15 with w/e last spring. It’s a nice stopover in an area that has essentially no campgrounds. Be sure to go out to the lighthouse at St. Marks NWR; the road is right across 98 from the campground,
    A little ways west, south from 98, go have a great dinner at Spring Creek Restaurant.

    Boondocking was allowed at the marina under the bridge at Apalachicola for a minimal fee; no idea if that’s still the case.

    Ho-Hum RV park just outside Carrabelle is a classic.

    At this time of year getting into state parks might be rather difficult and reservations are a must. Although it’ll be rather chilly up there in the Florida Big Bend area and west, it’s a lot warmer than the frozen north and much cheaper than south Florida so the parks may be fairly full.

    We’ll be following the same path, probably into Mississippi, but we’re leaving around March 1 and will eventually arrive in the Tennessee mountains about April 1.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Thank you for the outstanding tips! I’ll be adding them to our list of potentials for the trip. Enjoy your own trip this year too. If you’re looking for a sweet forest campground in TN check out Rock Creek in Erwin (I’ve got details in my campground review section for TN). Nina

  6. Thanks for this post – as someone new to RVing (and has animals) these links will become invaluable! :-) We also want to trend towards outdoorsy areas when we are not in a contract, versus the stack ‘em up places I have seen pictures of.

    • libertatemamo says:

      So happy the post is usefull! We’re so with you on the whole nature and space thing. It’s the very reason we went RVing to begin with. Nins

  7. John Hicks says:

    BTW, on the way north from the sunny south, Ortona South (COE) on the Caloosahatchee west of Lake Okeechobee is a very nice super-clean little park. There’s nothing to but watch the water slosh but that’s something to do, right?

  8. pdq says:

    thanks for the great overview
    when i am reading some of the forums i frequent, and when i read where someone who is ‘brand new’ and asking “Where can I get info” – your post is perfect!
    regards, peter

  9. Candace says:

    Manana is D-day for you all and we wish you well in your travels. It seems like just last week you were checking into Markham for the holidays. My, how time flies! Anyway, thanks for the research links. I’ll add my tips at some point.

    In the meantime, we want to extend an invitation to linger awhile in SE AZ – don’t just blow past us on your way to the Pacific coast. Although we don’t have a huge supply of well-developed government parks such as Markham out here, there are some nice NATURAL out-of-the-way spots worth visiting along the way.

    Check out anything posted by FT RVer Rex Vogel at VogelTalksRVing.com He has some GREAT tips on where/when/why to RV whether you are into birding or just great nature spots west of the Mississippi. His insight into the community, foods, cultures, climate and his favorite subjects – birds – are just wonderful and spot-on.

    Tally Ho !

    • libertatemamo says:

      Yup, tomorrow is the big day and I can’t believe it’s all gone by so fast!! Definitely want to spend some more time in AZ next year….nothing like boondocking in the wild, open desert. It’s magical in it’s own way.
      Oh, and yes…I follow Vogel as well. Love his posts. See ya on the road! Nina

  10. […] equation is finding that perfect spot to go park the rig. I’ve covered a few key tips in a previous post and over the next months I’ll share our spots and methods (how we found them) on the blog […]

  11. […] cursing), quite a bit of guessing, a few handfuls of luck and a multitude of hours pouring over cheap and natural campgrounds. And I’m proud to say I’ve done it folks. Many bottles later we have a full plan for […]

  12. […] the blog every few weeks or so touching subjects such as RV Pre-Flight Check, Understanding Solar, Finding Cheap & Natural Campgrounds, Getting Connected and so forth. I generally get pretty good feedback on these, but by far the […]

  13. […] The first year of RVing I struggled to find the kinds of campgrounds (natural, green, spacious) that we like to visit. It was a constant battle of going to one website, through a ton of clicks, then another website, then to a map, then to another spot and back again to try and figure out which one matched our route. Early this year I discovered uscampgrounds.info and my planning life changed. If you like public camping there’s simply no better resource out there and I use it as the base for all our travel planning now. […]

  14. Hope you have a great (warm) winter. That’s for the campground sources.

  15. […] forest, county parks and state parks along the way. So, for a few days I’ve been scouring natural and inexpensive locations and have come up with a rough […]

  16. […] were spending our time in city-squeezed RV parks I might feel differently, but given we choose to camp in natural environments with lots of trails and green around us that just adds to the […]

  17. […] written many times about this free-camping practice in past posts including how to do it, where to find it and other musings, but what I haven’t written about is why it’s soooo much better out […]

  18. […] site separation, places to hike with pooch and no paw restrictions. I plan a lot of our travels using these resources and we almost always end up somewhere nice. The only places we tend to avoid are National Parks, […]

  19. […] Posts: Free Overnight RV Parking = Finding “Freebies” Finding Cheap & Natural Campgrounds Back To Boondocking Basics -> 8 Steps To Get You Into The […]

  20. Scott says:

    The problem I have with driving my diesel pusher coach on dirt roads is that the engine sucks in all the dirt kicked up by the wheels, because the engine is in the back. Don’t you guys go through a lot of air filters? They’re really expensive. There’s also a very real risk that one of the rear tires will kick up a rock that will fly into the radiator fan and destroy the radiator, which costs about $2,000 and takes as much as two months to get the radiator rebuilt… Don’t ask how I know this stuff! (laugh) …I’d love to camp on dirt roads if I had a smaller rig with the engine in the front though.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Our air intake is up at the very top of our rig, so it’s actually not as bad as you imagine. Still, we DO change our filters yearly. We haven’t had much issue with rocks at all. We have mud-flaps on our wheels & another large (long) mud-flap on our back, so haven’t actually had any rocks kick-up. Still, there’s no doubt boondocking on dirt roads will push your RV much harder than private parks. It’s a risk, for sure.
      Nina

  21. Tanya DesRoches says:

    Hi there, we are leaving Mayo Florida after 5 months down here (avoiding snow) and heading back home to Prince Edward Island Canada,we plan stop in Georgia around the Savannah area,Myrtle beach,Virginia beach and other locations along the way back home.Can any one give us some good locations to camp in a 38ft. Coach with 4 small dogs.Looking for budget friendly

    • libertatemamo says:

      I’ve not personally been to those areas but I’d recommend checking out the State Parks and freecampsites.net. Between the two you should be able to find some affordable and dog-friendly options.

      Nina

  22. […] and why we’re almost fanatical about eschewing private RV parks & taking the beast to public areas and dog-friendly spots. We don’t just park at our RV site, we live here. Our site is our home and whatever […]

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