Updated: Mar 13
One of the biggest stressors/ challenges with living on the road is finding a spot to sleep for the night.
Between living out of a car for a summer, walking across the US, and now living in our bus, we have learned many tips and tricks along the way. If you've had some experiences not being able to find camping, don't worry you're not alone. If you found this blog and you're wanting to know more on finding a good camp spot, we hope this helps!
Since we live in our bus full time, we always prefer to find as much free camping as possible. First off, free is free. Second, we love people, but most the time we prefer a spot where no one else is around. That being said, sometimes free camping just isn’t an option, or you just need a spot with laundry and a hot shower!
Let’s get into it! Here’s our top advice for finding both free and paid camping spots, as well as the apps and platforms that will make planning your next camping trip that much less stressful.
We ALWAYS try to find a free camping spot, who wouldn't?! Our bus is setup with all the right equipment to allow us to live off grid for about 3-4 days. With solar and fresh water, we really don’t need anything more than a spot to park. Also, because we live full-time on the road, eliminating as many costs as possible is always a good thing.
Here is our process for finding the best “off the beaten path” free stays.
Download ONx Hunting
Onx hunting is one of the many apps out there that will help you first determine what land is private, local, and federal (this will save you a lot of time from scanning google maps in the next step.)
Onx does require a subscription to access all of it’s bells and whistles such as pin marking (extremely convenient to save your ideal spots), downloadable maps (for when you're out of telephone service), and more. There are monthly options, but since we use it almost daily we signed up for the year long subscription. (One state for the year is $29.99 while All states for the year is $99.99). *If you are only planning on one or two camping trips, I wouldn’t bother with this step.*
Google maps is going to be your best friend. If you used OnX this is going to eliminate all the guessing work on which land will have camping or not. If you don’t have the app, no worries we got you covered.
Search the area you are interested in going in. I prefer the terrain view because it allows you to see all the roads from satellite view (this helps with seeing the dirt roads).
While scanning the areas keep a look out for pictures of RV’s and roads starting with NF. NF signifies it’s a National Forest road, which most likely signifies free camping!
Usually following these couple of steps and doing your research will leave you with a pretty solid free night stay! Google Maps can be a bit of a learning curve, but once you’ve spent a good amount of time using it navigation becomes a breeze!
Secret Tip 1
Search "free camping near..." on your web browser. *Often times others have written blogs or started a forum on free camping in the area you're looking at*
Secret Tip 2
Search "BLM land maps" and "National Forest land maps". If you don't have on of the apps to help you determine what land is federal or not, this will be helpful.
Secret Tip 3
Have a backup plan! Sometimes what might have looked like a free camping spot is no longer. (Most likely this is because campers in the past have overstayed their welcome and/or the areas become popular and overcrowded).
Secret Tip 4
Get to your spot EARLY! The general rule we follow is the 3pm rule. Get to your spot before 3 or it might be a bit of a rat race trying to snag a spot. (This is dependent on the time of the year and the popularity of the area)
While we prefer not to pay for camping, sometimes it’s necessary. Some spots you'll have a lot of free camping to choose from, while other spots might not have any. You might be thinking "I already know how to find a paid spot for camping," but let us give you a few more options you might not have known about until now!
These are our go to options for finding a spot if free camping isn't available:
a. This is the easiest way of finding your typical campground. Usually
between $10-$20 per night (Mainly reserved spots, but sometimes they
will be FF (first come, first serve)).
2. Harvest Hosts (Average stay- $20-$30)
Harvest Hosts is a platform that gives you hundreds of options for a place to stay and relax ($99 a year subscription)
They are a fairly new platform so the options can sometimes be limited, but it’s a great way to find a cool and unique place to stay for a night or two!
On Harvest Hosts you will find wineries, breweries, museums, and more that will allow you stay for free! (What’s the secret? The business’s want you to spend a little $$ ;))
Harvest Hosts is a nice backup plan for us, but again, if you are only the occasional camper, we wouldn’t recommend getting this
3. Hip Camp ($ varies)
Another awesome route if you don’t want a normal RV Park/ Campground
Hip Camp, like Harvest Hosts, connects people who are looking to camp with people who want to “rent” out part of their property.
There are so many cool options here! Some people will rent out a private tent, while others will offer you a plot of their land to park an rv or setup a tent.
Again, this is a recently new thing, so options could be limited depending on the area.
4. KOA (Around $35)
If you don’t end up going with the previous options, KOA (Kampgrounds of America) are always a good bet.
KOA’s are often a go to for us if we are planning on spending little money for a night or two. Why? They are incredibly consistent! You are always certain to have a bathroom, shower, laundry facility, electrical/water hook up, and more! (Every KOA is different, which makes every stay unique!)
We hope this quick outline gave you a little insight into how we find our camping spots, and we hope it helps you on your next camping trip! If you have any questions please don't hesitate to ask! Happy camping!