Besides mooch-docking off your friends and loved ones, there are many ways to camp very inexpensively or even free. Thanks to the Information Age, there are many resources at your fingertips via your smartphone to help you find some of the most beautiful and convenient locations very easily.My favorite free boondock was in our new friend Dan’s backyard.Not to be confused with a mooch-dock which is what we had in the Rigatos’ side yard in Chicago because they had electric that we could plug into. That was lovely also!
After all, if you can camp inexpensively, you can spend more money doing fun things and acquiring paddle boards, bikes and other gear with which to appreciate the outdoors. And in our case, we can put off going to work just a little bit longer!
One of our favorite apps is Campendium. It is by far my favorite app for finding campsites. It is available for FREE in the App Store. It has a filter that ranges from free to $$$$$ and can show you where public land, RV dumps, parking lots and RV parks are located. Other campers can post their reviews and give you insider information and insights on particular campgrounds. For us it has been an invaluable tool.
There is also an app called All Stays. It is a bit pricy at $10. It does have good information on it such as campground information, rest stop locations, bridge heights, locations of Cracker Barrels (they always have RV parking in back…. and biscuits and apple butter!), RV dump locations as well as gas stations that can accommodate the height of your rig.
Surprisingly, casinos are a great place to camp and many of them even provide free electric hookups! We had stayed at several that have free dump stations. (Maybe it is just me, but I really do not like paying for dumps and some places charge as much as $20, and you are doing all the work!) And even if they do not have hookups, they often will let you “boondock” AKA dry camp for free in their parking lot for several days at a time. The idea is that you will come into the casino and give them some business through gaming, the spa or the restaurants. Casinocamper.com is a great resource with reviews and information. Many casinos will give you a senior discount on food if you are 50 or older.
One of our favorite stops in August was at Kewadin Casino in Christmas, MI, where, you guessed it, every day is Christmas! They had 6 free electric sites in the parking lot and it was minutes away from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Park.I found the Kewadin Casino to be rather low-key for a casino.
Even better, it was next to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Granted, when you stay in places with free hook ups, there is often a lack of ambiance at your campsite. But, it is great to use these places as a jumping off point to see other things in the area. You just come back to sleep and regroup for more activities elsewhere.
Walmart was renowned for a long time for allowing RV-ers to park for free in their parking lots but recently that has changed, and the policy on parking and sleeping in the parking lot does vary from store to store now. One blogger that we follow tells the story of how he spoke with a Walmart manager who gave him permission to stay in the parking lot for the night. That was around 8 pm. Evidently, there was a shift change at 11 pm and the night manager felt differently. There was a knock on the door from security telling him to leave. He had to explain that he could not because he had drank a bottle of wine while watching a movie and was not safe to operate a vehicle. It was all sorted out, and he was allowed to stay. But if you are going to stay at Walmart, be sure to go into the store and get permission and request that he overnight manager be informed of your presence, too.
Cabela’s is also known for allowing RV-ers to park overnight in their parking lots. They have a separate RV parking area. We stayed at the Cabela’s in Owatonna, MN, overnight on our way west to the Black Hills. It was peaceful and there were other RV-ers there such as the Dubbels Family @dubbelsornothing on Instagram.
Truck stops and rest areas are great places to park for some shut-eye when you are on your way somewhere else, but they fill up surprisingly fast, especially if the truck stop has a good restaurant. I found a free app called Trucker Path that drivers update that will let your know if there are parking spaces left at a particular rest area or truck stop.
Another beautiful and free option is to park without hookups (aka “boondocking” or “dry camping”) on Forest Service land and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. These are some of the most beautiful and serene places. Of course, you have to prepare by making sure that your black and gray tanks are empty and your water tank is full. If you require air conditioning or want to use your TV, you will need a generator. We have dual Yamaha EF2000 generators. They are quiet compared to other generators on the market and fairly lightweight. They run about 8 hours before they run out of gas.
The view from the most scenic FREE boondock on our trip so far. We were perched on the edge of a canyon in the Badlands of South Dakota. We found this on Campendium. You had to open a barbed wire gate (it was haaaard to wrassle it shut again and people were not shutting it so this may affect access in the future) and drive up a dirt road toward the bluff.Us as well as other campers taking advantage of this beautiful and FREE campsite!
I only recently discovered the app “Boondocking”. It is free, and it has a map of BLM and Forest Service land for all states where this kind of land is available. People have added their first-hand accounts of the roads and sites as well as GSP coordinates. Of course, if you are pulling something that could easily get stuck such as a large trailer or fifth wheel, you may want to drop your trailer and scout the area first before you bring your rig down these rustic roads! Also, be fire aware and have two ways out of your camp.
We stayed a few nights ago in a well-kept city park with hook-ups in Wheatland, WY. It was donation only. We jumped on our bikes and explored their cute little downtown. Once again, we found this on the Campendium app.We are behind the tree. These are the donation-only sites at Wheatland, WY.Wheatland had a pretty park and wonderful donation-only services for campers!
There are lots of state and national parks with organized campgrounds and a camp host that are relatively inexpensive ranging from $8 to $30 depending on if you opt for hookups or not. Sometimes they are serene and peaceful, other times they are crowded and noisy so it really helps to do your research on apps if reviews are available.
My friend Miss Mazuma has a great blog post about her amazing cross-country car camping trip. She has some great pointers on free camping as well. Check it out!
At any rate, whether you are like us and try to stretch every dollar to the max or you like to live it up and stay at posh RV resorts and KOAs that are a kid’s dream come true with pizza delivery and pools, live your nomadic life to the fullest because there is nothing more exciting than waking up and letting the day and the road unfold before you.