Finding free campsites in the United States and Canada is part art and part science. It will lead you to have an unbelievable and uniquely special adventure. There are a few reasons why finding free places to camp is 100% the way to go.
First off, you’ll be able to save money, of course! Put that wallet away and save your money to spend on more adventures. Secondly, free campsites will typically be further into nature and will provide a more unique experience than traditional campsites. You’ll have better views and you’ll feel more in touch with nature when you camp at a free site.
Free camping opportunities are as varied as they are plentiful – from simply parking overnight for free to camping at wineries to boondocking on the massive swaths of public land in North America. So, without no further ado, let’s talk about the best options for finding free camping in the USA and Canada!
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USA & Canada: Free Camping and Boondocking
Free Camping in National Forests and BLM Land
In the USA and Canada, there is public land available for free camping if you know how to find it.
In the USA, these sites are on National Forest and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. When in Canada, these are sometimes called National Forests and sometimes Provincial Parks. However, in Canada, these aren’t always home to free campsites. It is best to read ahead of time whether there are free sites in the area.
These campsites are the best option for free camping across the US and Canada, as these are often in stunning locations and offer the best views and experiences.
The best way to find these awesome sites is to go directly to the National Forest and BLM websites. On those websites, you’ll find an updated list of campsites around the USA. This is in addition to rules and regulations you’ll need to know while visiting a particular area. It is best to read ahead, as you’ll want to know if there is a burn ban or wildlife in the area.
The very best public land sites that we have found are in the Western US and Canada. The world seems to open up wider the further you move West, and the free campsite options are no exception.
Camping in many of the USA’s most popular national parks is unfortunately not free. But, you can often find free camping just outside of the boundaries of the park. When you visit Grand Teton National Park or Yellowstone, there are incredible free camping options in Bridger-Teton National Forest. Near Glacier National Park, Flathead and Kootenai National Forests are nearby with some beautiful campsites.
Similarly, you will have to pay to camp in Canada’s national parks, but right outside Banff and Jasper, there are beautiful free camping options with equally spectacular views of these natural wonderlands. There are tons of cool things to do in Banff, so finding free camping nearby ensures you have time to fully explore the park. The same with Jasper!
Harvest Hosts: Overnight RV Camping at Wineries and Breweries
The Harvest Hosts is not exactly free, but it might as well be as the price. The yearly subscription is less than you’d spend for one night at many campsites around the US. Harvest Hosts is a huge network of breweries, wineries, farms, and more that offer you a chance to boondock in a beautiful location.
One stipulation of Harvest Host is that your camping vehicle must be “self-contained”. That means that it must have an interior toilet, wastewater storage, and an interior kitchen. Unfortunately, tent camping is not allowed, but Harvest Host is one of the best tools for an RV road trip to save money on camping.
Another great benefit of Harvest Hosts is that the brewery and winery locations are often in locations where there aren’t any National Forests or BLM sites. Therefore, you’ll never be far from either a free public land campsite or a Harvest Host site.
And if the Harvest Host site is a brewery or a winery, you can have a tour of the grounds and do wine or beer tasting. If you enjoy it, you could even do yourself (and your hosts) a favor and buy some for the road!
Free Boondocking in Parking Lots
Another option for free camping across the US and Canada is to find businesses that allow you to park overnight in their parking lots for free. The number one location for this is Walmart. You will typically find a separate section of the parking lot specifically designated for overnight camping. A bonus of staying in Walmarts is that you can also knock some grocery shopping off your to-do list while you stay there!
Another business that allows you to park overnight for free is Cracker Barrel. When you camp at Cracker Barrel, there is an unspoken agreement that you’ll have breakfast at the restaurant. However, that is to your benefit anyways as they serve a delicious breakfast. A Cracker Barrel breakfast will fuel your day of adventure and will be well worth it for the free camping!
Finally, many rest stops across the US and Canada offer a free place to camp. This won’t be every rest stop, so be wary of signage saying that overnight parking is not allowed. However, in a pinch, these rest areas that are typically located off highways and freeways can be a great place to park and sleep for the night.
More Free Camping Options in the USA and Canada
In the US and Canada, it is also possible to camp for free at many other destinations. Many trailheads, parks, museums, and other places offer free camping. The best way to find these places is by using a bit of technology. There are a few free camping apps that are on the app store that show a map of free campsites anywhere around you.
The two best options for free camping apps are iOverlander (iPhone | Android) and Boondocking. These are both crowd-sourced, meaning that other app users upload free campsite options they’ve found. Therefore, if you find a site that you’ve loved that isn’t on the app, you can make the app better by adding what you’ve found!
On these apps, everyone has the opportunity to leave a review on a site they’ve camped at. Therefore, you can read up on what other people liked or disliked about a campsite, and you can make an educated decision on whether to go there!
In addition to random campsites like museums and trailheads, you will also be able to use apps like iOverlander and Boondocking to find National Forest and BLM sites. However, keep in mind that the apps do not have every public land campsite, though they are very close. We’ve found that free campsites on these apps have been very good for the most part. From time to time, there will be a site that doesn’t have a great view, however, by and large, the sites have been excellent.
Finally, these apps also document important locations for boondockers, including dumping stations, water refill locations, and places to get a shower. These can be very important, especially if you are camping in an RV or campervan that needs to dump and refill water regularly.
All in all, finding free campsites is a wonderful way to see the world on a budget. In addition to saving a few bucks, you’ll have an incredibly unique experience that you’ll remember for a lifetime. Plan the trip of your life experiencing all of the natural wonders across the US and Canada, and find free campsites along the way!
Do you have any tips for finding free camping in the USA and Canada? Let us know in the comments below!
Planning a road trip in the USA? Check out a few of our favorite books and travel guides.
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About the Authors – Julie & Zach Ruhl:
Hi! We are Julie and Zach Ruhl and together we are the Ruhls of the Road. We’ve been traveling full-time since 2018, experiencing everything we can in this beautiful world and writing about it as we travel.
We believe traveling can change your life, it certainly has changed ours!