Last year, during our travels through the middle of the country, we discovered an amazing thing: free campgrounds. And not just your typical dry camping sites in a government owned park, either—I’m talking about campgrounds with water and electric hookups and often even a dump station onsite! This was a game changer.
You see, we’ve done a bit of boondocking here and there, and we have plenty more boondocking stops planned for the next couple of weeks. That said, it isn’t our favorite way of exploring. We normally use Thousand Trails campgrounds to keep costs low, but when we’re not near these campgrounds, we need other options that don’t cost an arm and a leg. These free campgrounds with hookups fill that role perfectly.
In this article we will talk about how to find free (and incredibly low-cost) camping with hookups, and then give you some tips for using these campsites.
Generally, free campgrounds with hookups are located in city parks, but some can be found at casinos, county parks, and other locations. The rules vary from one park to the next, but many ask for a donation in exchange for your stay, and all the places we’ve visited limit your stay to a certain number of days. These seem like reasonable requests, considering the awesome thing that is being offered.
In some cases, we will find city parks or county park campgrounds that aren’t totally free, but are under $15 a night. I still consider this an incredible deal, and we will often use these parks as well. The rules and amenities at these places tend to be very similar to those found at free campgrounds.
Most of these low-cost campgrounds have a donation box available, in which you place your gift or camping fees. However, we have come across some places that require you to check in at the city hall, sheriff’s office, or even a local museum.
We’ve found free and low-cost campgrounds that are electric-only with nothing but a field of grass to park on. We’ve also found parks that offer full hookups (water, sewer, and electric) and concrete pads. Most have electric and water at each site and a dump station somewhere in the park or the town. Many are near the local pool, and the majority have a playground very close by. Once in a while we will come across a free campground with showers for RVers.
Every free or cheap campground we’ve ever found has been located in a small town, if not in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes the town might have something to do, or it might be 30–45 minutes from a big city. Other times, there isn’t much in the way of attractions for miles around.
Wondering how one might go about finding a place to stay for free (or almost free)? We usually use the website called FreeCampsites.net. As the name suggests, this site is dedicated to listing free campsites. It also includes low-cost campgrounds.
In order to find the campgrounds with hookups, I will filter my search to find only the campgrounds with the hookups I need. That said, sometimes a particular amenity may not be included in the listing, so if I’m having trouble finding what I need in a particular area, it does sometimes help to read reviews in case the thing I’m looking for isn’t listed properly.
Once I find something that looks like what I need, I don’t stop there. I dive deeper, reading all of the reviews on FreeCampites.net and then seeking out yet more reviews on other sites. I’ll also look for information about a given campground on its city website. This helps to ensure the campground is still in existence and as listed.
Besides FreeCampsites.net, there are other ways to find free and low-cost campgrounds. Some of the options we know if include:
- Campendium — This works much like FreeCampsites.net and is often where I’ll turn second.
- RoamFreely — This is an app that also works like FreeCampsites.net. It has some campgrounds listed that aren’t on either of the websites mentioned above, but it’s missing several as well.
- Keeping your eyes peeled — Another great option is to keep an eye out for campsites that look like they might be a part of a city park or a casino. This works well if you take backroads often or enjoy visiting small towns. If you find some, stop and check. If it is indeed a free of low-cost place to stay, be sure to list it on Campendium and FreeCampsites.net.
- Asking around — Finally, it never hurts to ask others about campsites they know of. Ask other RVers on Facebook groups and forums, or ask locals if they know of any great and inexpensive places to camp. You might be surprised at the hidden gems you can find.
At this point, we’ve stayed in our fair share of these free and super cheap campgrounds. Along the way, we’ve learned a thing or two that help make our trips to these places a bit more enjoyable.
These are our top tips:
- Arrive early — We are definitely not early risers. However, we have found that when it comes to free and cheap campsites, it pays to arrive as early as possible in order to snag a site.
- Shower at the pool — As mentioned before, most of these campgrounds do not have showers for RVers. They also don’t tend to have sewer hookups at each site, making it necessary to conserve tank space. We’ve learned that the showers at the city pools are a great way to get clean and tend to be very low-cost.
- Explore small towns — You might be far away from any true attractions, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing worth seeing nearby. Go into town and try the local coffee shop and eateries. Some of our favorites have been in tiny towns.
- Look for historic markers — Even in the middle of nowhere with no true attractions around, you will see historic markers. Make a point of looking for these and stopping to check them out.
- Be willing to drive to attractions — If you’re looking to visit a particular attraction or city, you might be able to find free camping as long as you’re willing to camp 45 minutes away.
- Find campgrounds along your route — Even if there isn’t a free campground close to your final destination, there could be some along your route. Since we don’t like to drive more than 3 or 4 hours in a day, these campgrounds can be a great way to break up a long trip.
About the author: Chelsea Gonzales
Chelsea has the amazing opportunity to take part in full-time RV living and traveling with her tiny tribe. She homeschools her five-year-old son as they travel, and takes full advantage of their unique situation by using the entire world as her son’s classroom. A group of total Disney fanatics, Chelsea and her family often find themselves in the Orlando area in order to visit the Disney parks, but they have also visited over 25 of the 50 states with plans to see many more along the way. No matter where her travels take her, Chelsea enjoys riding bikes, gazing at beautiful sunsets, finding new coffee shops, Irish dancing, and sitting around a campfire with her family.
You can join her adventures through her blog, Wonder Wherever We Wander.
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