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How to Save a Small Fortune on Your Camping Costs

Updated on August 8, 2016
TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

I am an avid RV enthusiast who has traveled, lived, workcamped and volunteered nationwide for more than 50 years and am still going strong!

If you travel a great deal in your RV but want to find ways to save money on your camping costs, there are at least 8 strategies you can use that will easily save you hundreds of dollars on every vacation you take.

Although many campgrounds have significantly increased their prices in recent years, anybody who wants to take the time to do some research (and perhaps make a few small sacrifices) can significantly reduce what they pay to camp.

My husband and I have been using sound money saving methods for years.

For example, as recently as a month ago, my husband and I stayed in a gorgeous campground and paid $11 per night, while many other people visiting the same area were paying as much as $45 per night.

Over a one month period, that adds up to a savings of more than $1,000!

To get that deal, we used our National Parks Pass and were willing to use a dump station instead of having a sewer hookup at our site. We thought the small sacrifice we made was well worth the money we saved!

8 strategies that will help you to save hundreds of dollars on camping fees.
8 strategies that will help you to save hundreds of dollars on camping fees. | Source

Effetive methods you can use to reduce what you pay to camp include but are not limited to

  1. negotiating for a campsite,
  2. joining a good discount camping club,
  3. buying and using National Park Passes,
  4. staying in casino RV parks,
  5. camping in fairground facilities where permitted,
  6. staying in free campgrounds,
  7. visiting friend's homes and
  8. avoiding big cities and popular events.

While you may not want to use all of these techniques, using just one or two of them will still save you plenty.

Although there will be times when you cannot avoid paying full price for a campsite, you can use these methods to cost average what you pay to offset the higher fees.

For example, if you must pay $40 for one night, but spend the next three nights camping for free, your 4 day average is $10 per night!

Negotiate for a Lower Price

Many park owners are willing to offer lower prices in return for longer stays.

If you go to the Black Hills, for example, you will pay an average of $40 per night in season. However, at some parks, for a one month stay you will spend only $400. This is a savings of $26.67 per night!

  • If you only want to stay for a week, most places will still give you your seventh night for free.
  • If you are willing to travel off season, you can pay even less. All you have to do is ask!

Much depends on who you are talking to and how much they are hurting for business, but a polite request usually results in a less expensive campsite.

My husband and I always use our Good Sam Travel Guide to help us contact and negotiate with campground managers before we leave home so that we know exactly how much we'll have to pay once we arrive.

You should use them to

  1. research the areas you plan to visit,
  2. compare the prices of various campgrounds,
  3. look at the amenities each one offers, and
  4. then choose two or three you would like to visit.

Their phone numbers are in this book, so make some calls and be sure you speak with the owner, not a clerk.

Tell him or her your plans, that you are looking for a deal and then ask if he is willing to give you one if you stay longer. Be sure to let him know that to not give you a better price will be a deal breaker.

The beauty of the Good Sam Travel Guide is that it puts you in a good position to negotiate. Using it only costs you a phone call, which is much easier than driving all day to get to a park with the hopes that the manager will be amenable to your request.

2016 Good Sam RV Travel & Savings Guide (Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory)
2016 Good Sam RV Travel & Savings Guide (Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory)

This guide costs far less than others and provides just as much, if not more, relevant travel information. You do not need to be a member of Good Sam Club to purchase it.


Join a Good Discount Camping Club

Those who join the right camping club can easily reduce their fees by half. However, not all are equal.

Reviews of the Most Popular Camping Clubs tells you which ones will save you the most money.

The club I like best is Passport America.

  • For $44 per year you get to stay at your choice of 1900 member parks around the US that will cut their fees in half in most cases.
  • They also offer deals. I just signed up for an 18 month membership for what I would normally pay for only one year.

The majority of their parks are well located, and many actually are the same ones that more expensive clubs offer.

However, as with other clubs, they have limitations, so always read the fine print before you decide to join.

Using National Park Passes cuts camping costs significantly.
Using National Park Passes cuts camping costs significantly. | Source

Buy National Park Passes

National Park camping has become expensive because most facilities charge entrance as well as camping fees plus the cost of using showers and laundry facilities. Fishing licenses there are also extremely costly.

If you plan to visit several different parks during the course of one year, you can purchase a park pass that will

  • eliminate entrance fees,
  • cut camping costs in half,
  • can be used at every National Park in the US and
  • may also be honored by a few states, such as Arkansas.

If you are disabled, these passes cost nothing and never have to be renewed. If you are over 65, you'll pay $10 for one year. Those under 65 will pay $80.

RVing in the Four Most Popular National Parks provides further information on this topic.

*Some state parks, such as those in Arkansas and Florida, either honor national park passes or offer similar deals, so it pays to contact them.

Stay In Casino Campgrounds provides information about gaming venues around the country that offer reduced price or free sites.

Some only offer areas where people can dry camp while others offer full hookups and terrific amenities. None require visitors to enter their gaming areas other than to ask permission to stay on their property.

These facilities are very safe because they have 24/7 security. Usually they are well maintained and set up so that campers are housed away from the buildings.

One of the best ones is located in El Reno, Oklahoma. They have ten free full hookup, 50 amp sites that are located on the far edge of their huge parking lot. Beyond the camping area there is nothing but prairie.

If your coach has a washer and dryer, this is a great spot to rest up and do the laundry before continuing on your journey.

Use Fairground Facilities

Most small towns usually have fairgrounds that rarely are used but do have hookups. Many allow overnight camping at very reasonable prices, and some are even free.

Ask the locals for information about using these facilities, as some do not want strangers camping on their land!

There are many free campgrounds with hookups in the US
There are many free campgrounds with hookups in the US | Source

Stay At Free Campgrounds

Most people already know that there are a number of places around the country where people can dry camp for free and happily do so to save money, but would you believe me if I told you that there are also numerous places in the US, with hookups, where you can park your recreational vehicle for free as well?

The truth is that there are, but you need to know their locations.

Taking the time to learn this information is one of the secrets that helps you to reduce what you pay to camp while still having all of the comforts you love! and are good resources for finding spots that are free or cost $10 or less.

Here are some I personally have visited at various times for which I paid nothing unless I wanted to leave a donation. You can find many of them listed in camping guides, but some internet research will provide the same results for you.

  • Santa Fe City Park, Chanute, Kansas,
  • Waylon Jennings RV Park, Littlefield, TX,
  • Lewis Park, Wheatland, WY,
  • Municipal Park, Torrington, WY,
  • Lions Park, Vermillion, SD,
  • Holiday Inn, Ely, NV and
  • City Park, Medicine Lodge, Kansas.

Each of these parks is unique, all have hookups and are located close to town. Most allow at least one night of free camping, but some let people stay for as long as four days.

They only have a small number of sites (the largest being 30), but all are beautiful and safe places to camp.

Avoid Big Cities

The entire United States is peppered with small, simple and reasonably priced campgrounds. Each has its own aura and serves its own purpose, and many have either partial or full hookups.

If you are simply looking for a place to stop and rest for a day or two, these places are for you. There will be no crowds and no need for reservations. They are peaceful, quiet spots located in small towns that are a step away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities.

If you have children, most of them have play areas available for them, and some offer opportunities for fishing an hiking.

The farther away you are from big cities and popular tourist areas, the less you pay to camp.
The farther away you are from big cities and popular tourist areas, the less you pay to camp. | Source

Put Yourself in the Financial Driver's Seat

How to Estimate the Cost of Your Your RV Trips lets you see how using the types of facilities I've mentioned here can save you money.

You can do this! Just remember that because you're on wheels, you are in the financial driver's seat!

Use these methods for reducing your camping fees so that you can have longer, more enjoyable vacations, just like the ones my husband and I enjoy.

Happy Trails!

Robinson Flat Campground: A Free Camping Spot

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Submit a Comment

  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

    TIMETRAVELER2 2 years ago

    phdast7: Answer soon...I have a lot to share with you and want you to have the info before you firm up your plans.

  • phdast7 profile image

    Theresa Ast 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

    Great Hub. So informative, as always. I will answer your email about Alaska. Trying to finish a book chapter right now. :)

  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

    TIMETRAVELER2 2 years ago

    tillsontitan: Yes, it has gotten expensive, but I just wrote an article that compares RV travel with other forms of vacationing and according to the experts, it still is a less expensive way to go. From what I have heard, campgrounds in Alaska still are quite reasonable...but the cost of getting there is huge! Nice to see you again!

  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

    TIMETRAVELER2 2 years ago

    pstraubie48: Keep those angels coming! I also live in Florida, so maybe we're neighbors??? I hope you get to fulfill your dream because RV travel is really something quite special. You should take a peek at a few of my travel hubs to get a "taste" of it. Thanks for the up vote, but especially for the angels...I am always in need of them!

  • tillsontitan profile image

    Mary Craig 2 years ago from New York

    Great information. People used to camp because it was cheap but as you've pointed out that may not be the case anymore. We camped with a tent, except for Alaska where we rented an RV, and found state campgrounds were always cheaper. Of course that was many years ago so your information is more up-to-date.

    Voted up, useful, and interesting.

  • pstraubie48 profile image

    Patricia Scott 2 years ago from sunny Florida

    This is such helpful information to have. One dream I have is to own an RV so I can travel more and see places that I long to visit.

    No doubt many will be delighted to read of your suggestions.

    Sharing and voting up++++

    Angels are once again on the way to you this morning ps

  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

    TIMETRAVELER2 3 years ago

    MsDee I've used many of them...saved a ton of dough!

  • Ms Dee profile image

    Deidre Shelden 3 years ago from Texas, USA

    A big help to know about the free campgrounds site!

  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

    TIMETRAVELER2 4 years ago

    mperrottet: You need to look into getting a membership with Passport America. It's cheap to join and they have 1800 campgrounds nationwide at which you can stay for half price!

  • mperrottet profile image

    Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

    With the cost of private campgrounds being so high, we try to limit our stays there. We recently bought a generator, and tried it out for the first time by staying in a Walmart parking lot on the way down to Huntington Beach, SC. It worked out great, and we saved ourselves at least $35.00 - probably more by not staying at a private campground. We primarily stay at state or federal parks - you get so much more for your money, and they are all relatively cheap, although some of them are getting out of hand. Good info - voted up and very useful!

  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

    TIMETRAVELER2 5 years ago

    Enlydia Listener: It's amazing how willing people are to pay huge sums to camp when you can do so cheaply or for free in great spots that have many amenities. I've been doing this for years and just love it!

  • Enlydia Listener profile image

    Enlydia Listener 5 years ago from trailer in the country

    Hi Timetraveler, this was great information...and I am going to save it. Thanks for renewing my interest in the gypsy life. Blessings.

  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

    TIMETRAVELER2 5 years ago

    Believe it or not, we have good friends here (Florida) who are from New Zealand! Small world, huh? Best of luck to you and I hope the info from the article helps you out. There should be many opportunities there for all kinds of work, just as there are here. Please let me know how it works out for you and thanks so much for reading my article! I'll be sure to tell my friends here that we "met".

  • Bungy Bill profile image

    Bungy Bill 5 years ago from Hanmer Springs New Zealand

    Great Hub. My wife and I are hoping to join the Grey Nomads"after the sale of our property and I don't doubt the situation in New Zealand is no different to your own. Having farmed all our lives we are fortunate that we have farming friends around most of the Country & we will be visiting and camping with them a good bit of the time. There is also the possibility of casual work while traveling and camping which does help the budget!!

  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

    TIMETRAVELER2 5 years ago

    I sincerely hope these ideas will help you. There is no question that if you do it right, living in an RV and seeking inexpensive camping can make life a lot better for those on limited incomes. Good luck and thanks for reading my hub.

  • profile image

    Sea 5 years ago

    I will try some of your suggestions how that I am retired and living on a limited income.

  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

    TIMETRAVELER2 5 years ago

    I didn't used to think RV's were "camping" either...until I took my first trip in one. Good grief...what a difference it was from "the old ways". A lot easier on the back, too! Thanks for reading, the kudos and the sharing.

  • DougBerry profile image

    DougBerry 5 years ago from Abilene, TX

    Congratulations on your HubNugget nomination:

    When I was a kid we only went tent camping. RVs weren't viewed as camping. If you didn't have a rock under your spine, it wasn't real.

  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

    TIMETRAVELER2 5 years ago

    You're doing well at those rates, but check out some of the sites I mentioned and you can do better. I have camped for free in places that were NICE and have full hookups and 50 am electric. They're out there, but you do have to do some research to find them. Thanks for reading my article!

  • Becky Katz profile image

    Becky Katz 5 years ago from Hereford, AZ

    For years, I have gone camping at a BLM lake to camp. No charge, no amenities, no ranger. It is perfect. I can swim, fish, canoe, and nobody bothers me. Except the occasional cow, there are longhorns grazing there and some are short tempered. Most of the time they stay away from humans but one was rubbing on my sister's tent and knocked it down, with her sleeping in it. LOL