I am an RV enthusiast with more than 50 years of experience owning, driving, traveling and living in recreational vehicles.
Do You Have to Pay to Camp in an RV?
Many people think you have to pay to camp, but the truth is that there are many places around the US where you can park your rig temporarily, legally and safely at no cost.
As most RV travelers already know, many campgrounds, both public and private, have been steadily increasing their rates for several years.
This, coupled with the fact that there are times when there are simply no facilities available in an area, gives recreational vehicle travelers good cause to search for alternate places to park.
Fortunately, during my 50 years of touring the country, I have been able to find a number of places that fill the void, keep me safe and cost nothing. I have used many of them, and have always enjoyed using them. In fact, some are actually nicer than parks people pay to stay in!
In this article, I’m going to share some of that information with you so that the next time you’re on the road, you’ll have more choices.
Some people (notably those who call themselves RV Nomads), think it is safe to set up camp anywhere, but this is far from the truth.
Parking on back streets, behind industrial plants or on the sides of lonely country roads opens you to all sorts of criminal activity. When you stay in places such as these, you have no protection. Anybody can do anything they want to you at any time.
Therefore, do not be fooled into thinking that you are getting away with lowering your costs by sidestepping legitimate and safe parking places. You’re not.
Furthermore, doing this can endanger more than your wallet, so forget that line of thinking, and pay attention to the advice I am providing here.
Make safety your first priority.
5 Low-Risk Places to RV Camp for Free
1. Business Lots
There are a number of businesses these days that are RV friendly, and several of them set large spaces aside for that purposes. Many also provide security.
In all cases, if you need to use their facilities,
- ask permission,
- purchase something from them,
- never literally set up camp or
- dump your tanks on their grounds.
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Good etiquette will result in all travelers being able to continue to stay in these places,
Bad behavior will kill these options for everybody.
Businesses that will welcome you include:
- Camping World,
- Pilot/Flying J Truck Stops and
- most other truck stops.
With permission, you may also be able to stay overnight at some of the big box stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, but only if you park far from their normal traffic flow.
2. Small-Town Venues
In small towns you can likely find free overnight parking in fairgrounds, city parks and county parks. Some of these are extremely nice, have hookups and actually have designated sites.
They include places such as:
- Santa Fe Park in Chanute, KS (which is supported by NuWa Industries, an RV manufacturer that wanted to give customers a place to park while awaiting repairs, but also allows others to use their facilities)
- Lions Park in Vermillion, SD (which is a small park supported by the Lions Club of Vermillion to give visitors a place to rest)
- Wheatland City park in Wheatland, WY (a small park supported by the city fathers with designated sites, water, electric and a dump plus nice restroom)
There are hundreds of others, as well.
You will see many books and websites that advertise free campgrounds, but usually you have to sort through them to find the ones that actually have zero cost. One of the best is FreeCampgrounds.com because it is very user-friendly.
Another good source for free and low-cost camping information is the Guide to Free and Low-Cost Campgrounds. My husband and I never travel without this book because it saves us hundreds of dollars on every vacation we take. The man who wrote it is highly knowledgeable and has been researching this topic and publishing information about it for years!
3. Free Campgrounds With Hookups
Few people realize that there are a number of camping facilities with hookups around the country where people can camp for free or for a small donation.
Just about all of them provide water fill and dump stations, but many also offer water and electric right at their sites. A small number actually have full hookups, as well.
WaylonJenningsPark in Littlefield, Texas, is one of them. Waylon Jennings donated this campground to his home town to thank them for the support they gave him when he first started his singing career with the hopes that doing so would bring some income into the community.
Full-facility parks, either publicly or privately owned, are able to offer campsites for free because they are generally subsidized by small towns or businesses.
Campgrounds like those mentioned here that either have partial or full hookups are safe for campers and are a much better choice than parking off the beaten track where there is no security.
4. Dry Camping
Travelers need to take care when it comes to dry camping. Some places are extremely safe, but others not so much.
If you want to dry camp overnight, the best place to do so would be in the parking lot of a Walmart store. You will need to ask permission to stay there overnight, and the manager will usually give you the OK to do so. Once he knows you'll be parked on his lot, he'll make sure that his 24-hour security people keep an eye on you, which means you can be confident about your safety.
There are also many government-run parks that have zero-hookup campgrounds where you can also park your coach, such as Bureau of Land Management and Corps of Engineers facilities.
- Some charge entrance fees.
- Others charge small fees for licenses or camping.
- Many cost nothing.
However, some of these places are located in desolate areas. You should avoid them whenever possible because they have no security available for you in the event of problems.
I have attached a video that provides a tour of Quartzite, AZ, which is a town that many RV travelers flock to in the winter because there is a great deal of free, dry camping there.
5. Casino Camping
There are many small casinos around the country that allow dry camping. Some, such as the Indian Casino in El Reno, OK, even supply full-hookup campsites and most offer 24/7 security.
You can find most of them on a site called casinocamping.com. Anybody can stay in these facilities as long as they ask permission, and gaming is not required.
By doing a bit of online research you can find many more places where you can safely camp for free.
The spots I highlighted here all are safe havens for RV travelers who do not have good access to regular camping facilities or who want to save a few dollars as they go.
They can be a tremendous help with reducing costs but, in most cases, will not provide the same comforts or security that full-hookup private campgrounds provide.
For this reason you should use them sparingly, and always be appreciative of the opportunity to do so.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: We are stranded in Pueblo, Colorado with two tires about to blow, and our master brake cylinder leaking. We have no more money for repairs and camping fees. Is there anywhere nearby that we can go?
Answer: You need to contact the Colorado State Patrol (719) 544-2424 for assistance.
Question: Is there anywhere in Los Angeles, California where you can park your RV for free?
Answer: Probably not. Big cities rarely offer free parking spots to people because they don't have to do so. Furthermore, doing this takes income away from existing RV Parks.
Question: Do you know of any places to camp that allow commercial vehicles? I drive a small, straight truck, and often the truck stops are too full. As a petite female, safety is a concern.
Answer: Your best bet is to arrive around 4PM each day to assure yourself a spot. Campgrounds don't normally allow commercial vehicles.
Question: In Portland, Maine, I want to go to all or some of the seven beaches within 45 mins, but don't want to pay to park the 17-foot trailer. Where can I park the trailer free or cheap for the day to go to the beach?
Answer: You will have to contact each of the beaches to see if any offer cheap or free parking spaces. I doubt you'll find any, but it's worth a shot.
© 2016 Sondra Rochelle