In the United States there are over 437 million acres of free camping. If it was one giant square it would be 830 miles X 830 miles. That’s about the same distance as walking from Philadelphia Pennsylvania to Jackson Florida just to walk one edge of the square. I don’t mind paying for camping periodically because paid campsites provide at least basic toiletries and a picnic table of sorts. Nicer campgrounds will even have showers available. When my family and I go on holiday (fancy way of saying on vacation) we usually do one night of free camping and another paid night with a shower. However, you can go to almost any truck stop and pay for a shower too.
Where is all this free camping?
There are three main areas where you can go tent camping for free in the United States of America. National Forests, BLM Land, and National Grasslands. Besides these three areas there are lots of free state and county campgrounds, but you just have to know where to look to find them.
In the United States there are 155 national forests that are composed of 188,391,233 total acres. National forests are owned by everyone who pays taxes. These forests are maintained by the United States Forest Service. There are paid campgrounds in national forests, but you can camp anywhere. The reason you are paying is because someone is maintaining that campground and the campground usually includes some basic amenities like toiletries, trash bins, fire pits, and picnic tables. To have these amenities usually costs between $5 to $25 per night. Camping in national forests is technically free and there is no admission charge to national forests. This free camping is called “dispersed camping,” and the rules vary a little in each national forest.. In most national forests, you must pitch your tent at least 100 or 150 feet from the nearest road, trail, or official campground. In popular areas sometimes this distance can be up to half a mile away from everyone. You can have fires in a pit, but you should check the fire restrictions for the national park you where you are camping. If there is a drought and no fires allowed – then DON’T have a fire. Some places also require you to have a permit to have a fire. Most national parks in California require fire permits. These are usually free to cheap and can be obtained online.
BLM stands for Bureau of Land Management and is an agency within the United States Department of Interior. The purpose of the BLM is to preserve land for the enjoyment of people in the United States. BLM’s managed lands are mostly in the western states and consists of 247 million acres of land.. You can go to any of the BLM offices and purchase detailed maps of public land. Because these lands are public you can go hunting, camping, practice using firearms, and almost anything else within reason. Some places do have restrictions so you will need to check with the BLM office in the area. When on BLM land you need to make sure that you follow the local states laws and ordinances, especially when you plan to use firearms or go hunting in any variety. I love to go to BLM land because it is a great place to practice shooting my guns. Just remember as it is public land other people have a right to be there as much as you do.
National grasslands are under the same category and group as national forests. The only difference is 20 national grasslands in the United States, which is about 1,028,000 total acres, are all prairie. The majority of the prairie land is in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas. There are places outside this belt that have national grasslands, but they are magnitudes smaller in area. I am from South Dakota and have often camped in national grasslands. The biggest drawback to grasslands is there are no wind blocks and sometimes the wind can be ferocious. When the wind is bad it is not safe to have a campfire either. The prairies have their own beauty. One reason I love national grasslands more than forests is in the winter you can go snowmobiling across the vast plains. You can go really fast and generally don’t need to worry about going off a cliff or crashing into trees.
There are so many beautiful public places to go camping in every state. Just remember to be responsible. Character and integrity take a lifetime to build and don’t let it go even when nobody is watching. Don’t leave your trash or waste byproducts behind. Most national parks don’t have trash facilities or toilets unless you’re in paid camping. You will need to pack out your own trash and bury your feces. Bucket toilets are a very comfortable way to use the bathroom for women and men that need to go number two. The first time my mom ever went backpacking with my brothers, dad, and I she ended up with tons of pine needles attached to her butt. She had no idea until we got back my aunt’s house and she took a shower. She wished she had something besides old logs to use as a toilet seat lid. As camping in national forests are very primitive make sure you take plenty of water or a way to filter water. If you like RV camping you can usually just pull off the road and camp in most national forests. Freecampgrounds.com is another great resource for free RV camping. There was a law suit between KOA and Walmart a few years ago. KOA was suiting Walmart because Walmart was taking business away by letting people sleep in the Walmart parking lots. Needless to say Walmart won and you can also just camp your recreational vehicle in a Walmart parking lot for free. You have food 24/7 and toilets that flush.