Safe Places Where You Can Camp or Park Your RV for Free
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.
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.
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.
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.
Small Town Venues
In small towns you can likely find free overnight parking in
- city parks and
- county parks.
Some of these are extremely nice, have hookups and actually have designated sites.
They include places such as
- Waylon Jennings Park in Littlefield, TX,( which was donated to the town by the famous country star to thank them for helping him get started with his singing career)
- 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) and
- 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).
but there are hundreds of others.
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.
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.
What About Using Rest Areas?
There was a time when overnight camping was common in rest areas across the US, but these days staying in them is considered to be unsafe.
We used to stay at a beautiful little rest stop outside of Colby, KS that had a separate area for RVs, a dump station and even a water fill. We gave it up after we heard that several killings had taken place there.
These days overnight camping is prohibited in most state rest areas, and the police patrol them regularly.
It is safe to stay there for a few hours during the day, but I would avoid overnight visits.
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.
Anybody can stay in these facilities as long as they ask permission, and gambling is not required.
You can find all of them at a site called casinocamping.com.
Never Assume Parking Your Rig Is OK
When you are driving along the open roads of this country and see land masses that stretch for miles, you may feel that there should be no problem if you decide to pull over and spend the night.
This is the kind of thinking that can get you fined and arrested because people
- do not want strangers using their private property,
- worry about intruders and dangers and
- have concerns about liability.
You do not have the right to park on land simply because it is available, and doing is illegal an can carry hefty punishments.
Use Free Sites to Cost Average Your Camping Fees
By doing a bit of online research you can find many more places where you can safely camp for free, including many Bureau of Land Management Parks and towns such as Quartzite, AZ.
Although I do not suggest that people should make a practice of camping at no charge, I do agree that sometimes they have little choice.
The spots I highlighted here all are safe havens for RV travelers who do not have good access to regular camping facilities and 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.