Where to find free campsites in Canada and the U.S.

tent beside water
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Get off the beaten track and save some money in the process.

Camping is the best way to see the world for the least amount of money, particularly if you're sleeping in a tent and have no need for electrical and water hookups. But, as any camper will tell you, the costs still accumulate. Even if you're sleeping in a tent, a stay at a national/state park or private campground ranges from $35 to $60 per night, depending on the 'fanciness' level of the campground. Spread that over multiple days or weeks of travel, and it can get pricey.

A frugal alternative is to seek out free (or greatly reduced) campgrounds. These exist throughout the United States and Canada, and they tend to be off the beaten track, which is appealing to travellers who may find conventional campgrounds to be overcrowded. The Internet makes it fairly easy to locate these spots, and by doing a bit of research in advance, you'll be able to save a chunk of money, while exploring new parts of the country. Check out the following resources if you're interested in free camping.

Campendium

This website has a list of free camping spots in most of the states and provinces. Some of these "boondocking" sites are on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and National Forests (more on these below). Others are located within national parks, which usually require an entrance fee, even if they don't charge you to camp. Others are just lovely little spots that other travellers have discovered before you.

FreeCampsites.net

Another online database of free camping spots, this website has a map-based search engine that relies on community contributions for the most up-to-date information. The focus is on public lands, primarily Forest Service land, BLM, Wildlife Management Areas, and county or city parks. It's explicitly geared toward people seeking wilderness:

"We are not actively seeking Wal-Marts, truckstops or other parking lots and will not be adding very many of these. There are enough Wal-Mart and truck stop directories out there already."

National Forests

In the U.S. you are allowed to camp for free in National Forests and Grasslands, unless otherwise marked, for up to 14 days. "Each national forest has slightly different rules, so check ahead of time, but generally speaking you are allowed to camp anywhere outside established recreation areas and developed campgrounds." (via Fresh off the Grid) National Forests are marked on Google maps or you can use this online locator to find your spot.

Recreation Sites (British Columbia, Canada)

The province of B.C. has 1,300 recreation sites, most of which offer free camping, a fire pit, space for a tent, picnic table, and outhouse. You can camp for up to 14 days on these sites, although some charge a small fee (~$10/day). Maps available here.

Crown Land (Canada)

Crown Land refers to land owned by the 'crown', or government of Canada. Citizens can camp on crown land for free for up to 21 days (non-citizens pay for a permit), but this depends on the land's designated use, which can make it complicated. Fresh Off The Grid has a list of interactive maps for several Canadian provinces, but be forewarned: these are not intuitive maps to use! If you can figure them out, camping on crown land is perfect for a canoe trip, the ultimate in zero-waste, low-carbon travel.

Free City Park Camping in Kansas

You never know when you might need a place to sleep in Kansas! There's a good list here of towns that allow travellers to pitch a tent in their city parks, and another list of community parks and lakes throughout the state of Kansas that allow cyclists to camp for free.

Hipcamp

Not free but cheap, Hipcamp allows you to search for off-beat campsites that cost very little, usually on someone's private land. The price can be as low as $10, which is much better than the rates at campgrounds. Start your search here.

Wilderness Lands

The Wilderness Act was signed into law in 1964, designating millions of acres of land "for the use and enjoyment of the American people." Camping is allowed, along with hiking, backpacking, canoeing, rafting, kayaking, climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, horseback riding, cross-country and downhill skiing, swimming, fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing, etc. Search for a place using the Wilderness Connect website.

Friend's land

Why not ask a friend or acquaintance if you can camp on their land? If you know someone with an acreage of field or forest, this could be the cheapest way to have a wilderness getaway. You will have to buy a thank you gift, though!

Where to find free campsites in Canada and the U.S.
Get off the beaten track and save some money in the process.

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