Free RV camping is different from free RV parking.
Free RV camping sites are available on public lands and private property. We are aware of private lands owned by timber companies that allow free camping. Most free RV camping will be found on public lands.The best way to find free RV parking spots is to ask the local police or sheriff office. A phone call is all it takes, and you will be surprised at the great places they will direct you to, especially when dealing with smaller communities. Eastern USA travelers may have more difficultly finding free RV parking locations due to the extensive privately owned property.
Keep the size of your vehicle in mind as you set out to remote locations. When it comes to finding free RV camping locations, the smaller the RV the better in many instances. You can get stuck and have a long walk through difficult country if you are not careful.
Finding free RV camping locations becomes easy with some experience. You will have to explore if you want to find those great campsites that show up on the cover of RV magazines. Our Boondocking and Dispersed Camping section describes step by step how we find great free RV campsites.
In our opinion, you can't find a good free RV camping site without a map. The only time that is not true is when you go with someone else, or have very explicit directions. You must have maps to find free camping locations.
To help find free RV camping locations in the west, we recommend Benchmark Recreation Atlas. For all other states, we like the Delorme Atlas and Gazetteer. We like the readability of the Benchmark maps a little better, and we really like the way they show public lands and who administers them.
Electronic navigation is getting popular these days, and GPS enabled systems with topographical mapping software will get you almost anywhere. This equipment is great for the back country explorer with ATVs and 4x4's and adventuresome RV campers.
Topo detail makes finding interesting areas to explore easy. We like Topo USA 8.0 National Edition as some of the best Topographical Mapping Software available. This great software will interface with Delorme Street Atlas software and files can be shared between the two programs.
We have been testing the entire USA software package, and could not be more impressed. The shaded relief topographical display makes looking for interesting areas to visit almost automatic. It's easy and quick to zoom in and out out for incredible road and topographical detail. Routes can be manually or automatically plotted across the entire USA. Interstate highways have exit numbers, and back country roads and trails are accurately mapped.
The Topo software makes finding remote location camping locations easy. Virtually every road and trail across the USA is mapped accurately, and the shaded relief and 3D views help you "see" what you find before you get there. Beware however... one fault of all topo maps we've tried is that some minor closed roads are mapped.
Free RV camping is available on public lands extensively throughout the western USA, and to some extent in the eastern USA, where there are federal public lands. Some states allow free or low cost RV camping on public lands. For example, Arizona has a public lands recreation permit ($20) that allows free RV camping on state lands. Not quite free, but close. Colorado has some leased and owned lands allowing free RV camping to name just a couple of possibilities. Be creative, and check the public lands page links to the right for specific ideas.
The USA RV Camping Map has links to each states public land information sources, and many specific free RV camping locations. Public lands offer the best free RV camping locations, but you have to do some homework usually to find ther really great places, especially if you are in an unfamiliar area.
USFS (US Forest Service) - Describes USFS policies and rules about RV camping. Information about dispersed camping, and tips on how to find great free RV camping sites.
NPS (National Park Service) - General information about RV camping and campgrounds in US National Parks. With campgrounds in the most historic and scenic places in the country, the NPS offers some of the best places for RV camping.
USACE/COE (US Army Corp of Engineers) - USACE (perhaps better know as COE) manages water recreation areas throughout the USA. Information about finding USACE lakes, RV camping possibilities, and rules and policies for use of these water based recreation areas is included.
BLM (Bureau of Land Management) - Located throughout the western USA, BLM managed lands offer great camping locations. Developed campgrounds, and almost unlimited dispersed camping opportunites await you.
Here's a list of places to consider when looking for a free overnight RV camping or parking location. We always recommend asking for overnight RV parking permission when looking for a free spot to spend the night. The smaller your RV, the better chances you will have finding places to stay if you choose not to ask permission. If you don't ask permission, you end up "sneaking" into places and hoping nobody bothers you or issues you a trespassing ticket before you move on.
Be smart and Be Safe...Ask Permission.
As you can see, there are a lot of free RV camping and parking possibilities. If you are not asking permission, it's best to keep a very low profile. If your RV has slide outs, jacks and TV antennas, don't use them so as not to draw attention to yourself. Consider your surroundings carefully and if you feel uncomfortable with the area, move somewhere else.