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Free or low cost camping

by Tom Jones

This information was compiled from a discussion on the RV Forum which began when Smoky Shepard posted his list of known free (or cheap) places to camp and asked for suggestions from others. Smoky's criteria were:

"These certainly can be boondocking spots, but a very low cost (nearly free) campground would also qualify. If there is such a thing as a free hookup spot, that would be a bonus."

Most Walmarts (one night, no hookup, no sliding out etc).

Most Flying Js (same as above).

Most Cracker Barrels (same as above).

Quartzite ($125 for the season) boondocking.

Friends and relatives (watch ethics, short visits).

Corp of Engineers (cost? size limits?).

Escapee Days End sites. These are free boondock sites (some with hookups!)or low cost campgrounds ($10 or less per night) or Parking with SKP's. You must be an Escapee.

The BLM has lands in many places, mostly the SW, where you can boondock for free. There is typically a 14 day stay limit, but it's sometimes not enforced.

Corps Of Engineers (COE) campgrounds are very nice, usually with water and electric, and are half price with the Golden Age Passport. Get the books, Camping with the Core of Engineers and The National Park Service Camping Guide for information on government owned campgrounds.

Many casinos have free or low cost camping available on site. You don't have to gamble, but the restaurants are usually ok and inexpensive.

One of our favorite boon docking free spots to stay is in Oregon. It is along the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington. It is the John Day Dam in Rufus. You can sit along the shore and watch the big barges bring their cargo through the locks. A bonus is that across the river in Washington, is a Winery and they have big name concerts and wine tasting. We have found many dams to have neat camping spaces.

We also like Anza Borrego desert in California. Peg Leg Monument is free and has spectacular scenery. It is located in Southern California desert east of Salton sea. You will never find it on a map as it is private property and you have to ask someone about the coordinates to know where it is. It is about 5 miles from the town of Borrego Springs. Just a word of caution, may find that your admiral does not like dry camping as much as you do. I do not like short showers, limits on dish washing waters and generator use for my oven for long periods of time. The uncrowded scenes and free spaces are nice but all of life is a trade off.

When a desert bloom is on in Feb & Mar, it is the best place in the southwest. I've seen 100-102 many early April days when the Blue Angels who train over the Imperial Valley all winter put on their 2nd show, right after Yuma. The desert turns inhospitable quickly. Come Oct 18, it's a fit place to begin again.

Another site, I hope it still exists and is still free, is on the old US 1 north of Crescent City CA. The new US 1 is higher on the slope and RV's parked on the old road face one of the most spectacular views of the pacific anywhere along the coast. The beach north of Crescent City is great for beachcombing for interesting wood pieces and shells.

I also used to boondock at small airports that aren't active much at night on my way elsewhere.

My primary boondock sites was a national directory of the Episcopal Church.

Some Forum members have reported staying at regional airports, chambers of commerce parking lots, police stations, municipal garage parking lots and hospital parking lots. Of course it is always a good idea to ask before pulling in because from my experience many of the above will welcome you, but suggest a specific area of their parking lot for various reasons.

Some people have reported staying in motel parking lots where the motel has specific areas designated for RV parking. Some will charge a minimal fee, but I have not had first hand experience with this resource.

One of the service clubs has a network of free RV parking for their members

The Rest Area Guide is also a good resource. This book lets you know which states allow overnight and what's services are available. The web site is also a great source of info.

If your traveling without gps, the Next Exit book is an excellent source of services available on all the exits on all the interstates in the country. Anything that is RV friendly, is printed in red.

Joining ESCAPEES gets my vote also. Some of their boondock sites, are first nite free, and some are $2.50 a nite with a 7 day limit. @$2.50 a nite, that's $75.00 for 30 nites. Not a bad deal. And you'll probably have to move after 7 days to dump anyway. Most of their full hookup sites go for $10.50 to $12.50 a nite. Membership is $70 first year, and $60 after that. A lot of bang for the buck.

Go for Passport America also, great value.