Free RV Camping

Free RV camping is something many full timers put a premium on. Most of us need to make our resources stretch. You want to travel, see the sights, but gasoline will eat up your budget. So what are some ways to save? Free camping! But where?

Free Overnight RV Parking

I knew about overnight RV parking in Walmart and Sam's Clubs. Bringing my van home via I 40, it made sense to take advantage of their locations aside of the highway. They were convenient and welcomed stops for supplies and sleep in Grants, New Mexico, Sallisaw, Oklahoma and West Memphis, Arkansas.

I like to inquire first if it is okay to stay, even if other RVers are there before me. Most of the time I am told in what area I should park my camper, making me feel safe and cooperative. Good feelings!

Rest areas on highways and large gas plazas that cater to truckers are also possibilities for over-nighting in an RV. Pay attention to signs that would give you some direction or indicate conditions for parking or not parking there. I once stayed overnight in a McDonalds in California that has overnight parking for truckers. Keep your eyes open for these unusual opportunities.

In general, don't assume . . . ask. Free RV camping isn't free if it creates bad blood. Those consequences have a cost for all of us.

Another category of places to park your RV overnight is casinos. Most welcome RVers for a night or more at no charge. I've heard of people staying a week or two as well. This gives you access to restroom, inexpensive restaurants and a little entertainment. On your first visit discounts on food and gambling are often included if you join the Players Club, a free enticement to get you involved in the gambling experience.  

Be sure to take note of the signs designating where to park. Casino camping requires you to park with the other RV's and not use spots for auto's. Recently, I witnessed the owner of a Class B Mercedes Sprinter, parked legitimately in an Hcap spot, being asked to move his motorhome back to the RV section of the parking lot by a security guard. Many casinos are on Native American sovereign soil and visitors must abide by their nation's rules and customs.

Free Campgrounds

Stopping at state run Visitors or Welcome Centers can provide you with great insider information and may also be places to free camp overnight. Inquiring about cheap camping nearby upon entering Oklahoma, I was given an Oklahoma Outdoor Recreation Guide and told there was free RV camping on Lake Elk City at a city park in Elk City that included electricity and water hookups. There is a limit of a 3 day stay. Amazing!!!! 5 sites on a man-made lake south of the city off Rt 6. Elk City is also home to the Route 66 National Museum in town . . . you guessed it . . on Route 66.

City Parks are a source of free RV camping but they are harder to find. You can inquire at the Parks and Recreation Departments found on most city's websites. Who knows, inquiring may get you a free overnight stay.

Five Free Campsites at Lake Elk City, OKFive Free Campsites at Lake Elk City, OK
Route 66 National Museum in Elk City, OKRoute 66 National Museum in Elk City, OK

National Forests and the National Park Service have some surprisingly good and free RV campsites, though, in some parts of the country more than others. In the Ozark National Forest in West Arkansas, for example, are several inexpensive developed campgrounds with beautiful lake views. Many of the National Forest Service Campgrounds are developed to one extent or another and do require fees. Most are very reasonable.

What you'll often find is boondocking locations, dry camping or dispersed camping areas available free just outside National Parks or near other developed Forest Service Campgrounds within the same forest. You can recognize these sites as being in view from the road, typically with a fire ring and no other amenities.

Shore Lake, Ozark National Forest, ARShore Lake, Ozark National Forest, AR
Shore Lake, Ozark National Forest, ARShore Lake, Ozark National Forest, AR

One time, upon entering Tennesse, I stopped at the Welcome Center in Memphis. Here I picked up a map of the state and a pamphlet for the Natchez Trace Parkway, part of the National Parks Service. It showed three free campgrounds for dry camping, one at the Meriwether Lewis National Monument on the Parkway south of Nashville in Central Tennessee. Perfect! Back in the camper, I looked up the area in my Good Sam Trailer Life Directory and got directions from my iPhone using Google Maps.

Water was available and the roads and sites turned out to be well paved and the very clean bathrooms, though without showers, were newly renovated. With the help of a fulltime RVer, who knew the area, I was able to dump at the nearby Natchez Trace Wilderness Preserve membership campground for free as well.

There are two more free campgrounds for RV's and tenters on this parkway that runs from Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS. You can stay for a maximum of 14 consecutive days and a total of 30 days park-wide within a calendar year. I plan on returning and taking in the whole Natchez Trace. Free RV camping, great Amish food, lots of history, wine country and country music make for great RV vagabonding in my book. . . especially with all the friendly folks I met to enjoy it with. I can't wait!

Old Natchez Trace TrailOld Natchez Trace Trail

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