Thursday, September 21, 2023


Alternatives to expensive RV resorts and campgrounds

By Bob Difley

It’s easy to find a campground when traveling, even in unfamiliar territory. You simply pull out your Trailer Life or Woodall’s Campground Directory and find one. You can also use the Campground Owners of America directories to find the fanciest of amenity-filled RV resorts or a near-the-freeway overnight mom-and-pop campgrounds with easy in and quick entry back on the freeway in the morning.

globe compassBut what do you do if you are on a tighter budget and can’t afford campgrounds that have excess funds to spend on advertising and camper magnets like swimming pools, recreation halls and golf courses? Or you would just like a little more space for yourself and don’t need a bunch of amenities?

There are alternatives. Forest Service (both federal and state) campgrounds usually have overnight fees less than half of what privately owned campgrounds and resorts charge, but don’t expect hook-ups, WiFi or cable TV connections. Go to the Forest Service website to find federal campgrounds along your route of travel, or do a Google search for state forest campgrounds wherever you are.

When traveling on Bureau of Land Management lands, which are spread over the 11 western states, primitive camping (boondocking) is allowed anywhere you can pull safely off the road. Follow a dirt road for a hundred yards or so and you may discover a nice, quiet, desert campsite all to yourself — and its costs you nothing.

When traveling through the countryside of many states, particularly in the Midwest, stop at small town police stations, chambers of commerce, or recreation departments and ask about local or regional campgrounds (almost always for the use of local campers and usually deserted except on weekends) that are never advertised or listed in campground directories.

Also look for camping possibilities when in or near national or state wildlife refuges, fishing access areas, regional or county parks, Indian reservations, national monuments, national grasslands, state fairgrounds, and on public utility lands.

If you use a GPS, log what you find into your waypoints or locations log so you can find them the next time through.

You can find Bob Difley’s RVing e-books on Amazon Kindle.



  1. Don’t forget about the Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds at many man-made lakes. If you have a senior federal parks pass, the discount is 50%, off rates that are usually as low or lower than state parks, and usually without the crowds. Often there are first-come-first-served spaces which you can arrive at during the week and be able to hold through a weekend, very helpful if you can’t plan your trips months in advance. Their ‘gateway’ site is a good place to check as you enter a new state, see what might be available in that state. (Some states have no Corps lakes). Some of these campgrounds are outstanding and spacious and offer lakeside spots, though they tend to not have sewer hookups.

  2. I have boondocked for 13 years as a full-timer, averaging not even one night at a pay campground per year. Once you get the hang of it, you can easily spot likely access roads as you drive along. The beautiful campsites you find are well worth the time to look for.

    Boondocking isn’t limited to only BLM lands. National forests have loads of free camping along with pay campgrounds. Formerly, you could pull off the road (usually dirt) and camp almost anywhere in these forests, but now there are restrictions, so it’s best to get a Travel Management map for each forest. They show exactly which areas you can camp on. You can pick the maps up at Ranger Stations or find them online, but the online maps are hard to read.

    I have also had good luck finding boondocking spots by asking locals at gas stations or stores if they know of any. I have frequently been referred to places that even Chambers of Commerce won’t know about.

  3. We are members of Boondockers Welcome; as a member you can stay a night or two for free on the property of private homes all across the US and Canada. We have had the pleasure of hosting many travelers from all over the world, as we are near LAX.

  4. There are also thousands of free and inexpensive places for a one-night stay. You can subscribe to for access to a searchable online database of more than 13,000 of these places, and it only costs $25/year — about half the cost of one night in many RV parks. If you decide to subscribe and use this link …
    … Chuck Woodbury and RV Travel will get credit for the subscription. If you subscribe at the Apple App Store, be sure to tell us that you referred by RV Travel.

  5. Look into the half price camping clubs such as Passport America or Happy Camper. Ypu can get 1/2 off the regular rates which often means as low or lower than public campgrounds and still get all the amenities. You do have to watch the number of nights the discount is allowed and you may run into times the discount is not allowed. Both groups are low cost (about $50/yr) and you can recoup the cost in one or two nights of use. Both sites will allow you to look thru their member campground on line (it does change as campgronds get added or dropped). So you can look and see how much you csn potentially save. I have Passport America but not Happy Camper.


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