How To Find Free Campsites – A Vanlife Guide

How-To-Find-Free-Campsites-Vanlife-(Heading 1920px)

How To Find Free Campsites – A Vanlife Guide

Money is meant to be spent on bike parts, not on campground! After two years of full time vanlife, here is our total campground budget (excluding when we had friends visiting us):

$0

It's really not that hard to find free overnight spots... Here is how we do it!

1- iOVERLANDER

iOverlander-Logo

1- iOVERLANDER

In A Nutshell

iOverlander is a crowdsourced database of places for overlanders and travelers. It includes camping, hotels, restaurants, mechanics, water, propane filling and many other categories. Details are listed for each place, including amenities, photos, date last visited and GPS coordinates.

In addition to finding places, you can add new places, record your trip, and share places with friends or other travelers. All of these features will work offline, except you will not be able to view the photos.

Overall:
4.5/5
Success Rate

What We Like

  • The App works flawlessly and is smooth to use.
  • It has to most complete database of all similar apps.
  • Works offline.

What We don't like

  • Because it's quite popular, there's a good chance you won't have a spot to yourself...

2- FreeCampsites.net

freecampsites.net-logo

2- FreeCampsites.net

In A Nutshell

FreeCampsites.net is similar to iOverlander: it’s a crowdsourced database.

Over the past two years, we feel like iOverlander is getting more attention than FreeCampsites.net, probably because their user interface is not great and there’s no smartphone app…

Overall:
4/5
Success Rate

What We Like

  • The database is quite extensive.

What We don't like

  • There's no smartphone App.
  • Doesn't work offline.
  • The user interface needs a lot of love...

3- Google Maps

Google Maps Logo

3- Google Maps

In A Nutshell

Google Maps needs no introduction. It’s the best app for step-by-step navigation.

It’s also neat to find overnight spots! Switch to “Satellite” mode to spy for overnight spots (backroads, in the forest, near lakes, etc.). It’s not as straightforward as iOverlander or FreeCampsites.net and there’s a learning curve to get proficient with it, but it opens new possibilities and finding your own spots mean you’ll most likely have the spot to yourself!

Overall:
4.5/5
Success Rate

What We Like

  • Find your own spot = no crowd.

What We don't like

  • Gates or barriers are hard to see on the map, so we sometimes have to back up because the potential spot is not accessible.

4- Public Lands

BLM Logo

4- Public Lands

In A Nutshell

In the USA, the majority of public lands are held in trust for the American people by the federal government and managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or by the United States Forest Service (National Forest). Unless posted otherwise, dispersed camping is generally allowed for up to 14 days. You can use iOverlander or FreeCampsites.net to find dispersed campgrounds, or use this app to find the boundaries of the BLMs and National Forests near you:

US Public Lands

In Canada, Public Lands are generally referred to as “Crown Land”. OffTrackTravel.ca have an excellent guide about free camping in Canada, so we’ll leave it to them 🙂

5- Trailhead

Trail-Sign-PKE-16978_300

5- TrailHead

In A Nutshell

If, like us, Vanlife is about being out there in the wild, then keep your eyes open! We very often find overnight spots while heading to the trailhead, or while we ride our bikes. After some times travelling, you’ll find yourself constantly scanning for good camping spots (or water faucet) even when you don’t need one; it becomes natural, no need to think about it! 🙂

Be aware that most trailheads have “No Overnight Parking” sign; please respect it…

Success Rate

What We Like

  • Wake and ride!

What We don't like

  • Very often, trailheads have "No Overnight Parking" sign.

6- Residential Streets

Residential-Street-Sign

6- Residential Streets

In A Nutshell

Sleeping in residential areas is definitely not a Vanlife goal, but it’s always the best fail-safe last resort option.  It’s quick and easy to find a spot. 

Remember that you’re an uninvited guest, so respect the neighborhood:

  • Arrive late, leave early.
  • This is not a camping spot; stay inside your van (no table and chairs outside!).
  • Never sleep twice at the same spot.
  • Be self-contained (no grey water waste outside the van. See our water system).
  • Be stealth (we install our window covers right away) and keep a low profile.
  • As a general rule: if we make eye contact with a neighbor when parking, we find another spot.
Success Rate

What We Like

  • Quick and easy to find a spot.
  • Very high success rate.

What We don't like

  • Not epic by any mean.

7- Walmart, Cabelas, Sam's Club, etc.

7- Walmart, Cabelas, Sam's Club, etc.

In A Nutshell

The following stores generally allow overnight parking, but it’s a good practice to always ask permission before: 

  • Walmart
  • Sam’s Club
  • Flying J Truck Stop
  • Cabela’s
  • Some rest areas and Visitor Centers
  • Others (ask permission)

There’s a reason why it’s last on our list: it’s noisy (truck idling, RV generators, etc), there’s a lot of people coming and going (especially at 24h stores), drunk people like to hangout there for some reason, etc… Needless to say, we normally avoid it!

Overall:
2/5
Success Rate

What We Like

  • Useful during long distance drives (highway).

What We don't like

  • Very Noisy.
  • Very Crowded.

8- Winter

8- Winter

In A Nutshell

For us, Vanlife is also a way to chase the snow during winter. Finding free overnight camping is definitely more challenging during winter… Actually, everything is more challenging! For this reason, we wrote an exhaustive Winter Vanlife Guide:

1- Traction & Driving in Snow
2- Staying Warm
3- Condensation & Moisture Control
4- Electrical & Solar
5- Water & Showers
6- Finding Camping Spots
7- Drying our Gear
8- Tales from the Road

That's it folks, hope that helps!

STAY IN TOUCH!

Join 25,000+ followers via Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Patreon or e-mail:

about us

Nice To Meet You.

Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine 🙂 In 2017 we sold our house (and everything in it), quit our engineering careers and moved into our self built campervan. We’ve been on the road since then and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure; we’re chasing our dreams and hopefully it inspires others to do the same!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.