Updated: Jan 10, 2020
As we start our third year of full-time #RVers, we’ve encountered a few friends who have been curious about what we’ve learned about traveling around in an RV—especially when it deals with finding just the right #camping spot. It’s part of that “learning curve” that we often bring up.
We’re not always 100% successful with our RV camping selections, but with a bit of planning and research, we’ve had many more great successes than failures. Here’s a brief summary of what we’ve learned about trip #routing, finding good camping spots that are either free or reasonably priced, and some of the Apps and websites that have helped us. We hope they help you as well.
My First Stop in Choosing a Campground:
In our traveling duo, I do most of the campground selection. John just tells me where we’re heading and which highways to stay on so I don’t take us too far off route.
I’ve tried several apps to help me find a great camping spot (including campendium.com) but I always go back to Allstays Camp & RV—especially when I don’t have a lot of time to spare. It’s easy to navigate and it never fails me. There is a free version as well as a paid one. The paid version includes a list of Walmart free parking (including reviews) which is helpful if you like to camp at Walmarts. I’m not a big fan—it’s a last resort choice for me.
Allstays can be loaded on your computer, telephone, or any electronic device. With Allstays you can set filters that help you narrow down your choices. One of my favorites is rating—I don’t consider any campsite rated lower than 3 stars. I usually start with 4 stars and only work down if no campgrounds at level 4 pop up. I can also filter for price, discount clubs, dump stations, propane, type of hookups, pet friendly, and many, many more. In their search bar I type in the location I’m interested in. I can view their hits as a map or satellite. Little camping icons pop up. I can click on them and get their address, phone number, website, photos, location information (such as how many sites are available and whether or not they have pull thrus), and reviews. One stop shopping.
But I don’t trust Allstays completely. After I’ve narrowed down my search to three or four campgrounds, I go to campgroundreviews.com where I can type in the campground and see what others have to say about the campground—other reviews not usually found on Allstays.
If we are moving quickly, we often do overnighters and we look for free campsites. Free also often means scenic, which we love. We can boondock (no hook-ups) for up to seven days comfortably. At these free locations, there may not be any hookups, but we get to park alongside a lake or surrounded by mountains and we often find interesting hiking opportunities.
The best place to go for free camping is definitely freecampsites.net. This website also lets you use filters, but it’s best feature is the route planner, which shows all the free camping available along our route.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM)—270 million acres of public land. What's not to love? With this website: https://www.blm.gov/visit , I can search for free camping by state. I can also filter it for "camping" and I can use key words, so if I'm looking for mountain views, I simply type in "mountains" under the key word filter. This site is very easy to navigate and they give clear instructions, useful information like whether or not your rig will fit, and road conditions.
Also check out Overnight RV Parking at https://overnightrvparking.com. This is a subscription service. The cost is $24.95 per year. Their website reads: “Our database contains 14,344 RV Parking and No Parking locations in the USA and Canada. Find free RV parking on your mobile device! Search by your current location, city and state or province or zip code. Download PDF files by state or province.” This service can be used on your computer or any mobile device. Just download the app. I didn’t renew my subscription this year because I prefer freecampsites.net, but you can check Overnight RV Parking out for free, so give it a try.
Before I make a final decision on where I want to camp, I go to my Google Earth app and look for the campgrounds. I want to see a satellite view to make sure I can get into the campground. I also want an idea what the neighborhood might look like and if I feel it’s safe. Just an extra precaution, but who amongst us hasn’t had traveling day fears?
Government-run camping sites:
When we’re not boondocking, we like to stay at national and state parks because there’s usually space between campers and we prefer a bit of privacy. They may not always have full hookups, but we’re ok with that because we have a generator and solar is being added this month. We can’t wait.
So, when looking for national camping sites—besides relying on Allstays—check these websites out:
You can call most of these to check on navigability and road conditions.
Reserve America—to make campsite reservations anywhere in the U.S. We usually only make reservations when we are arriving on weekends or it’s a holiday. Otherwise we arrive early (hopefully), and drive through the campground until we find the perfect spot. Most government-run campgrounds keep a percentage of their spots off the reservation system. The percentage varies from campground to campground, but taking a chance can net a better spot than one you selected via the internet.
Recreation.gov—Online reservations for national parks, forests, and Corp of Engineers campgrounds (Explore America)—www.recreation.gov
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—53,000 campsites near oceans, rivers, and lakes. For free publications, write to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. ACE Publications Depot, Attn: CEHEC-IM-PD, 2803 52nd Ave. Hyattsville, MD 20781-1102; www.usace.army.mil
U.S. Forest Service--4,000 campgrounds. www.fs.fed.us
States in the West that have public camping spots. It lets you know if you’re really on public land or trespassing--http://publiclands.org/. Also see the US Public Lands app.
National Park Service—find all parks by state or search on a map. www.nps.gov . Useful if you want to stay in a specific park but you're not sure what camping might be available or the other apps fail you.
When All Else Fails:
Try asking a friend for advice. I also rely on a few Facebook pages. When I see several people rave about a #campground, I save it on Facebook so I can return later when I’m looking. I also keep a hard-copy binder that is organized by state. Good campsites get added, either after we’ve visited them or when they make the recommendation list.
Try recommendations from Facebook pages such as:
Free BLM and National Forest Camping
Campgrounds-Trailers and RVs
RV Parks & Campground Reviews
Free Camping Life
Boondocking & Free Camping USA
Other websites and Apps for Camping or Gas Stops:
Harvest Hosts-- https://harvesthosts.com/for-the-rv-owner/. This website is $79/year. The cost went up $30/year recently. It lists a better class of overnight camping possibilities, such as museums, farms, and wineries. You should only stay one night. Plan on boondocking. It’s a good option for those who want to avoid Walmarts. The locations are more prevalent on the East Coast and middle America than they are on the West Coast, where BLM land is plentiful.
KOA—460 campgrounds. www.koa.com
Passport America— discounts on full hookup campgrounds www.passportamerica.com
Campendium--https://www.campendium.com. This is a free app that should be considered along with Allstays.
http://www.rvparking.com/ –free site, filters available, along with photos and reviews, highly recommended
RV Parky—review app
http://rvsueandcrew.net/--written by a woman who travels low cost and uses BLM land. Her blogs are entertaining.
The Pilot app—not for their expensive gas but because DEF is needed and their hot dogs are great. So is their coffee—a vital commodity. You can also use the app to find free overnighting at Flying J stations.
Trucker Path—this app finds truck stops along your route. You can also search for dump stations and rest areas, and it’s routing feature will keep you off highways with low road clearances. Comes with both satellite and map views.
GasBuddy—app that locates gas stations near your location and lists their current gas prices. Can be unreliable, but better than nothing.
iExit app—find favorite restaurants, hotels, etc. by exit number—on interstates only
Any good weather app that will make a lot of noise if you are heading into bad weather or high winds. I use AccuWeather.
That’s it. I hope this helps. If you have any questions, just post them or contact us through our Facebook page, its70degreessomewhere.