After living a life on the road for more than a year, we now consider ourselves experts in finding a campsite. If you add the fact that we have only paid for about 4 nights the entire time, boondocking is our specialty. When you are cheap like us, or just want to find some of the best secluded campsites, going off the beaten path works wonders. We have been asked so many times how we find our sites so we thought we’d let you all in on all of our secrets.
This is for weekend warriors and Vanlifers alike. No matter where you are these tips will help you find the best campsite. Some places are going to be easier to camp than others. Depending on where you are going, there are certain things you should know.
No matter if you are in Canada or the USA there is tons of land that you can camp on for FREE. If you are in Canada this is called Crown land and it is abundant. The USA has a similar thing called BLM land. This is land that isn’t owned by a single person. It is owned by the government, considered public land, and is free to use.
Not all maps will show you where this is or how to get to it, but trust us it is some of the best land to camp on. The cool thing about this land is that there some of the free sites have everything provincial, or state, parks have. This can include picnic tables, fire pits and even outhouses. Don’t expect electricity though.
* A few things to consider:
- Do your research to see if there are any fire restrictions in your area. If there are you can be fined for starting a fire. It is your responsibility to find this out. This is especially true in Canada where there are fire restrictions every single summer for most places.
- For both Canada and the USA there is usually a stay limit, typically around 14 days. This, at least in our experience, isn’t strongly enforced but just keep this in mind.
- There are no garbage services at these sites. It is your responsibility to pack out what you pack in. Keep in mind that someone has been at your site before you. If they left the site a mess you’d be upset, so treat your space with respect. One thing that is great to leave behind is extra firewood you didn’t use. This is always a welcomed surprise for the next camper.
- Rangers and police do not usually patrol these areas. This doesn’t mean that they are dangerous, it just means you have to be curtious to your neighbours. Don’t party until 2am right beside a family with young children.
Provincial Parks (Canada) & State Parks (USA)
These are the sites that you are going to have to pay for. They are typically closer to larger cities and come with more amenities (but not always). We rarely stay at these sites since there are plenty of free ones, and we’re cheap. Paid sites can range from $15 all the way to over $50 – and that’s without hookups.
In Canada Provincial Parks (and State parks in the US) will always cost you money. Most people think these are the nicest, and easiest, places to get to but that is a common misconception. They will be maintained by Park Rangers, usually have showers, RV hookups, Wi-Fi service and flush toilets.
The downside to these sites is that they are strictly regulated. If you bring an extra car, or have more than 4 people in a site be prepared to pay extra fees. Pets are required to be on a leash and stay in designated areas, you can’t bring alcohol to the beach, and you have to be quiet by a certain time. It has been our experience that even with these rules Provincial and State parks are usually louder and more cramped than free sites.
If you are on a road trip, or need a place to rest a Walmart or Highway rest stop is a safe place to stay. In our experience both of these places are welcoming (unless otherwise posted) and allow you to catch up on some sleep. It’s not recommended to stay for longer than you need, or setup lawn chairs, but are a real option if you are desperate.
How to find these spots
Finding these sites are not always the easiest. There are many different ways of searching for the best sites.
We talk to everyone we can and ask them their secret spots. Driving an old Volkswagen van draws a lot of attention. People come up to us and strike up conversations nearly every day. You do not need an old van in order to start talking to everyone and getting all the insider secrets of where to go. Listening to the locals is an excellent way to find out the best spots.
We try to use this one the least. Spending time on our phone or computer trying to find a site, especially at night, can be a frustrating task. Trying to find a reputable website is not the easiest. Some campsites close down, don’t look like the pictures or cost significantly more than they say online. Coupling this with no phone plan makes it even more difficult.
Our secret gold mine. This will undoubtedly be the best purchase you make for an extended road trip or camping experience. This is a smartphone app that has proved to be one of the best purchases we’ve made. It works much the same as the Maps app on your phone, but shows you every single campsite around you.
There are lists of search categories to choose from. Are you cheap like us and want only free sites? Select the BLM/Crown land and away you go. It has information like: toilets, by a creek, elevation, how many sites, fire pits – everything you need to make your decision. We have found that it is completely worth the $13 which is less than one nights stay at a paid campsite
All of the photos in this post have been from free sites. How do you find your campsite? Let us know, and post your photos, in the comments below.