In 2012, 40+ million Americans went camping. That’s a lot of campers! While some no doubt went camping in style (a.k.a. my father, whose idea of a truly rustic camping experience is spending a night at the Best Western), many more had the more authentic experience of camping in the rough for pennies a night. If you’re contemplating your first (or hundredth) family camping outing this summer, you might find the perfect free or very cheap campsite using this handy list of campsite resources!

5 tips to camp for extra cheap

But first, here are some helpful tips from experienced campers to save you even more money on your camping adventure.

  • Camp close to home: You’ll save on gas, food, supplies and also be able to plan more fully for the unexpected (after all, you’re a local).
  • Camp in the off-season: Try to avoid weekends, holidays and the deep summer (June-July) when all the kiddos are out of school…especially if you’re visiting a landmark site.
  • Make your first trip a short one: If you’re just getting your feet wet, don't plan a two-week trip. Make it a two or three-day getaway, learn, enjoy, and go back prepared to save for a longer trip next time.
  • Be cautious about "with pet" camping: The last thing you want to do is arrive at your campsite, pet in tow, only to discover pets aren’t allowed. Also, unless your friend is super-friendly and well behaved, leave him or her at home.
  • Borrow instead of buy: If you have friends who camp, see if you can rent or borrow their gear instead of buying your own—especially if you aren't totally sure you love camping yet.

These six resources give you access to a wealth of free and ultra-inexpensive campsites that are also some of the most beautiful spots in the world!

1. Camp out in the bona fide wilderness

While all camping is "wild" at some level, this list represents the areas of North America that are considered truly wild. Many dedicated federal wilderness areas offer free camping—albeit you may need a permit to enter (which are typically sold by the day, week, season, or year).

Costs:

  • Costs vary by site. Some are free and some require a permit (typical cost is $10/day).

2. Camp out under the umbrella of the BLM

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees some of the most beautiful—and inexpensive—camping areas in the country. You can choose to camp in the many developed campsites the BLM maintains for guests, or you can literally carve out your own unique campsite.

Costs:

3. Camp courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service

The U.S. Forest Service maintains some of the most beautiful forested camping sites in the world.

Costs:

  • Some sites and activities are free. Others require a permit or pass. All sites have occasional free days where normal fees (if any) are waived.
  • Once you choose your region, you can use this link to learn the costs for forest campsites in that region, if any.

4. Find free (non-RV) campsites nationwide

Here are some great, free resources that can help you to locate free campsites—even if the land is privately owned and/or operated.

5. Find free (RV) campsites nationwide

If your preferred method of camping includes an RV, these handy resources can help you locate an inexpensive or free campsite.

6. Camp with Go Camping America

Finally, if you’re willing to do a little digging, this comprehensive resource lists more than 3,000 campsites in all price ranges. You can search by park name, city, state, or landmark name.