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Old 02-23-17, 02:33 AM   #1
AdvXtrm
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Free and Low Cost Camp Sites for "Poor Folks"

OK, I just had a very rude awaking. For the first time, I started doing some research into campsites and fees. All I can say is that it was very disgusting and demotivating to see the outrageous fees that these campsites charge for you to pitch your little tent on a little plot of dirt, using no resources of theirs or anything else, inside their fences. Clearly everyone is expected to be a baller in their expensive and expansive RV in this country, and the campsites are charging accordingly. Are all countries like this?

So since that kind of money isn't a reality for me, and I'm sure for many others as well. What are some free to low cost options for camping?

I've heard of "stealth/wild camping", and I've done a little research into how and where it's legal and not legal, so of course I'll be gong for legal, unless something serious happens and I have no choice at the time. Of course "leave no trace", and all that good stuff. But what other information on this, as well as any other options can you share with me and point me to?

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Old 02-23-17, 03:07 AM   #2
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I tried to get this thread going in Living Car Free, but it hasn't gone well there. I might try to get it move here. Meanwhile ...

http://www.bikeforums.net/living-car...letourist.html
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Old 02-23-17, 03:43 AM   #3
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Around here, there is a lot of public forest land, where it is generally legal to camp, although fire regulations may vary from place to place. At times, it is hard to tell the boundaries between BLM or Forest Service property, and private property. I've headed up disused logging roads in the past, and at times camped on the road, or near the road.
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Old 02-23-17, 04:01 AM   #4
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I tried to get this thread going in Living Car Free, but it hasn't gone well there. I might try to get it move here. Meanwhile ...

http://www.bikeforums.net/living-car...letourist.html
OK, got that one subed and bookmarked. It's a bit different than mine, but still looks to have some useful info for me, thanks.
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Old 02-23-17, 06:04 AM   #5
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To some extent it depends on where you tour and to a lesser extent how you tour.

I have found that on coast to coast routes it is possible to camp for free in plain sight more than half the time or even most of the time, depending on how hard you try. I found that a good way to learn where camping is likely to be okay is to ride a route like the Trans America using the ACA maps. They list many free camping sites in town parks, church yards and so on. At first I thought that was only because someone had already blazed the trail so to speak on those routes, but when I started using similar sites on other routes I found that it was pretty easy to find free places to camp in the middle of the country.

The small town picnic areas especially in the plains states and the roadside picnic areas in the southwest are favorites of mine. I recall only one where I was unable to camp because it was posted, but asking around allowed me to find a church yard that was okay with me camping there. In that case I asked the librarian about it and she made some calls. In the SW I was not pitching a tent, but rather using a bivy or cowboy camping, so I think that helped in a few places.

Closer to either coast that becomes a little harder and to camp for free may require stealth more often.

On the Pacific coast in Oregon and California hiker biker sites are pretty available and were $4-8 when I was there a couple years ago. Not sure if the prices are still the same but I am pretty sure they are still reasonable.

I mostly have avoided the east coast other than for a bit at the end of a coast to coast ride, so I have less experience there, but it seemed to me that camping for free in plain sight was less feasible, but stealth was pretty easy.

Some folks stay with warmshowers.org hosts often, but I have found that they typically like some warning when/if you are coming and I am more inclined to make decisions about daily mileage and where I will stay on the spur of the moment, so I have mostly only stayed with WS hosts the first night of a tour. I do get invites to stay with folks now and then during chance encounters. That happened a lot on the Trans America, but I am not sure how much that was because of the route and how much because we were a group of three that looked like a dad and two daughters (actually a dad, a daughter, and a daughter's college roommate). That group probably seemed especially non threatening.

When I camp in a picnic area in a small town I usually stop in the general store and buy some food. While there I typically say something like, "do you think anyone would mind if I pitched a tent in the park overnight?" I don't use the word "camp" or ask permission. I usually try to set up camp with a couple hours of daylight left so that if I do get run off, I still have time to find another place, but I have never actually been run off.

At times I also stay in impromptu places. Once in Louisiana I camped under a bridge where a local road passed under the US highway I was riding. As luck would have it I picked a spot near where the natural resources police were headquartered, the state police turned around, and some other local jurisdiction police also drove by. It was a steady passing of cops the whole time I was there. They all either ignored me or more often waved.

National Forests and BLM land often has inexpensive or free camping and in many places allow dispersed camping.

I think we averaged less than $5 a night on the Trans America, the Pacific Coast, the Sierra Cascades, the Southern Tier, an some other places, I spent more, but mostly because I got a room now and then. I have only very rarely paid a lot to stay at some RV type or other $$$ campground while on tour. Often even at those you can get a break if you say you are on a long tour and ask if they offer a discount.
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Old 02-23-17, 06:43 AM   #6
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The OP is too much of a generalization, and thus not completely accurate, for me to want to respond with much. For example, even on the east coast, where private campgrounds lean toward the expensive side, I know private places where you can camp for $10 or $20/night. Would hardly call that "outrageous." And if you are staying in a private campground you are likely to use resources "inside the fence" like water for drinking, bathing and flushing. Dropped $20 on a site at a huge camping "resort" in CT (Special deal for cyclists. Proof that everyone is not out to gouge or expects you to be a "baller" in an RV.) and made sure I took full advantage of the hot tub after a day of over 4,000' of climbing.

Wanted to add is that what gets my Irish up more is forking over $ to ReserveAmerica. Last year I booked a site at a MT state park without hiker/biker sites. $18 for the site. $10 for the RA "transaction fee." It's $5 in NJ and in PA I believe. I don't know how it works in MT, but in NJ if you show up without a reservation the park still charges you the $5 transaction fee.

Add that $10 to the $10 out of state surcharge (again, $5 in NJ) and, I found when I went to the bath house, at least another $2 for a shower, an $18 site became a more than $40 site.

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Old 02-23-17, 07:33 AM   #7
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On a cross country trip that included about one night a week in a motel room, my average nightly lodging cost was around $10. The non-motel nights were always free. Do what's explained so well in post #5.

A traveling partner told me he has spent nights in Home Depot garden sheds in urban areas, presumably without permission so that was trespassing. (Now, every time I walk through a HD parking lot, I'm afraid to look inside those.) Another told me he got evicted by the local LEO from under the highway bridge, but I've done that successfully. Be aware of flash flood danger in the West.

Often you can cycle till dusk, push through the bush along the roadside, lie down and sleep until dawn.

I'll stress the point of asking permission on private property. With a friendly attitude and a smile and some small talk, and after picking up the tab for coffee or beer, you'll usually get it.

(You might need to talk about human waste disposal--ask if you can dig a hole, use the family bathroom if it's a backyard situation, or if there's a public privy nearby.)
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Old 02-23-17, 07:35 AM   #8
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I just came down the Pacific coast last year and Oregon and California do have lots of hiker sites for about $6. I also consulted freecampsites.net and some people I cycled with swore by the wikicamps app.
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Old 02-23-17, 07:43 AM   #9
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I haven't tried it, but there is also CouchSurfing

Many places also have Youth Hostels (international?), which can save money.
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Old 02-23-17, 07:59 AM   #10
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No clue where you are looking at, but yes, if you want to stay at snazzy campgrounds with electricity and showers and other goodies, you're likely to pay. Just because you have no intentions of using any of that, does not mean that most won't, nor does it mean you aren't using a spot that others who want those amenities would pay for.

That said, most Michigan state campgrounds offer segregated tenting areas that offer cheaper rates than those with hookups, with retained use of other facilities. Some also offer "rustic" camping, which is literally nothing but a grassy spot, campfire ring, and pit toilets. With the rare exception of popular campgrounds on holiday weekends, I've never seen those over $10 a night.

Also, again at least in Michigan, the National Forest lands have similar rustic campgrounds. Think they are generally a couple bucks more than the state ones, but hardly unreasonable: https://www.recreation.gov
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Old 02-23-17, 08:44 AM   #11
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On a recent trip along the California coast, I paid $5 to stay at state park campgrounds and $60 to stay at a private campground. A hostel was $50 and a couple nights in hotels were in excess of $100 per night. Prices vary, but you do get something for the fee, which is some degree of security and bathroom facilities. Also peace of mind that you won't be awoken by the police or property owner at 3 am.
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Old 02-23-17, 08:56 AM   #12
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I always stealth camp, never spend a night at a campground...too many darn people making too much noise. I get away from them and enjoy a much more peaceful nights of sleep...as long as I don't end up putting myself underneath/beside railroad tracks. They are a penny a million pretty much anywhere in the country. Just use Google Earth and look for someplace that has no house around it. I can do this even in towns/cities. From parks, to churches, to schools, etc. Sometimes if it looks like rain and I can't find a roofline to keep me and everything with me high and dry I will even go for abandoned mall buildings. Did one in Yankton, SD two years ago. Sure the cops came shortly after I got there. I had a clean record and they left and never said anything else. I have also camped out behind a closed/being remodeled department store...can't figure out why they left the side door open on a Sunday evening???. Cops drove by and then came back, rather unusual, and they did the same thing, found the clean record and left me there the rest of the night. If I remember correctly they did drive by one other time overnight. They may have been hired out for security due to the remodeling going on.

There are tons of places all around the country to camp out for free. I wouldn't waste a penny on a campsite/hotel room. Not worth it.
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Old 02-23-17, 09:38 AM   #13
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I generally prefer to avoid stealth camping - it can backfire on you.
And things like stealth camping in national parks might get cyclists banned.

But there are places to camp for free - albeit with no amenities.
I would rank the regions of the U.S.:
Pacific Coast - Poor
Southwest - Good
Great Basin - Excellent
Rocky Mountain - Excellent
Great Plains - Good
Upper Mississippi - Fair
Lower Mississippi - Fair
Great Lakes - Poor
South Central - Fair
Appalachian - Good
Northern New England - Good
Northeast - Terrible
South Atlantic - Poor
Florida - Poor to Terrible
Alaska - Good
Hawaii - Terrible

There are two major categories of public lands - federal and state.
On many - not all - federal lands you can camp for free.
State lands usually must earn income, so they are leased and mostly closed.

There are a number of federal land agencies:
3 Largest -
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) [yellow/tan/brown on public lands maps]
National Forest Service (USFS) [green on public lands maps]
National Park Service (NPS) [purple on public lands maps]
Other Agencies -
Department of Defense (DOD)
Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS)
Army Corps of Engineers (ACE or COE)
Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec)

BLM lands are the most open to free camping - but they are often dry and barren.Still, if you know where there are isolated parcels - like 1 miles south of Fiddletown, California - you can often find some sweet camping.

USFS lands are generally open to free camping except near developed sites and areas that have heavy use impacts. Most experienced touring cyclists have spent many a night right next to a babbling stream.

NPS lands are generally closed to random camping. National parks usually require camping in specific sites to protect the resource. Many, however, do have hiker/biker sites. (All should)

<<<>>>

DOD lands are, of course, closed.
BIA lands - Indian Reservations - absolutely not.
FWS wildlife refuges are usually closed to all camping. A few larger refuges do permit limited camping.
The COE and BuRec manage rivers and dams. Both have many developed sites, but rarely permit random camping. Of course, their role is to protect the water resource/dam - esp. since 9-11.

<<<>>>

The reason I ranked the Great Plains as "good" even though there is little public land is because most small towns offer free camping in their town parks. Bigger towns with fancier campground - with electric and sewer hook-ups, etc. - do charge.

Alaska is tricky. Since 1980 and the passage of ANILCA, land ownership is extremely complicated - plus road access is limited. Very little of Alaska is road accessible. What is is frequently private or owned by native corporations. Check.

And Hawaii, of course, has little open land, period.

State lands vary considerably. State forests - In Pennsylvania you can free camp in state forests - in Ohio you cannot. In Nebraska you can free camp in most state wildlife areas - in Iowa you cannot.

A note on Canada - "Crown Lands" are roughly the equivalent of U.S. federal lands. But, rather than being managed on the federal level, they are managed by each province - so policies vary. Generally, if it is Crown Land, you can free camp. But, there are ongoing negotiations with First Nations to settle long-standing land claims. The status of any specific area can change.
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Old 02-23-17, 09:53 AM   #14
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looks like the rates went up to $40 a nite at our little piece of Heaven. but that's still cheaper than a hotel

https://www.capecodcamping.com/
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Old 02-23-17, 10:06 AM   #15
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Homeless and Hobo Camps are a Feature of many parts of the USA.

Do you want to stay in one? have your stuff go missing? Your Choice..

Nominal fee, there is a Hiker Biker section of many state parks..


I toured Europe practised leave no trace camping , used Commercial Campgrounds And Hostels..
B&B, Friends of friends Met, earlier.. Improvising as I went along..

All without the current saturation of technology ..


...
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Old 02-23-17, 10:47 AM   #16
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But what other information on this, as well as any other options can you share with me and point me to?
When you come into a small town at 8pm go directly to the police station and tell a cop that there isn't enough daylight left and you need a place to sleep.
-Can I sleep in the town square gazebo?
-Can I sleep under the bridge on the edge of town?
-Can I sleep next to the town swimming pool?

This works really well in the Midwest.
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Old 02-23-17, 11:14 AM   #17
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When you come into a small town at 8pm go directly to the police station and tell a cop that there isn't enough daylight left and you need a place to sleep.
-Can I sleep in the town square gazebo?
-Can I sleep under the bridge on the edge of town?
-Can I sleep next to the town swimming pool?
Except when they say, "There's a motel on Hwy 58."
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Old 02-23-17, 12:57 PM   #18
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looks like the rates went up to $40 a nite at our little piece of Heaven. but that's still cheaper than a hotel

https://www.capecodcamping.com/
I stayed at Miles Standish SP and Nickerson SP on my Cape trip a few years ago. Best ever kettle pond to swim in. The bridge crossing the canal was" interesting"
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Old 02-23-17, 12:58 PM   #19
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BLM lands are the most open to free camping - but they are often dry and barren.Still, if you know where there are isolated parcels - like 1 miles south of Fiddletown, California - you can often find some sweet camping.

I had a hell of a time trying to distinguish between BLM land and private property when in the 'High Plains' district of Wyoming.
The Map you provided shows why. It's made up of thousands of individual pieces.
I was under the mistaken impression that I would figure it out once I was there. I couldn't.
I ended up sleeping in a graveyard, an abandon golf course, etc....even though there was thousand upon thousand of acres of nothing. I was too afraid to trespass in a landscape without trees.
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Old 02-23-17, 01:19 PM   #20
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I guess much depends on what one expects of a campsite.

Organized campsites are often moot anyway if they aren't located near where you end up at the end of the day.

I stop late and quickly throw up the quarterdome, often without stakes or fly. Leave early, right at or before first light.

Anything I eat and drink is cold, no fire or stove required.

Long as I'm out of the headlights and outside property lines I'm good.

Mike
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Old 02-23-17, 01:27 PM   #21
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and outside property lines
All real property is legally owned by someone.
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Old 02-23-17, 01:38 PM   #22
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I guess much depends on what one expects of a campsite.

Organized campsites are often moot anyway if they aren't located near where you end up at the end of the day.

I stop late and quickly throw up the quarterdome, often without stakes or fly. Leave early, right at or before first light.

Anything I eat and drink is cold, no fire or stove required.

Long as I'm out of the headlights and outside property lines I'm good.

Mike
Kind of how I feel, and my intent is to employ these ideas when I take my solo tours. I've taken multi-week hikes where I would slip into a pile of brush, set up my bivy, and try not to think of the local cooties (mice, rats, bugs, spiders, snakes), and get some rest. Up before dawn and on the road again. This method worked well when I was doing a lot of adventure-motorcycling, but at least in that I would often have the luxury of quickly finding a remote spot.
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Old 02-23-17, 01:39 PM   #23
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I stayed at Miles Standish SP and Nickerson SP on my Cape trip a few years ago. Best ever kettle pond to swim in. The bridge crossing the canal was" interesting"
EXCELLENT! all good. it's tricky to avoid the crowds but that's the kind of research I like to do. one of my long lived memories is getting just under the surface in a pond during a light rain & listening to the drops hit the surface while underwater. when the tall ships use the canal, that's a big deal cuz they almost reach the bridges! speaking of the stress of the crowds & traffic. one time a truck driver, off her meds, was fed up while stuck in traffic on top of one of the bridges & just went awol in the wrong direction. the result wasn't pretty. lesson = don't travel w/o your meds
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Old 02-23-17, 01:41 PM   #24
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I had a hell of a time trying to distinguish between BLM land and private property when in the 'High Plains' district of Wyoming.
I've camped a few times in BLM land in Montana and the Dakotas. The lines can be a mess, but I never got the impression that even if I was off by a bit, anyone was going to care, barring stupidity like camping in someone's front yard or in an obviously fenced off area, and this was even less stealthy with a car parked next to us.
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Old 02-23-17, 03:18 PM   #25
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OK, thanks to all of you who provided helpful and useful information here!
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