Camping is one of the best ways to enjoy nature, and in these post-coronavirus times, it’s an especially great idea if you want to get away—and get away from everyone else. But social distancing isn’t the only reason people are flocking to camping. It’s also a budget-friendly vacation option that’s even easier on your wallet if you find a destination that doesn’t charge a fee. Yes, you read that right—you can camp for free in many places throughout the United States. You just need to know where to look. Get started by finding out exactly what qualifies as free camping and learning few important guidelines, and then check out the most scenic campsites near you. Bonus: Save some money here and you’ll be able to spend it on these cool camping gadgets.
What is free camping?
Free camping is, essentially, just what the name suggests: camping for free, without having to pay any money. It can take several forms and be part of a car- or RV-based road trip or part of an extended backpacking or bike-packing trip. There’s also dry camping and boondocking, which typically refer to RV, van, or motor-home camping without an electricity or water hookup.
Free camping should not be confused with more wild forms of camping, such as dispersed camping and primitive camping, which center around being in off-the-grid wilderness areas that are away from the services and amenities found at more developed campgrounds and RV parks. Free camping is not necessarily the same as dispersed camping, but in some cases, it could fall into that category. If you’re camping in an area that’s not being supported by admissions or permit fees, the campsite may not have access to the water, electricity, and bathrooms that camping fees help pay for, so you’ll want to be clear about that before taking your trip so you can plan accordingly. For travel inspiration, check out these 55 best road trips in America.
How to find free camping
Two great resources for finding free RV parks and campsites are the Ultimate Public Campgrounds app and Campendium, where you can search by location and price. Public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is another good source, as are the websites of local tourism boards and state departments of natural resources and departments of environmental conservation.
No online resources exist that show whether a free campsite has been claimed yet, unfortunately, but you could call the local tourism board or park/forest information center and ask if they could recommend campsites that tend to be less popular. Weekends and holidays tend to be the busiest, so you’ll have the best luck finding a free campsite mid-week. You should also keep in mind that national parks are very popular with campers, so it’s a good idea to plan in advance and have a backup plan in case nothing is available. Ready to get started? These are the best places to camp in national parks.
Where can I set up a tent for free?
According to Mary Monroe Brown, director of the Wisconsin Office of Outdoor Recreation, different sites have different rules about where you can camp. Some areas allow free camping anywhere other than where a sign prohibits it. Other areas, like the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin, specify exactly where you cannot camp and require campers to be 200 feet from the water and 150 feet from any trail or service road.
Note that some sites limit how long you can camp there, as well. Most Bureau of Land Management sites cap free camping to 30 days, though the amount of time can vary by location. Most national forests allow dispersed camping up to 14 days, though some areas are limited to one day, while others allow up to 30 days. Check the local regulations by stopping by the ranger station or calling ahead of your stay.
What to know before you go camping
Free campsites can be very hard to come by during peak summer months because many operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Plan to arrive early in the day to get a good spot, but know that you run the risk of getting there and not finding any free campsites left. Before you hit the road, make a list of several other camping and accommodations options in the area if your ideal spot is not available.
The free campsites that tend to go quickest are those that are the most easily accessible, right off the main road or parking lot. Harder-to-reach, backcountry campsites tend to receive fewer visitors, but they may require a significant hike to access. If all the available campsites are taken, you must find a different site. Do not attempt to camp in an area that is not designated for camping, as it’s both damaging to the environment and illegal. Avoid these other camping mistakes that most first-timers make.
Can you camp for free anywhere?
No, you cannot. While many national and state parks and forest areas do set aside areas for free camping, many also require campers to pay a nominal fee that helps support maintenance of the area. Some campgrounds may also require a reservation, so confirm whether that’s the case before heading out on your trip.
Camping on private land is also prohibited, so just because a chunk of land looks wide open and free, it doesn’t mean that it actually is. Somebody (an individual, corporation, or government entity) may own that land, and they might not want you camping on it. If setting up camp near an ocean or lake sounds heavenly to you, try these 25 great spots for beach camping.
What to pack for your free camping trip
Since most free campgrounds are located in fairly remote areas, you may not find food, water, and first aid supplies, so you’ll want to bring all of that with you. If there’s a freshwater source, you can bring a water-filtration device; otherwise, you’ll need to bring any water you’ll need for drinking and washing. You’ll also need to bring toilet paper, a shovel, garbage bags, and containers to store food. Because most free campsites have no amenities, if you’d like to have camp chairs and a table, you’ll need to bring those with you, as well. It’s also a good idea to learn a few of these brilliant yet simple vintage camping hacks.
According to Benjamin Brosseau, director of communications for the Adirondack Mountain Club in Upstate New York, if you’ll be camping in an area that has bear activity, all food must be left in your car. If you’ll be camping away from your car, it’s essential to bring a bear canister to store your food. Note that in areas where bears are especially curious (like the Adirondacks, which is full of free campsites—and bears!), anything with a scent must be stored in the car or bear canister, including toiletries and personal-care items.
How to camp for free responsibly
Some free campsites, particularly those in backcountry wilderness areas, have restrictions regarding campfires, and some prohibit fires altogether. Many also specify how far a campsite must be from roads and water and whether or not pets are allowed.
Regardless of when, where, or how you plan your free camping trip, be prepared to leave nature as good as—or better than—it was when you found it. Collect all of your trash (and any trash another careless camper may have left behind) and take it out with you. If you plan to do any hiking, bring a small, resealable plastic bag with you for any trash you may accumulate along the hike, such as apple cores, granola bar wrappers, used toilet paper, and the like. Those are just a few of the things you need to keep in mind when visiting a national park or other campsite. Overall, remember: Following the rules is essential, and it helps protect the pristine status of natural spaces and the animals that inhabit them.
For more on where to go and what to see around the country, check out our Ultimate American Road Trip Guide.
- Mary Monroe Brown, director of the Wisconsin Office of Outdoor Recreation
- Benjamin Brosseau, the director of communications for the Adirondack Mountain Club
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Tiny tweaks, big results
If you’ve ever wished that you could be one of those people who always looks on-trend and incredibly put together, we’ve got some news for you: You can—and you can do it on a budget. And thank goodness for that, because life is expensive enough as it is without having to overhaul your entire wardrobe every season! The key to looking like you spent a fortune without bankrupting yourself is to shop smart. By knowing some clever style tricks, mixing the right pieces, and investing in a few well-made staples, you can completely transform and elevate your look. That is, as long as you also avoid these outfit mistakes that make you look messy.
Note: Prices listed were accurate as of press time; pricing fluctuations may occur.
Opt for better fabrics
You don’t need to plunk down all your spare cash on designer labels—as long as your fabrics are mostly natural and high quality. Nailing the perfect business-casual look, going-out ensemble, or weekend wear comes down to using better fabrics in chic ways, says Ashley Michelle Miller, a celebrity wardrobe stylist who works with everyone from major talk-show hosts to regular Janes in need of wardrobe refreshing. “It’s all about organic and true fabrics,” she explains. “Cashmere is the way to go, and while those fabrics need a little more love and care with handwashing and dry-cleaning, they can make all the difference and last so much longer than synthetic versions.” Opt for cashmere basics like this versatile Mongolian Shrunken Cashmere Sweatshirt from Quince, which is beloved by fashionistas and surprisingly affordable.
Wear dark denim
Whether you’re into trendy cut-off hems, boyfriend fits, or slim and tapered ankles, stylists say that a sophisticated dark wash can take you from a runway-worthy day to a night out with friends. The key is choosing the right size and a high-quality dark wash that won’t soon fade. Try these White House Black Market Ultimate Sculpt skinny bootcut jeans with a turtleneck and ballet flats for a chic and classic Hollywood look, and then read our tips on how to make all your jeans look expensive. And yes, bootcut is back!
Stock your closet with one great blazer
“It’s time to take inventory of your life,” says Miller. “Where do you spend most of your time? That’s where you need to invest your wardrobe budget, in items that make you look your best.” She suggests finely tailored basics like a black blazer with expensive-seeming details, like this Yan Jacket from M.M. LaFleur. “Details matter, so a flattering cut with higher-end buttons and fabrics are ways to set you apart.” By the way, these are the 16 things you should stop wearing to work.
Mix textures and patterns
“Mastering the art of mixing textures and patterns is one of the keys to looking expensive on any budget,” says Bernadett Vajda, an internationally acclaimed model and professional image consultant. “Pair natural silk with other rich fabrics in the same color scheme like denim or cashmere. Wearing the same color scheme in different textures will elevate any look.” Try pairing this Lilysilk Alluring Asymmetric Pleat Skirt, which is made of natural, printed silk, with a similarly hued turtleneck for a crisp, magazine-worthy ensemble. And make sure you know how to wash clothes properly so your new favorite garments last for years.
Splurge on a strong black coat
“Invest in classic, high-quality outerwear in timeless black or camel colorways,” shares Vajda. “It will last you decades. Classic styles never expire and will carry you through every decade—warm.” This Fjallraven Nuuk Parka will be your new favorite wintertime essential, keeping you toasty and on top of your style game for years to come. On the other hand, here’s what you should finally toss from your closet.
Accentuate your shape
“People tend to gravitate toward black or oversized garments to disguise their insecurities,” explains Vajda. “But the key to looking chic is making sure your clothes fit your curves. Don’t hide them or try to cover them up or even try to camouflage. Wear clothes that you’re comfortable in that accentuate your body properly.” Try these curve-hugging Jacqueline Coated Pants from i love tyler madison to flatter, flaunt, and accentuate tastefully. If you’re having trouble with this one, check out these 15 inspiring quotes to help you love your body.
Choose undergarments you feel confident in
It turns out that the most important layers when making an outfit seem expensive are the bottom and top ones. Underpinnings and coats both pave the way to the most put-together looks. Vajda tells her clients to invest in good, trustworthy shapewear they’ll feel comfortable wearing beneath their favorite pants, dresses, and skirts. The goal is to present a smooth silhouette and highlight your body’s natural shape. These affordable Soma Smoothing Shorts will work perfectly under most of your favorite looks. You should also read up on the best underwear to flatter your butt shape.
Buy a well-fitting bra
Both Miller and Vajda agree that a supportive bra is necessary for any outfit to deliver an expensive-seeming appearance. If you’re bulging, wearing the wrong size, or not investing in the right cup style for your assets, even the best cashmere can look cheap. Check out these signs that you need to buy a new bra, and then invest in staples like this Vanishing 360 Perfect Coverage Bra, which looks just as elegant under a T-shirt as it does under a special-event dress.
Add a colorful dress to your wardrobe
That little black dress you already have is great, and Miller suggests making it look expensive with the right shoes, jewelry, and beauty routine. But it’s equally important to have a colorful dress in your closet, too. “If evening engagements are a regular thing, you need a little colored dress—an upgraded riff on everyone’s favorite LBD,” she says. “Getting a solid-colored dress in a shade that complements your skin tone is a power move. You’ll stand out from the rest and look radiant.” Try a rich jewel tone like the vibrant green of this Venus Eyelet Sleeve Detail Dress. Also make sure you have these classic dresses every woman should own.
Buy great-quality shoes
“Always spend a little more money on quality shoes, as your feet take you everywhere,” explains Vajda. “Do not cheap out on shoes. They are the ‘sole’ of your entire look.” Puns aside, she suggests investing in real leather and handmade shoes that offer trend-forward styling in a last-for-years shape. Try this walking-friendly Ruzgar Chelsea Boot from Naot, which looks just as great with dark jeans as it does with a pencil skirt and cardigan. Plus, the flexible insets and arch support will make every outfit a comfortable one.
Care for your shoes properly
Take care of the shoes you invest in by cleaning, polishing, and hydrating their materials each season so they can keep you walking tall in your most treasured outfits for years to come. Try BootRescue Protector Spray for leather, suede, and fabric shoes of all kinds. This all-natural product won’t damage your best kicks, and just in case your dog gets his mitts (and mouth) on your shoes too soon, the formula is non-toxic. Stylists suggest using it on your favorite purses, as well. Here are another 11 genius tricks to make your shoes last longer.
Accessorize with an authentic purse
Both stylists stress that purses constructed from high-quality natural materials like leather and canvas are immediate style statements that shouldn’t be squandered. Vajda won’t let her clients sport knock-offs, either. “A good handbag is worth a thousand words, so don’t buy fake,” she says. “Save toward a quality bag that will go from day to night.” And quality doesn’t mean logos. Instead, focus on the way the bag is constructed and if you’ll be able to wear it throughout the day and with a variety of looks. This Clove and Revel Ash Saddle Bag is a definite style upgrade. Your choice of accessories can be very telling, and this is what your favorite handbag says about your personality.
Don’t neglect your hair
If your hairstyle is on-trend, don’t forget to rock it as a part of your look. You can play up your style with accessories like clips, hats, and hair ties, but unforgettable shine and tamed flyaways are the hallmarks of good hair in any era. Try portable Anti-Frizz Sheets from Nunzio Saviano to keep hair shiny and lustrous anywhere you go, thanks to natural oils and UV protection. And make sure to avoid these 14 everyday mistakes that are aging your hair.
Elevate even the simplest basics with details
Think there’s no way to make run-of-the-mill weekend sweatshirts look more expensive? Think again. Finer details like specialty linings, prints, and unique stitching can make all the difference. This Aviator Nation Five-Strip Hoodie is the stuff cuddle-worthy style dreams are made of, and it’s just as great for running to the gym as it is when paired with your favorite new jeans and casual kicks.
Focus on radiant skin and understated makeup
Don’t forget to play up your natural features and highlight glowing, radiant skin. “Natural beauty is always in style, and you’ll look expensive just showcasing a well-rested version of your own skin,” says Vajda. “Wear makeup that shows off your own beauty, and don’t go overboard with trends.” Try Olay Regenerist Collagen Peptide 24 Face Wash, which gently exfoliates skin and leaves it fresh and vibrant. You’ll cut back on overdone makeup and save priceless time on your morning routine. Next, learn the makeup secrets of women who always look put together.
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- Ashley Michelle Miller, a celebrity wardrobe stylist
- Bernadett Vajda, an internationally acclaimed model and professional image consultant
The post How to Camp for Free in the United States appeared first on Reader’s Digest.
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