With interest in RVing at an all-time high, finding a campground with any vacancies can be increasingly difficult. That’s why so many campers have discovered boondocking on public lands.
In many cases, the campsites are free, and most are located in scenic and remote locations.
In fact, today, we’d like to highlight some of the best free riverfront campsites to show you just how enticing boondocking can be.
How Does Free Camping Work?
Free camping is just a place to set up camp that doesn’t require payment. Many people refer to this type of camping as boondocking, dispersed camping, or dry camping. You can usually find a site and set up camp, but sometimes you might need a permit. Know the rules for the area in which you intend to camp.
Many places that allow free camping limit the number of days you can camp. For instance, in some national forests, grasslands, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campsites, you can stay for 14 days. At that point, you must move a certain distance away from your original campsite. Others allow 14 days within a 30-day timeframe, while others may have shorter or longer time limits. You must check the regulations at each site before camping.
You probably won’t have amenities like water, sewer, or electricity when you camp for free. Some may have a pit toilet or a dumpster for trash, but you must be “self-contained.” This means you must carry your own water and have a way to store black or gray water until you can dispose of it. Also, you must have a way to power your RV if you want electricity. Generally, this means an onboard generator or solar power that feeds a battery.
You’re expected to camp without scarring the land. That means no wood cutting, no digging, and no leaving any trash. A good rule of thumb is to leave the site in better shape than when you got there. Pack out your trash and take exceptional care of the land you used for your stay.
Where Can You Camp for Free?
There are several locations across the country that allow dispersed camping and boondocking. Most of them aren’t developed campgrounds. In fact, many of those destinations are on public lands overseen by different government entities.
Many national forests allow boondocking, as do properties protected by the BLM. Some state and city parks offer free overnight camping, and land trusts and conservation areas may have some campsites available for boondocking.
How Do You Find Free Campsites?
Finding free campsites isn’t as difficult as it sounds, especially with the numerous resources available to us via the internet. If you’re on the hunt for the perfect riverfront campsites, use camping websites like Campendium.com and FreeCampsites.net or cell phone apps like AllstaysPro to The Dyrt and iOverlander. With these you can find places to camp or park overnight around the country.
Several of these apps also aid you in finding dump stations, propane, and other RV-related services.
7 Free Campsites With a Riverfront View
Now that we’ve whet your appetite for boondocking in free campsites, we’d like to introduce you to seven of our favorite sites that will give you a riverfront view. Take a look, then put them on your list for the next camping trip!
#1 Middle Fork Flathead River
Location: Columbia Falls, MT
GPS: 48.4641, -114.0726
About: You can stay for free for three nights along the edge of the Flathead River just outside Glacier National Park. The sites are really on a beach and big enough for rigs up to 45 feet. The only drawback: When the river rises, the campsites are swamped.
#2 Rufus Landing Recreation Area
Location: Rufus, OR
GPS: 45.6932, -120.7553
About: Stay for up to 14 days on the banks of the Columbia River. The campsites are on large river rocks and located between the river and railroad tracks. That does mean you’ll hear some train noise, but it’s a great location for playing on the river. The site accommodates rigs up to 42 feet.
#3 Snake River – Bell Rapids
Location: Hagerman, ID
GPS: 42.7931, -114.9362
About: Camp for free overnight at the boat launch at Bell Rapids Sportsman’s Access on the Snake River. It’s just a parking lot, but the views are pretty sweet! There can be a bit of noise during the day because of the boating ramp, but it dies down at night.
#4 Upper Teton View
Location: Moose, WY
GPS: 43.7638, -110.5527
About: This is one of the most popular dispersed camping sites overlooking the Grand Tetons and not far away from Yellowstone National Park. Sites can fit rigs up to 45 feet long. You can only stay for five days, and accessibility is not guaranteed. Scout ahead if you can.
Pro Tip: We uncovered Can You Visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks on the Same Day to make your planning easy.
#5 Mt. Antero Dispersed Camping
Location: St. Elmo, CO
GPS: 38.68336915997246, -106.27310710680364
About: There is dispersed camping all along County Road 277, but you should stay 150 feet from trailheads, lakes, and streams. You’ll be above the ghost town of St. Elmo and Chalk Creek that runs through the valley.
#6 Coconino Rim Road
Location: Grand Canyon, AZ
GPS: 35.9623, -111.9644
About: There’s room to spread out in the forest on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Campers can stay for up to 14 days for free. This site isn’t far from Desert View Drive, with access to the entire canyon. Rigs up to 45 feet have no problem fitting in here.
Pro Tip: Make sure to check out these 9 Most Beautiful Areas of the Grand Canyon on your adventure.
#7 Cebolla Mesa Campground
Location: Questa, NM
GPS: 36.6405, -105.6891
About: There are only five campsites overlooking the Rio Grande Gorge. If you snag one, you can stay for up to 14 days. However, the road in and the sites are not conducive to rigs over 26 feet, so plan accordingly.
Enjoy Your Next Camping Trip Along the River
Staying in a van or RV down by the river is a dream for many. And with the ability to boondock, you can do so for free using our guide. Just make sure to do your research and follow all regulations to enjoy these spectacular destinations. By being a good guest yourself, you’ll keep these areas free and accessible for others as well.
What riverfront campsite would you like to stay at first? Tell us in the comments!
Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA
To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).
You should give it a try!
As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.
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