The Definition of Camping

RV Camping Tips for a Carefree Experience

Contributor Dave Helgeson has been a lifelong RVer, and when not organizing RV shows, enjoys ferreting out intriguing, little-known locations in the west that are remote, but deserve a visit. For Dave, home is where you park it, the more remote the better!

Is the freedom to go where you want, when you want, with your RV a thing of the past?

I will agree that setting off on an extended RV trek without locking yourself into a rigid schedule via advanced overnight reservations is not what it once was when there were fewer RVs roaming the highways and byways competing for campsites. I have developed some strategies that allow my wife and me to continue living the carefree RV lifestyle of hitting the road with no reservations or a set daily itinerary while still visiting popular sites and attractions along our route. The following are some of the strategies I employ, and you can too.

Camp Outside the Box

Understand that campsites are not limited to campgrounds and RV parks. 

Learn to Be a Better Dry Camper

The majority of RVers feel they must stay in a campground that offers electrical service. The truth is, most any RV is capable of spending a day or two without hookups. Since many RVers discount staying at campsites without utilities, many suitable and scenic campsites remain empty each night, even in the busy season. So brush up on your dry camping skills and be prepared to dry camp when all the utility sites are full for the night. Another way dry camping can help get you into your desired RV park or campground is to take a non-utility site for the first night and be first in line for an open utility site the next morning as other RVs depart. 

Be Flexible with Your Schedule and Location when Visiting Popular Visitor and Camping Areas

Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Plan to arrive on weekdays when there is less demand for campsites.
  • Many popular National Parks and Monuments have designated overflow areas where you can often camp for free. Two examples are: Joshua Tree National Park and Natural Bridges National Monument. Overflow areas are typically listed on the park’s website.
  • We camp on the outskirts of the area we wish to visit where there are likely more camping options, leaving the RV there as we make a day trip to popular attractions.
  • Arrive at public campgrounds early. If there are no camping spaces, pull into the day use area and partake in the same activities and attractions those in the campground enjoy, then pull out in the evening and head to a nearby, less popular camping area.
  • When there is a city with several major attractions we want to visit, but no available campground spaces, we will camp as close as possible the night before and pull into town early, finding a safe and legal place (schools, churches, city parks, etc.) to drop the RV for the day. We then use our tow vehicle to explore town and visit the attractions using the RV as a base camp for meals and breaks. In the evenings, we will then hitch up and travel a short distance out of town to a predetermined campsite.
  • Expert Tip: Use Google Earth to determine where to drop the RV in advance. Google Earth shows parking lots, public facilities, etc., and you can determine how level the space is to keep your RV's refrigerator happily operating by using the handy elevation feature.
  • Sometimes, we can only reserve a space for one night, but the area has two days worth of activities we would like to enjoy. Stay close by in an alternate campsite the night before, then arrive at the RV park way before check in time (many RVers hit the road early and vacate their space. I have never been turned away arriving at 9am or so). The next day, before check out, ask if there is somewhere you can leave your RV until later in the day or take it to one of the places mentioned above (church, school, etc.) and finish visiting the places you wanted. Hitch up that evening and head out of town to a predetermined campsite.
  • First come, first served sites: We arrive early, before check out time, which gives us the best chance to reserve a space. When we arrive in the morning, I always ignore the “Campground Full” sign (especially on Sunday mornings) as the campground host/manager most likely hasn’t had time to take the sign down from the night before.

Look Beyond RV Campground Directories

Search for campsites beyond what are typically listed in the conventional campground directory. Commercial campground directories are driven by advertising. Small public campgrounds are often not listed as they have limited budgets to buy advertising. In addition, the person working for the directory selling advertising has little incentive to locate and visit these smaller campgrounds as there is minimal potential to earn a worthwhile commission.

Websites & Apps That Feature a More Comprehensive Listing of Campsites

  • lists over 30,000 campgrounds, from private RV parks, State Parks, Public Lands, Army Corps, National Park, Military, and lesser known County and City Parks.
  • is a web app that helps RVers search, review and even preview campsites all across the country, from free boondocking sites on federal land to luxury RV parks.
  • focuses on providing the most comprehensive and most accurate information of PUBLIC campgrounds of ALL types (County, State, Forest Service, BLM, National Parks, Military, Fish & Wildlife etc.). Currently the site lists over 38,000 U.S. and Canadian campsites.
  • lists free, lesser known campgrounds and other free places to camp across the country. 

Consider a Membership with One of the Following

  • Harvest Host allows its members free overnight stays at wineries, farms & other quiet, scenic places. Membership is currently $49/year which allows RVers to stay the night at more than 600 wineries, farms, breweries and other attractions.
  • Boondockers Welcome for $30/year, Boondockers Welcome connects RVers with local private property owners (hosts) across the country that allow members to park on their property for free. Some host sites even offer water and electric.
  • WWOO For Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms - Visitors, or ‘WWOOFers’, spend about half of each day helping out on a farm, learn about organic agriculture, and receive free room and board during their visit.

By applying these strategies, you too can become a free-spirited RVer and experience the true freedom of the RV lifestyle — going where you want, when you want. Enjoy! 

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