The best smartphone Apps to find free camping
Part of the allure of Vanlife for me was the low cost of living, which means paying for campsites averaging over $25 per night just wasn’t in the budget.
So with practice and the help of these great apps, I can find free camping sites without too much hassle.
I built my van for boondocking which means I can park and live comfortably anywhere, so all I need is a free, safe place to park.
In my 2 ½ years of living full-time on the road, I’ve paid for camping less than 10 times thanks largely to the wonderful folks who create apps and websites that show where to find great, free places to stay.
I think this is the most-used app to find free camping by those of us living on the road.
That means there are a lot of campsites and other information that’s been contributed.
Free campsites on the iOverlander app are user-submitted and range from established campgrounds to gas station parking lots.
I get the most up to date information about free camping from this app because it’s so widely used.
- A map with user-submitted resources such as campsites and dump stations
- Gives users the ability to “check-in” and contribute their own reviews and other information
- Includes a wealth of other resources such as nearby gas stations, restaurants, hotels, laundromats, and wifi
This app also includes plenty of other helpful resources such as dump stations, water fill-ups and showers.
The downside is that anyone can submit any spot as a “campsite,” and those spots aren’t always reliable or accurate.
I’ve been burned a few times staying in spots from this app, even waking to a cop-knock in the middle of the night.
That’s the worst way to learn that I can’t actually park there.
Read on for some useful tips to avoid that dreaded knock…
While the Campendium App shows fewer resources than iOverlander (it sticks to campsites and dump stations), I find it highly valuable to find free camping.
- A map that shows campsites, RV parks, and dump stations
- Campsites are carefully researched and vetted
- Users may leave reviews and submit photos
- Includes a search feature to find free camping by location, including filters such as price and cell phone carrier, a game-changer for anyone working remotely.
Users can leave reviews about their cell carrier and signal strength in each campsite.
I sometimes find that other digital nomads also leave specific reviews about cell signal speeds.
Since the campsites listed on Campendium aren’t user-submitted, they tend to be more reliable.
It still offers user reviews and photos though, so there’s plenty of recent information.
I even met someone who worked for Campendium as he was verifying the campsite information and taking photos to add to the app.
I believe that you may need to pay for full-access on this app now (I have the paid version), but the information on this app makes it worth it.
FreeRoam provides some unique information to find free camping that the others do not.
You can view the campsites on a satellite image map, see the elevation profiles, or view the current fire smoke in the area.
That became particularly useful during the summer of 2020 and likely will in the future.
- User-submitted campsites on a map that includes a search feature, filters, and different map overlays like satellite image and BLM maps
- Users can leave detailed reviews on campsites based on criteria such as crowdedness, cleanliness, noise… all sorted by time of year
- FreeRoam also offers features like trip planning, camping guides and forums to connect with other travelers
- Tons of built-in support for people working on the road such as cell carrier map overlays, cell tower maps, and the ability to sort campsites by cell signal
I think the best features of FreeRoam are the different map views and layers it provides.
The campsites on this app are user-submitted, so again, you run the risk of staying in a place where camping isn’t actually allowed.
It’s also a newer app with fewer campsites than iOverlander.
When you click on a campsite, you’re provided with the current weather forecast in that location as well as the averages during the year for planning trips ahead of time.
Spots are reviewed based on criteria such as how close the campsites are to each other, how busy it is, the noise, shade, cleanliness, safety, as well as the conditions of the road.
That information can also be filtered by season so you can get an accurate picture of how crowded the campsite is or the condition of the road during peak and non-peak times of the year.
FreeRoam also features trip-planning tools, camping guides, and a social component to connect with other nomads.
The App trifecta to find free camping
I’ve gotten into the habit of using all three of these apps together when I’m looking for my next place to stay.
iOverlander has more campsites listed than the other two, so I usually start there and check the recent reviews.
Then I’ll cross reference that information with Campendium to make sure it’s a legitimate campsite.
Finally, I’ll check FreeRoam with the cell carrier map on, so I can ensure that I’ll have a cell signal when I arrive.
I know that’s a lot to do when it’s time to find free camping, but until there’s a perfect app, it’s what works for me.
Other Apps and resources to find free camping
There are a few other apps worth mentioning that I’ve used on occasion.
AllStays has all the locations such as Walmart, Cabelas, and Cracker Barrel along with information about whether they allow overnight parking.
It’s my go-to on the eastern half of the US where it can be harder to find free camping
One of the more recent additions to the campsite-finding repertoire has been the Vanlife App.
It seems to have most of the same campsites that iOverlander has, but since it’s new, it has fewer reviews.
The Vanlife App also has a social component where you can see other nearby Vanlifers and find upcoming community events.
I often wonder if I would have survived with the Vanlifers of the 60’s and 70’s, who couldn’t just open an app, find the perfect campsite, and let their GPS direct them.
I certainly have it easy being out here adventuring during a time when there’s a wealth of information at my fingertips to find free camping sites.
From Vansage.com writer Jenny Leveille
Jenny has been traveling on the road full-time with her dog, Dakota, since September 2018.
She lives in her self-converted 2006 Dodge Sprinter and spends her days hiking, camping, mountain biking, and writing about her adventures.
She’s attempting to visit all 50 states and see all the National Parks.
You can read about her adventures on her site, here.