Insider Tips for Finding the Best Cheap RV Campsites

We interviewed Nicole Calvert to gather her best advice on locating cheap RV campsites for your upcoming journey. Combining her insights with our own experiences, we’ve compiled a comprehensive manual on economical RV parking options in North America.

Finding cheap RV campgrounds is one of the many joys of traveling full-time in an RV. Some full-time RVers prefer stationary living, but others enjoy the freedom to change their backyard views whenever they choose.

Whether you’re craving the desert, mountains, forests, or beaches, cheap RV campsites are everywhere. Want to try boondocking or free camping? Check out our Ultimate Guide to RV Boondocking. 

I caught up with Nicole Calvert of RV Doing This for some tips and tricks her family uses to find cheap RV campgrounds. Nicole’s family began full-time RV living after they grew weary of going to work, coming home, eating dinner, and sitting on the couch in front of the TV.

They wanted something different and more meaningful, so they decided to travel full-time. Like most RV campers just starting out, they soon realized the importance of budgeting for campground stays. 

We interviewed Nicole for her top tips for finding cheap RV camping for your next adventure. We then chimed in with our experience to create this complete guide to affordable RV parking in North America.

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy for more info.

Q: How do you find cheap RV campgrounds?

RV parked on a campground at night

A: Nicole

There are a few ways we go about finding cheap RV camping.

Like most full-time RVers, we have a Good Sam membership, which allows you discounts at thousands of parks and has an app that makes it easy to find the cheapest RV parks.

The KOA is the same way.  But since we try to stay on the cheaper end or close to free, we use this book called “The Wright Guide To Free and Low-Cost Campgrounds.” This book is so great and definitely our favorite way to find campsites.  It also helps us find great boondocking areas where we can camp for free.

free and low-cost campgrounds guide

See on Amazon

As a last option, we have the RV Parks and Campgrounds app for our phones.

Note: In addition to Nicole’s resources, one of our favorite apps for finding cheap RV campgrounds is The Dyrt. We did a full review on the app and its many uses if you’re interested. We also recommend Where Should We Camp Next? by Stephanie and Jeremy Puglisi. 

Beyond that, here are a few other ways to find affordable RV campsites: 

Q: What is your favorite type of cheap RV camping?

toy hauler parked near the lake
Photo Credit: KZ RV (Best Off Road Toy Haulers Escape E20 Hatch)

A: Nicole

Our favorite campgrounds are either family-owned RV parks, national parks, or state parks.

Don’t get us wrong, we’ve stayed at some amazing KOA parks, but they are normally crowded and higher priced.

Our favorite KOA was at Cape Hatteras, NC and it was amazing. But we spent double there than what we would have spent at a non-corporate park.

State and national parks are great because they are cheap RV campgrounds and you are right in nature, often with easy access to hiking or biking trails.

The KOA parks and other big national chains are not in the book we mentioned above, so that’s why we tend to not stay at them.

The Wayward Home:

We love KOA RV sites too … when the time is right! After you’ve been on the road for a few days, sometimes you need to pull into a full-service campground and relax, even if that means spending a little more. 

However, our favorite cheap RV campgrounds have to be state parks. They’re often easier to book last minute while offering spacious sites and easy nature access. You’ll rarely find a state park within a stone’s throw of a busy highway or noisy train tracks. 

That means they’re typically quiet, which is a big deal if you want to relax and enjoy quality sleep on your trip. I traveled around much of the US for over five months a few years back. Here are some of my favorite state parks from that trip: 

Q: What amenities do you look for at cheap RV parks?

RVs parked on a campground

A: Nicole

The main amenities we look for at the cheapest RV parks are nice shower facilities and restrooms. We have a shower in our RV, but it’s small and we have limited hot water, so we prefer using RV park showers – so long as they’re clean and spacious.

We also like parks that have a playground, park, or some area for the kids to play.  This isn’t a huge priority since we are normally out exploring, but it helps when we need the kids to go play while we work in the RV.

The Wayward Home

I’m a little different on this one. If I’m staying in a cheap campground with hookups, I’m showering inside my RV every time. I always have my toiletries there and I can hop in without planning what I’m putting on when I get out because my closet is accessible once I’m finished. 

That said, my must-haves wouldn’t be things like picnic tables, a swimming pool, or a hot tub, simply because I wouldn’t use them every time I visit the campsite. For me, my top campground amenities are reliable free WiFi and a fenced-in dog park. I’m often working remotely when I travel and I don’t go anywhere without my Husky. Dog parks are also a great way to meet fellow RVers – dogs are often the best icebreaker you can imagine. 

Finding reliable WiFi can be a bit more challenging. Most affordable RV parks advertise WiFi as an amenity, but the quality is often lacking – especially if your job requires any video conferencing. 

Don’t hesitate to call ahead and ask about upload and download speeds if you know exactly what you’re looking for. Beyond that, we highly recommend investing in Starlink. It can be costly upfront, but the freedom and reliability make it well worth it over time. If that’s a bit pricey, explore these other mobile Internet options.

Other amenities that help me enjoy a great time while I’m camping include a boat launch for kayaking or paddleboarding, a convenience store for my afternoon beverage needs, and laundry facilities to freshen up my wardrobe and RV linens. 

Q: Has it ever been difficult to find cheap RV campgrounds?

happy family camping at night with their RV
Photo by Matthew Osborn via Unsplash

A: Nicole

The only times we’ve had trouble finding an affordable RV park were when traveling through the New York, D.C., and Boston areas. These big cities only have a few campgrounds near them, so we had to be further away from the sights we were planning to see.

For both D.C. and NYC, we had to take the train from a town close to our campground to get to the city. Other than these big city campgrounds, we’ve never had a problem.

The Wayward Home

I must agree that finding affordable camping can be harder in more populated areas. Growing up camping in California, many campgrounds I’ve visited in other states are comparably “cheap” compared to what I became accustomed to paying. Some things are relative. 

My best recommendation for finding cheap RV campgrounds is to cast a wide net. Expand your search to public lands, national forests, and other dry camping locations. If you want to prioritize some of the tools highlighted above based on cost, here’s where to start: 

Q: Do you plan your cheap RV campgrounds out in advance?

father and daughter having a bonfire outside their RV

A: Nicole

We normally plan everything out in advance, even if it’s just the morning of. I normally have a place to for the night, but there are always backup plans if something happens, like staying a night in a Walmart parking lot or looking for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land where you can stay for free.

We’ve stayed in a Walmart parking lot once, and it’s not horrible, but I’d much rather be at a campground or boondocking.

The Wayward Home

Beware that free overnight parking is NOT allowed at ALL Walmart locations. As a kid, Walmart was our family’s go-to spot for the first night of many RV trips. We’d get on the road in the late afternoon, drive for 3-4 hours, and stop for the night to get an early start the next day. This had the benefit of an easy place to grab last-minute supplies or things we forgot to pack. 

However, many Walmart locations no longer allow overnight parking. In my experience, it’s more common in more populated cities, but I recommend checking in advance if you plan to use a Walmart for an overnight stay. 

I’ve found highway rest areas and truck stops to be some of the best places for a quick overnight stay on the way to or from my intended destination if I don’t plan in advance. But with a little foresight and research, I much prefer using Harvest Hosts for one-night stays between cheap RV campgrounds that I’ve booked for multiple nights. 

Sure, the annual membership requires a fee, but boondocking alone (or with 1-2 other RVers) at wineries, breweries, golf courses, or museums has proven much more enjoyable than staying at a rest area or a Walmart. And it eliminates the risk of getting the dreaded “knock” in the middle of the night and having to relocate before sunrise. 

Q: What are the differences between campgrounds and boondocking?

white campervan parked on a campground
Class B RV boondocking Photo by Mitchell Orr via Unsplash

A: Nicole

When you stay in some cheap RV parks, you’ll be close to many other campers, you must abide by park rules, and you pay for your site. However, you have full or partial hookups, access to restrooms and showers, and a sense of security.

Full hookups = Potable water, sewer, and electric hookups

Partial hookups = Potable water and electric hookups (usually, but always 1-2 of the three)

Boondocking is great because you’re normally out in the middle of nowhere with no one around. It’s one of our favorite ways to detach and experience nature. Some of our favorite free camping spots have been on national forest land or deep in state forests without any other RV owners within miles.

With boondocking you don’t have amenities like electricity, running water, and a sewage dump station. You have to run a generator, conserve water in your tank, and drive to a nearby dump station to empty your RV’s holding tanks.

We normally boondock only 3-4 days so we aren’t traveling back and forth to dump.

It all just depends are your needs for that time frame, where you’re going, and what you’ll be doing. If you’ll be having a business meeting one week, boondocking may not be your best choice.

The Wayward Home

With the proliferation of solar technology in modern RVs, extended boondocking is more possible now than ever. Many RVs have solar packages that trickle charge your batteries to help you stay off-grid for longer. 

Some (check out the new Keystone Outback OBX) are even equipped with soft-start air conditioners that can power up and run (for a time) without shore power. 

In addition, RV accessories like a portable waste tank are great for boondocking – or even stays where you don’t have a sewer hookup. An RV tote tank allows you to empty your holding tanks without moving your entire motorhome or travel trailer. Many even attach to a hitch ball and can be towed (slowly!!) from your campsite to the cheap campground’s dump station. 

With a properly equipped boondocking camper, there’s no limit to your ability to find the perfect place to spend multiple days off the grid. My favorite part of the United States for boondocking is the Southwest. There’s an abundance of federal land, BLM campgrounds, and other accessible sites where camping is free. 

Here are links to listings on The Dyrt for some of my favorite boondocking locations in the Southwest: 

Q: What other advice do you have for people looking for cheap RV camping?

campervans and RVs parked on a campground
Photo Credit: Bureau of Land Management via Flickr (Other campgrounds Campers Nestled in Fall Foliage)

A: Nicole

My best advice for planning routes and campgrounds is to know what you want to be close to, like a particular city, destination, sightseeing spot, national park, etc. From there, use the resources mentioned above to look for parks nearby. Most of the time this works out and you find a cheap, or free, park near your destinations.

If there aren’t any nearby, like in some big cities, determine if it’s easier to spend more for a KOA or larger campground that will save you money in the long run on gas or public transportation. We always start with what we want to go see, and then work our way from there.

If you can’t find cheap RV campgrounds in the book or by using the other resources we’ve mentioned, try the BLM website for boondocking areas. 

You don’t have to stay on major roads to find a great place to camp for less. We’ve gone to some great, family-owned RV resorts in the middle of nowhere. Just be open to looking beyond the major destinations and you may find something amazing. And always remember, you’re camping or RVing, so don’t sweat the small stuff!

The Wayward Home

My first piece of additional advice for finding cheap RV campgrounds is to pick up the phone. I’m certainly guilty of writing many campgrounds off if their online booking platform isn’t easily navigable. But I’ve also picked up the phone in a pinch and found an excellent, affordable place to camp on several occasions. 

Beyond that, reach out to friends, family, and acquaintances to see if you might stay with them for a night or two. We like to call this “moochdocking,” but it’s a great way to camp for less and catch up with old friends who live in other areas of the United States. It might cost you less to bring your friend or family member a bottle of their favorite spirit in exchange for a place to camp than it would to stay in a nearby campground, so keep that in mind!

Other RVing stories to check out!

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6 Comments

  1. Pingback: 10 essentials for RV boondocking to keep free camping comfortable
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  3. Kit Hannigan says:

    I really like your tip about starting with what you want to go see first, and then working your way from there. My dad is planning to bring the whole family to a good old RV camping trip. He thinks it’s a great way to bond since he’s been away overseas for quite some time. However, he can be a bit all over the place when picking out the campsites we haven’t been to before. I’ll be sure to share this article with him so he can prepare our route better.

  4. Great info, lots to think about and keep for future reference as retirement and traveling draws near

    1. Wonderful! Good luck on your journey!

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  8. Hi Kristin! K, I bought the suggested book, sorting, packing, decorating my Roadtrek, leaving the Indiana frozen tundra for Florida a few days after Christmas. Terrified, EXCITED, SO many emotions, ready to write My Chapter 59…. Multiple near death experiences have a very profound way of altering one’s outlook/perspective; I’m alive, getting healthier. Hope, and all. Onward…. 🙂

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  10. Tammie Houston says:

    It’s nice that you mentioned you often looked for a place that kids could play in when looking for an RV campsite. My college friends and I are planning on RV camping as a sort of mini-reunion together and it would be nice if we can find a place that can keep our kids occupied while we hang around and catch up. Something like a Beach view RV Park would be great for us as it could provide us with just that. Hopefully, we find a nice place to go to ahead of time. https://southerncomfortcampingresort.com/

  11. Alice Carroll says:

    You made a good point that electrical hook-ups are also important to locate early on in an RV site. I’d like to know more about RV living because I want to travel the country in the future. As such, I will need to have a trusty RV for that.

    https://cactusdrawrv.com/rv-site-rental

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