Frugal is a good Yankee word. I come from a long line of cheapskates and penny pinchers. My childhood included such fond(?) memories as riding home with my parents in the car with my dad’s hand out one window and my mom’s out the other holding onto a couch they had picked up from the side of the road because it had a “free” sign on it. When my dad passed my poor sister, who was tasked with settling the estate, spent weeks cleaning out the garage which was filled to the ceiling with old balls of tin foil and twine, old motors, extension cords with only one end, rusty tools and leaky hoses. The metal alone fetched more than the house did. So when you say the word “free” you have my immediate attention. It’s in the blood. I can’t help myself.
So when I came across this amazing web site: -Free Camping-, I just couldn’t help myself. If you have done much camping you know that a typical full service campsite can cost upwards of $30 per night for a stay, and are often booked months in advance. Even state campgrounds are in the twenties. I love to camp, but as a retired person on a very limited budget I find myself weighing the cost every time the urge to pack up the tent and get away from it all hits me. Now I have some options that open up possibilities I never expected.
Now, there are a great number of sites on this list that are not what I would call camping sites – for example, Wallmart parking lots that let RV’s park over night. But if you dig a little there are some real gems. For example, look at this small five site campground just north of Eustis Maine. It features tables and fire pits (but no running water or toilet facilities). Quiet, lake access with kayaking and canoeing possible. This is what is known as dispersed camping, so called because it puts less pressure on the environment. I think from time to time about back country camping but am concerned about having to backpack everything in and being miles away from civilization. This sort of camp site sounds just perfect to me.
Of course, being free, these camp sites are first come first served. You may arrive and discover that all five sites are already being used. That being the case it would be wise to have alternate plans in mind. Pick out several possibilities in the area to increase you chances of locating a spot. Plan on getting there well before dark so you have time to move to alternates or even to a pay site if you have too. Then, too, there is a whole etiquite involved with dispersed sites. There is no park ranger to clean up after you are gone. You need to have a trash management plan. Here is another site that list free camping opportunities: Campendium – fewer sites, but does filter out the RV stuff. You may also be interested in this USDA site on dispersed camping which lays out some of the specific challanges and responsabilities of dispersed camping.
Of course, camping with no amenities may not appeal to some, even if it is free. If you are my age almost free is an option. I have in my hot little hands an America the Beautiful Senior Pass. This pass, which originally cost nothing, now goes for $20 for a single year or $80 for a lifetime pass. It entitles you to half off at many national park campgrounds and national forests. I used it last year on my trek to Blackwoods in Acadia and found it easy to use and elicited helpful information from park personel. If you plan on doing any amount of camping I would highly recomend it.