Camping is the unsung hero of America’s great pastimes. Too often, real roughing it is overlooked in favor of the “park n’ drink” camping most people get up to when they cross that wooded threshold into America’s backyard. For the savvy of us, however, camping–true camping–is a rewarding, growing experience which will teach you exactly what you’re made of, when all the conveniences of life are no longer at your fingertips.
It’s also one of the few retreats left out there when it comes to vacationing or taking a weekend away which won’t break the bank. Most campsites on National Park grounds allow for free backcountry camping or “boondocking”, while even furnished campsites with luxuries like bathrooms and showers never generally run more than you can blow on a lighthearted dinner at your favorite local eatery.
What we’re talking about here is how to make the most of your camping trip anywhere across this wide open land and do so by camping for absolutely nothing (aside from your supplies, the gas to get there, and whatnot, that is). Here are five of the best campsites money won’t buy you.
White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
image source; Wikipedia
At the tippy-top of the Appalachian range sit the stunning ridgelines and beautiful passes of the White Mountains. The National Park is open year-round, and in addition to the nearly 800 furnished campsites you can rent at any one of 24 separate sites, all backcountry camping across the park is free all year round. The only thing you may need to pay for is parking at the main site, which requires a permit. Being as far North as it is, you may elect not to visit in the winter, but the dense foliage is at its finest in the autumn. Visit the park’s webpage for more details.
Zion National Park, Utah
image source; Visit St. George
With the painted mesas and the towering canyon walls, Zion is aptly named. There simply isn’t anything like it out there in the West, save for the Grand Canyon. When the desert sun falls across the sandstone cliff faces, you’ll swear you’ve died and gone to heaven. The sprawling park features a couple of trails, one five miles long and the other fourteen, and two great natural landmarks in the Kolob Arch, the largest naturally formed arch in the world, and the Subway, a long tunnel formed by creek erosion. Best of all, there are a multitude of free campsites on the state park’s grounds. Here’s their website for more information.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
image source; YouTube
One of America’s most iconic mountain ranges, the Grand Tetons are rife with hiking trails for all levels of enthusiast, so you’ll never run out of opportunities to see as much of the park as you like. The park stays open year round, and though backcountry camping in the state of Wyoming requires a permit, that permit is available on a walk in basis to any visitors of the park seeking it. Just stop by the Visitor’s Center and pick yours up before tearing up the trails. Learn more here.
Carson National Park, New Mexico
image source; Panoramio
Offering one of the few cool and temperate locales in the state of New Mexico, Carson National Forest is overflowing with sites to see, including Fawn Lakes, the Echo Amphitheater, and Mount Wheeler, which boasts a seriously challenging 16-mile trail round trip trail to the summit. Best of all, the park is open year round, with plenty of lakeside camping and various other sites, plus, that good, free backcountry camping you’re here for. Get a load of what’s in store at their official page.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
image source; National Park Guide
Voyageurs is probably the neatest destination on our humble list because of the sheer amount of opportunities it offers. All of the 220 campsites they maintain are available through a free permit and boondocking is permitted anywhere in the park proper. The only catch is that because the park sits on a beautiful lake and island chain, the campsites are only accessible by boat, which requires a $10 boating fee. That isn’t exactly free, but it is a tiny amount to pay when you consider all of the hiking, fishing, and boating available to you for it. Voyaguers National Park promises a wealth of experiences, as you’ll see on their webpage.
Those are a few of the best “bang-for-no-bucks” and choicest freebie campgrounds we could find. We know that there are plenty of other places we may have missed, overlooked, or been unable to include, so be sure to let us know in the comments which parks and campgrounds make up your favorite thrifty weekend getaway. Who knows–maybe your suggestion will show up on our next list?