Hi there! I’m finally ready to hit the road in my 92 Ford Econoline, Joyce, this weekend. She and I are going from Las Vegas, Nevada to Miami, Florida. Curious - is it worth it to buy the “America the Beautiful” National Parks Pass? It gives you free entry into all of the national parks for only $80 (amazing right) butttttt the pass doesn’t include camping (not as amazing). Any and all advice is very appreciated! Thank you!
You might have already heard about this, but National Forests are free to camp at for up to two weeks.
There are some exceptions, like some areas only allow up to a week, or other local rules such as in New Mexico where you pay for a State Pass that is good for the year. You can stop at the local Ranger Stations to easily find out local rules for each location.
-Edit- Actually the NM pass has a little more to it, but here is an article on it.
But not only is there no entrance fee, but there are also no camping fees either! On that note though, the free sites are “primitive sites”, requiring you to bring your own power/water/etc.
That’s actually my plan once I get on the road here soon, is to follow the National Forests around the Nation. I’ll actually be going the opposite direction once I head out, leaving Florida to head west!
If you’re interested…
Here is a great website that explains National Forest / BLM Land
This is a cool interactive map that lets you find camping sites in National Forests
I had absolutely no idea! Free is definitely in my budget haha. Thank you so so much, that’s exactly what I’ll do. These resources are *chefs kiss.
Have a great time on the road! Sending love from Nevada.
Greetings & Welcome!
I’ve got a big, old, but self contained high top camper van, and I’m mostly a city dweller. I park for free onn city streets all across the country.
You know when I first started looking into this National Forests and such was pretty much all I could see, I was getting some serious tunnel vision. But I’ve seen you say that a few times now Van_Dweller and I’m really starting to come around to the idea of that.
I’ve been thinking about how it would be neat to travel all down the Californian coast, and other “higher traffic” areas than I was originally thinking.
Honestly though, for some reason city-dwelling makes me more nervous than boondocking. No particular reason really, just makes me feel nervous.
When you look for a spot to park, do you look for anything in particular? Like parking near mostly commercial areas, or maybe even specific parking lots or something? As a Veteran, I think I could park in VFW parking lots, but I don’t know if that’s “a thing”, but I could see them allowing members to rest overnight in their RVs and such. I have heard Walmarts are mostly decent spots, I’ve even seen a few RVs and Van/Buslife peeps there before.
Do you have a “go to”, or just more go by your gut feeling on a specific spot?
I generally park near largish apartment complex’s where the guest & overflow parking is on the street. The vehicles are changing, so nobody’s paying much attention. If they do notice, they’ll just figure you’re visiting someone in the apt. complex.
Depending on the town, a lot of times you can park on the street at city parks. Long ago, I’d park right by the park restrooms on the street, so the bathroom was just across the sidewalk from me, but today it seems like all the park bathrooms are locked up, and you’re lucky if they happen to have a portable out-house. In most places, the max time without moving is 72 hours, so I’ll go to the store, or a park, maybe go do laundry or go out to eat.
The cargo van dwellers and the disrespectful homeless population has really hurt this lifestyle, but by proving to be a good neighbor, I’ve never had too many problems. Boondocking has been a whole different story, I’ve been robbed, shot, stabbed, had one rig stolen, and another destroyed by someone who used it as target practice, the only thing salvageable was my laptop. Oh, and one rig got the wildest graffiti paint job you ever did see. Other than them painting the windows too, it was actually kind of interesting, and I sold it to a yuppy who loved it and was going to keep it that way. Going off and leaving your campsite alone is huge no-no. These days if you spot a drone while boondocking, you’re in for trouble and possibly very quickly. Best advice is to pack up and move quick. Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and anywhere in the desert seem to be the worst. The cops are worthless, and usually won’t even take a report, even when I was shot and almost killed. They actually robbed me and left me for dead, and it was only luck that I survived. An ATV’er spotted my ransacked van and came to investigate and found me, and I was life-flighted into Las Vegas. The thieves had stolen my phone. Never could figure out what police jurisdiction that was in, everybody claimed it wasn’t theirs…
Now, I’ll only boondock with large groups, and actually prefer legitimate campgrounds. Free camping isn’t a good deal if you get robbed, lose your rig, or your life. City’s are a whole safer if you avoid the idiot destructive protesters these days. I just heard from a friend who’s van was destroyed by protesters. I just bought him a plane ticket so he can come visit, and I can help him get back on his feet. It was an almost new Promaster cargo van that he still owes a ton of money on, and his insurance denied his claim when they discovered it was a camper. Just one more reason why cargo vans are a poor choice. I’ve heard that built ins are a poor choice for the same reason.
Anyway, we’ll get him a legit fully depreciated Class B or C, so he can restart his life. Between the Promaster & his build, he’s still got almost 7 years worth of steep payments to make. With my help we’ll get him a cheap older rig and pay cash for it. I may even pay off his loans and let him make smaller payments to me. We’ll see… If I can help him, lower his payments over a longer time, and I make a little interest instead of a bank, it’s a win-win for everyone but the bank. With a different scenario, I might help him make enough money over the summer to become debt free. Lot’s of options & decisions to choose from. Every set back is just another opportunity in disguise, and I get to see a friend I haven’t seen in a few years. I rented him a really nice $50/week room with a private bath right down the street, and will be picking him up at the airport in a few hours. Nice rooms are really cheap if you know what to look for. If I’m in an area where street camping is totally illegal and strictly enforced, I’ll rent a cheap room just for the parking space.
I appreciate you sharing those experiences, I’m sure reliving that isn’t something you care to do, but the fact that you do so in order to share an honest experience I greatly appreciate.
That is one thing I am really not enjoying about the Van/Bus-life community so far, the lack of transparency and honesty around boondocking.
Two very prominent promoters of Vanlifers that I follow, that have both been traveling for over 30+ years each, claim to never have had a problem while out in the National Forests, not that I’m looking to point fingers at anyone but one of them you’ve probably heard of, he was a Park Ranger for 20 some odd years before traveling to Forests now during his retirement.
So many promoters push that angle, and swear on their lives by its safety. Then on top of it, I see tons of people active in the community agreeing that it is safe.
But yourself, as well as a few other prominent stories I’ve come across, I’ve seen say the opposite, and it’s not like a “slight” difference of opinion where they find boondocking to be “kinda unsafe”. It’s an extreme opposite featuring Theft, Armed Robbery, Assault, and more, from more than a handful of stories I’ve come across. One guy, who has since left Buslife because of the issues he ran into, said that he was constantly nerved up about leaving his vehicle to even do simple things like take a Hike.
He said that when parking at a large portion of the sites, that there was so much broken glass on the ground from windows being smashed that it was evident how popular of a spot it was to take advantage of tourists at. It wasn’t like a one off though, it was enough of the spots he ended up at for him to include it on his list of reasons why he left Buslife.
I mean, obviously the type of people that would do harm to others will do so anywhere at anytime, so nowhere is ever truly 100% safe. However, I wish there were less “blanket statements” about boondocking and how safe it is. Why do they consider it safe? Do they avoid X, or specifically look for Y? Are they only “safe” because they travel in large groups? If they are going to claim it’s safe I just wish they’d give a little detail, or share their experience with those of us hoping to replicate those safe conditions.
None of them ever really say, and when it comes to safety, that seems more important to share with your “audience” than how “cool your ride is”.
Anyway, thank you for your honest opinion and experiences. I’m sorry to hear about your friend, it’s amazing how all these riots are hurting people who have nothing to do with why those people are rioting. I hope it works out for you both, and as you said, if nothing else at least it’s a nice excuse to spend some time with a friend.
The promoters are in it for the money, and if they told the whole truth, it would hurt their income…
It’s kind of interesting, in the 70’s I didn’t seem to have a care in the world, I camped most weekends and never encountered any problems. In the 80’s, critters became problematic, either getting into my rigs or chewing up wiring. In the 90’s, bears and big cats seemed to get more aggressive, then for the last 20 years people have been the biggest problem. Maybe it’s just a sign of the times we live in, but it certainly isn’t improving.
I’ve had friends whose vans or motorhomes were ripped into and destroyed by bears, luckily they were never inside when it happened. I’ve had bears and all sorts of wildlife in my camps. I’ve had bear and what I believe to be big cat scratches on more than one rig. Being aware of those dangers, I always tried to avoid them, and be prepared for them.
People problems while boondocking caught me totally off guard, and I wasn’t prepared. First encounter was a single guy, kind of scraggly, but chatty, with a down on his luck story. Took out my wallet to give him $20 to help him out, and he pulled a gun and took my wallet. Told me if I called the cops, he’d find me. There was no physical altercation though.
Second in person encounter, late afternoon saw a drone, and thought is was weird, but all seemed okay. After dark though, a gang converged on me from all directions. One shoved me, and I shoved him back, and that got me stabbed. They got my wallet, keys, phone, laptop, & GPS then left. Luckily I had a spare key and a first aid kit.
When I got shot I saw a drone too. Before I could get out of there, a pickup pulled up, full of hoodlums, and I got shot immediately. I played dead while they looted my van and took my wallet & keys. I did manage to drag myself towards the van, but I couldn’t reach it or get in. I thought my time had come, but I woke up in a hospital. I don’t remember the rescue, but the nurse filled me in. I was never able to find out who to thank, and that still hurts. I still have occasional recurring nightmares over that encounter.
The other times, I wasn’t at my camps when the mischief happened, and I just discovered it when I returned.
Things are going well with my friend, we picked him up a decent 1991 Class C Winnebago for $1500. Got him a new phone & laptop, but he lost his remote call center job. One day at a time, but I think we’re off to a good start. I can float him until we can figure it all out. One advantage of many nomads is location independence.
The parks pass is totally worth it. There are a lot of places you can go and park with it for free where you would otherwise have to pay a fee. In LV the lake mead Rec area is $10 without a parks pass. If you went there stopped by the grand canyon and carlsbad cavern on your trip it would have already paid for itself. There are a lot other small fee areas it gets you into as well. It’s not just national parks.
I have the Texas State parks pass, there are 89 of them!! For $70
I get free entrance and some discount on camping and equipment rentals.
I like the day entrance, because when I have no where I need to be, I stay there and do work or art and not have to work about other people. I can clean and sort my van and no one cares if my camping shit is out every where.
I bought the National Park pass this weekend. Spent five days up in the Ozarks and hot springs. Stayed in 3 different parks.
Some of the park day passes are more than camping. Grand canyon is like $35
So if you hit 3 of those in a year, the pass will pay for itself. And when I don’t have anything to do, I’ll scroll through the list and see which ones I haven’t been to yet!
Oooh… But the National park pass ALSO includes historic sites (not just camping and nature preserves) Alamo, Alcatraz I think, the liberty bell, old war ships turned museums and so forth, So if you like that stuff to, it’s totally cool.
And to piggyback @Rydel, national Forest and grasslands. BLM. dispersed camping, boondocking, are your key words to the free camping.
I have an app called “free roam”
It shows free and pay per use camping sites. Most have reviews, it helps in a pinch when I haven’t made previous plans.