Most fulltime RVers know about freecampsites.net and Campendium.com. These websites, as well as many smartphone apps, are invaluable for finding both free and paid places to camp. Not only do they pinpoint locations with GPS coordinates, but they also have useful reviews from other campers. However, there are a few things you need to know before you drive your RV into a place blind.
Look at Who is Leaving the Reviews
Many, many of the reviews on these websites and apps are left by people car camping. They might say it’s “suitable for any size rig”, but take that with a grain of salt. Campers with a Subaru or van dwellers probably don’t have a real idea of what it takes to park a 32′ motorhome towing a car. Also, many of the reviews were left by people only spending one night. It may or may not work if your goal is to camp for a full 14 days.
Also Research the Sites Online
You might be able to find a YouTube video of the campsite for a good look. A YouTube video may also give you a look at the roads, which is very important. Also, do a general web search to find out more about the area. The forest service or BLM websites might have more information, as well as personal blogs and other websites.
Take Road Reviews Seriously
Many people will leave comments on the quality of the roads. If there are quite a few comments saying the area is sandy, gets muddy or the road is really bad, think about it. If you are driving anything other than a 4X4, you may not want to take your motorhome in. It may be that “free camping” could cost you quite a bit if you get stuck.
Take Length Limits Seriously
Campendium or FreeCampsites may or may not have RV length limits listed. But if you can find the campsite on a Forest Service website, they will. It’s not a smart idea to think your 32′ Class C is somehow going to fit into a campground listed with a 23′ length limit. If you already drive a motorhome, especially if you tow a car, you know how important the turning room is.
Look at the Elevation
Don’t assume just because someplace is in Arizona, it will be hot, or if it’s in Oregon, it will be cool. The higher elevations will always be cooler. Also, if you have breathing issues, you may not want to go to high elevation areas, due to lower oxygen levels.
Take a Look at the Driving Directions
Campendium and FreeCampsites list GPS coordinates. Try to find the campground on the Forest Service or BLM website; they will give you driving directions. You can also type the GPS coordinates into Google maps. If the driving directions look like “drive 10 miles down this dirt road, then turn left and drive 30 miles down that dirt road, turn right, 5 miles down another dirt road…” you might think twice. Do you really want to drive more than a few miles down dirt roads? Dirt roads can be hard on your rig. Also, bad weather can devastate a dirt road, making it impassable.
Check the Connectivity
Online connectivity may or may not be important to you. But if it is, you may double-check the area with your cell carrier’s coverage map. Likewise, see what people say. For example, 3G or 4G can sometimes be good, and sometimes unusable.
Check It Out Before Driving In
If you’re towing a car, it’s not a bad idea to check into a nearby RV park for a day or two. That way, you can drive the car to the boondocking location for an in-person inspection. Bring your smartphone or hotspot to also check connectivity. Also, use your GPS unit to record actual camping spots suitable for your rig, and record the coordinates on paper. It’s also a good idea to record the entrance to the roads you used to access the campsite.
While many people enjoy the spontaneity of the RV lifestyle, it’s always good to be armed with knowledge. A free campsite will not be free, if you get stuck or damage your rig.