Table of Contents
Is the allure of the great outdoors calling your name? With spring’s arrival and tighter budgets in mind, it’s time to load up the family and set off on an adventure. If you’re aiming to explore the majestic landscapes of the Northwest U.S., this guide to free or nearly free trailer and RV camping sites will be your best companion.
Camping on Federal Lands for Free (or Almost Free)
A multitude of federal lands – from Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites to forest service and public lands, including Wildlife Management areas – offer a wide array of free or almost free camping options. The scenic range you can choose from is vast, with BLM sites providing access to lakes or rivers, while forest service and state lands can offer a wilderness experience in forest or mountain settings. For the tent campers among you, almost any public land area allows you to rough it by parking off the road. For those of you with trailers or RVs, the search becomes a bit more complex, but you can find a wealth of information at recreation.gov.
There’s no shortage of free or low-cost campsites. On just one website alone, I found over two thousand listed across the U.S. Many of these campgrounds offer proximity to rural bars, restaurants, or city and county parks, sometimes requiring only a minimal fee or donation.
For those who desire a rural setting coupled with modern conveniences, a city or county park might be just the ticket. You’ll have easy access to shopping, play equipment, and local swimming pools. In many national recreation areas, you’ll find breathtaking scenery and an opportunity to partake in activities like wildlife observation, hiking, and fishing.
Examining Free Camping Sites: A Select Review
Due to the sheer volume of campgrounds available in the Northwest, it’s impossible to review them all. However, I will share some highlights from a couple of top sites in each of the four states: Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Wyoming.
Montana’s Majestic Offerings
- Itch-Kep City Park: This park near Columbus, Montana, boasts 48 sites split between pull-through and tent areas. The park sits between the Yellowstone River and a golf course, offering large sites with amenities like water, restrooms, and a boat ramp. You can enjoy activities such as hiking, golfing, fishing, or exploring the local scenery. Downtown is just a short walk away for groceries or a local café breakfast. No fee is required, but donations are appreciated.
- Clark Canyon Reservoir: Located 20 miles south of Dillon, this reservoir offers nine campgrounds with 96 sites in a scenic area. From rustic to upgraded RV sites, each comes with a fire ring and tables. Activities include bird watching on the Cattail Marsh Nature Trail, hiking, and fishing. A minimal camping fee is charged, and there is a 14-day limit per stay.
Idaho’s Idyllic Sites
- Beaver Dick Park: Five miles west of Rexburg on State Highway 30, you’ll find 30 campsites at this 12-acre preserve, named after “Beaver Dick” Richard Leigh, the last of the real Idaho mountain men. This area is renowned for superior fishing while hiking and wildlife viewing are also recommended. There is a small fee to help with upkeep.
- Craters of the Moon National Preserve: Located in central Idaho near Idaho Falls, you can camp in the unique lava formations of this preserve. Walking trails lead you through the lava, and you can explore the lava tubes (short caves) and view the over 280 animal species or 660 plant types. Fifty-one campsites are available for $10/day or 1/2 price with senior or access permits.
Washington’s Wonderful Campgrounds
- Chehalis City Park: Offering 20 back-in spaces, each site at this park comes with a fire pit, table, water, and power. The shaded sites are near the river for swimming and fishing.
- Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, Moses Lake: This refuge offers numerous sites, some with water and restrooms. Activities include fishing, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and boating. There is a $5 use permit fee, and boating permits may be required.
Wyoming’s Wild Beauty
- Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area: Near Lovell, this area provides astonishing canyon scenery, lake sites, and red sandstone cliffs. A $5 per day fee or National Park Pass is required.
- Potts Landing, Lake Desmet: This quiet campground offers views of the Bighorn Mountains and a sense of seclusion. Swimming, hiking, and rock hounding are popular activities here. There is an $8 fee from May through September.
These budget-friendly trailer/RV sites are just a taste of what’s available in each state. So, why wait? Start exploring, and embrace the joy of camping!