The cost of camping varies from state to state, campground to campground, and even campsite to campsite. Depending on where you plan on staying, what season, and your chosen amenities you may end up paying a lot or a little.
So do campgrounds cost money?
Typically, all campgrounds that have designated camping sites cost money. This helps fund employees and amenities. However, there are a few located on National Forest land, Bureau of Land Management land, or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land which may not cost money. These camping spots do not have designated camping areas and no amenities.
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What Affects the Price of a Campground?
There can many many factors that influence the cost of a campground. One of the biggest influencers is the season. The warm summer months are typically when most people like to camp. Because of this, the campground considers these months their in-season period and can charge a premium during this timeframe.
The location of your campground will also affect the price. Campgrounds that are near attractions, whether natural or man-made, will usually draw a larger crowd and in turn be more costly.
Campgrounds that offer more amenities may charge you a higher fee than those that only offer basic services. Some campgrounds have pools, general stores, and cafe’s while others only offer the land on which to camp and restrooms.
Campsites can vary in price within in each campground. A rustic campsite will cost less than one that has a full hookup including electricity and water.
How to Camp for Free
If you are hoping to camp for free, give dispersed camping a try. This type of camping can be compared to boondocking. Dispersed camping is when you find a location with no designated campsites, that is not owned by a private campground. Using google maps, a paper map, or by talking with rangers you select an uninhabited spot to camp. Dispersed camping is usually done in areas found on land owned and managed by a government entity. The public has legal access to this land and it is legal to camp overnight, there are just no preordained campsites or amenities.
National Forest camping is one location in which campers can typically camp for free. National forests are held in a searchable online registry and shown on Google maps. A simple search can return National forests near you, or at your chosen destination in which you can camp.
National Forests are owned and managed by the US Department of Agriculture. They are protected lands, like National Parks, but they are typically much more open to dispersed camping. A bonus is that National Forests are typically accepting of pets as well.
For even more information on this check out this article we wrote. Is Dispersed Camping Legal In National Parks? We tell you where
Prior to setting out be sure to read all the rules and regulations to be sure camping is truly permitted, talking to rangers or law enforcement in the area may be helpful.
Bureau of Land Management land is another opportunity for dispersed campers. These lands are held and managed by the US Department of the Interior.
Again, a query will locate the Bureau of Land Management held lands for you to locate your perfect campsite. The U.S. Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management publishes a book named “Adventures on America’s Public Lands”. This text provides available locations and directions on how to find these dispersed camping opportunities. Camping on Bureau of Land Management property will often be free unless otherwise noted.
When camping on Bureau of Land Management land or National Forest Land you may have to camp on the side road, backpack or hike in, or find a spot located down a seasonal road or fire road. There will be no designated spots so don’t plan on finding a restroom or water and electricity hookups.
You will want to pre-select your campsite using a map in order to determine the best location to pitch your tent. However, there is no guarantee that your spot will be available when you arrive. You should plan on getting to your selected site early so that if you have to find a plan B you can do so in the daylight; pitching a tent in the dark can be challenging.
How to Safely Camp at a Pull-Off
- Look for a Pull-off. When you are driving through National Forest land or Land Management Bureau property searching for a campsite, start by looking for a pull-off area. It will appear as a semi-cleared area that is not heavily wooded. You will want to be off of the main road a ways, so consider fire roads or seasonal roads in your search for a secluded pull off. If there is space on the roadside you can pull off and camp near your vehicle. If the area is gated you may have to pull off, park, and then hike in, as long as you are not trespassing or breaking any laws. If you are backpacking into an area be sure to leave your car somewhere it is not highly visible or easily accessible to those passing on the main road, you don’t want to make yourself a target for robbery or car theft.
- Finding somewhere safe is also important. Survey the area for any dangers before setting up your tent. Check for large dead trees or branches, known as widowmakers, that could fall over in gusty winds. Don’t camp in a dry or soft creekbed that could become a raging river or flood basin in heavy rains. Finally, make sure you have a safe place to build a fire. Campgrounds may provide fire rings to keep the flames contained, but you won’t have this amenity when you are dispersed camping. Keep yourself and your family safe by surveying the scene and checking for lurking dangers; your best bet is a flat somewhat open grassy area.
- Find somewhere private away from others. This goes along with safety. You don’t want to be highly visible or easily accessible to those passing by as you don’t want to make yourself an easy target. Additionally, other campers can be careless with things such as garbage or fire. You don’t want reckless neighbors attracting bears to your campground or setting things ablaze.
National Parks are a relatively low-cost camping option. They are usually not free, but many parks offer a yearly pass that you can obtain through state license plate renewal fees for under $50. If you are a frequent camper who spends your time wandering, you can visit many national or state parks without breaking the bank.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also possess land and campgrounds. In most cases, this camping will not be free, but it shouldn’t be expensive either. However, these campgrounds are not available in every state.
Because of their mission and services, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land almost always located on a reservoir, lake, or river. This means great opportunities for those who enjoy water activities such as fishing, swimming, and boating.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds have great reviews and are usually clean. They offer amenities including restrooms, picnic tables, and fire rings. However, some of their sites may be more primitive.
Their campgrounds can be reserved through recreation.gov, their online location, and reservation system.
Sometimes, city or public parks allow one free overnight stay. However, this can be a bit risky and there are many rules and regulations you must abide by.
The first thing you want to do is see if it is legal to spend the night on the public property. Larger cities will likely have laws that prohibit loitering or sleeping overnight. The city’s website should notify you of any laws in place. If you cannot find any clear rules, contact the local police department.
Because of the risk of others approaching you, as you are camping out in the open, it may be beneficial to camp in your car if you are staying at a public or city park. Keep all of your belongings out of sight and securely stored. Do your best to stay safe and vigilant.
Parking lot camping is a free one night option in some cases. Usually, parking lot camping only applies to those who have an RV or camper or plan to camp in their car. If you just need a free spot to stay overnight consider a large and open parking lot, such as those of a large department store or casino. The camping will obviously have no amenities, but it is a free and quick option if you simply need to get off the road. Remember to check all laws and rules prior to pulling in for the night as some parking lots don’t allow loitering.
The Average Nightly Cost of Campgrounds for Each State
Below is the average price for a one night campground stay for each state, followed by a few free campsite options. Before heading out, check with the listed campground or campsite to make sure that overnight camping is allowed and to verify the cost.
Alabama – average price: $23.00 /night
- Blue Creek Park, Northport, AL
- Clear Creek Campground, Jasper, AL
- Barbour WMA, Clayton, AL
Alaska – average price: $20.00 /night
- Lower Chatanika River State Rec Area, Fairbanks, AK
- Cripple Creek, Fairbanks, AK
- Bertha Creek, Hope, AK
Arizona – average price: $20.00 /night
- Pot Cove, Golden Valley, AZ
- Hidden Tank, Williams, AZ
- Forest Road 83, Happy Jack, AZ
Arkansas – average price: $30.00 /night
- Hobbs State Park Conservation Area, Rogers, AR
- Richland Creek Recreation Area, Witts Springs, AR
- River Ridge, Cecil, AR
California – average price: $34.00 /night
- Ivanpah East Dry Lake, Calada, CA
- Rasor Road, Baker, CA
- Lee Vining Dispersed, Lee Vining, CA
Colorado – average price: $30.00 /night
- County Road 103, Kremmling, CO
- Forest Road 328, Boulder, CO
- Forest Road 328, Boulder, CO
Connecticut – average price: $40.00 /night
Delaware – average price: $37.00 /night
- Redden State Forest, Georgetown, DE
Florida – average price: $50.00 /night
- Hampton Tract, Lakeland, FL
- Deep Creek Preserve, Arcadia, FL
- Hatbill Park, Christmas, FL
Georgia – average price: $29.00 /night
- Swords Recreation Area, Buckhead, GA
- Ocmulgee River Camp, Monticello, GA
- Barrington County Park, Townsend, GA
Idaho – average price: $20.00 /night
- Lake Creek Dispersed Camping, McCall, ID
- Puzzler Gulch Dispersed, Stanley, ID
- Lochsa River, Kooskia, ID
Illinois – average price: $29.00 /night
- Turkey Bayou Campground, Pomona, Illinois
Indiana – average price: $27.00 /night
Iowa – average price: $26.00 /night
- Hickory Hills Park, New Virginia, Iowa
- David Bates Memorial Park, Union, IA
- Eagle Lake State Game Management Area, Britt, IA
Kansas – average price: $19.00 /night
- Marysville City Park, Marysville, KS
- Woodson State Fishing Lake, Yates Center, KS
- Pottawatomie State Fishing Lake No.2, Manhattan, Kansas
Kentucky – average price: $30.00 /night
- Lake Mauzy East, Morganfield, Kentucky
- Wilson Creek Recreation Area, Elk Horn, KY
Louisiana – average price: $27.00 /night
- Turkey Trot Complex, Homer, Louisiana
- Corney Lake Complex, Bernice, Louisiana
- Pearson Camp, Dry Prong, LA
Maine – average price: $38.00 /night
Maryland – average price: $43.00 /night
Massachusetts – average price: $40.00 /night
Michigan – average price: $20.00 /night
- Claybanks Township Park, New Era, Michigan
- Green Road, National Forest, Free Soil, Michigan
- French Farm Lake, Mackinaw City, Michigan
Minnesota – average price: $31.00 /night
- Big Rice Lake, Virginia, MN
- Old Crossing Treaty Park, Red Lake Falls, MN
Mississippi – average price: $22.00 /night
- Caney Creek 562, Forest, Mississippi
- Rocky Springs Campground, Hermanville, Mississippi
Missouri – average price: $29.00 /night
- Pilot Grove City Park, Pilot Grove, MO
- Old Town Access Area, Rich Hill, Missouri
- Paddy Creek Recreation Area, Licking, MO
Montana – average price: $24.00 /night
- North Bootlegger Campground, Shelby, MT
- Nelson Creek Recreation Area, Circle, MT
Nebraska – average price: $20.00 /night
- Cub Creek Recreation Area, Springview, NE
Nevada – average price: $17.00 /night
- Diamond Valley, Eureka, NV
- Lunar Crater, Tonopah, NV
- Gleason Creek, Ely, Nevada
New Hampshire – average price $30.00 /night
New Jersey – average price $40.00 /night
New Mexico – average price: $19.00 /night
- Forest Road 242, Tijeras, New Mexico
- Calaveras Canyon, Jemez Springs, NM
New York – average price: $41.00 /night
- Balsam Pond, Cincinnatus, NY
- Morgan Hill, Truxton, NY
North Carolina – average price: $38.00 /night
- Butner WMA, Butner, North Carolina
North Dakota – average price: $19.00 /night
- Michigan City Park, Michigan, North Dakota
- Scoria Pit, Medora, ND
- Camels Hump Lake WMA, Sentinel Butte, ND
Ohio – average price: $31.00 /night
- Ronsheim Campground, Jewett, Ohio
Oklahoma – average price: $26.00 /night
- American Horse Lake, Geary, OK
- Lake Vincent, Arnett, OK
- Black Kettle Campground, Crawford, OK
Oregon – average price: $33.00 /night
- Little John Sno Park, Mount Hood Parkdale, OR
- South Lake, Beaver, OR
Pennsylvania – average price: $26.00 /night
- Laurel Run Road, East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
Rhode Island – average price: $40.00 /night
South Carolina – average price: $39.00 /night
- Guilliard Lake, Jamestown, SC
South Dakota – average price: $30.00 /night
- Miller City Park, Miller, SD
Tennessee – average price: $28.00 /night
- Cane Hollow, Sparta, Tennessee
- Jackson Island, Spring City, Tennessee
Texas – average price: $23.00 /night
- Brushie Prairie, Frost, Texas
- Lake Limestone Park, Marquez, TX
Utah – average price: $25.00 /night
- Beas Lewis Flat, Torrey, Utah
- East Fork Sevier River, Bryce, UT
Vermont – average price: $25.00 /night
Virginia – average price: $35.00 /night
- Oronoco Campground, Vesuvius, VA
Washington – average price: $28.00 /night
- Merrill Lake Campground, Cougar, Washington
- Tunerville Campground, Grays River, WA
- Marble Mountain Sno-Park, Cougar, WA
West Virginia – average price: $31.00 /night
- Summerville Dam Site, Summersville, WV
- Albans Roadside Park, St. Albans, West Virginia
Wisconsin – average price: $30.00 /night
- County Road O Landing, Grantsburg, WI
Wyoming – average price: $26.00 /night
- Little Bald Mountain, Dayton, WY
- Outlaw Cave Campground, Kaycee, WY
- Tongue Canyon Campground, Dayton, WY
Finding the Campground with the Most Bang for Your Buck
Camping can be free and/or inexpensive if you know how to find the beat campground and when to reserve it. The campgrounds location, the amenities provided, and the season all play a role in determining the nightly cost.
Free camping on government land is an option as well. However, these campsites often have no amenities and you are on your own in the backcountry. It is vital that you check all laws, rules, and regulations prior to camping in a national forest, Bureau of Land Management preserve, or US Army Corps of Engineers land.
Public or city park camping or parking lot camping is not ideal. These options, when legally allowed, should only be used as a last resort to quickly get off the road and spend a single night.
Camping, or a camping lifestyle, can suit any budget. The average campground cost per night reflects and average for the state. You may be able to find free camping or luxury glamping.
It also may not be worth selecting the cheapest state to camp just for the price. Many campers choose their location based on available activities, the location of relatives, climate, weather, and even food attractions.
You will want to take all of these factors into account prior to selecting a campground. You can be thrifty or splurge, it all comes down to personal bias.
Bear in mind that when you go camping, you are not only paying for the price of the campground stay but also other items.
You will need to take food, possibly rent gear, and will likely want to spend money on local day trips or attractions. Depending on how much gear you own, whether or not you plan on catching or foraging for your meals, and the activities you want to participate in, camping can be far from free.