Sierra Nevada Airstreams -> TT Owner's Guide -> Living

Recreation with vehicles in the Sierra Nevada and American Great Basin areas

Terry's Tips

Date: Thu, 06 Mar 2003 11:42:45 -0500
From: Terry Tyler <>
Subject: Bargains
on 03/04/03 7:27 AM,

We haver found bargains all over the country, but especially at city, town, village, community and county parks. If you ever decide to follow the Oregon Trail from beginning to end, you'll stumble onto dozens of them. We've stayed at each of the freebies along the Oregon Trail during the last four years. We learned there are free CGs along other Trails, i.e. Lewis & Clark, Sante Fe, California, etc.

Many of the free city parks are full service - even with public showers and bathrooms; some have a central water faucet and dump station; while others have merely a safe place to park. We've stayed in city parks across the street from the town hall and rural parks where no one was within miles of us but the stars seemed close enough to touch.

In Nebraska, we purchased a camping permit which paid for itself many times over. Our average cost per night was less than $1 and we usually stayed in a campground with a water faucet and a dump station.

Keep in mind that many RVers are not interested in anything but full service campgrounds. As a result, they're not looking for anything less than that. One of the things we learned long ago was to seek out other boondockers when we wanted real answers to questions such as you are asking.

As for businesses, we've found the word "campground" usually translates into a safe place to park where there are no facilities. Some of the places we've tracked down were too far off the beaten path and we never returned. I'll mention them as examples in hopes you'll keep an open mind instead of being one of those folks who leap to conclusions based on a few experiences or just reading about a few experiences.

Here are the examples:

1 - A logging company in Maine used to let RVers park where they were not felling trees. Those areas were so far out in nowheresville, that we never got enthusiastic about it, plus they weren't near kayaking places we liked.

2 - A propane company's switching site near Albany, NY used to let Rvers park overnight in the public picnic area - on weekends. Some years it was okay, other years it wasn't. The guard on duty decided. Maybe we didn't give him enough cookies the last time our group stayed there.

3 - Power and Light Companies throughout the United States offer free or low cost camping near their distribution stations. There is an inexpensive book put out by the federal government's Superintendent of Documents which lists them. Without the book, these sites can be found by following the power lines and using a detailed map showing lakes and dams.

4 - We've seen RVers parked in back of the Museum in larger cities (even Key West). The Pima Air Museum in Tucson is another. When we see RVs parked in non-traditional places, my curiosity gets the better of me and strangers get a friendly, unexpected visit.

5 - We have asked for and obtained permission to park overnight at all kinds of restaurants and fuel stations in the the USA, Canada and deep into old Mexico and along the Baja. Some restaurants openly target their invitation to Airstreamers to stop for the night, i.e. Malta, NY and to come in for breakfast each morning.

6 - We have stayed overnight at ferry crossing parking lots up and down the coast. A slightly different place is the island parking lot at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in Virgina. They have an 18 hour parking limit for fishermen. Anyone can be a fisherman.

7 - In most states there are National Forest Campgrounds which don't charge anything. These are easy to locate on an AAA map. Undoubtedly, the Superintendent of Documents has a listing of them, but it may take some digging to get the correct title. We've stayed at NF CGs in Florida and the Carolinas. Sometimes they are less than a block off a US highway, but more often, they are in a real forest. The only way to know is to visit them.

8 - The most primitive Corps of Engineers Campgrounds are usually free. We've found when there are several COE CGs in a geographic area, one of them will be free. Camping World has a book ($15) listing all 900+ of these CGs.

9 - There are 16 free unimproved campsites in the Adirondack Mountains near Lake Clear off route 3. Their only marking is a small sign on a tree near each campsite. That was the only information we were told when we first started looking. We went down every single dirt side road off Route 3 and finally found them.

I mention this only because if you can find places like these which are causually mentioned in passing, you can find similar campsites in ANY state.

10 - We've parked at fairgrounds and fish camps all around the country. Fairgrounds sometimes charge a fee for full hookups. There used to be a booklet listing them. Many fairgrounds are not listed in the booklet and don't charge a fee. There's another booklet listing fairgrounds on the rodeo circuit where camping is listed as an option. There's a County Fish Camp near Tallahassee, FL which is free and has flush toilets, but when raining I won't chance getting stuck in the mud.

One time in Montana on our way back from Alaska, we pulled into a fairground and found a group of teenager boys hooting it up around the picnic tables. They told us that RVers often parked there and they'd be leaving shortly. It was a pleasant and quiet night for us. The local cop welcomed us. He was father to one of the teenagers who told him we were there.

11 - Another often overlooked option is to stay at campgrounds which normally charge a fee, but only charge during the season. We've stayed for free at COE CGs during the weeks just after and just before the season.

12 - We've had our share of working as a volunteer in exchange for a campsite. Typically, the volunteer part is 4 hours a day for 5 days a week. In our opinion, that's an expensive campsite when my hourly wage is calculated - UNLESS we have a VERY BIG reason for needing to stay in that particular geographic area.

13 - Hikers and Kayakers know about campgrounds that are not listed in any commercial directory. As an Adirondack 46er, I've stayed at each of the Adirondack Mountain Club campgrounds. One of them is designed for RVers.

Regardless of the state, all it takes to find these places is homework and persistence. Each of us has an innate detective gene. It's part of our DNA.

14 - Astronomy Clubs have favorite places for star gazing. A casual reading of any Astronomy magazine invariably shows a gathering place used by a local group. If there's a tent, then I look for a small motor home or travel trailer. A picture is worth a thousand words. Magazine Editors have always replied to me when I've asked for the exact place the picture was taken.

15 - We've stayed at casino campgrounds in the southwest where they don't charge a dime for full hookups. Of course they expect we'll spend our money in the casino and buy food in their restaurant. Some casinos require that we obtain a parking permit (free) to use their campground. Then, we get junk mail for a year. Other casinos could care less - and still others will charge $5 for a full hookup site (but the meals are at give away prices). Go figure.

16 - We've stayed on Bureau of Land Management Land (BLM) in Why, Arizona. We've never stayed on BLM land where they provided a dump station and dumpster. To stay in those areas, there is a $25 annual permit. In Why, there is a village park that charges a nominal fee to use the dump station. RVers routinely refill their water tanks there or at the local gas station faucet located away from the station itself.

George, these few recollections are only a smattering of what's commonly available to folks who pay even the slightest attention to alternative options. Once into the lifestyle, they are everywhere - BUT ONLY if an open mind is maintained and we don't get bent out of shape by a few of the inevitable snags.

To my way of thinking, attitude is the key to enjoying the game and finding a bit of adventure in boondocking. Everyone is different. What turns some people on, turns others off. So be it.

Although Sandie and I have a good time with the uncertainty that goes with not knowing how we'll figure things out or where we'll stay the next night - we aren't reckless and we try not to do dumb things. After all, we aren't spring chickens and we carry our own electric wheel chair with us.

For example, we'll make reservations during peak season in Florida when we want to be at specific places at a specific time. In contrast, when it's not peak season and we're not in a densely populated part of the continent, there are more options and opportunities to experience unpredictable situations and challenge our creativity. That's when our enthusiasm for figuring things out on the fly is given free rein.

On more than one occasion during the course of a courtesy parking visit, the family will share their list of campground gems not found in any directory. Sometimes, this is a bonanza of significant proportions.

My suggestion is to have fun, stay sharp, think smart and don't restrict your thinking to "same old, same old." Life's an adventure to be lived with gusto and enthusiasm. What that is - differs for each of us.


reprinted by permission, thanks Terry.

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