Living in National Forests for Free


Photograph by Wendell


Did you know that there are free accommodations available to anyone in the US 365 days a year, nearly everywhere?

You bet, they’re called National Forests, and nearly every one of them has free camping. Here’s how it works.

First, find the nearest National Forest in your area. Grab a map, or if available, stop in at a ranger station and ask about where the camping is. Most have places you can simply drive to, set up a tent or self-sustained RV (don’t expect any hookups, including electricity or water) if it fits, and make this your new home for 14 days. That’s the typical limit on these places, 14 days at a time, and then you’ve got to move around for a few days (though in some places, it’s a 14 day limit per year, but who’s really out there counting?).

Every state has some amount of National Forest, though in the Great Plains from Texas to North Dakota they’re admittedly more rare.

Living this way may not be a realistic longterm solution. You’ll have no power, no access to running water except rivers and streams, and certainly no hot showers, or anything else that requires electricity. Certainly, if you’re living in a solar powered, sustainable rig, you could pull this off. You could rig up rain collecting barrels that might even be able to feed into your holding tanks. And finding dumping stations is not as hard as you might think–most RV parks will allow you to dump for $5 or $10. But unless you’re independently wealthy, you’ll still need to drive longer than usual to get to towns where you can find WiFi or otherwise make your income.

Still, to save many a dollar by taking advantage of our nation’s natural areas is certainly not the worst way to live. Aside from being free, National Forests are often among the most beautifully preserved of what this country has to offer.

Map of US National Forests

The National Forest Service has a great interactive map of all National Forest locations in the United States, including territories and Alaska.

screenshot of an interactive map of national forests in the United States
The US Forest Service provides this interactive Google Map showing you the locations of all national forests.