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8 Cheapest Ways to Go Camping on a Budget

8 Cheapest Ways to Go Camping on a Budget

If you’re anything like us, you’re constantly looking for the best deal or way to save a few bucks. Every dollar we can save means more money we can put toward making memories and adventures on the road. We’ve found several ways to enjoy ourselves while camping on a budget. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to have an incredible time with those you love most.

Today, we will share eight cheap ways to go camping on a budget. Let’s get started!

What Is the Cheapest Way to Go Camping?

The cheapest way to go camping will probably depend on the gear you already have and where you want to go. Generally speaking, the absolute cheapest way to camp would be to sleep under the stars in a homemade cowboy bedroll on public land; no special gear or reservations are required. Similarly, car camping is another cheap way to use what you already have to have an adventure. The cheapest way to camp with an RV would be to boondock off-grid on public land.

However, most people probably don’t want to rough it too much and are really looking for the best ways to experience a pleasant camping trip without breaking the bank. Keep reading for our best principles for getting the most out of any budget camping trip.

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How Much Does a Week-Long Camping Trip Cost?

There are many factors to consider regarding the costs of a week-long camping trip. Costs can vary dramatically depending on when, where, and how you’re camping. A rustic tent site at a state park may only cost $10 to $15 per night, putting you around $70-$120 for a week-long camping trip. On the other hand, a spacious and luxurious RV site at an RV park in the Florida Keys could cost over $100 per night, meaning over $700 for a week of camping. There are also plenty of spots on public lands where you can camp for free.

Luckily, camping is an activity that provides a tremendous amount of flexibility when it comes to controlling costs. Whether you want a luxurious or natural setting, you can find spots that provide both. In addition, you can prepare your own foods to save money and avoid eating at expensive restaurants to cut your costs further.

Where In the US Can You Camp Year-Round for Free?

There are free boondocking spots all over the country. However, most are west of the Mississippi River. States like Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Oregon have some of the best spots for free camping. However, summers can be brutal in some parts of these states.

Luckily, many of these states have drastic elevation changes. For example, the average temperature in July for Phoenix, Ariz., is 106 degrees. However, it’s much cooler if you climb 6,000 feet in elevation and head north to Flagstaff during the summer. The average temperature in July for Flagstaff, Ariz., is only 82 degrees. 

It may take some planning, but it’s possible to camp year-round for free in many of these states. While saving money, you can enjoy incredible views and spacious campsites. Who wouldn’t love that?

Truck camper driving down dirt road at sunset
Some strategic planning can help you save on expenses while camping.

8 Cheapest Ways to Go Camping on a Budget

We’ve found some tips and tricks to save money on our adventures. You don’t have to spend a chunk of change to make memories and have an incredible time with your loved ones. Let’s look at eight ways you can go camping on a budget.

1. Tent Camping

Tent camping is one of the cheapest forms of camping with a shelter, especially when compared to the costs of RV ownership and camping. You can get a high-quality tent for less than a single RV payment. You’ll likely get years of use out of the tent and be able to make some incredible memories without having to break the bank. Alternatively, a cheap tent off Facebook Marketplace or from Walmart may be all you need to get outdoors for a few weekends.

Tent camping sites are typically much less expensive, and you have more flexibility in where you pitch your tent.

2. Borrow Camping Gear

One of the best ways to save money is to borrow camping gear from friends or family. This is especially true if you or your fellow campers are new to camping. You don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars and discover that you or someone in your group hates the entire experience. Start small and buy gear as needed once you find out what you need.

If you know someone who’s a camping enthusiast, it may be a good idea to camp with them a few times at first. They’ll likely provide you access to gear and equipment you don’t already have. In addition, they’ll be able to provide guidance and direction so you don’t waste your money on camping items that aren’t worth it.

3. Boondock on BLM Land

Another great way to go camping on a budget is to take advantage of BLM land camping and other public lands. As we mentioned earlier, many of these spots are in the western part of the country, but they’re typically free. Some places require you to get a permit, but the fees associated with this are a fraction of normal camping fees.

This is an excellent option for RVers tired of paying expensive camping fees or dealing with reservations. These are typically first-come, first-served spots with stay limits between five and 14 days. The savings can add up if you spend most of your camping on these lands. Just remember, if you’re tent camping there are no facilities in these locations and you will need to practice Leave No Trace.

Pro Tip: Download these Best Boondocking Apps and Websites for Amazing Free Camping on your next adventure.

Mortons on the Move RV boondocking
Give boondocking a try to camp for free.

4. Stay Close to Home

Whether hauling a massive RV or simply car or tent camping, filling up your fuel tank can be a painful experience. One of the best ways to minimize these costs is to find campsites close to home. Depending on where you live, you can pitch a tent or set up your RV at home. Some of the best camping adventures are less about where you’re camping and more about the people camping with you.

If your go-to campground requires a long drive, give some local campgrounds a try. You may discover a hidden gem that provides many of the features or amenities you need in a campground. Not only will you save money, but this also allows you to save time. You could find that you’re able to camp more often by staying closer to home.

Pro Tip: Stay as close to home as possible by trying backyard camping! Staycations are still great fun, and if you forgot to pack something, home is just a hop, skip, and a jump away.

5. Cook Instead of Eating Out

Eating out may be a fun experience, but it’s insanely expensive. Why pay $10 to $15 for a sandwich when you can feed your entire family instead? Embrace the camping experience by crafting a menu ahead of time that you can prepare at your campsite. You can save a lot of money by cooking over a campfire or bringing cooking equipment.

We’re 100% confident that hotdogs and other foods taste better when cooked over a campfire. Cooking meals over a fire or while camping can be challenging. In addition to the financial savings when camping on a budget, you can also grow your skills as a chef.  

Pro Tip: Tired of paying for firewood? Go smokeless and woodless with propane fire pits. They also work when fire bans would squash your camping fun.

6. Stay at State Campgrounds or County Parks

We’ve seen a massive increase in fees for campsites in recent years. Unfortunately, campsites typically follow the rules for supply and demand. The massive increase in demand has driven some campsite fees through the roof. Luckily, some other options are worth considering when private campgrounds are too costly.

It may be easy to overlook state or county parks when looking for campsites. While they may offer fewer amenities or luxuries, their budget-friendly prices can be easier on your wallet. However, make sure you check the fees when making a reservation. We’ve seen some state and county park campgrounds that were rather expensive.

Motorhome parked at campsite
Campground fees can add up quickly, but state or county parks can help you save money.

7. Camp During the Shoulder Seasons

Summer is the peak camping season for most of the country. Schools are out, and parents are more likely to take time off from work for family vacations. Unfortunately, this means that campgrounds can be incredibly busy. Not only will you likely be staying in a crowded campground, but you’ll be paying premium prices to do so.

A way to save money while camping is to take advantage of discounts campgrounds provide during shoulder seasons. Shoulder seasons are typically the weeks or months between the busy seasons. This may mean that you might not be able to take advantage of the pool or other amenities during your trip. However, the financial savings and not sharing the campground with as many people can be worth it.

8. Look for Free Activities Near Your Campsite

It seems there are plenty of places to spend your money everywhere you look near a campground. Experiences like horseback riding, tubing, or exploring a cave and the businesses who run them are happy to take your money. The cost of these activities can really add up, especially if you’re camping on a budget as a family.

Luckily, you can often find many free activities near your campsite. Activities like hiking, biking, and fishing can be a great way to spend time outdoors and not spend money. In addition, many state, national, and county parks often have ranger-led activities that are free to enjoy. Not only will you save money, but you’ll learn something too!

Mortons on the Move biking in desert
Biking, hiking, fishing, and more are great free activities you can do while camping.

Do Camping Memberships Really Save You Money?

Camping memberships can save you money if you plan to camp frequently at affiliated campsites. Membership programs typically offer discounts or special rates on camping fees and other perks to members. However, memberships cost money.

The overall savings from a camping membership will depend on the membership cost, the cost of camping fees at affiliated sites, the frequency of your camping trips, and the value of the additional benefits offered by the membership program. While camping memberships can save you money, you could be wasting your money if you’re not using it enough.

If you have to do more than you normally would to get the value out of your membership, it may not be worth it. For instance, if you plan to camp 4-5 trips per year, but you need to camp at least 7 times to “save money”, that’s 2-3 more trips you have to take to end up saving money with the membership. The costs of those extra trips will outweigh the savings.

You must do your research and some cost comparisons before committing to a camping membership. This is the only way to ensure that it will save you money in the long run.

How We Plan our Full-Time RV Travels - One Year on the Road

Plan Your Next Camping Trip on a Budget

As you can see, it’s possible to plan a camping trip on a budget. While it can be challenging at first, you’ll discover new tips and tricks for cutting costs and still having an incredible time. 

While having an unlimited camping budget would be nice, that’s not the reality for most campers. Mother Nature provides some priceless sunsets and other experiences you can enjoy no matter where you’re camping.

What are some of the cheapest tactics you’ve used to go camping on a budget? Tell us your tips in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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