Camping off the Beaten Path & Discovering Unique Campsites with Vanna Mae

Published on June 23rd, 2021

RV camping across the country can be an exciting way to see the world and experience a new place from the comfort of your RV. But planning where to camp can be an overwhelming task at times. The more I travel across the United States, the more I’m discovering hidden campsites and gems that are often overlooked and underbooked. In this article, I wanted to share with you some tools I use to find great camping sites off the beaten path.

Woman and her cat pose in front of her Class C RV

Know Where You’re Headed

Before I start any adventure on the road, I always try to plan ahead and have an idea of where I am going for peace of mind. The great thing about this lifestyle is you can be flexible and have some unique places to camp by doing research ahead of time. 

How I start planning my trip is by figuring out what area of the country I want to visit and make sure it’s within my drive time limit. A drive time limit is the max amount of time you are willing to drive to get to your next site. My drive time limit is 4 to 6 hours max. I try my best to leave early in the morning and get to my campsite before dark.  If a place I want to travel to is more than 6 hours away, I will split my days to get there. That’s the beauty of this lifestyle, is you can embrace flexibility and take your time getting to places you want to go to. 

Tools to Reference

When looking for campsites, always keep an open mind that there are plenty of campgrounds and that there are many options. This is a chance to be creative with where you want to stay. While a lot of popular campgrounds might not be available, there are plenty of small hidden gems all over the country that would love the chance to host you. And beautiful dispersed camping to plug out of society and enjoy nature in all its wonder and glory. There are always options out there, so if your first pick isn’t available, there’s always a chance to find something new.

Google Maps

My number one go-to to discover new campgrounds is Google Maps. Google Maps can help you find all types of campgrounds along your route. The biggest advantage is being able to read the reviews, accommodations, and viewing pictures of the campground. You can also create lists to organize and pin all the places you’ve visited. Google Maps is a great tool to use alongside other campsite apps. It gives you the ability to double-check if the campground is open and to check the reviews.

Free Roam

A useful campsite app to have on your smartphone is Free Roam. Free Roam is a great free app that has many features. You can use Free Roam to discover campsites, dispersed camping,  dump stations, facilities, and plenty of other helpful features while on the road. Other useful features they have are seeing cell phone service in an area and the weather. They are also adding new features like a forum to talk to other nomads and get reviews on places you might want to stay.

Weather Apps

It’s very important to know if there are any major weather occurrences happening along your route. It’s a good idea to have fast and accurate weather apps. One of my favorites is Highway Weather, it’s a free app (they also have a paid subscription) that helps you track the weather along your route. Another great weather app I use is MyRadar, this helps you see a radar view of anywhere in the world. Both apps have helped me plan my travel timing, wait for the weather to pass, or skip a state altogether to avoid any major weather.

Dump Stations and Gas Apps

There are a couple of other apps to mention, including RV Dump Sites. This app helps you find dump stations in your area. Another useful app is Gas Buddy, this is a great app for finding the best gas prices along your route. Both apps are free and great tools to have on your smartphone.

Class C RV parked next to a sign reading Cactus Inn

Have Your Info Ready

When I find a campground I would like to stay at, I always make a call to the campground during the morning hours to check availability. Before calling the campground, try to estimate what time you plan to get there, know the size of your rig, and how long you are planning to stay. This helps the camp host find the perfect spot for you to stay and if they can accommodate you.

Consider Boondocking For More Flexibility

A great alternative to camping at an RV Park is Boondocking. Boondocking means that your RV is off-grid with no hookups. There are some great advantages to having an RV prepared for boondocking. Your options for finding camping becomes bigger and you have the ability to stay in some pretty unique places you wouldn’t otherwise. And you don’t need a lot to stay off-grid, just make sure to have plenty of water, food (meal prepping is a great option), a power source for off-grid (it doesn’t have to be expensive, just a way to charge your devices) and time to explore a new place. Also, throw in a good chair and a book to read and you’re good to go.

Harvest Hosts

My favorite apps to find amazing boondocking spots is using Harvest Hosts. Harvest Hosts is an annual membership where you can stay at farms, wineries, museums, breweries, and all different types of small mom and pop businesses all across the country. All they ask is to support their small business.  

The one great element that Harvest Host has is a chance to meet new people, build connections and possibly build roots in a new town or countryside. There were so many places I stayed along my route by using Harvest Hosts. My experiences with Harvest Hosts have changed my outlook on America. There are so many great people across the country and so many amazing small towns to visit, support, and explore. Harvest Hosts is a great first step for people that are new to boondocking and still want to stay around people and get to socialize. (You can get 15% off your Harvest Hosts membership with code RVSHARE!)

Barn surrounded by hills and trees

Free Campsites

If you are looking for more remote, immersed in nature camping, the apps I mentioned above (Google Maps and Free Roam) are a great way to find free boondocking off-the-grid camping. Also, the website FreeCampsite.Net is helpful in finding campgrounds for free.

With a bit of luck, good weather, and taking time to research, I have been able to camp in beautiful and remote dispersed camping sites with cell service and amazing views for free. Always make sure no matter where you camp, leave no trace and leave your site more beautiful than how you found it.

Class C RV parked in a grassy field

No matter if you want to stay local and explore your hometown, or travel across the country and discover new places, there’s plenty of ways to find amazing camping spots that are off the beaten path. I hope that this article is helpful and gives you the confidence you need to find a perfect camping site near you. Till next time!

About the author: Vanna Mae is a visual artist and influencer, traveling around the country in her 19ft Class C RV with her cat Indigo. Keep up with their adventures on Instagram @vannamaeart and on YouTube.

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