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  1. Default Advice sought for camping solo - cheap safe sites

    In a few weeks I will be leaving for a cross country road trip - basically around the perimeter of the lower 48. I am a woman who will be traveling alone (with a dog) and to keep costs down I will be camping along the way. I'm new to camping and advice is appreciated. The length of my trip will come down to how cheaply I can camp. I know that dispersed camping is free but I'm not comfortable doing that alone. I think the safest way is to stay at campgrounds near other campers in case someone sees that I'm alone and bothers me.

    So, my questions:
    -Does anyone know of resources where I can find cheap ($10 a night) sites?

    -Are cabin tents ever prohibited in certain parks?

    -In general, when dispersed camping, how far away do you have to go from your car?

    Any advice, thoughts, suggestions are welcomed!
    Thank you in advance.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,546

    Default

    Welcome to RTA!

    Generally, dispersed camping is only allowed in certain national forest and Bureau of Land Management properties, and most of those that allow it are in the western portion of the US. Each management organization has their own rules about where you can camp, how far you have to be from water, where the car needs to be in relationship to the campsite (usually not near any reasonable road). When we've done that (and it was a LONG time ago), we were backpackers who hiked into an area and set up a campsite.

    The least expensive campgrounds usually run $10-20/night and are run by national forests. The least expensive ones have a pit toilet and maybe you will be lucky to have a faucet with running water. In the west, you can find these within 10-15 miles of a major roadway. There are also state park campgrounds that will run about $15-25 per night (and more expensive in California, particularly the ones in the beach areas). We used to find western campgrounds in guidebooks written by Tom Stienstra - California Camping, Oregon Camping.

    I don't think I've ever been in a government-run campground (national park, national forest, state park or state forest) that put regulations on the type of tent used. There were some that asked you not to use particular types of tent spikes, there are always regulations about whether you can or cannot have a campfire and what kind, and most will tell you where your car can park in the site.

    Commercial campgrounds that allow tents, however, will charge more, have more amenities (like the shower you know you will need every few days), and some WILL tell you what kind of tent you can/cannot have. (We were turned away from one RV park because our rig was 7 years old. Even though ours was well taken care of, they had a rule about "no RVs over 5 years old". Hoity-toity place, we were glad not to stay there!)

    BTW, on the shower issue ... truck stops will charge $5-10 for a shower, but it will include everything you need like towels, soap, etc. Bring your own flip-flops.


    Donna

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,059

    Default A way of getting started

    Quote Originally Posted by EpicGirl View Post
    In a few weeks I will be leaving for a cross country road trip - basically around the perimeter of the lower 48.
    Welcome to the Great American RoadTrip Forum! How long a journey is this epic journey envisioned for?
    I'm new to camping and advice is appreciated. The length of my trip will come down to how cheaply I can camp.
    OK, well, maybe you can share how much $$ you have to start this adventure?

    I should tell you that most solo roadtrippers are women -- many of them are members of this forum.

    Here are some more resources to get this process in gear:

    Overview: Solo trippers
    Tips for traveling with a dog

    <<-Does anyone know of resources where I can find cheap ($10 a night) sites?>>

    BLM campgrounds are rarely more than about $8.00 per night. I've included the link for the California sites so you can begin to get an idea about what is offered.

    There are several free campgrounds web sites -- you have to interpret the information a bit -- but again here's a good resource to get started:

    USA -- Free Camping


    -Are cabin tents ever prohibited in certain parks?
    I've never seen a restriction for one. But as a solo traveler -- why would you be using one?

    -In general, when dispersed camping, how far away do you have to go from your car?
    Five feet? Seriously, I've never seen a restriction in that way.

    Every government entity has rules for dispersed camping. Here are the rules for the USFS for Kentucky -- again, just an example.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default cheap sleeps

    Quote Originally Posted by EpicGirl View Post
    -Does anyone know of resources where I can find cheap ($10 a night) sites?
    As has been mentioned, BLM sites are great for no frills, cheap camping. The only downside is the tend to be in extremely remote areas (not necessarily a bad thing at all) and there are very few of them once you get out of the west.

    State Parks can be a great value, as they often include things like showers, and sometimes laundry and other basic amenities, for a relatively low price. However, each state is different, and in some states they are no longer a particularly cheap options. Like Donna mentioned, in California, you're looking at $35 a night. I decided not to camp in Georgia a couple years ago because they were charging around $30, and I actually found a cheap motel not far away for the same price!

    However, even there, if a place seems expensive, there may be other options nearby. At one CA state park I stayed at last summer, they had a second "environmental" campground, several miles removed from the main area of the park, but it was only $8, and it still included entry into the main part of the park, where we returned for showers, etc.

    Another great place to look for great low cost options are campgrounds run by local governments - like city or county parks. Often these are under $20 and are very underused. For example, I camped at a county park over this Memorial Day weekend, I didn't have a reservation (they didn't take them) and there were only a couple others at the whole park. Meanwhile, a State Park with more than 100 campsites just 10 miles away was completely booked solid. The downside is that often even the local "experts" don't know about them, so it can take a bit of research to find them.

    -Are cabin tents ever prohibited in certain parks?
    I've never seen such a restriction, but I would agree that a cabin-style tent would be an odd choice for a solo trip.

    -In general, when dispersed camping, how far away do you have to go from your car?
    It will vary by park. In the link Mark provided, you have to be at least 300 feet from a "developed road." Technically, there isn't a distance you have to be away from the car, but realistically, you usually aren't allowed to drive off a developed road.

    Any advice, thoughts, suggestions are welcomed!
    Regarding showers, in all my years of camping, I've yet to go the Truck Stop shower route. I usually end up at a campground with shower facilities at least every few days, so it really is rarely an issue. However, even when I haven't stayed at a campground with showers, usually the campground staff can direct you to local places where showers are available, usually for a just a couple bucks. Those recommendations have led me to places like local health clubs, swimming pools, and even a laundromat.

    One more word of advice, the Free Camping site Mark linked to is one you have to use with a little caution. Many of the recommended sites are nothing more than parking lots that allow overnight stays. There are also some good tips and campgrounds listed, and it's a worthwhile resource, just make sure you're actually getting a real campground.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
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    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,059

    Default We probably need more input from you now

    Michael makes some great points -- the link to the free camping site was listed without any recommendations. Another kind of option are the membership sites that promote discount camping -- most target the RV-type campgrounds -- but many of these also support tent camping and they certainly offer the "people proximity" attribute that you mentioned. One such organization is Half Price Camping...

    Mark

  6. Default

    Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to respond to my questions, provide resources, and to welcome me. To answer some of your questions, the reason for the cabin tent is that I am nearly 6" tall and figure I will be spending a lot of time in the tent so the height and extra room may help. I don't like that the smallest I can find for a reasonable price with a rainfly is 10x7. I haven't bought it yet though and am open to suggestion.

    As for the length of the trip, I am thinking between 1 and 3 months.

    I will definitely look at the links you provided and again, I appreciate your time.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default

    How much time do you really think you'll be standing inside your tent?

    My small tent is a 9x7 dome tent. It's not big enough for me to stand up inside, but I really never find that to be much of an issue. Tent makers will often call this a 4 person tent, but really, there is just enough room for 3 people to sleep side by side, and only two with air mattresses. With 1 person, it's enough room for a bed and have some extra space on the side without being too big and clumsy. The best part, you can easily find one that size for $30-40.

    Being a solo traveler, I would put ease of set up as a top priority. Depending upon the details, a cabin style tent could be more of a chore to get setup by yourself, they also tend to be much more expensive.

  8. Default

    I'm definitely getting an instant tent - whether it is a cabin or dome. Ozark has a (too large) cabin with rainfly for $125. I've seen some instant pop up domes for $50-80.

    As for the time inside the tent, I have no idea. I envision driving/exploring during the day and rolling up to a campsite around 6 - eating dinner, then in bed by 10 or 11. I guess if the bugs are bad I might spend a few waking hours each night in the tent?

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2003
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    Green County, Wisconsin
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    Default

    My bigger point was that even when you are inside the tent, you really won't need to be standing up. You'll probably be sitting on your bed/floor for 99% of the time you are in it, really only standing when you are getting up/out, that makes having a high ceiling not particularly important.

    I've never bothered with an instant tent - I just haven't been able to justify the cost. Setting up a small dome, with 2 poles that go into an X is really pretty easy once you've done it a time or two. If I'm in a hurry, I'm sure I could get mine up, rainfly and all, in 5 minutes.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default BLM sites.

    Michael makes good points. You will find that standing in a tent is not at all an issue, once you have been camping for a while. I once got a tent in which I could stand, and it was clumsy and bulky. I got rid of it and went back to my 6 x 6 dome tent. The one thing I think the instant pitch tents are good for, is in inclement weather.

    Here is another site which could help you find budget camping spots, though even BLM developed campsites (and there are many) range up to $25 a night. Many of these are remote, but often on great scenic drives. Unfortunately, only in the western States.

    Lifey

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