About eight million people camp in U.S. national parks each year. Every day, outdoor adventurers pitch tents and park RVs at places like Yosemite Valley, the Grand Canyon and the Great Smoky Mountains. From coast to coast, each camp carves out a little slice of America all its own, if only for a night or two. At most of these parks, the views are incredible, the camp areas are clean, and you can usually grab a shower and a snack somewhere nearby.
However, first-time campers may be shocked to know all of those amenities come at a cost, literally. A reserved campsite in a U.S. national park can cost anywhere from $25-$60 per night.
For budget travelers, that means camping in a national park can be expensive. Fortunately, there’s an affordable workaround for people who want to sleep under the stars without denting the pocket book. Believe it or not, the solution starts in Washington, D.C. There, the federal government holds the keys to 640 million acres of land.
And here’s the dirty secret—Uncle Sam will let you spend the night on most of it for free.
It’s not too difficult, you just have to be willing to look for places without signs.