It’s summer where we dream of night like these. The time where our dreams of packing a bag, jumping in the car with friends and heading up that trail to camp for the night are in full swing. The time where we wake up to sweeping valleys and fall asleep with blankets of stars above us.
This summer, we are heading out on 5,000 miles camping around the Western U.S. Planning a trip like this comes with mapping out those dreamy views you’ve always wanted to see in person. As we planned this trip, we looked into recommended campgrounds that sit with front row seats to these places I had in mind.
After finding that the average price ranged from $25-$50 a night, I knew I needed to find other options! (30 days X $25=$750 in just campgrounds!) It was more important to take that money and use it for more gas in the tank that would lead to more places on the road and more places to see. After a little bit of researching, I stumbled upon my solution.
There are numerous websites available that will map out endless FREE dispersed camping sites wherever you are headed. The same incredible views you’ve always wanted, but it makes no dent on your wallet! You type in your location and the green free little tents pop up across the map with numerous options for your stay. (Freecampsites.net is my go to! It’s not a fancy website by any means, but definitely full of great info, maps, reviews and photos from those who have already visited.
We have also used the app “Ultimate Campgrounds” as a reference . (The perk of the app is it works even without service!)
Most are BLM lands (Bureau of Land Management), meaning this land belongs to you! You’re free to come and soak up the land, as it’s yours to enjoy. Some of the land is even private owners who have the same vision as us: to get outside and soak up this world and the beauty it has to offer. These land owners leave their land open and trust that it will be respected by those who come through. We even found one cabin that you can go to for free and stay in near Stanley, Colorado!
We are only halfway through our trip, but so far here are our favorite gems:
BIG SUR, CALIFORNIA
This site leads you away from the touristy visitors who are here to appreciate this beautiful coastline off to a quiet cliff edge. You sit up over the ocean and look over sunsets that leave you speechless and listen to waves crash upon the rocks below.
GRAND CANYON, ARIZONA
This campsite swept us through winding forest roads where deer snuck through the fields beside us with their babies bounding along behind them. As we passed off the main highway, there was no one around for miles. After 5 nights of drastic sunsets, sheets of fresh snow powder gracefully lining the trees and not seeing another human the entire time, we headed down into the Canyon to continue exploring this beautiful place.
When plugging in these coordinates, the GPS takes you to a dirt road off the main highway. You weave through dusty cactus, you watch lizards scurry from their heated rocks as you make your way through the trail. There are many places you can set up camp in this area, but my favorite is at the top. It plateaus at a peak that you park on and look out. Your gaze is filled with changing scenery and you can see before your very eyes those changes. On your right, you see the final pieces of Western Desert flat cactus landscape, but on your left those red rocks, mountain tops, and dirt floors begin to take the spotlight. Thunderstorms constantly roll in here. You watch bolts skirting the ground and the vibrant lightning show puts you to sleep as you watch through your tent window.
ALTA LAKES, COLORADO
This is my all time favorite place I have ever camped at. I have never seen anything like this. The stillness of the lake, the golden light that hits the trees at sunset, the quietness on the trails. It’s a surreal place. You stand on the edge of the lake and feel small. Trees tower over you. Fish hop out of the waters in front of you with no one else around. Beavers swim along the shore and dragonflies hover above the icy waters that recently traveled from that snowy mountain above. This place is good for the soul.
Dirt trails skirt through the trees where woodpeckers are hard at work as you make your way through. You park and set up camp up overlooking the river below. Rivers make for a good day of swimming in icy waters that make your skin tingle. Even our puppy approves of this spot!
GRAND TETONS, WYOMING
When we got near the Tetons, a rainstorm was coming through so the entire range was covered in clouds and rain. We followed our GPS coordinates to the site. I stepped out of the car and just stood silently. I feel like in those moments I can feel my breathing. It slows as though to say, “Soak this one up.” I stand and the Majestic Tetons tower before me and the rain tickles my cheeks. Wildflowers lights up the hills and the leaves dance spastically in the wind. It’s one of those moments I’ll never forget.
Adventuring is like a giant puzzle. We navigate these websites and find places fellow campers have posted about. We trust their iPhone photos and two sentence reviews of the place then we plug in the coordinates and hope for the best. My favorite part is that last turn before you arrive at the site. You wind up these paths between trees that seem to be leading no where, but you’re patient. You keep following the coordinates and when you see you are on the last turn and you come around to where the full view is there, you get it. You see why this place was worth the trails, the edges of cliffs, and splashing a little mud on your car. It takes your breath away, yet the best part is, we’ve paid nothing for it.
Here’s to you getting out and exploring these spots and anticipating that last turn. Here’s to you doing a little research of your own and finding more of these million dollars views to share with us, your fellow adventurers. Here’s to having nothing less than million dollar views even on a $0 budget. Happy exploring my friends!