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3 Free Campgrounds Near National Parks

Posted on | July 1, 2009 | 2 Comments

Visiting the most beautiful places on the planet doesn’t have to be expensive if you don’t mind forgoing a few luxuries.  If you are traveling on the cheap and looking for a free place to stay, check out these 3 free campgrounds.

Free Camping on the Beach at Padre Island National Seashore

Padre Island National Seashore

Padre Island National Seashore has 70 miles of beach available for camping right next to the Gulf so you never have to worry about not being able to find a place to camp.  Just drive your car or RV onto the beach and set up camp at the base of the sand dunes.  If you want to drive the entire 70 miles of beach you’ll need a 4 wheel drive.  But a 2 wheel drive vehicle will get you about 5 miles down the beach leaving plenty of space between you and your nearest neighbors.


  • Camping on the beach right next to the water.
  • Sunrise over the Gulf and sunset over the Laguna Madre.
  • Fresh fish – cast your net out near the southern barrier of North Beach for an easy net full of a variety of fish.
  • Windsurfing on the Laguna Madre.


  • Extreme winds at times – good for wind surfing and keeping the fog away but you’ll have fine powdery sand in your food and belongings.  Bring long sand stakes and a sturdy tent if you plan on tenting.
  • Garbage – due to the convergence of currents a lot of garbage washes ashore.  Also be on the lookout for the stinging Portuguese Man o’ War.
  • Salt – if you stay for an extended time your vehicle and gear need to be washed regularly to prevent rust.
  • The beach is a Texas public highway – watch out for traffic.  On the upside, there is a 5 mile closed beach near the visitor’s center with no traffic except for the occasional ranger on patrol.


  • Pit toilets at South beach.  Flush toilets and cold showers at visitor’s center.
  • Gift and snack shops at visitor’s center.
  • Windsurfing and kayak rentals.


Padre Island National Seashore is about a 20 minute drive from Corpus Christi, Texas.  From Corpus Christi, head east on Highway 358.  After crossing the causeway, Highway 358 changes to Park Road 22.  Follow Park Road 22 until it turns into beach.  Park anywhere on the beach and set up camp.

For more info, visit Padre Island National Seashore.

Free Camping Minutes Away from South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park

Visit one of the seven wonders of the natural world and camp for free in Kaibab National Forest.  The campgrounds are only about a 10 minute drive to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  For an easy day hike, walk the Rim Trail and experience the breathtaking inner canyon overlooks along the way.  Free shuttle buses are also available along the Rim Trail.  For a more strenuous day hike, descend down into the canyon on the South Kaibab Trail.  Pack a lunch and eat at Cedar Ridge or hike down further to Skeleton Point for lunch overlooking the Colorado River.


  • Shaded campsites.  A few sites have fire pits.
  • The town of Tusayan is nearby for picking up supplies.


  • There are no toilets, showers, or water available at the campgrounds.  Pay showers are available inside the park at Mather campground – $2 for 8 minutes.  Laundry services are also available at Mather campground.


  • None.  You’ll have to drive to Tusayan or into the park for everything.


The Kaibab National Forest free campgrounds at the South Rim of  the Grand Canyon are on Highway 180 about 10 minutes south of the park.  There are several turnoffs into the Kaibab Forest along Highway 180 near Tusayan.  There are no designated sites.  Camp anywhere at least a quarter-mile from paved roads and water.  Some sites have fire rings.  You can also camp for free in Kaibab Forest on the North Rim of the canyon for a quieter, less tourist-filled trip to the Grand Canyon.

For more info, visit Grand Canyon National Park and Kaibab National Forest.

Free Camping Near Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park feels a little bit Dr. Seuss and a little bit Flintstones.  You can check out the Joshua Trees, do some bouldering or rock climbing, walk through a cholla cactus garden, and camp for free just outside the park on BLM land.  Joshua Tree is one of my favorite National Parks – especially delightful to visit in Spring when the desert wildflowers are in bloom.


  • If you like sleeping on a dry lakebed, peeing outside, and watching the sunrise over the desert mountains this is paradise.


  • No bathrooms, showers, or water available at the campgrounds.


  • None.  The campground north of the park is near the town of Joshua Tree for supplies.  The campground south of the park is near Cottonwood visitor center where flush toilets and water are available.


There are free campgrounds on BLM land to the north and south of Joshua Tree National Park.  For a map of the free campgrounds click here.

For more info, visit Joshua Tree National Park.


2 Responses to “3 Free Campgrounds Near National Parks”

  1. jessiev
    August 5th, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

    VERY cool list. wow! i appreciate the pros and cons – definitely a good to know thing. thanks!

  2. Hitekhomeless (jenn)
    January 10th, 2010 @ 1:53 am

    Joshua Tree National Park

    quote: “campground south of the park is near Cottonwood visitor center where flush toilets and water are available.”

    I guess that depends on what you call close. If I remember correctly, the campground and visitor’s center are about 7-8 miles from the BLM land (what you are calling a campground) on the southside.

    Personally, I think the BLM on the north and south side of JTNP is pretty flat, empty, and kinda boring. If you want scenery and a unique landscape, I suggest camping in the canyons to the south. Particularly Painted Canyon and Box Canyon West