Navigating the sea of camping apps to find the best campsite can be a frustrating endeavor. I use just TWO APPS regularly to find campsites while traveling around in my Sprinter van during the summer months.
We spend time both camping in paid campgrounds and boondocking (dispersed camping). We boondock 80% of the time, but also like to mix things up and stay in campgrounds, mostly for the convenience and amenities like hot showers, weater and garbage.
Here are my two favorite apps I use on the regular to find campsites:
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Speaker 0 (00:00:00) - So I'm on my sailboat here in the Sea of Cortez, in a marina in La Paz, which is a beautiful town in Mexico, but we are getting very close to the camping season, and some of you probably are camping already. So I wanted to jump into a podcast episode about my favorite ways to find campsites when we're traveling around in our sprinter van in the United States during those summer months. Now I am in a marina right now, so again, you might be hearing some background sounds throughout this podcast and I apologize. But unlike other podcasters, I don't have a dedicated studio space to record this podcast. In fact, right now I'm in the forward sale locker in the boat surrounded by sales and life jackets and all kinds of other random stuff. And so I'm crammed up here and you might hear some sanding sounds in the background because Tom is taking some time to work on the sailboat. So hopefully that is not a problem for you. So yeah, we're talking about ways to find campsites today, and I have two favorite apps that I'm really excited to tell you about. So let's get to it.
Speaker 1 (00:00:59) - Welcome to the Wayward Home Podcast, all about Van Life, boat life, and Nomadic Living. We'll bring you tips, interviews, and stories from the road and on the water. Now here's your host, Kristen Haynes.
Speaker 0 (00:01:09) - Hey there. I'm Kristin Hayes with the wayward home.com, and I live half the year in my camper van and half on my sailboat. And if you haven't met me yet, I am really passionate about helping other people achieve their dreams of full-time travel, whether that's in a van, a sailboat, an rv, or even a tiny home. So today we're talking about how to find campsites. And this can be a pretty big deal in this day and age because so many campsites sell out, you know, six months or even a year in advance. My mom who travels around in a class a motor home, plans her vacations out really a year in advance or sometimes six months. But to get that big rig into a campsite, you really have to spend a lot of time planning for your journey. We approach camping in a little bit of a different way because we travel around in a 1 44 wheel based sprinter van and that van can really go anywhere.
Speaker 0 (00:01:57) - So we can do everything last minute, which has its pros and its cons. One thing I love about that is that we can just go where the weather dictates. Mostly we, we try to find climates that are cool and comfortable and we know that we can either find a spot in a campground or a boondocking spot or maybe even somewhere like a Walmart or a truck stop. We spend most of our time boondocking or doing dispersed or free camping. But we do spend some time in campgrounds as well, especially in crowded areas like Los Angeles where I have family and I wanna visit people, not a lot of dispersed, um, opportunities right in that city. So we do camp in a variety of ways, you know, from the campgrounds to the dispersed camping to sometimes just in relatives driveways. So in this podcast episode, I wanted to talk to you a little bit more about that and the two apps I recommend for finding campsites, whether those are, um, paid campgrounds or dispersed campsites.
Speaker 0 (00:02:46) - So to give you a little glimpse about how we do things, usually Tom is the driver in our sprinter van and as we're driving around, I am using these apps to find us our campsite for the night. Yeah, that might be stressful sounding to some people. And I do spend a lot of time looking at my phone as we're traveling around. I read reviews, I look at images, I try to decide, um, where we wanna go. Where's going to be the most beautiful and convenient for us? And so yeah, I'm staring at my phone a lot trying to find the perfect site. And so I'm going to tell you about the first app that I use mostly to find paid campgrounds. That app is called The Dirt Camping App and that's spelled d y r t. I don't know if you've used it or if you've downloaded it or heard of it before, but I've been using it for a couple of years now and it is one of the top two camping apps I use to find campsites.
Speaker 0 (00:03:35) - There are a couple different versions of the Dirt Camping app. The first version is just the free app and you can just go on, you know, the Google Play Store or the iOS Apple Store and download that app and start using it for free to look at paid at campgrounds. One thing I really like about the free version of this app is that you can read reviews and see images of various campgrounds. I really like reading reviews of campgrounds. It helps me know if, if it's somewhere I wanna go or not. And it's really helpful when people post pictures of their campsite. So I can also determine, is that a campsite I want to be in? Is there enough room in the campsite? Am I going to be five feet away from the next, um, camper over? Does it have a nice view in facilities?
Speaker 0 (00:04:15) - And so I use it predominantly to find those paid campgrounds because I really love reading reviews. To me, that's, that helps determine where I wanna go. Another thing about when you use the free version of the Dirt is you can filter campgrounds by various amenities. Sometimes we'll go boondocking for a week or two and after that I'm ready for a campground. I wanna take like a five minute hot shower. I wanna use the garbage facilities. We wanna fill up our rig, um, with water, with fresh water. We have a 30 gallon tank underneath the Sprinter van and so that lasts us for some time, but it is really handy to pull into a campground and use the, the potable water there to fill up our tank. So with the Dirt Camping app, which I really like, you can, you can click on various filters within the app.
Speaker 0 (00:05:00) - Like they have showers, they have water, they have, you know, the amenities that I am looking for for that particular need that I have. I do love finding a campground with really good showers. That makes my day because we typically use a solar shower when we're out boondocking, but just to be able to walk into a shower stall and take like a longer hot shower is a real treat to me. So often I will search for amenities based on showers. That's kind of the extent of what the Free Camping app does with the Dirt is you can just read those reviews, um, filter by Amenity and that's kind of it. Where the Dirt really shines is with their pro version. Now that is a paid upgrade. And before I get into some of the pro features that I love, I just wanted to let you know that I've partnered with the Dirt to offer you a 30 day free trial of all these cool features of the Dirt Pro.
Speaker 0 (00:05:51) - So to get that free trial, just go to the wayward home.com/the Dirt and Dirt is spelled D Y R t. I'll also link to this free 30 day trial in the show notes or you can just um, head to that URL that I mentioned and and try it out. I really recommend it and I'm going to tell you why. So the feature I use the most on the Dirt Pro is that it has these really interesting maps that are dispersed camping maps. And so you can load this map on your phone and you can look around where you currently are and you can see which land around you is public land. And so typically you're allowed to do a dispersed camping or free camping on public lands that are the Bureau of Land Management or the US Forest Service. You can typically stay on those public lands for up to 14 days.
Speaker 0 (00:06:38) - And so it's really handy just to see where the borders are of those public lands. You know, whether you can drive down that dirt road that you see off the highway. Is that private property or is that owned by the federal government? So often as we're driving down a highway, I'll pull up the dirt pro, um, dispersed camping maps on my phone and I'll be able to see, you know, where the private property ends and where the public lands begins. So one time I used it, I was in Oregon driving on Highway 97 and we were ready to, to find a campsite for the night, a dispersed site. So I pulled up the map and I started looking off of highway 97, like where is the National Forest Service land or the BLM land? And it was clear on my map, um, exactly where it was and that we knew that if we drove down a particular dirt road that I saw that it would lead to public lands because the last thing you wanna do is drive up a dirt road and end up in someone's driveway or pulling up to their house.
Speaker 0 (00:07:27) - I mean that's just really a sucky thing to do. I've never done that and I don't wanna do that and that's one of the reasons I use these dispersed maps. So you can really see um, where your best possibility and legal possibility is of finding a free campsite. And so I use that a lot. And another really cool thing about those maps is they also have a cell phone signal filter. So you can basically filter the map based on where you're going to get, you know, at and t Signal or Verizon signal if it's really important to you to have that phone signal, you'll be able to see a map of where that signal is. If you don't have starlink, you know, I currently have starlink, so cell phone signal's not as important to me even though it does come in handy for safety reasons.
Speaker 0 (00:08:09) - Um, if you don't have starlink, you just might wanna know where the good cell phone signal is. And so I use that. I used to use that a lot more than I do now, um, in finding a dispersed campsite. Something else that the Dirt Probe just added for this camping season, the summer of 2023. And something I'm really excited about and I think I'm going to use the Dirt Pro a lot more this summer than I have in past years for finding dispersed campsite. They've recently added a list of 5,000 drive in easily accessible free campsite to the app. So you can basically just pull up the app and look at where there are free campsites near you. You don't have to figure out, you know, is this public land? Is this private land? Which dirt road should I go down? Are there even campsites down that dirt road?
Speaker 0 (00:08:53) - This will show you exactly where to go. And I did look at it just this morning and I'm really excited to try it because not only can you see the campsites, but again, you can see people's photos, you can see their reviews and I like that The Dirt um, pro also has a link to the website of that particular BLM land. For example, I was looking at a site, an Anza uh, Borga State Park in Southern California and they quickly have a link over to that um, website so you can go read more about the park and the rules and they have a phone number to the Ranger's office, so that's really cool as well. So it's really these tried and true free campsites that you know are part of the Dirt database and you can easily check and uncheck that filter when you're searching for campsites using the Dirt app.
Speaker 0 (00:09:35) - And so I'm really excited to try that feature this summer. I think it'll make finding free campsites a lot easier. Another cool thing about the Dirt Pro is that it totally works offline. So before you head out on your trip, you can download the Dirt's entire database to your phone and that includes both paid and free Campsite. They have a database of 50,000 campgrounds on their app. So just download that before you go and when you don't have phone signal, you can still look for campgrounds near you. And that's super helpful because a lot of the places that I travel, I do not have phone signal and the ability to use an offline app is something that's really important to me. And both the apps that I'm going to talk about in this podcast episode can be used offline. So that's something that I really look for in a camping app.
Speaker 0 (00:10:20) - A couple more features of the Dirt Pro I wanted to tell you about and remember, go grab your free trial right now, it's just the right time ahead of camping season. The wayward home.com/the dirt d y r t. So a couple of those other really cool aspects of the Dirt Pro is, this is another new thing. You can get reservations that sold out campgrounds and that's called Creating a Dirt Alert. And so what happens there is that you set up a scan on a particular campground that you really wanna camp at, but it's appearing to be sold out. And what the dirt will do is that they'll continuously scan those campgrounds for cancellations so that um, once there is a cancellation, they'll immediately send you a text so you can jump on your computer and try to grab that campsite. So that can be a really handy feature if there's somewhere you really wanna go and you've seen that it's sold out.
Speaker 0 (00:11:08) - So another thing is that if you use the Dirt Pro to book campsite, they actually have a lot of discounts on there. They've worked with various campgrounds across the country to offer you 10 to 40% off if you book through the app. So it can be a really great way to save money on campsites cuz as we all know, campsite can get really expensive if you're predominantly using campgrounds instead of dispersed camping. And I mean we see campsite ranging from like 25 bucks all the way up to 65 bucks. The times we've had to stay in RV parks to visit family members. We don't typically stay in RV parks, but our family members have big RVs and that's where they like to stay. So that's where we join them. And so, okay, we're almost done with these features of the Dirt Pro I wanted to tell you about.
Speaker 0 (00:11:48) - There's also a way to create a road trip. So I've used this before. Let's say I pick up my van in Yuma where I store it in the winter on my sailboat and I wanna drive to LA I can create a road trip map and it'll tell me the campgrounds along that route that I might like. So that's pretty handy for planning a trip. But as I told you before, I'm not that much of a planner. I'm more of a pants or as they say, fly by the seat of your pants. So I don't really use this Trip Planner feature, but it is kind of neat to see what campgrounds are along my route that I might want to use. Another feature is there's no extra booking fees. A lot of times if you use a third party service to book a campsite, you'll be slapped with some booking fees and that that kind of sucks.
Speaker 0 (00:12:24) - So if you book through the Dirt Pro, um, you won't experience any of those booking fees. Those are some of the big benefits of using the Dirt Pro. And so I hope you try it out. Um, go grab your free trial, the wayward home.com/the dirt. I'll also put it in the show notes and I hope you're able to give it a try. And remember, if you don't want to to continue on after that 30 day free trial, just cancel any time within those 30 days and don't forget to do that or you will get billed. It's not a very expensive app, it's under $40 for the year, which will most likely you'll end up saving that money if you're using it to get those discounts on campgrounds. So that's my overview of the Dirt Pro, one of my two apps I use most of the time to find campsites in the summer months in my Sprinter van.
Speaker 0 (00:13:05) - So the next app I wanna tell you about is one I use a ton also. It's called I Overlander, that's with a lowercase I and then the word overlander. And I'm going to also link that below in the show notes. So if you haven't downloaded that one yet, um, head on over and download that app. I mostly use this app for finding the free campsite that I've found, um, when we've been living the Van Life and both our astro and our Sprinter van. So I overlander is completely crowdsourced. It's not owned by a big company like the Dirt is, it's totally just, you know, run by people who are out there camping. And what I really like about this app is it's just really low key. It works offline and you can use it to read reviews of sites and I use this mostly for dispersed camping again and there are tons of people using this, um, app for dispersed camping.
Speaker 0 (00:13:53) - So one thing I will recommend is that you use it to zero in on a particular area you want to go, but maybe you don't wanna camp exactly the latitude longitude where someone recommended because there's probably somebody else there just due to the sheer number of people on I overlander. So what I'll do is use it to find a general area of where people are particularly loved camping and I'll use it to look at their photos and if, if it looks really stunning, like I did this in the um, Sonora Desert by Tucson, um, I looked at that app and I was like, wow, that part, that area looks so beautiful, just these photos that people have posted to the app. So we're just gonna go to that area and drive down a bunch of those dirt roads and try to find our own campsite. We didn't go to to places where people actually marked cuz there's typically someone there where someone actually marked a campsite. I mean sometimes you'll get lucky and nobody will be there, but with more and more people, um, doing dispersed camping and boondocking, there's going to be bigger crowds out on these public lands.
Speaker 0 (00:14:52) - So yeah, I'll use it just to zero in on a particular area and then I'll go drive around and find my own site and I've, I've taken to marking my own sites on Google Maps, my own personal Google Maps so that I can remember where I've boondock in the past and I'm not marking it on this gigantic database where other people will go and utilize my sites that I've marked. And so that's one thing that I personally do to remember where I've been in the past so that I'm not attracting like 50,000 other people to come to this campsite that I love. But I, overlander is really helpful because even when you're offline, this is what I've done. I've found an area I wanna go, I click it and it actually pulls it up on Google Maps so I'm able to navigate to it even without phone signal.
Speaker 0 (00:15:34) - And I think that that's really interesting and really handy as well. What I like about I overlander is that people not only Mark, um, free campsite, but they also mark amenities, which is really handy if you're traveling around in a van. Like let's say I'm in Yuma, Arizona and I'll pull up I overlander and people will have marked, um, where they got water for their tanks, where they got propane, what are the grocery stores, what are the laundromats? Because one thing about always traveling around in your van or RV and finding um, free campsites or paid campsites in brand new areas is you don't know what's around there and it can take some time to, you know, get to know the area and know like where to go do your laundry or where to find, uh, water. For the longest time we were boondocking in Yuma or outside of Yuma actually in California, but about 20 minute drive from Yuma and we didn't know where to get water for a 30 gallon tank under our sprinter van.
Speaker 0 (00:16:25) - And so we had to talk to other RVers out there boondocking and they were like, Hey, the rest stop down the road has has a water spigot. This is where all the RVers go and fill up their tanks. And we're like, wow, a free and easily accessible, uh, water tank. So that was really cool and we were able to go down there and fill up on water. But oftentimes when you are doing that dispersed camping, uh, Tom and I call it like hunting and gathering. Like we're not just sitting down and relaxing and enjoying our life, we're trying to figure out, you know, where to go grocery shopping, where to get food, where to get propane, where to do laundry. Takes a lot of time and energy to figure all that stuff out. And sometimes we feel like we're just running around like chickens with our head cut off.
Speaker 0 (00:17:01) - So having the eye overlander app that where we can see where people have had success doing these various things in particular towns or areas has just, you know, cut off the time we have to spend, as we say, hunting and gathering and we can more just stay parked for longer and enjoy our campsite. So those are the two apps I use the most to find, um, camping when we're traveling throughout the United States. And I gave you that tip of how I mark my own campsites down on Google Map so I can remember them in the future. And I have one other tip I wanted to share with you today about finding especially dispersed camping. Cuz like I said before, we probably spend 80% of our time boondocking or finding dispersed campsite. So one thing I like to do is when I locate a particular area using mostly the I overlander app and I zoom in on it, I actually, um, transfer that over to Google Maps that location.
Speaker 0 (00:17:53) - And what I do is I pull up satellite view on my Google Maps and using satellite view you're able to actually like quote unquote drive yourself down some of these dirt roads using satellite view. And you can see where there's pullouts, you can see these huge areas off the dirt road where it might be a campsite. So often I'll zoom in on the Google map satellite view to try to find turnouts or pullouts for us to go to and then we easily drive to those areas and find a campsite instead of just roaming around all the dirt back roads to find camping. Any of you who've boondock before know that it can be a really big process to find just the perfect site, especially Tom and I are pretty picky. We want a view, we want a flat area, we want like a private area.
Speaker 0 (00:18:34) - So sometimes we'll just spend tons of time and a lot of miles driving around these back roads trying to find a perfect site. Now if you're not as picky as us, it won't take you as long, but we're pretty picky and that's why I marked them down on my Google Maps and why I use satellite view to find those pullouts, which are really, you know, easily accessible for our van. So before we wrap up with this podcast episode, I wanted to let you know I've developed a boondocking 1 0 1 guide and also a boondocking tracker and log book. And these two things, um, come together right to your inbox are only $9. And I prepared these for you for if you've never tried boondocking before and you want some of my tips and advice as to how to do that. So my Boondocking 1 0 1 guide has things like what is free camping, how does it work, gear ideas for boondocking, where to fill your water, how to find dump stations, how to go to the bathroom when you boondock, how to take showers and keep clean.
Speaker 0 (00:19:27) - Um, some options for camping on private property, my favorite apps and websites and using motor vehicle use maps for free camping, using I overlander, using Google Satellite maps. That's the table of contents of my boondocking 1 0 1 guide. And, um, that's a 19 page guide that you can go download or print out or whatever you want. And that comes with the boondocking tracker and logbook, which is something else I developed, which is a checklist, a way for you to write down and track your favorite sites. And some of the items on this checklist include, you know, boondocking essentials. I have a whole list of things you might wanna have when you're out and about. So that's a really large part of the list. I have, um, a place for you to write your own items. You might wanna bring, I have a boondocking grocery list, um, a fillable sheet, a gas mileage tracker, a water fill tracker.
Speaker 0 (00:20:15) - And so I did develop the Boondocking 1 0 1 guide and logbook and tracker. If you want more information about boondocking, both of those PDFs together are just $9. So if you wanna check those out, just go to the wayward home.com/boondocking and I'll also link that in the show notes. If you don't know how to spell boondocking, it's kind of a weird word, but remember to go download that. If you want more info, it's just $9 or go again, get your free 30 day trial of the Dirt Pro, the wayward home.com/the dirt. Now, I know I've thrown a lot of info at you in this episode, but I am adding those links below if you wanna check out anything I've mentioned. And I really hope you have a great time camping this summer. I'm excited to, to get the sprinter van out of storage and go camping.
Speaker 0 (00:21:02) - I love being on the sailboat in the Sea of Cortes as well, though it's very remote, we see lots of really cool marine life, but at some point it gets too hot down here. And like I said before, we're like migratory animals and so we'll be heading north in our van and we'll get back on using these apps. And I hope you found this episode helpful. As a reminder, if you want to be on my email list, that is where I share a lot of tips, advice, and my own trials and tribulations living in a camper van and on a sailboat, you'll get a little bit of a glimpse into nomad life. You can go to the wayward home.com/subscribe to be on my email list. So I hope to see you over there and I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Wayward Home Podcast. I'll see you next time.
In this episode of the Wayward Home podcast, host Kristen Hayes shares her favorite ways to find campsites while traveling in her sprinter van during the summer...
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Finding Campsites [00:00:00] Introduction to the episode and the speaker's personal experience with camping and traveling in a van.
*The Dirt Camping App [00...
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1/6 🎉 I just shared my favorite tips for finding campsites while traveling in a van or RV on the latest episode of the Wayward Home podcast! From apps to Googl...
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Links & Mentions
Tools for finding campsites:
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Are you tired of crowded campsites and the stress of booking months in advance? Look no further! In this episode, we hear from a seasoned van traveler on her fa...
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