if you have been following my story at all, you know that periodically i take off on the road and live in my car. i camp nights on free legal campsites, many of which are maintained by the states in which they are located.
once you learn what a free legal campsite looks like in any particular state, it becomes easier to find them.
since states typically maintain paid campgrounds, they do not typically go out of their way to advertise the places where you can camp for free.
in national forests, you are permitted to camp anywhere provided you follow a few basic rules. in many states camping is allowed on state lands as long as you are a certain distance from roads, water sources, trails, or paid campgrounds. in some places a state agency (for instance the new york department of conservation) will maintain free designated campsites in areas where they wish to limit the amount of impact camping will have on the land.
in maine the state has parcels of land called Public Reserve Lands that are open to wilderness recreation. some contain paid campgrounds, and some contain free campsites. if you have a particular PRL parcel in mind, you can go to the state of maine's website for the division of parks and public lands and it will tell you directly what is available and how much if anything it will cost you.
be aware that in the state of maine in season, anything in the north maine woods is subject to fees for use of that land, but out of season it's free. "in season" is usually defined as mid-may through mid december, so if you wish to use that land for free, you'd better be a hardy soul.
mostly, though, since these campsites are not advertised you sort of have to know how to recognize the signs that there may be a free site nearby, and you have to be willing to spend a lot of time driving up and down roads that maybe are going to have campsites.
but the thing about it is that each time you find a new site farther out from your home, you have a toehold on the land from which you may search for other sites.
over a period of years, starting with that first blizzardy november night when i accidentally stumbled into a campsite in the green mountain national forest, i have been keeping a database of all the campgrounds i use.
you are welcome to look at and use my map, but you have to use the link, because i am not making this list public enough to be found through searches.
on the map the little green tents represent free campsites. some have outhouses and some do not. the green cabins represent regular campgrounds. bear in mind that because i use the north maine woods lands off season, i have marked all those sites as free. your mileage will vary.
the picnic table icon marks walmarts where one may still camp. it's sort of common knowledge that walmart permits camping in their parking lots which is handy in a pinch, but many towns do not permit this, so you have to go there and check out the signage for yourself.
i try to keep my data up-to date, but i'm taking no responsibility for the listing. campsites open and close all the time for a variety of reasons.
but you, dear reader, are welcome to use my lovingly collected and curated data.
i also have a database of public water sources, open wifi networks, and acceptable pizza places which i may or may not add to this map or maybe place in a second map.