Adventure Cycling Association Forum

Bicycle Travel => General Discussion => Topic started by: coolcatpete on July 14, 2008, 01:53:55 pm

Title: Where to camp
Post by: coolcatpete on July 14, 2008, 01:53:55 pm
Just curious, on these long bike trips where do most people camp.  I plan to bike from Central NY to Madison WI, and I am having trouble finding places to camp along the way.

Title: Where to camp
Post by: litespeed on July 14, 2008, 03:40:53 pm
In order of preference I like KOA's, state parks, municipal campgrounds and private campgrounds. There are also campgrounds owned by water districts, the Forestry Service, etc. For KOA's pick up a catalogue at any one of them or go online ( and ask for one. Good road maps or road atlas's (Rand McNally is best) indicate campgrounds with little green triangles.

The upper midwest - Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan - is the best. Plenty of the towns have their own campground. Lots of bicycle tourists camp in the wild but I like my shower and a bit of security.

KOA's are always quiet at night. State parks and private campgrounds are occasionally noisy on the weekends, especially if they are near a big city.

On your route campgrounds abound.

Title: Where to camp
Post by: DaveB on July 14, 2008, 08:15:58 pm
KOA's are always quiet at night.
With one exception.  KOA's all seem to be located near railroad tracks (the land is probably cheaper there)!  

If train whistles in the middle of the night aren't a problem, KOA's have a lot to recommend them. :)

Title: Where to camp
Post by: bktourer1 on July 14, 2008, 09:38:51 pm
Look into   Hosters usually will have a room, let you camp in their yard or offer other assistance

Title: Where to camp
Post by: rlovisa on July 15, 2008, 11:07:09 pm
What are the current prevailing thoughts about stealth camping?  Heard the term used recently and I assume its camping in public or private areas without specific permission.  I have been looking at the Atlantic Coast trail maps, roughly between NJ-PA and the VA-NC state lines to determine daily ride mileage based on how far apart the camp grounds might be.  Not much shown for camping, so I too was considering what the options might be.

Title: Where to camp
Post by: RussellSeaton on July 16, 2008, 10:10:13 am
Stealth camping is camping in non camping areas out of view.  Side of the road, etc.  In parts of the USA with large public land areas, such as the west, there are plenty of places to stealth camp.  Although in most parks its illegal to camp anywhere except the official campgrounds.  But in the midwest and east, there are not public areas along the road.  Its all privately owned property.  So you are almost certainly trespassing if you stealth camp.  You might not be bothered by this, but the land owner might not want people trespassing on their private property.  Do you want people walking through and/or camping on your lawn in town?

Logistical problems with stealth camping are no source of water, bathrooms.  I like to clean up well after a bike ride.

Title: Where to camp
Post by: litespeed on July 16, 2008, 12:50:35 pm
KOA's are often located near train tracks or freeways. The only one that bothered me was the one in Scottsbluff, NE. A train every few minutes plus a crossing requiring blasts on the horn. Still, I got my sleep. The only things that really bother me at night are drunks and barking dogs.

You might consider crossing Lake Michigan on the ferry from Ludington MI to Manitowoc WI. It's a huge, well-appointed ship and, believe it or not, runs on steam. A very enjoyable ride.

My favorite campground of all is the municipal one in Reed City MI. It's on your route. It's a delightful facility and well worth a stop.

Title: Where to camp
Post by: Peaks on July 19, 2008, 07:58:31 pm
If you are using ACA maps, then there are usually plenty of options.  

If you are self contained, then don't overplan.  Just go as far as you like on any given day.  

Title: Where to camp
Post by: driftlessregion on August 03, 2008, 11:32:43 pm
Warmshowers is great. I used it recently and had a wonderful visit with our hosts. Thanks Paul and Monica!

Title: Where to camp
Post by: staehpj1 on August 04, 2008, 08:32:09 am
Most of my experience is with the TransAmerica and some improvised alternate sections along the way, so it may or may not apply to your route.  I try to avoid both KOAs and stealth camping as much as possible.

On the TA I think I managed to stay for an average of something a bit less than $5 per night (including motel stays and other lodging), but that was sharing site costs three ways.  Some places charged per site, some per head, and some per tent.  Since we were three in one tent we stayed pretty cheaply most places.

Our favorite campsites were city parks that let us stay for free, followed by state parks.  Hiker biker sites were great and had the advantage of never turning us away because they were full.  That said we often opted for a "regular" site because when splitting it three ways it was often cheaper (hiker biker sites usually charged per person).

Staying in churches and in peoples homes was nice when we had the opportunity.

We stayed in 1 KOA and a few KOA-like campgrounds, but generally avoided them when we could due to the higher costs.

I only stealth camp when I have to and that never happened on the TA.

We didn't use on our trip, but I have since looked into it.  It looks like an OK option where there is a host at a location that you want to stay.  On most tours that will probably only be once in a while.

We generally found that if we were somewhere that there was no attractive option campground wise, we could find an impromptu place to stay if we asked around.  Asking store clerks, wait staff, city park managers, and the local police were all successful at one time or another on the trip.

Also asking bike tourists going the other way led to some leads on good places to stay and we returned the favor by sharing what we could about where we had been.

This message was edited by staehpj1 on 8-4-08 @ 4:33 AM
Title: Where to camp
Post by: freightbike on August 22, 2008, 07:58:11 pm
 I use a couple of paper back books called "Don Wright's Guide to FREE Campgrounds". Put out by Cottage Publications,Inc. PO Box 2832. Elkhart IN 46515-2832. Ph. 1-800-272-5518. They have eastern and western editions. Not complete by any means but a sure help to me

May the wind at your back always smell like home.
Title: Where to camp
Post by: MrBent on August 30, 2008, 11:09:33 am
I used a combination of all techniques on my cross country ride last year.  Most of the time, it was possible to roll into these little towns and get permission to flop in the town park, fairgrounds, etc. As mentioned, the ACA maps are excellent about pointing out options.  Lots of times, I got taken in by very nice locals, and this was one of the best things about my ride--meeting great people who are so generous.  I wasn't in  Muscatine, Iowa, more than five minutes before I had a place to stay--amazing.

If I didn't have a warmshowers host(check out couchsurfing too!), I'd roll into town and hit the library first.  You can usually find out everything you need to know there.  I simply could not afford to pay for a place to flop every night--nor did I want to.  I camped under a cell tower in Maine, behind a utility shed in Kansas, in the woods in NY, CO, NM and elsewhere.  The thrill and challenge of finding a place to camp provided a real spice to the journey--and often the best camping.  I HATE KOA's with a special passion.  Besides being very expensive (about $25/night out west), they are freakin' noisy so close to freeways and such.  The only good one I've stayed in was in Mt.  Shasta, CA.--very nice with great views of the mountain.

Be flexible and creative.  It's all part of the adventure.



Title: Where to camp
Post by: tgpelz on August 30, 2008, 11:44:35 pm
I call stealth camping 'Diving In'.  

I do not do it often, but when I have, I try to be at least 100 yards off the road, in a wooded area.

I do prefer a shower and a warm meal.

Usually, I have not had to "dive in".   I stop and ask people where I could camp.  When the see the bike and the load I have, they direct me to their yard, of a near by city park.

I have never tried that in a large metropolitan area.  Too often there are people in those area who "just wanted a little fun" with my bike, etc.   I don't like explaining why they got hurt.

I do plan my rides to be able to spend the night at a camp ground.   Makes more sense.

I have ridden through a town, found a policeman and asked him/her where I could camp.  They have been quite friendly and helpful.

Most midwest (WI, MN, MI for certain) state parks are required to let a touring cyclist pitch the tent somewhere, even if they are full.   Not true with private grounds.

Title: Where to camp
Post by: rcrampton on September 02, 2008, 11:04:02 pm
I tend to stealth camp because I really like the peace and quiet of being alone. I do like to clean up regularly so I'll try to find a water source somewhere nearby so at a minimum I can wash up a little if I can't take a shower.

I've had great camping in National Forest and BLM land which are wide open for camping.

We've stayed in some really nice state parks (Washington, Oregon for example) for very good rates.

My least favorite tends to be lager "family" campgrounds like KOAs, and dead last would be a hotel, although I've stayed there to dry off after a long day in the rain once. I think I wore out their hair drier!

Title: Where to camp
Post by: raybo on September 04, 2008, 11:12:36 am
I would suggest looking at and  I used both of them to find hosts on a recent bike trip to France.  Both require a free registration, which involve answering questions and providing personal data.

Many, if not all, states have pages listing the state parks where camping is allowed.  Try to find them for the states you are in.

This page provides 17 links to gerneral information about camping in the US (


Visit the on-line bike touring archive at
Title: Where to camp
Post by: Westinghouse on September 26, 2008, 12:28:52 pm
I have done a great deal of long distance bicycle touring, and I camp, but not the way litespeed camps.
Almost all my camps are stealth camps. Never stayed in a KOA but their showers are nice. In north Florida on highway 90 there are plenty of treed areas. However, getting out in the western states presents a problem for free camping because most of that part of the country is on the other side of a barbed wire fence.
My camps. go up at or after dark and they disappear the next morning. When a day or two of rest are in order I check into the cheapest motel anyone  can find. Cheap can mean neat, clean, well kept, TV, AC, heat, but quite small. Cheap can also mean dirty, neglected, rotting carpets on the floor, peeling paint, and some really dubious characters hanging around.

Most of the camp sites I have found over these past 10 years in the USA left much to be desired. Often they were cramped, small, uncomfortable places just big enough to get into and lie down. I always stay out of eyesight when I camp. There are too many out there who would do a person wrong. Rarely have I found the ideal
free area in which to lay it down for the night.

But when I cycle I rough it and rack out wherever I can as long as it is safe to do so.
Title: Where to camp
Post by: biker_james on September 29, 2008, 08:33:47 am
Wow, it sounds like you need to be a Special ops guy or at least a Green beret to free camp. I can't imagine why I would free camp if it was unpleasant and uncomfortable, but thats just me. I think that most places if it is unfenced and not posted with signs, it is okay to camp there. I think I would still look for a comfortable place. I've asked to camp on someone's lawn when there didn't seem to be any decent places to camp, and no campgrounds, and had a wonderful evening with some new friends. Lets face it, you are way more likely to die from an inattentive motorist on the road than from some crazed rancher shooting you for trespassing.

Title: Where to camp
Post by: Westinghouse on September 29, 2008, 12:24:11 pm
Going through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona I would sometimes cycle late into the night because there were no places to pull over and sleep at all anywhere. Fences were everywhere. There is no way I climb a fence to camp. There just were not many really nice places to free camp. You have to sleep.

Coastal California has plenty of nice places to camp. So do Oregon and Washington. Highway 90 in north Florida has quite a good selection too.

Title: Where to camp
Post by: Westinghouse on September 30, 2008, 12:50:02 pm
The northern tier of the ACA route has plenty of forest and open space where you can find great campsites near clean-water streams. It can be very difficult finding an area to free camp in the northeast USA from coastal Virginia to well north of NYC, but there it is possible to find hostels. South Florida offers an interesting variety of stealth camp sites, even down south in the Keys, but be careful in the everglades. They have fifteen foot alligators that travel considerable distances across dry land looking for something to eat.

I cycled till four in the a.m. one time because all the land was fenced off right up to the roadway, and there was no way to get off the road and into the woods. That was in Texas. I had the same problem in Arizona where fences cut me off everywhere from wooded areas.

Stealth camping can present its problems and limitations, but that is the way I do most all of my overnight sleeping, with breaks of from two to four days occasionally in motels. It is a great deal less expensive than all motel (credit card) touring, and less expensive than renting sites at KOAs. The big downside of stealth camping is sometimes not getting a shower for five to seven days at a time. Stealthing it makes you tougher. It gives you a rough edge that you need. It feels good. There is too much softness and that---let's do it the easiest way---attitude. Stealthing it is more in line with that old pioneer spirit that pushed human populations from the eastern seaboard, across the Appalachians, into the midwest, and across to California, Oregon, and Washington.

Title: Where to camp
Post by: scott.laughlin on October 07, 2008, 11:41:08 am
Some of the smaller towns provide free camping in their city parks.  Situations vary, so you'll have to ask.
Title: Where to camp
Post by: tgpelz on October 11, 2008, 10:33:28 pm
In small towns, when they let you camp in their park, they may also let you use a shower also.  

I usually talk to the policeman.  They will tell me where the park is and unlock the bath/shower.

I just make certain that it is clean when I am done.

They have to lock it because many of the kids like to fill the toilets with paper, etc.

If there is a way to "donate" money for the shower, I gladly pay.  


Title: Where to camp
Post by: capejohn on October 20, 2008, 10:22:24 am
Two of us rode the Erie Canal this summer. Except for one night, the locals directed us to places where people camp on public property.  The short 6 day ride is posted on my journal (, and tells how we found our campsites.

Keeping me young as I grow old.