Author Topic: How do you find places to camp when you travel back roads and small towns?  (Read 3754 times)

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Offline arnoldt1st

Has anyone got a plan for ad hoc camping when there is no route per se? I would like to travel around a few states on back roads and very small towns. Sometimes traveling on gravel roads from town to town is shorter and definitely traffic free. The rural blacktop roads are traffic free too. But how does one find camping spots when one does not know what is ahead? I live in Florida and in the middle of the state there are a lot of wooded/open agricultural land. I also travel through the Midwest each summer into Missouri and Iowa. Lots of wide open country biking there.

I do not know if small towns will allow camping at their usual one park or if certain public areas would usually be permissable. Maybe its just a matter asking the local police for information and getting the nice small town treatment. I always wondered if something like a corn field drive way are treated as public domain or if farmers are friendly about bike touring campers when there is a wooded area just off the road. Is it as easy as just asking and always somehow finding a place for the night?

Has anyone taken the risk of not knowing where you are going to camp for the day?  Any ideas that have worked well? Are churches the answer? I do not want to participate in an evening of bible study and prayer, you understand. Nature is what inspires awe in me when I am outdoors.

!!!!!Great replies, Thanks Everyone!!!!

Your experiences are appreciated as I will soon have my own. Also, a big thank you for the websites concerning bike traveling. This has increased my own research at home before I take off.  And possibly will lead to contacts along the way for camping and assistance.

The need for electronics and Google maps is the modern advantage of touring. I have installed a very low drag hub generator that will charge my phone and a 10" tablet, plus lights of course. Now I have access to Google maps for bicycles, rail to trails, camps, restaurants, you name it.

Anymore touring websites out there that help you while you travel?
« Last Edit: February 01, 2015, 01:49:13 pm by arnoldt1st »

Offline staehpj1

Has anyone taken the risk of not knowing where you are going to camp for the day?  Any ideas that have worked well?

I seldom plan ahead for where I will camp.  Where I stay varies depending on what part of the country you are in and how rural/small town it is.  It is typically easier to impromptu camp if you are away from either coast.  It is also usually easier in rural or small town settings.

For town parks... 
If the town is large enough to have cops, I usually ask first.  If the town is small enough I might ask the clerk at the general store if they think anyone will bother me if I pitch a tent in the park for the night.  Sometimes I don't ask and just set up.  I usually try to set up early enough that if I get run off I still have time to find somewhere else, but in practice I have never actually been run off.

Churches...  I usually ask first.

Outside or behind businesses or fire houses I usually ask first.

In places like rural Texas, roadside picnic areas work well.  I suspect that cowboy camping or using a bivy is less likely to get you run off than using a tent.

I am not big on stealth camping but in a pinch will just find a spot I won't be seen.

You get good at knowing what will work and what won't with experience.  I found that doing my first tour on an Adventure cycling route (Trans America) was helpful in learning what was likely to work with less worry since they listed a lot pf places to stay on the maps.

I find that opening with "I am riding from _____ to _____ and..." opens a lot of doors.  It probably won't work well if ______ and _____ aren't pretty far apart, but for a multi week or multi month tour its seems to.

Offline John Nelson

If possible, I prefer to know where I'm going to end the day before I get there, or at least know the possibilities. If I have no idea where I might spend the night, the anxiety is a bit uncomfortable. It always works out, but it makes me a bit uneasy.

It's useful to know what things to look for. Most of these have already been mentioned: churches, fire stations, gas stations, city parks, swimming pools, public buildings, etc. In between towns, a flat spot by the side of the road is an option. Try to pick some place where the cows won't trample you, where a truck won't run over you, where the sprinklers won't soak you, and where you won't get flooded if it rains. Getting roused by the police is usually the least of my worries. Even if it happens, they will usually either allow it or help you find alternatives. As Pete says, ask if you can, and hope for the best if you can't.

Offline staehpj1

If possible, I prefer to know where I'm going to end the day before I get there, or at least know the possibilities. If I have no idea where I might spend the night, the anxiety is a bit uncomfortable. It always works out, but it makes me a bit uneasy.

Everybody is different.  I like having an idea of what the options are at least to the extent of knowing how far the next few towns are, but I really prefer not to commit to where I will stop, because I never know if I will feel like stopping at 40 miles, 140 miles, or something in between.  For me the flexibility that offers is liberating.  OTOH it makes it pretty much impossible for me to stay with warmshowers.org hosts who typically want a little notice.

Offline Westinghouse

I take that risk almost every night. It is not a big problem except for cities. Just look around.

Offline RussSeaton

I always wondered if something like a corn field drive way are treated as public domain or if farmers are friendly about bike touring campers when there is a wooded area just off the road.

I can answer this, NO the inlets to corn fields alongside the road are NOT public domain.  These road outlets belong to the farm field they go into.  But for most farms in Iowa and the rest of the Midwest, if you stop at the farmhouse nearest the field and ask to camp in the inlet roadway or if they have for somewhere for you to setup camp, they will say yes.  Best to ask first.  And give them lots and lots of details of your ride and where you are from and where you are going.  Be friendly and they will say yes camp there.  Or try to find some obvious public land, park or bridge, and setup camp there out of sight.  Always try to be out of sight.

Offline adventurepdx

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When I'm planning a tour in an area that may not be a typical bike-touring destination, I'll use Google Maps to see what legal camping options are available. Basically find a town near/on the route and search "Camping near x town". If you have a smartphone or tablet device, an app like Allstays is handy. While you have to pay a small fee for the Allstays app, the one big benefit is that it saves the information for an area you searched. This is really useful when you don't have WiFi or data coverage.

Offline donald.stewart.92

Re: How do you find places to camp when you travel back roads and small towns?
« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2015, 05:04:17 pm »
I have camped by firehouses & police stations. I am a vol. fireman and retired cop. It works to one's advantage when I approach either group. Join a fire dept. Or if you have a freind who is a cop get a couple of their business cards with cellphone #s. So if a cop rousts you hand the card to them to call and vouch for you.
At the firehouse I chat with them about their equipment. I've been allowed to use their showers as well as camp. A couple of places allowed me in to their "rehydration center"!

I've sent patches to some of them who went out of their way for me. I've emailed dept.s advising them of officers/firefighters  who were especially helpful. A part time officer was taken on as full time from all the great emails his bosses received.




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Offline Westinghouse

Re: How do you find places to camp when you travel back roads and small towns?
« Reply #8 on: February 02, 2015, 09:31:07 pm »
I never know where I will sleep out any given night. It is more interesting that way. I always find some place some where. Stay out of sight. Do not go through gates or over fences. Stay away from houses. Avoid areas around large gas station convenience stores. Try to choose a place where  it is an easy ride for breakfast. Small town city parks are good. Putting up a tent in Sentinel, AZ is one thing, but would you risk it in New York's Central Park? A tarp might be more versatile than a tent. I just did the ST with a tarp. There were times when a tent would have been better. I do not remember staying in a paid-for campsite. Maybe just a few times total in 40,000 miles. With me it is stealth camping mainly, and rest days in motels.