A loud bugling throws my eyes open. I’m curled up in the back of my car, zipped tight into my sleeping bag. The windows have frosted over a little bit in the cold. The night before, I’d sped south from Yellowstone in search of some place to sleep before heading to Grand Teton National Park in the morning. It was dark when I pulled in, crawled in the back and fell asleep, but now, opening the back hatch, I can see where I am. I had backed up to the edge of a small knoll over the Snake River, and the bugling that woke me was coming from a small group of elk wading into the steaming water only a few hundred yards away.
Not a bad spot, I think.
For anyone van-lifing, road tripping out of their car, or living the climbing bum lifestyle, one perpetual stress is knowing, after a long day on the road or trail, where you’ll be spending the night. If you’re away from home for any extended period, paying much more than a few dollars a night—whether that’s for a cheap motel room, Airbnb, or in an established campground—is generally out of the question. Night after night, those expenses add up quickly, which makes finding a free place to pull over and get comfortable a daily priority.
Thankfully, especially in the Mountain West, finding a quiet, picturesque and free campsite is a lot easier to do than you might think.