Originally Posted by Blazeafar
My plan is to start in TN, then head to central and NW AR, MO, KY, ID, IL and then the fun starts, take route 66 out to CA.
I looked at the KOA site but seem sa little pricey for a plot to pitch a tent.
I would guess State and National Parks are an option as well but sort of out of the way.
KOA is, as you mention, a bit pricey, but you get showers and indoor plumbing, which are worth something. In general, there are the following options:
National Forests: The U.S. has an extensive National Forest system where camping is allowed in most of them. Consult the U.S. Forest Service web site for more information. In most National Forests, dispersed camping is free, while camping at improved camp sites is inexpensive (price depends on improvements -- e.g., a pit toilet camp ground with no running water is going to be free or very cheap, while one with running water and showers will be much more).
BLM lands: These are national lands like the National Forests but typically managed for income production by the Bureau of Land Management rather than for forestry and recreation like the National Forests. Most of these lands are in the West and are used for cattle grazing, but in many cases you can camp on them with a free or inexpensive permit.
National Monuments: These are BLM lands, except that commercial activities such as logging and mineral extraction are off-limits within them due to their scenic, historical, or recreational value. They are run by the Bureau of Land Management.
County parks: Some county parks have camp sites, generally for not much money ($6-$8). You may look at a map at some of the areas you're wanting to investigate, and find what counties are there, and go to the county's web site to see if they have a county parks system and, if so, whether there is camping available within it.
State parks: Most state parks have some sort of camping, usually for quite cheap.
National parks: Aside from the entry fee, camping in these parks ranges from free to KOA levels, again depending upon level of services provided.
Other private campgrounds: If you know the area you're going to, some investigation can typically turn up inexpensive camping areas that fit none of the above criteria. For example, I know of at least two places near Death Valley that will allow you to ride or drive in, pitch a tent, and camp overnight for a small "donation".
In general, camping in the U.S. is more widely available in the West, which still has enormous amounts of government lands. In more densely populated areas or in heavily agricultural areas (where any available land is used for crops), the only camping available is at KOA and similar campgrounds. Woodall's Tenting Directory (see amazon.com) will give a list of those types of for-profit campgrounds as well as some of the governent-run campgrounds.
As a rule, most of the interesting camping areas are in out-of-the-way places, as you note. There is no reason, however, to not combine hotel'ing and camping -- i.e. hotel it when in a developed area, then camp when getting to a more scenic area.