Camping is a great way to save money and enjoy spending time outdoors, but it can be surprisingly pricey.
Get yourself some big, sturdy 5-gallon blue water storage cubes with a pour spout for around $10 each at any store that sells camping gear, to serve as your temporary "faucets." No water at a campground means no flush toilets, but chemical ones are much less disgusting than they used to be. You can also buy a "sun shower" that uses solar power to heat up the water, then pour it over you for a quick shower.
Look for BLM campgrounds
The campgrounds are not only less expensive, but easier to get into, because most people don't even know they exist. You probably won't have RV hookups and maybe not even running water, but you may have beautiful solitude. For example, the Deer Creek Campground in Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument had sheer red rock walls and tons of privacy because, even in high season, there is hardly anyone there. Campsites at Deer Creek and at nearby Calf Creek cost a whopping $7 per night.
Camp for free
The BLM also allows free "dispersed camping" on most of its undeveloped lands, which means you just pick a spot away from development and set up camp. There are rules that vary by district, which may limit how far you can go off a road (generally less than 300 feet if you're car camping), and you need to check whether you can have a fire. The U.S. Forest Service also allows dispersed camping for up to 16 days. You're required to use existing campsites, if you're going where others have been before, to reduce the impact on the land, and don't camp in the middle of a meadow, so you won't spoil the scenic view for others.
Stay at Zion Ponderosa for lots of amenities
This 10,000-acre ranch is only seven winding miles from Zion National Park, but its campsites offer many deluxe resort amenities to enjoy at campground prices, including two swimming pools with a small water slide, ATV excursions, horseback riding, canyoneering, zip-lining, miniature golf, pingpong and pool tables and hot tubs. Book early for summer; the place sells out. RV sites are around $55 per night, tent sites are $12 per person per night, and there are also "glamping" tents for $119. By comparison, Zion's Watchman campground costs $20-$30 per night, but you're not getting a pool with a water slide there, my friends.
Bring a senior
At Capitol Reef National Park, passholders have the $10 entrance fee waived, and when camping pay only $10 nightly instead of $20. Only the camping spot occupied by the passholder is entitled to the discount. You must be at least 62 and a legal permanent resident of the U.S. to qualify for the pass, which costs $10. Buy in person at a federal recreation site, such as a national park or other ranger-operated location.
Make a reservation
If you don't want to find yourself forced into a pricey private campground, make sure you've got a reservation for any of the national parks. You can typically reserve six months in advance, and I'd recommend being online when the reservation period opens up, if it's a popular campground or time of year.
Download a free app
Get free detailed smartphone apps from Chimani for most of the national parks you want to visit, and you don't need Wi-Fi or cellular service to use them inside the park, where there's often no service available. The apps are chock full of campground info, maps, trail info and other stuff you want to know when you visit.
Go in a group
If you have difficulty making reservations because a campground is too popular, consider this: Group sites are sometimes available to reserve earlier than standard sites. While a standard site can hold up to eight people for $20 per night, a group site costs $100, but can accommodate 25 people.
Sleep in a tent
Standard tent sites tend to be cheaper than RV sites with full hookups, and you'll save money on gas, too.
Hit the KOA
If you want a few more amenities than your average national park provides, note that Utah has 15 Kampgrounds of America (KOA) campgrounds, replete with swimming pools, playgrounds, bike rentals and such.