Truth be told, sometimes we're just lucky or drove down the wrong road to discover an amazing location. Although unimpressive by some standards, we have camped at a Casino (Washington), a closed fruit stand (California), "Top Ten" RV park (Oregon) and several KOAs (Montana & Idaho). And although we are still holding out for a magical WalMart parking lot, truck stop or fairgrounds, we attempt to find that out-of-the-way location few get to, few find, and few consider. We don't care about running water, toilets or sewer dumps and surely don't like paying $30+ a night for "full hookups" either.
What we do like are streams and lakes. Tall trees and singing birds. Haunting sounds we can't figure out. Foraging for delicate leaves, wild fungi and the smell of timber. To find these locations one has to do research, drive forest roads with hope. But sometimes you'll find the right combination next to a rail bridge, highway or edge of a developed camp ground.
APPS We use several means for navigating to a location. In no particular order, All Stays, Ultimate Campgrounds, Freecampsites.net and GAIA. Each has it's own features and options, but none of them are a single solution. If we were just staying in improved or developed campgrounds and RV parks, either All Stays or Ultimate Campgrounds would suffice. Sadly finding details or even basic information about a primitive site 30 miles down forest roads isn't easy. People who use these locations often want to keep them secret or don't care about posting something online. We too are equally guilty as we've found amazing campsites by accident we'll probably never write about either. And we've only just started writing reviews and updates to some of the places we've been in the last week.
TIPS Use all the tools you have. We don't use one app, we use all the apps and search for images, Forest Service, State and County websites. We cross-references the information so we don't end up at a closed, abandoned or just shitty location.
Take a chance. Drive that forest road, up a snowy trail or down a dirt road. Take the advice of a random stranger, especially if it happens while waiting at a left turn signal.
Get off the highway and on county roads. Here is where you'll see signs for local camp grounds, parks and recreation areas. Go into the local markets and gas stations where locals love to tell you about their favorite place or site. Note: having a unique camper and out-of-state plates helps a lot
Finally, don't settle. It's all to easy to give into the easy location, site or parking lot. It takes time to find the out of the way location, and it doesn't always work out. But be persistent, keep trying and have a little positive hope and you too will find an amazing camp spot away from