Finding water sources should be a top priority when van camping—right up there with finding a place to sleep for the night. You’ll need to refill your fresh water tank somewhere between every couple of days to every two weeks. The exact frequency of refills will depend on how much water your tank holds and how much water you use.
The good news is that you don’t have to break the bank when sourcing water. In fact, there are plenty of savvy tricks to get free water on the road. Read on for Rec Van’s guide of the best places to find free potable water.
Note: potable water is safe for drinking, preparing food, washing dishes, and bathing. If you have to use non-potable water for something like washing dishes, make sure the dishes are completely dried—preferably in the sun—so harmful bacteria can’t survive. Never drink non-potable water or use it in food preparation as it can make you sick. Besides signage, the color of the taps can sometimes give you a clue—blue and green painted taps are usually potable, while red paint is often used to distinguish non-potable water taps.
- RV PARKS AND CAMPSITES
Although you’ll have to pay to stay at RV parks and campsites with hookups, the perk is as much free water as you want on-demand, as well as hookups for sewage and electricity. Staying at these spots can add up quickly, though, so we suggest planning to stay at a site with hookups around the time you’d need to refill your tanks and dry camping on the days in between. Take advantage of water hookups while you’re there to shower, clean the van, and do any other water-heavy activities. Free campsites, such as some run by the U.S. Forest Service, sometimes also offer free potable water to refill your tank. Check freecampsites.net and use the drinking water filter to find sites with free water. If you’re desperate, you can also try asking RV parks nicely if you can fill up your water tanks there even if you are not an overnight camper.
- DUMP STATIONS
You’ll already be looking for dump stations to empty your black and gray water tanks, so make the errand serve another purpose by looking for dump stations with fresh water spigots. Some stations will only have non-potable water—check signs and err on the side of caution if you’re not sure. Sanidumps.com is the best resource for finding nearby dump stations. The listings show whether the service is free or if there is a cost associated. The listings also show whether the spot has potable and/or non-potable water. To learn more about RV black and gray water tank use and maintenance, check out our post.
- GAS STATIONS
Like RV parks, water amenities at gas stations are more likely to be given to customers. Luckily, if you are already filling up your gas tank, gas stations will probably allow you to fill up your fresh water tank from their spigot for free. Always ask to make sure the water is potable and you’re allowed to use it. If they don’t have a drinking water source, the person behind the counter might know of a good local spot that does.
- TRAVEL CENTERS AND TRUCK STOPS
These businesses are great for finding many things you’ll need on the road, from gas to quick meals to overnight parking spots. Many have access to potable water to fill your tank as well. Some might charge a small fee for the water, but the convenience of these places is king. Call or check online in advance to see if a particular travel center or truck stop offers potable water and whether it is free.
- REST AREAS AND VISITOR’S CENTERS
Take a break to stretch and walk around, and you might just find a water spigot to fill up your fresh water tank. At the very least, most rest areas have a drinking fountain so you can refill your water bottle—or a few bottles if you’re boondocking somewhere remote overnight and just need water for the bare essentials like drinking and washing your hands. You can also ask visitor’s centers about where to find water if they don’t offer it themselves.
- NATIONAL FORESTS AND PARKS
Most national forests, national parks, and even state parks will have a water fill-up source. Depending on the location, this resource may only be for campers at their campgrounds, or it may be available for anyone to access. We recommend checking in advance on freecampsites.net as mentioned above by typing the forest or park name into the search bar and narrowing down the criteria from there.
Finding water sources can take time and energy, but it will all pay off when you’re able to stay in the most beautiful remote campsites in total comfort. If you’re new to van life, you might go through water more quickly than you originally expected, but learning tricks to conserve this precious resource will make it easier on your schedule, wallet, and the planet. You will also get better at predicting where to find free water over time. You might even develop some water sourcing tricks of your own.
Depending on the type of van you have, your fresh water tank size will vary. For example, the 2021 Roadtrek Zion holds 37 gallons of water while the 2021 Winnebago Travato holds 21 gallons. Water will add to the weight of your rig and lower your miles per gallon, so consider how often you will be able to—or want to—fill up. If you’re going to be doing a lot of dry camping and exploring off the beaten path, an option with a bigger tank is the way to go. If you’ll be city-hopping or staying at campsites and RV parks with hookups often, you might not need as large of a tank.
To browse a variety of adventure van models and find the perfect choice for your needs, visit Rec Van today.