Lets face it, the only way to really camp if you are being super budget conscious, is to go to crown land or an unmaintained provincial park that allows camping. It's not impossible to find, but it's certainly not as easy as going online and booking a campsite. You take your chances that you'll actually get a site, that the sites won't be trashed by irresponsible campers, and you'll deal with the lack of facilities (possibly not even a thunder box)
On the plus side, this kind of camping gives you a lot of freedom. You can stay as long as you feel like, provided your food doesn't run out. You can pick your route without having to worry about sticking to a permit. Really like a particular lake and want to spend the whole trip there rather than moving on and doing a whole loop like you'd planned? Nobody is going to care. Feel like heading home a few days early? You won't feel guilty you payed for 7 nights and only stayed 5.
For people heading out from the city, you will probably have to travel farther, so you'll have to weigh the cost of gas. There's not a lot of places to camp for free close to the city…there used to be, but most became over used and now charge fees to cover maintenance costs. For this reason, it may make more sense to stick closer to home, save on gas and pay a campground fee, especially if you are going for a night or two.
But for the purposes of this series, I'm trying to see how easy it is to plan a week of camping for very little money.
So, campground fees -- $0.00
Gas - depends on where you go…we have an option within 20 minutes of where we live, but for the most part, we'd be driving at least 2-4 hours each way. Gas prices are low(er) right now, but I'm guessing once summer hits, they'll be back to where they were last year.
I'll be working on some budget friendly camp meals, hopefully some for both car camping and back country, and I hope to put together a 7 day trip menu, with approximate costs in the next few weeks.