Spending the winters in the Desert Southwest, particularly Arizona, is one of the cheapest ways to live for RVers. You have many options, from luxurious RV resorts, to basic RV parks, to BLM LTVAs and free boondocking, out in the desert.
What makes the Desert Southwest Such a Great Place to RV?
There are millions of acres of public land, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the desert Southwest, as well as a lot of Forest Service land. Also, the privately owned RV parks in the small towns of the Desert Southwest are on land that is cheap by comparatively with other regions of the country, which translates into lower campground fees. And, the economy of the small towns in that region often depend largely on the winter visitors, so you will always feel welcome, and as long as you play by the rules, you will rarely be run off by the rangers.
By far, the most economical way to RV in the Southwest is dry camping in the open desert, outside of the BLM’s Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVA). You can camp anywhere on BLM land unless prohibited by signs, or a fence. But even with these restrictions, there are millions of acres open to free BLM boondocking.
While camping in the open desert is completely free, there are a few rules to follow: you should move camp every 14 days, and move at least 25 miles away, and leave no trace. Pack it in, pack it out. Don’t dump your tanks, don’t shoot up the place, and harm wildlife or plant life. Also, use common sense, and do not camp in a dry wash (flash flooding if it rains) or go driving across the open desert, unless maybe, you are camping with a 4×4. Only take roads appropriate for your RV.
Before you go Snowbirding, you’re advised to outfit your rig with solar panels (most fulltimers go with a minimum of 300-400W) or, a reliable gas or diesel generator. Many Snowbirds get their rig equipped with solar in the Snowbird town of Quartzsite, there are 2-3 solar shops open there during Snowbird season.
Besides solar panels, the only costs you will have are the gas you use to drive back and forth to the nearest town for supplies, eating out, entertainment, and the cost to drive to a campground or other place to dump your holding tanks and refill your fresh water tank.
The BLM LTVA areas are also inexpensive, with a rate of $180 for the entire season, Sept. 15 – April 15, which is six months, or $40 for two weeks. The most popular LTVA areas are around Quartzsite and Yuma Arizona, as well as near Bishop, California. These areas attract thousands of Snowbirds every year. You can contact the BLM through their website for information on purchasing an LTVA pass. The advantage of the LTVA areas is there is a dump station and water, trash collection, and you can stay in one area for longer than 14 days. Many are set up like a dry camping RV park. This option might appeal to you, if you are the social type, enjoy making new friends, and participating in group activities, such as nightly campfires, group off roading adventures, and wine parties.