Boondocking is a term given to a type of dry camping (camping without hook ups, 100% off grid). Some term it “free camping” or the trendy term, “wild camping”, because it does not cost any money, and many of the boondocking sites are out in nature, well away from the cities. Below you will find the different types of free camping locations, and how to locate them.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the US Forest Service (USFS), as well as other government agencies, such as the Army Corps of Engineers, all manage large areas of public land. Most allow “dispersed camping” (or “boondocking” to us RVers). That means you can camp wherever you find a spot that is accessible and suitable for an RV. Please take “accessible and suitable” seriously! It is best to check out any potential dry camping spots before you drive in with an RV. You want to make sure you can get back out safely!
The rules for boondocking safely are generally pretty simple:
Stay in a site that already has a campfire ring or other evidence of being a campsite.
Observe fire restrictions.
Pack out the trash you pack in. Leave not a trace.
Bury any human waste under at least 6″ of dirt (if you are not using the RV toilet)
Never dump your waste tanks onto public lands! Go to a dump station.
Stay the limit of 14 days or less, then move on.
Some districts don’t allow dry camping. If overnight dispersed camping is not allowed, a “No Overnight Camping” sign will be posted in an obvious place, such as the entrance.
Respect the 14-day limit; government agencies don’t want campers homesteading on public land. In many places, the Rangers will keep an eye on campers, and let them know to leave when their 14 days are up. There is an agency office for each district; a stop at the ranger office is worthwhile to ask about camping opportunities, as well as local rules and regulations.
Government Land Websites
When scouting out a boondocking site, you must consider whether or not your rig will fit, both the road there (is it wide enough?) and the site itself. Insufficient room to turn around, as well as overhanging branches, and can make a beautiful spot unusable for an RV.
Other things to look out for, are the potential for mud if it rains. Look at the road in, are there deep tire ruts? Also, how long is the drive in from the main road? Too many miles of washboard road can make a nice spot not worth staying at. If you have mechanical problems, it may be impossible to get help.
It may be worthwhile to stay at an RV park in a new area, to scout out potential boondocking areas with your car or truck. Bring along your GPS unit, to make note of the good locations you find.
Here are some favorite websites for free camping areas:
Please keep in mind, many of the people reporting these sites were camping in a van, truck camper, car, or a tent, and have never driven a big RV. When they report a campsite as “good for any size RV” they may have no idea it is totally inappropriate for a bigger rig.
Also, one person’s definition of a “good dirt road” may not be your idea of a good dirt road. Another thing, check the dates of the reports; the site may have become unusable since the report was made.
I can say, from personal experience, driving a 27′ Class A, towing a small car, probably 80% of the sites listed on these websites I’ve checked out, are completely unusable for anything other than vans, trucks, and tents. That is why, when I am in a new area, I will check into an RV park for a few days or a week, then go out in person to check out the sites, making notes with my GPS unit.
Many people will comment, “Why not use Google Earth? You can check the roads and sites with Google Earth, and save gas!” Maybe, up to a point. Google Earth pictures don’t show everything; for instance, an online friend emailed me coordinates for an area close to me, which he found on Google Earth. I checked it out, but the area was covered with several inches of soft, squishy, dried grass, completely inappropriate for parking a 7-ton motorhome on. On the Google Earth pictures, it just looked like normal dried, golden grass, not a 7″ layer of squish!
Boondocking can be a very rewarding RV lifestyle but do take proper precautions, and always keep in mind, safety.