What Is RV Boondocking?

What is boondocking? How to find boondocking spots?

Boondocking: what is it? Who is it for? How do you boondock? What do you need for boondocking?

What is RV Boondocking?

Boondocking, also known as Dry Camping or Off-Grid Camping, is camping in an RV without water hookups, sewer hookups, or electrical hookups. Boondocking sites are usually free (or very low cost), and you can typically stay in a boondocking site for up to 14 days at a time unless otherwise posted. Boondocking is legal in designated places only, so this type of camping can have a learning curve as well as needing extra preparation for your rig.

Where Can You Boondock?

There are many different types of Boondocking—the most beautiful of which is dispersed camping on public lands and wilderness areas.

Many public lands allow free or low cost “dispersed camping” – meaning there are no amenities and no designated campsites. It is a piece of public or federally owned land that is opened up for free camping for RVers, hunters or other outdoor recreational land users.

Most of the wilderness land used for boondocking in the US is owned by BLM, or Bureau of Land Management.

There are other ways to boondock that involve paying a membership fee, but in some cases it is well worth it!

Boondockers Welcome is a community of individuals offering up free camping on their driveway, yard, or street in many different cities and rural areas in the United States.

Harvest Hosts is a network of farms, vineyards, wineries and museums that allow free camping on the owners property while learning about and supporting their businesses.

How do I Prepare for Boondocking?

Used under Creative Commons License by wiserbailey on Flickr

Since boondocking is camping with no amenities, you will need some extra preparation for your trailer or RV. Boondocking is somewhat of an art—it is a totally different way of camping! It will take some practice to get it right.

  • Water: Water is extremely important, and when you are boondocking there is limited space for freshwater, but even less space for gray and black water. You not only need to be sure you have enough water for the duration of your stay, but you have to learn to use your water in a totally different way.
    • Holding Tanks: Your holding tanks (gray especially) will fill up before you know it – typically just 2 or 3 days. It is NEVER permitted to dump your tanks on the ground and can get you some hefty fines if you are caught, so you need to get creative with your water conservation!
    • Showers: Since you have limited gray water space, you’re either going to be showering a lot less (or a lot differently)… Unless you’re okay with breaking camp every couple of days to go dump! Options for showering are showering less, using a solar shower outside with biodegradable soap, or using truck stop showers! You have to pay for truck stop showers, but the hot water and water pressure are worth it.
    • Dishes: Doing dishes is a constant and it is a heavy water use activity. Do your dishes under a trickle or drip, use paper plates, or use a vinegar + water spray bottle to wipe and spray them clean. The vinegar and water solution is a great option for dishes that are not heavily soiled.
  • Electricity: You need to keep your house batteries charged! You never want your RV batteries to get below 50% capacity because this will significantly shorten their working life. It’s difficult to know how much power your batteries have in them without a battery monitor, so you’ll need to conserve as much energy as possible when boondocking.
    • Solar Power: Many RVers who boondock exclusively (such as myself) have added solar power setups to their rigs. Solar panels gather energy from the sun that recharges the house batteries directly, and depending on the array can provide enough power to run all systems like normal.
    • Generators: Most RVs and Travel Trailers nowadays have built-in generators. If you want to run AC or large appliances like microwaves or hair dryers while boondocking, you have to run the generator (even if you have solar). Built-in generators are sometimes hooked up to the batteries and slowly charge them back up. You can run a generator to power your appliances and/or recharge your batteries, depending on your setup. Generators either need external gas or are hooked up to your RV gas tank—gas levels will need to be monitored.
    • Vehicle Alternator: For some RVs and Travel Trailers, the house batteries are automatically recharged when the vehicle engine is running. You simply have to let your vehicle run for a couple of hours to charge your batteries back up to peak capacity. This uses gas but is an efficient method if you are equipped for it.

These are just a few different ways of keeping your batteries charged and equipment working while you are boondocking. Everyone’s needs will be different depending on the way they consume energy, what kind of setup they have, and how long they plan to be boondocking. Some campers will boondock for a couple of nights, then go to a campground to recharge, and go back and boondock again! It truly is up to you to figure out what works best for you.

Boondocking Safety

When many people first learn about boondocking they are concerned about safety. There’s just something about wide open spaces and the unknown that has the ability to make people feel a little unsettled.

I had this feeling too, and luckily, it doesn’t last long. There are a few things you can do to dispel your fears of safety when it comes to boondocking:

  • Read Reviews. With RVing being such a popular activity, almost every boondocking spot has been used and reviewed by someone on the internet! Using the resources for finding campsites listed below, you will also be able to read reviews from previous campers. Reviews will also let you know:
    • The lay of the land. How big is your rig? Some boondocking spots are inaccessible for bigger rigs. You can find out this information by reading the reviews. You will find information on road conditions, campsite conditions, and overall geography
    • Cell phone signal. If you need to work or be connected to cell signal or internet for any reason, you will be able to find this information in the campground reviews. Some sites will tell you what kind of signal you can get for each carrier at any particular campsite.
    • Overall vibe. People are honest in their reviews, and if they think a place feels sketchy or they had a bad experience, you’ll be able to read about it.
  • Scout the Location on Google Maps. Pull up Google Maps satellite view and zoom into the coordinates or the camping area you will be visiting. You will get a better feel for the area and may even see what road looks best to come in on for your particular rig.
  • Scout with your car first. If you have a tow vehicle, it is always a good idea to scout the location before bringing your rig in. If your dispersed camping area is down a forest road, unhook your RV in a parking area or roadside nearby and scope it out with your car. Sometimes you won’t be able to find a turnaround spot with your RV – so scouting ahead of time is best, especially if there aren’t many reviews. (Tip: take some camping chairs or items in your car with you, so if you find a spot you love you can claim it. Drop off your items then go pick up your rig, and no one will take your spot while you’re gone!)
  • Park facing the exit. If you are still uneasy about boondocking but decide to try it, always park with your rig facing the exit. This way, you are able to start your vehicle and leave immediately if you feel uncomfortable. It’s highly unlikely, but will give you more peace of mind.

In my personal experience, I have never had a scary time boondocking. I have come across some trashed campsites and sketchy areas, but chose not to stay in them. When in doubt, move along. That’s the beauty of RVing!

Boondocking gives you the ability to camp in some of the most pristine and untouched pieces of nature, and if you’re lucky you’ll have it all to yourself. There’s nothing more magical than that!

How to Find Free Places to Camp

As you become more experienced with boondocking, you will find more and more ways to find the best boondocking spots! As you meet other boondockers you will learn tips and secrets to finding hidden gems, as well as picking up your own methods. Some people stick to using the apps and websites I’ve laid out here, and others prefer to do it all on their own by cruising around and talking to other RVers. Start using the most popular and easy methods and as you gain experience, you’ll find what works best for you.

Websites and Apps:

  1. Freecampsites.net
    • When using this resource, it is best accessed and used on a computer or laptop. Here you will be able to sort by Free boondocking spots, paid boondocking spots, boondocking spots that require a permit, and ones that need researched more. You can read reviews as well as see photos from other travelers, and it gives you the elevation as well. Be sure to look out for rig size restrictions.
  2. Campendium.com
    • Campendium has an iOS app or is accessible on a computer. Campendium is my personal favorite and is one of the most comprehensive resources for finding campsites, free and paid. You are able to filter by campsite type, rig length and more. Campendium also lists nearest dump stations and cell phone signal strength, both handy for boondockers!
  3. Allstays.com
    • Allstays has an app, but is free to use on the computer. On Allstays you can sort by campsite type and the reviews and descriptions describe cell signal, rig length, road conditions and more.
  4. Casinocamper.com
    • Casinocamper lists casinos that allow parking and camping for RVers – some of these are free, and some are paid. Some have hookups, some do not!
  5. Harvesthosts.com
    • A paid membership, Harvest Hosts is a network of wineries, farms, vineyards and museums where self-contained RVers can camp for a night or two
  6. Boondockerswelcome.com
    • Another paid membership, Boondockers Welcome offers free overnight parking on private property by utilizing a network of property owners across the US. Think of it as an AirBnB for RVers
  7. Other ways to find great campsites:
    • Anytime you are near a national forest, national grassland or any other kind of public land or preserve, you are likely near some great free camping. In order to find dispersed camping in national forests and public lands near you, simply Google it!
      In your Google query, type the name of the public land or forest dispersed camping ie: “Coconino National Forest Dispersed Camping”. This will typically bring you to the National Forest Service website and list coordinates for areas where dispersed camping is allowed.

Another way to check on this is by just calling the ranger station. If there aren’t any nearby, they may be able to direct you to some elsewhere. The ranger station will also have insider information on the road conditions, campsite type and more.

Boondocking Tips and Tricks for First Timers

Boondocking is a special type of camping that will take time and experience to get it down just how you like it. Everyone camps differently, so everyone’s boondocking needs will be different! You may learn that you love it and quickly go on to installing your own solar setup to become a fully off-grid camper. Here are some tips for the first timer:

  • Research! Research the areas you’ll be going to and be sure it feels right for you. If you don’t like it, leave!
  • Camp at least 100 feet away from water if you are nearby.
  • Pack it in, pack it out! Never leave anything behind—leave an area better than how you found it. If previous campers trashed it, help clean it up! Don’t contribute to the problem—people trashing campsites are making it worse for responsible boondockers by getting campsites shut down.
  • Monitor your holding tanks and batteries. You don’t want a tank overflow and you don’t want to completely drain your batteries!
  • Start small. Start out boondocking for a night or two at a time to get a feel for it, and gradually increase your time off the grid.
  • Be aware of the rules of the area. Is there a burn ban? Do you know the limit of nights you can stay in that spot? Is firewood collecting prohibited? Try and familiarize yourself with the rules of the area to stay safe and out of trouble.
  • Minimize your impact on the land. If you have a fire, use an existing fire pit if there is one. Pick up your trash and any other trash. Use biodegradable products. Don’t cut trees for wood. Don’t create trails.
  • Enjoy Yourself! Boondocking is an incredibly freeing and “wild” way of camping—enjoy the silence, the views, and the serenity.

Have you boondocked before? If not, what’s preventing you from trying it? Let us know in the comments!

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