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You may have heard other RVers talk about the joys of boondocking. But you need to know what you are doing to have a fun and successful boondocking experience. Our RV Boondocking Beginner Tips and How-To Guide will help any RVer prepare to hit the road!
Boondocking refers to dry camping in a dispersed camping area or another area outside of a developed campground. And it is gaining in popularity in the United States.
Whether you are new to RVing or an experienced veteran camper, you may have some questions about boondocking and how to prepare for it. Our tips below will make sure you have all the knowledge you need to get out there and enjoy your first boondocking experience!
1️⃣ Find a Great Dispersed Camping Area
Many of the best places to boondock throughout the United States are on public lands. For the most part, these lands are free or very low cost for use by visitors and travelers. The two most common types of public lands in the United States government agencies are the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM land, and land managed by the United States Forest Service.
Bureau of Land Management land is mostly found in the Western United States. While much of the land is more remote, there are many areas available for camping that are close to population centers, national parks, and other areas that are perfect for camping and exploring.
An example of excellent BLM camping land can be found in and around Moab, Utah. This area is extremely popular and often feels more like a campground with lots of other neighboring campers close by on the weekends. However, the vast majority of this camping is totally free, and it is within a twenty-minute drive of Arches National Park and also convenient to Canyonlands National Park and Capitol Reef National Monument. Also, the views are spectacular!
When camping on BLM land, you will not find the picnic tables and restroom facilities that you would expect in state and national parks. Instead, you will find dispersed camping with wide, open spaces.
Dispersed camping or dry camping means that you will need to bring your own drinking water, trash bags, and other necessities. You will need to be prepared to go without any hookups and restrooms as well. Before setting out for BLM land, make sure you have everything that you need for your stay. While you are there, you will need to follow the “leave no trace” principles. Pack out your trash, bury any human waste, and leave your camping area as you found it.
Dispersed camping is allowed on most BLM land for up to 14 days. While most BLM land is free, some more popular areas do charge a small fee, typically $7 per night. While a nightly fee is rare, if you do camp in areas where the charge is required, be sure to do the right thing and pay upon arrival or risk a fine or ticket.
Finding the Bureau of Land Management lands can be a challenge. The BLM website does not offer a comprehensive map of the United States, but they do have regional maps available online. You can also reach out to the BLM office to get more information on boondocking sites available for camping. Some states have guidebooks for BLM camping, which you can find either online or at local offices. We use the app Campendium to find great BLM camping areas.
Another great option for public land camping is land managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS). Forest Service land is undeveloped, but camping along turnouts and in dispersed areas is permitted. There are over 175 forest and grassland areas where campers are welcome to camp for free.
The maximum amount of time you can camp on Forest Service land is 14 days. Be sure to follow these guidelines as rangers do keep an eye on campers and will ask you to move along after the two week period has elapsed. Again, like with BLM land, you will need to bring all of your necessities and be sure to leave no trace.
Similar to the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service does not have a comprehensive guide for locating these lands. There are several excellent options for finding these areas on your own. First, check with each ranger district directly. If you know where you plan to visit, you can check for forest lands in that area.
Another great option is to utilize the United States Forest Service website. The national forest service website allows you to search by state for forest land in that area. Then, you can check the web page for the specific forest or grassland for camping information. The easiest way to find forest service land open for camping is to use an app, such as Campendium. With Campendium, you can search for free campsites, which will bring up a list of all public lands in your area.
2️⃣ Tell Someone Where You are Going
This rule applies to anywhere you travel in your camper, whether you are camping in a private campground, state or national park, or boondocking. Always let someone know your route, destination, and how long you plan to stay. And this is especially true when you plan to go off the grid.
If possible, share your coordinates with a friend or family member as well. While this may seem unnecessary, it could be lifesaving if you ever get stuck in an area without cell service and are unable to leave for any reason.
3️⃣ Make Sure You Can Access the Camping Area with Your Rig
Once you have found the perfect camping area, do a little more research to check out the road conditions leading to the campsites. Remember that public lands are maintained at various levels, and not all roads are passable, especially with larger Class A Motorhome rigs.
Not all travel trailers, 5th wheels are built to go off-road. They may not have the proper suspension or ground clearance to navigate the terrain.
And truck campers and camper vans may or may not be 4 wheel drive. So – be sure you know the capabilities of your vehicle before you head out in the wild.
One way to find out in advance what road conditions are like is to check with other campers or rangers. If you know someone who has camped in the area you are considering, ask them what the road conditions were like. Be sure to ask about hazards and what the roads are like after a rain. You will also want to find out if you need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to access the area. You can also read reviews of camping areas on Campendium and other websites and apps.
Keep in mind that everyone views road conditions differently. What one person considers easy may be downright treacherous for someone else, especially if your rig is larger! Try to find reviews and talk to other campers who have rigs similar or larger to your own for the most helpful opinions.
Finally, ask a ranger! The ranger stationed in the area will be a great source of information on road conditions and accessibility. You can find a ranger by calling the ranger station or stopping by the station on your way to the campsite.
Once you arrive at the camping area, park your rig in a safe location, and WALK through the area. Pay close attention to the roads and any washouts. Consider whether or not you can easily navigate the rig and maneuver it through the area. Remember, you need to be able to get out of the campsite as well as in! If you have any doubts about your ability to access the site, or your ability to get out of the area, turn around! You do not want to risk getting stuck in a remote area.
4️⃣ Bring Everything You Need, Especially Water
If you plan to camp in a dispersed camping area for more than one night, you will need to do some planning in advance to make sure you have everything you need. Make sure you have enough water for each person in your group for the length of your trip. You will want to be sure you have food and everything you need to prepare meals or plan to make a lot of trips into town!
Having all of your supplies on hand will cut down on trips into town and truly allow you to experience the joys of wilderness camping. While preparing for boondocking is not much different than preparing for tent camping, it can be a change for anyone used to camping in a more populated area or RV resort. However, with a little thought and preparation, you can have a great time in the wilderness!
5️⃣ Make a Plan for Having No Hookups
Going without electricity, water, and sewer hookups is probably the biggest challenge of boondocking. While most people can go a night or two without power, doing without it for days on end can be a challenge.
There are some workarounds for this, including purchasing a generator or solar panels for your rig and having good batteries. Most frequent boondockers have either a generator, solar panels, or both, which can make dry camping much more pleasant.
If this is your first time boondocking, you may want to try it out before making a major purchase, such as a generator. However, keep in mind that having access to a generator or solar power will make your stay much more pleasant and can impact whether or not you enjoy the experience. A good idea may be to rent or borrow these items to see if you like wild camping enough to make the investment.
Not being able to dump your tanks on site is another concern. If you plan to boondock for multiple days at a time, you will need a plan for dealing with your waste. Remember that it is illegal to dump your black tanks on public lands. Some areas will allow you to dump gray water, but other areas may not. Be sure to check the regulations in advance or be prepared to dump your gray water elsewhere.
The best option for dumping your holding tanks when dry camping long term is to find a nearby RV dump station. You can find dump stations at many gas stations. Private campgrounds or state parks will usually allow you to dump your tanks for a small fee. While this can be a hassle, many boondockers find dumping their tanks to be a minor inconvenience compared with the benefits of free camping.
6️⃣ Safety First!
Many people avoid boondocking out of safety concerns. There is a fear that if you are alone along a remote road, something could happen, and there would be no one around to help or respond.
You may be surprised to learn that many people who boondock report feeling safer while boondocking as opposed to a campground. We all know that crime could happen anywhere, and in fact, petty theft takes place in campgrounds as well as neighborhoods. Fewer people around means fewer crimes of opportunity, although locking your doors and keeping an eye on your valuable items is a best practice no matter where you camp.
If you are worried about emergency response in the event of a health issue or accident, you can take steps to reduce this concern. Make sure you have cell service or at least be aware of how far you will have to drive to make a call. Write down your physical location and make a note of the nearest hospital or emergency response team. All of these steps can help to reduce your fears, whether you are in the wilderness or a busy campground.
Finally, be sure you have a well-stocked first-aid kit. Again, this is important, no matter where you camp! At a minimum, you will want sterile gauze pads, adhesive tape, adhesive bandages, splint, antiseptic wipes, and essential medications such as Tylenol and possibly Benadryl. Hopefully, you will never need to use these items, but you will certainly appreciate having them in the event of an emergency!
7️⃣ Find Out About Any Fire Restrictions
For many campers, a roaring campfire is a big part of the camping experience. When you are camping on public lands in dispersed areas, you will need to take some precautions and plan ahead before roasting your marshmallows!
First, find out if there are fire restrictions in the area where you plan to boondock. If you are on public lands in the Western United States during the summer wildfire season, fires may not be allowed or will at least be heavily restricted. You may also need a fire permit.
The best way to get accurate information on fire regulations is to contact the ranger station for the BLM or Forest Service land where you plan to camp.
One other important point is that many dispersed camping areas may not have a fire pit. You must know the basics of fire safety and backcountry fire protocols. Of course, keep your fire extinguisher close by as well.
Finally, be sure to follow the “leave no trace” principals and remove any evidence of your campfire before you leave.
8️⃣ Plan for No Cell Service
Often, but not always, boondocking spots are in remote areas. In many cases, you may be 20 to 30 minutes or more from the nearest town. You may or may not have cell service when you are boondocking. All of this could be a pro or a con to you, depending on your preferences.
While it may be nice to avoid emails and unwanted phone calls, a lack of cell coverage also means you will not be able to check the weather or pull up maps of your area. To make sure you are covered, either way, you may want to bring paper maps with you on your adventure. Having a paper map on hand can help you find landmarks and recreational opportunities near you, without having to rely on your phone.
Although most dispersed camping is found in more remote locations, we have found that many great spots are relatively close to small towns, and many even have excellent cell service!
Again, research is vital here. Check with other campers, rangers, and online camping sites to get an idea of the area so that you know what to expect. While you should always plan to go without cell service, you will often be pleasantly surprised at the coverage that you will have.
9️⃣ Bring Trash Bags and Pack It Out!
When we say that there are no amenities in most dispersed camping areas, we mean it! One of the most significant differences between boondocking and camping in a campground is the lack of facilities. Most dispersed camping is little more than a dirt or gravel turnout. Occasionally, but not always, you may have a fire pit.
You will most likely be unable to find a trash can in these locations, which means you need to be prepared to pack out all of your trash when you leave and make sure your spot is clean when you leave it.
Some folks like living close to nature so much that they adopt a full-time boondocking lifestyle. Others have very little money and boondocking is the most affordable way for them to live. But I find the majority of people I talk to enjoy the feeling of living off the grid for a week or two. They enjoy the rest, the still, the quiet, and the space for a while and then head back to being connected.
But no matter what your reasons are for boondocking we hope you found RV Boondocking Beginner Tips and “How-To” Guide helpful.