Everything you Need to Know About Boondocking

There are various reasons why people find campers and recreational vehicles (RVs) attractive. For some, they provide a chance to escape the indoors and experience the great outdoors in faraway places. Others want to take advantage of the opportunities that campers and RVs provide for simple and cheap living. Boondocking, also known as “dry camping”, “free camping”, or “wild camping”, allows people to make full use of their campers and RVs while enjoying nature.

Anyone who has spent some time enjoying free camping in the RV community will tell you that boondocking can be complicated. So, we have created this article to answer some of the main questions you need to ask before heading off to your next adventure of free or wild camping.

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Table of Contents

What is Boondocking?

Boondocking, also known as dry camping, is a type of camping where you park your RV, camper, or motorhome in a remote, undeveloped area without any amenities or hookups, such as electricity, water, or sewer. Boondocking is often done on public lands, such as Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, national forests, or other wilderness areas where camping is permitted. This type of camping is popular among outdoor enthusiasts who want to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy the peace and solitude of nature. It requires self-sufficiency, as you must bring your own food, water, and power, and also be mindful of leaving no trace and preserving the natural environment.

What are the Types of Boondocking?

Because boondocking occurs in different locations, we can categorize it into various broad types depending on where it is done. Generally, there are three broad types of boondocking: the overnight stay, the developed campground without hookups, and the undeveloped campsite. 

Overnight Stay

On their way to the destination site, campers often take a break during the journey and spend a night in a parking lot. There are two types of overnight stays: wall docking and mooch docking.

If you decide to stop overnight and park your RV at a Walmart parking lot, you are wall docking. This can either be planned or forced on you by conditions beyond your control. For example, when you have challenges with your camper or the weather doesn’t allow you to go further.

If you happen to know someone on your route, you may request to park your camper van in their driveway. When you do this, you are mooch docking. For the lucky ones, this could also mean getting connected to a water and power source. Even if someone allows you to park on their property without a hookup, you could still have a convenient, safe place to park overnight.

Developed Campground Without Hookups

A developed campground can be a public or private campground explicitly designed for boondocking. Even though this land may be developed for free camping, it doesn’t offer any campground facilities such as water, electricity, and sewer hookups.

Undeveloped Campsite

For many people, an undeveloped campsite is what comes to mind when talking about boondocking. It involves camping on primitive grounds with no services and hookups.

Marked and unmarked undeveloped grounds can be found on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and United States Forest Service (USFS) properties. Some campers are lucky to have the entire surrounding to themselves for their full stay on these lands. 

What Places Allow Free Overnight Parking?

Places like Walmart, some casinos, truck stops, and rest stops sometimes allow overnight stays in their parking lots for free. This is to allow travelers to rest for the night before resuming their journey the next day. You are generally expected to stay for just one night and leave the next morning in such places.

Parking lots of apartment complexes, hotels/motels, and trailheads can also be used for free overnight stays. However, before deciding to use any space for overnight parking, you need to find out if you are permitted.

Friends and relatives’ homes can also be great places for overnight stays. You could also get a chance to meet loved ones you haven’t seen in a long time.

Why do People go Boondocking?

There are lots of reasons why people choose boondocking over the convenience of RV parks and privately-run campgrounds.

Zero Cost: Is regarded as the primary reason RVers make the boondocking decision. For instance, instead of spending $300 paying $20 a night for a 15-night stay, how about paying $0? That’s $300 more that can go towards your groceries or fuel tank.

Great Views: Boondocking allows lovers of the RVing scene to explore old mining camps, ghost towns, obscure places, and remote geographical locations.

Proximity: While traveling to a destination, campers could spend a night, or several nights, resting for free on grounds not too far off their travel route.

Availability: Due to campground spaces’ reservation policies, they may be booked full by the time or season you wish to visit that destination site. When this happens, campers can resort to boondocking in unmarked underdeveloped sites for the entire visit or until there’s an opening at the campground close to the destination site.

Other reasons for boondocking are flexibility, seclusion, and solitude.

What are the Disadvantages of Boondocking?

Boondocking mostly means camping off-grid. There are usually no convenience service perks in boondocking. This is especially when a camper has no access to sewer hookups, dump stations, electricity, rangers, bathrooms, and other facilities available in developed campgrounds.

Parking overnight in public spaces can be illegal in some states, and campers can pay fines as high as $300 for wall docking or mooch docking.

Some people may also take advantage of the fact that dispersed camping in national forest areas may not come with closely enforced rules and decide to behave in a rowdy and noisy way.

Is Boondocking Safe?

Deciding to set camp in an area you’re not familiar with can seem to pose a safety hazard. However, suppose you consider that criminals generally tend to target urban centers. In that case, you will realize that you may be safer boondocking than you would be at your house in the city. Therefore, the further away from civilization that campers are boondocking, the safer they are likely to be.

Nevertheless, you need to consider attacks by wild animals. Generally, wild animals don’t attack campers at their boondocking site. Most attacks happen during hiking trips. Snake and insect bites are also common attacks when boondocking.

How Can You Stay Safe When Boondocking?

As much as you need to be vigilant when staying at home or anywhere else for that matter, you will also need to take precautions when boondocking. Follow safety tips and practices during RV boondocking. For instance, have an alarm system, a guard dog, park in an area with a cell phone signal, and park out of view of the main road or open spaces. You could also join other campers and form groups or travel with a legal firearm.

Knowing the boondocking area’s weather conditions allows you to prepare adequately before you leave home. This involves ensuring that you keep to areas where you can get help if you get into a difficult situation.

Campers need to be informed and aware of the surroundings of their campsite. The US Fish and Wildlife Service provides tips on what to do in different animal encounter situations. The advice is simple: “Be respectful of wild animals and keep your distance”.

For How Long Can You Boondock?

Parking lots only allow an overnight stay, while the USFS has a 16-days-stay rule at a site before moving to another site. For instance, the Fishlake National Forest stipulates that “You may camp in a dispersed area for up to 16 days. After 16 days, you must move at least five road miles for camping in another dispersed area. Campers may not spend more than 16 days of any 30-day period at the same dispersed area.”  

Some boondocking sites will allow you to stay as long as you want. Such sites have vendors who come around with water, fresh produce, and other supplies. Other elements, like the weather, also determine how long you can boondock at a particular site.

Is Boondocking Legal?

It is not illegal to boondock on public land. However, to reduce crowding at campgrounds, federal, state, and local authorities often put a set of rules to manage the number of campers at a given time.

Boondocking is generally illegal in cities and neighborhoods. Many urban centers have laws that prohibit camping in areas under their jurisdiction.

Several free boondocking locator websites are now available. They provide information on legal boondocking locations, as well as reviews from previous campers. Examples include the USFS Website and Google Maps Satellite View.

If you can spot a forest or park ranger, ask them if it is legal to camp at a particular place. Park or forest rangers can also give you some inside tips about an area. 

Where Can You Find Free Camping Sites in the US?

The US National Forests and Grasslands are free for camping except if marked as restricted. Parks generally permit free camping outside of their designated developed campgrounds.

The US Public Lands app and USDA website provide information about free camping locations and the rules campers must follow during their stay. 

What is the ‘Leave No Trace’ Principle?

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is an organization that says it “protects the outdoors by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy it responsibly.” The center coined seven principles that apply to boondocking.  

Plan and prepare: From picking your destination site, how long you wish to stay, and the tools and resources required during your entire stay so that you leave no trace and minimize resource damage.

Travel and camp on durable surfaces: To avoid causing soil erosion resulting from damage to vegetation.  

Dispose of waste properly: The principle stipulates that campers dig a 6-inch deep cathole, relieve themselves in it, and cover it up. Other waste generated by the camper must be taken away in trash bags.

Leave what you find: This means that you should try as much as possible to return a piece of land to the state in which you found it when you leave.

Minimize campfire impacts: Using existing fire pits in campsites and dead wood from trees and shrubs on the floor for fire, rather than cutting down branches from trees and shrubs. Also, put out a fire as soon as you are done using it.

Respect wildlife: This is a principle that involves learning about wildlife through quiet observation. It implies that you should not disturb plants or wildlife because you want to satisfy your curiosity.  

Be considerate of other visitors: By behaving in a way that ensures that others can also enjoy the surrounding. This can be done by avoiding excessive noise, traveling with unruly pets, and causing damage to the environment. 

What Are Some Boondocking Essentials?

Boondocking essentials include garbage bags, water for drinking and washing, permits (if applicable), camp chairs and a table, toilet paper and shovel, and food storage containers.

A shade structure, portable fire pit, water filtration system, tire traction tracks, and shower bags are other items one can pack for a boondocking trip. You also need to remember to pack a first aid kit and other essential medications, including pain killers. 

What Should You Look For in a Boondocking Camper?

When deciding on an RV or camper to buy, there are several things to look at. Consider the style and design, the size of its grey and black tanks, water tank, generators, and solar panel hookups.

Also, consider a bathroom facility for cleaning and relieving yourself. The bathroom has to be adequately ventilated so that foul odors do not end up circulating inside the van.

Campers with LED lights use electricity more efficiently, thus are very suitable for boondocking purposes.

Other factors to look for in an RV or camper include a water heater, inverters, easily accessible batteries, an independent slide-out bed, and ample storage for equipment brought along for activities. 

What are the Top Tips When Boondocking?

Here are some tips for a successful boondocking experience:

  • Plan ahead: Before heading out, research your destination and make sure that boondocking is allowed in the area. Check for any regulations or restrictions and make sure you have all necessary permits.
  • Be self-sufficient: Boondocking means camping without amenities or hookups, so make sure you have enough food, water, and power to last your entire stay.
  • Practice Leave No Trace principles: When boondocking, it’s important to leave the area as you found it. Pack out all trash and waste, and avoid damaging or disturbing the natural environment.
  • Be respectful of other campers: Boondocking often involves camping in close proximity to other campers, so be mindful of noise and respect others’ privacy and space.
  • Monitor your resources: Keep track of your water and power usage and conserve as much as possible. Use solar panels or a generator to recharge batteries, but be mindful of noise and the environment.
  • Stay safe: When boondocking, you may be in remote areas with limited cell service, so make sure you have a plan in case of emergency. Bring a first aid kit, communicate your plans with others, and be aware of any potential hazards in the area.
  • Have a backup plan: Boondocking can be unpredictable, so have a backup plan in case your intended location is unavailable or unsafe. Be prepared to relocate if necessary.
  • Regenerate response
About Author
About Author

Schuyler has been working and playing outdoors his entire adult life. As a ski-bum in his early 20’s, he began building campers in the beds of pickup trucks to pursue a life of freedom and adventure. After a decade of experience as an artist and carpenter in Washington State, he moved to Colorado to work as an RV technician, converting vans into luxury campers. Now he is traveling the world, using writing as a way to continue his passion for creativity and artistry.

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