How To Safely Go Free RV Camping a.k.a Boondocking?

In this article, we delve into the world of boondocking and run through the rules, tips and tricks of free RV camping, and how to do it safely.

What the devil is boondocking?

Other than being a funny word, boondocking is essentially camping off grid. This is also called dispersed camping, which is defined as ‘camping on public lands away from developed recreation facilities’.

This means no electric, water or sewer hookups, and therefore camping outside of regular campsites.

You can boondock at a Walmart carpark if you need somewhere to sleep overnight, or you can head into the wild and spend some time in nature, completely off grid.

If this sounds interesting to you keep reading, to find out how you can safely and legally boondock.

Here at The RVing Site we love boondocking, as it’s a great way to feel connected to nature and just get away from it all.

However, it can be daunting getting started. 

How to Boondock Safely

Safety is always priority. If you haven’t planned properly then that relaxing trip is out of the window. 

A great way to test the waters is to go dry camping – whilst not strictly boondocking it can be a practice run. Dry camping is where you reserve a space at a campsite, but without any of the hookups.

After a few nights of dry camping you’ll get the hang of boondocking life and be ready to try for real.

If you enjoyed dry camping and want to go boondocking for real, it’s a good idea to do a short overnight trip, it’ll also help you figure out what supplies you’d need for a longer boondocking stay. To test the waters, it’s a good idea to stay for a night where overnight parking is allowed. This way you can dip your toes in the water and see if boondocking is something that you’d enjoy.   

Firstly, you’ll need to choose somewhere where overnight parking is allowed. Below is a quick list of places where you can park overnight. Always check beforehand that the place you are planning on staying allows boondocking.

  • Walmart 
  • Truck Stops/Rest Areas
  • Visitors Centers
  • Camping World
  • Trail Heads
  • National Forests
  • Cabellas
  • Dennys
  • IHOP
  • Holiday Inn
  • Marriot Inn
  • Target
  • Winco/Safeway/24 Hour Grocery Stores
  • QFC

When you have found your first boondocking spot make sure to follow these pointers.

  1. Plan – Always plan ahead, make sure you know where you are going and what to expect. Ensure you have enough supplies, battery power, gas etc. Remember – failing to plan is planning to fail.    
  2. Access – make sure that the spot is easily accessible, the last thing that you want is to get stuck in mud or stranded, make sure to scout ahead on foot.
  3. Light – Plan to arrive in the morning so you have plenty of light to set up, and walk ahead to make sure the road is accessible if you drive down. Even if you’d read a review the conditions could have changed since so ALWAYS SCOUT AHEAD. Pull up somewhere safe and walk it. Always make sure that the area is accessible for your rig!
  4. Weather – Always check the forecast, especially in mountainous areas. An area thats easily accessible in the summer may be the complete opposite in winter conditions. Likewise if rain is forecast, you don’t want to be able to park up and set up and then be swallowed up in mud and unable to get back out. Or heaven forbid you’ve set up camp in a dry riverbed and then the rains come and turn that into raging white water rapids.
  5. SCOUT AHEAD – Just incase we didn’t stress this enough earlier, always scout ahead on foot first. Make sure that you always have enough room to turn your rig around.


The Boondocking Code

There is a general code of conduct when boondocking, the unspoken rules are:

Take nothing but photo’s and leave nothing but footsteps.

In other words, take your rubbish with you! In the USA we’re lucky enough to have the Bureau of Land Management (BLM land) and our national forests. And the fact these organisations let us camp in these beautiful areas is an honour. We need to respect the land and wildlife by taking care of it, and taking our trash away with us. Otherwise this privilege might be taken away.

Obey the Rules

Check any signage or check with a local ranger what the rules are. Most boondocking places have a maximum stay (usually 14 days). There might also be rules about campfires, pets, and generator use. Make sure that you find out what the rules are and respect them.

Be considerate.

You might not be the only boondockers on site. Just remember that it’s not only you that has ventured into the wild for some peace. Be considerate of other campers.

Plan for emergencies

Just in case you skipped past the previous section, I want to reiterate that you need to plan ahead. You don’t have the luxury of a campsite and the help that comes with that, you are literally on your own in the wilderness. Don’t forget to pack enough provisions, have a charged battery e.t.c and tell people where you’re going, and when you are back. You may not have a cell signal.

Boondocking Tips

The more you go boondocking the more tips and tricks you’ll acquire, we’ve compiled a few to get you started.

  1. Be prepared –  I can’t stress this enough! You’ll most likely be far away from any conveniences so make sure you have enough RV supplies – drinks, food, toiletries, batteries etc. The last thing you want is to have to cut your trip short because Dave forgot the toilet roll – get it together Dave!
  2. Conserve water – you’re unlikely to be anywhere that you can quickly re-fill your water tanks. You’ll need to watch your water usage, some water conservation techniques we’ve picked up are: Don’t wash too many dishes, so focus on meals that don’t require many dishes to cook, think one-pot stews, sandwiches, or anything on the grill. You could even use disposable dishes and cutlery. Alternatively you can save your dishes for washing until you get home. Take separate drinking water. Don’t bathe (as often or at all). If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down 🙂 
  3. Conserve power – Again if your boondocking, your not going to have an electric hookup, therefore your going to need to conserve power.Try and find manual versions of things rather than electric – eg. a manual whisk, manual coffee grinder, transistor radio e.t.c. You can use battery LED lights, time your days with the sun to save using lights. Turn off the inverter and pump when not in use. Take warm clothes. Use a propane heater. Make sure all electrical appliances are charged beforehand.         
  4. Watch those waste-water tanks – conserving your water is one thing, however you want to make sure that your gray and black tanks don’t fill up. If these tanks get full you’ll soon notice by the overwhelming smell. It will also start to push the grossness back up through the plug hole and into the shower. Keep an eye on these tanks.

Where Can I find Free RV Camping?

Boondocking, in general, is allowed on public land as long as it does not conflict with other authorized uses or in areas posted “closed to camping,” or in some way adversely affects wildlife species or natural resources.

Free RV Camping is allowed on public land for a period of up to 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period. After the 14th day of boondocking, you must move to more than 25 miles away. This is to protect the natural habitat of the area.

Boondocking sites are usually located along most secondary roads. They might not be marked but you can usually tell where a site is because of the flat disturbed area. Try to use previous sites where possible to avoid disturbing the land more.

Different States may have additional requirements or restrictions for boondocking, so make sure you have researched this before your trip.

As with different states each national forest may have different requirements, so make sure you have checked this before your trip. In general, camping closer than 300 feet to a water source is restricted. You will also have to be more than one mile away from campgrounds, picnic areas, or trailheads.The U.S Forest service has free travel management maps, it’s important to find out the rules of where you are going to avoid getting into trouble.

Some National Parks allow boondocking, however this can be few and far between so it’s generally best to keep to established campsites. Its also best to avoid tourist hotspots as these areas tend to have tougher restrictions.

Final Thoughts

Boondocking is a fantastic adventure, just don’t forget to plan ahead, as you will be alone in the wilderness. Or a walmart parking lot 🙂

It also saves you money, which can be important if you’re living in your RV.

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