Boondocking! What is it and why would anyone want to do it? In this guide, we are going to learn about boondocking and why it’s so popular among RVers.
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Boondocking is when you camp in your RV without the amenities usually found at a campground. You are not going to have water, electricity, wi-fi, dump station, or any hookup at all.
Boondocking is also referred to as dry camping or free camping, with “free camping” being one of the more popular terms. There several types of boondocking you should be familiar with.
According to Camping World there are three types; Overnight Stay, Developed Campground (No Hookups), and Undeveloped Campsite. Let’s go over each one in detail.
Overnight Stay Boondocking
In this type of boondocking, you will stay in one location for a night. This is common if you are driving a long distance and just want a location to stay at that is easy to get to and is free. Let’s take a look at what location are usually available for an overnight stay.
Walmart Parking Lots (Wallydocking)
Looking to stay overnight and stock up on supplies? A Walmart parking lot is our preferred choice. Most Walmart parking lots are very well lit, have security, and are typically very visible.
Even if you have no plans to park at a Walmart you may be forced to do so if you encounter severe weather conditions that are preventing you from getting to your destination.
One thing to keep in mind is that Walmart in some areas is locking down on overnight boondocking so your best bet is to call ahead. You can also download an app that allows you to check which Walmarts are good to go. If you are interested in learning more check this other article I wrote called “Can I Park MY RV at Walmart?”
Rest Areas and Truck Stops
Truck stops and rest areas are completely fine with RVers staying the night. It’s always a good idea to let the manager or cashier know you are staying there just in case. Chances are it’s going to be noisy because you are right off the road you will be close to a bathroom and a place to buy drinks and snacks.
Staying overnight at a visitor’s centers is ideal since most are unoccupied during the night. You will have bathrooms and running water if needed. Before you boondock at a visitors center call and ask for permission to stay before making a final commitment.
There are several other places such as hotels and motels and even apartment complexes. However, I don’t recommend those places as they are usually used for boondocking and sometimes are not very convenient or friendly to RVers who want to stay the night.
No Hookup Campgrounds
Is it still boondocking if you stay at a developed campground without hookup? Technically yes but we are in a gray area. Some developed campgrounds will charge you a fee so they are not free. However, you have not hookups available so you are reliant on what you brought in. As for me, I’ll say yes it’s “boondocking”.
Reserving these campgrounds is just a matter of calling or in some cases booking online. You’ll find they don’t have many if any amenities so you really need to plan ahead. You might find a water spigot and you are able to run your generator.
It’s still a good idea to arrive with a full tank of freshwater. Also, have your house batteries charged in case you arrive late and can’t run your generator.
Chances are you will also find a dump station but its best to verify all of that before you arrive.
There are many national parks and state parks that have developed campgrounds without hookups. This allows you to have some of the comforts of without missing out on all of nature.
Undeveloped Campsite Boondocking
When most people think of boondocking camping at an undeveloped site is what comes to mind. This type of boondocking places you completely off-grid without any amenities or resources. This makes many beginner RVers nervous since they will have to self-reliant.
Most Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (USFS) land have undeveloped campgrounds. For many, this is the most exciting and rewarding type of boondocking.
Imagine being all to yourself, under the Milky Way surrounded by a beautiful landscape. It’s hard to beat such an experience.
Boondocking in our National Forests
Like I mentioned earlier there are many undeveloped campsites in both our National Forest and BLM properties. In our national forest, you can typically camp anywhere as long as there are no signs prohibiting camping. It’s easy to just follow the forest access road to find the perfect spot where you can park your RV and camp for free.
It’s always a good idea to check with the local ranger and ask about road conditions, road access width if you have a larger RV, and get any safety tips as well.
A good resource for how and where to camp in our National Forest and BLM land is the USDA guidelines.
Is It Legal To Boondock?
I’m often asked if boondocking is legal? Absolutely legal. Just make sure to boondock where it is allowed, be courteous, and follow proper etiquette and you should be fine. When in doubt, ask first before you dry camp.
Is Boondocking Safe?
Boondocking is as safe as just about any other type of camping. Just make sure to use common sense and don’t do anything stupid. The best safety tip is to be well-prepared before you embark on your dry camping adventure. The campsite is not the place to find out your generator needed a tune-up and now it won’t start.
What is the Best Boondocking Travel Trailer?
Though you can free camp in a typical hard-sided travel trailer you might be better off in a compact travel trailer like a Happier Camper, a teardrop travel trailer, a small pop-up camper, or A-frame. All of these can be pulled by a small SUV.
What are some of the features you will need in a boondocking travel trailer?
- Bathroom – for Tammy and me a bathroom in the camper is a must. We are not fans of going to the bathroom outdoors. If you are comfortable with that then scratch this requirement off your list.
- Good Ventilation – Having a camper with a good roof vent fan is a must. You want to circulate fresh air throughout the day and night and help keep the interior a bit cooler if the temperature outside is hot.
- LED RV Lights – Having LED lights throughout your RV is going to not only save you money but will let your batteries last longer since LED lights consume less electricity.
15 Boondocking Tips
- Your RV Size: Even though you can go boondocking in any size RV you need to be aware that not all RV can access all of the available free campsites. Road conditions might prevent you from taking your Class A into the wilderness as you would have liked.
- Scout Ahead: This is important if you have a larger camper or RV. Send someone ahead in a smaller vehicle to assess road conditions, road width, any bridges for weight restrictions, and underpasses for height limitation. Out in the wilderness bridges and overpasses don’t have to need highway requirements so scout ahead and save yourself the headache.
- Use Water Sparingly: Making your H2O last the length of your stay can be very difficult. That’s why you need to make sure you are using water only when needed. The less water you can use the better.
- Be Courteous: This should go without saying exercise proper etiquette when boondocking. Respect those around you and be cognizant of noise late at night or early mornings. Clean your campsite when you depart. Leave it cleaner than how you found it.
- Know Your Power Consumption: The last thing you want is to run out of power because you were not aware of just how much power you consumed. Unplug from shoe power for a day or two and take note of how long your batteries lasted. This will tell you if you need to increase the size of your battery bank, add solar panels or purchase a generator.
- Don’t Ignore Regulations: Though there are many places you can dry camp there are some you simply cannot. If you are unsure of where you can legally camp ask a local park ranger. They’ll tell you where you can stay and places you should stay out of. You can purchase a Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlas for your state if you want more detailed information.
- Respect Local Wildlife: As you might know wild animals can be very dangerous. Don’t leave food or tray outside, stay a safe distance from any wildlife you see, and please don’t disturb any of the animals. Follow these simple tips and you are bound to see some awesome wildlife.
- Stay Alert and Secure: Chances are slim that you will encounter any safety issues when boondocking, however, you still want to remain alert and secure. Avoid doing anything that will attract unwanted attention to your valuables. Keep your expensive items out of sight or locked up. Bring some personal protection with you. Pepper spray is always good to have, an air horn and a personal alarm can all come in handy in a time of need. Some recommend a baseball bat while others recommend bringing your firearm. If you do bring a firearm you need to make sure to follow the correct and property regulations.
- Less Trash The Better: Try to make a strong effort to leave your campsite cleaner than how you found it. If you end up having to take a large amount of trash with you find a legit place to dump it before your next stop. Avoid things like disposable dishes, items that are packaged individually, etc, as these all add up to more trash for you to worry about.
- Have Good Communications: Keep your phone charged in case of any emergencies. If you are going to be out of cellphone coverage make a note of where the nearest landline is located.
- Emergency Medical Kit: We always have one in our car so it makes sense to have one in your RV as well. Some of the items you want to include in your emergency kit include a first aid kit, weather radio, snacks, and water, and some way to keep warm if you lose power and can’t start a fire such as this camping blanket.
- Extra Fuel: Carry extra fuel if you can do so safely. Have a tank full of fuel available as a precaution. This 12-gallon marine fuel tank is a bestseller.
- Tool Kit: A tool kit and extra tools such as shovels, a hammer, outdoor survival knives are good to have when you need to repair something unexpected.
Check our this boondocking video for more tips.
Boondocking is a great way to enjoy nature in all its glory. Doing it safely and responsibly allows all of us to enjoy it as well. So go ahead, plan, and prepare for your boondocking adventure we think you’ll love it.