Last Updated on June 8, 2022
Boondocking is a term that refers to camping in undeveloped areas such as public lands, national forests, and on BLM land. It’s typically done without any type of infrastructure such as electricity or running water. Boondocking sites may also be found at inexpensive campgrounds with primitive facilities and limited amenities.
For many people who love the outdoors, boondocking offers a chance to explore remote areas and places you might never see otherwise. It can also offer peace and solitude in an area where noise pollution is minimal – quiet enough for star-gazing or listening to nature sounds like birdsong or rustling leaves in the wind.
Boondocking comes with its own set of trade-offs though: You will need to carry more water if there are no water hookups or dump stations nearby, you will need to carry more food, make sure you have electricity and boondocking sites are usually not as well maintained as developed campgrounds. Facilities, such as restrooms and showers, may be limited or completely absent you have to have your own.
Boondocking is also known as dry camping, free camping, off-the-grid camping, and dispersed camping.
One of the best parts of boondocking is finding the perfect location. It may be right off the highway, out in the middle of nowhere, or it might even be close to town. It just needs to meet your criteria and fit your style and comfort level.
With so many options out there, how do you go about finding a good location with great internet? With boondocking being such a popular activity, there are several resources available to help you find a good spot and a few tips and tricks to get a nice spot.
Some of the most frequently and positively reviewed resources for finding a boondocking spot include:
Campendium – This website helps you find boondock sites, providing an extensive list of RV parks, boondock sites, and campgrounds. The site has many high-quality reviews and provides useful information like the quality and size of sites, which rigs will fit, how cell service in the area is, and local road conditions. Photos are included for most sites on Campendium.
FreeCampSites.Net – This is a popular resource to find spots that are not listed on Campendium. You get more options for boondocking spots but not every spot has reviews, so critical information can be missing. You may not be able to find out if your rig will fit. There are some reviews that are detailed and helpful, but many lack useful information, but there is a wide selection of free boondocking spots.
Ultimate Campgrounds – There are two apps, one for the U.S. and one for Canada. There are thousands of campgrounds to look through and filter choices to help you narrow down your search to meet your exact needs. While the listings are mostly campsites and there are only a few boondocking sites, there are several campgrounds that fit RVs and are free to use. The only drawback to this resource is there is no review or comments section.
Many times if you are in public land, you can ask the local ranger if there are other spots less popular nearby. Many times there are maps that show other spots that we cannot find on websites. This can help you find areas where boondocking is allowed.
My friends and I usually love spaces that have a good internet connection, and nice views, preferably no more than half an hour drive away from the nearest Walmart or similar shopping opportunities.
What About Cheap RV Sites?
As you search for the perfect boondocking site, you might find some great cheap campsites. Sometimes these sites will require a permit, but you can find amazing little gems with hookups for free.
Some City Parks in the small-town USA offer just that. Sometimes with full hookups! It is also nice to find sites with parks or playgrounds on-site, especially if you are traveling with the whole family.
It is better to plan your RV site or campground in advance, however many times when I travel, I just look at my app to figure a way where to sleep that night. If you are going to visit multiple locations, look ahead, find, and reserve sites before you hit the road. Learn as much about the site as you can ahead of time. While you can find high-quality sites with plenty of amenities for a low price, the cheaper sites may be lacking certain features. Pick sites that will meet your needs before you travel. Regardless of the price, you always need to know what will be available to you before you arrive.
Staying at a cheap RV site means you will likely be near other campers and you will have to abide by the site rules. But, you do get sewage and water hookups, amenities, and some security. When you choose a boondocking location, you are more surrounded by nature, with fewer people and amenities. With fewer amenities, you need to be prepared to pack for all your needs. Boondocking is cheaper, but you should plan to drive to a park every few days to dump and recharge.
Plan the routes and sites ahead of time. Know what you want to be close to or if you plan to visit specific landmarks, cities, or national parks. Once you know the route and where you want to be, look use the resources listed above to find a cheap boondocking site or RV park. Most of the time, you will find the perfect spot and will have the time of your life.
Pro Tips on Finding a Good Spot
Some parks are for year-round living, like Alaska or even Canada. These locations don’t always list their fees online, but you can call ahead to find out the rates. The best bet is to book these spots in advance if possible so you don’t get caught out in the cold!
Here are some tips to help you figure out the best boondocking location for your needs:
Look for Parking Spots with Level Ground
When boondocking, it is important that you find a level spot to park your RV. Some people can sleep in a vehicle with some angles and slopes, but others cannot handle the discomfort. Depending on the size of your rig and where you choose to camp, you might have to drive all around to find a level space.
If you are not sure where to start, look for signs with graded gravel areas. These spots are usually well-established, so your spot will be close enough for you to go during the day. You can also choose an area that has more vegetation or trees if you know you can park without too much trouble.
No Level Areas? Put Something Under Your Wheels
If you cannot find a level spot, put a leveling block under your wheels. If you do not have enough blocks, look for rocks or sticks on the ground and place them under your tires so they can provide the necessary elevation. More expensive RVs come with automatic leveling systems. Those can be really helpful.
Find Easy to Access Sites
Can’t find sites that are easily accessible? Sites that require you to pack up your RV or set it up in a gravel area or take other drastic measures might not be the best choice. If you have to unpack everything before setting up, you could probably just camp at a commercial campground for less money.
Don’t Settle for Sub-Park Sites
Don’t settle for a sub-par boondocking site because you want to save money. Make sure the site you choose meets all your needs and is within a reasonable distance to where you plan to go.
Avoid Rest Areas
Because of growing crime, some rest areas have been closed for overnight stays. In fact, some places where you used to be able to stop and sleep overnight have been made into no-overnight sleeping zones. Here is an article on Rest Area rules by each state for RVs. You can still find places at rest areas but there are rules and limits that you have to abide by.
Big cities can be nearly impossible to find camping spots without spending a lot of money. The traffic and the sheer number of people mean there are few good areas for an RV or camper to park safely and legally. If you do want to drive into a big city, plan your boondocking site ahead of time and know where you will go so you can get out quickly in the morning.
Keep a List of All Your Spots
You never know when you might have to leave a spot suddenly. If you never stay at the same place for more than one night, you will not have trouble. However, if you find yourself stranded without anywhere to go, having a list of spots can save your life or your wallet.
The list should include dates and notes for all your boondocking sites so that you know where to return. It is also a great way to remember which spots are your favorite. I put a star in Google Map for all locations I have used for boondocking.
Make Sure You Are Allowed
Before you drive into or stay on private property, make sure that it is allowed. This means you need to know who owns the land and if camping on it is permissible. Never assume that it is okay to camp or park on private land unless you have express permission from the owner.
Use Good Judgment
Remember that sitting somewhere for more than a day or two is suspicious behavior. If you are unsure who owns the land you are staying on you need to move every day. It’s not fun to be woken up in the middle of the night by a loud knocking on the door that you have to leave.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask the Local Folks
If you are friendly and ask nicely, many people will help you find a place to camp for free. If they have no place to offer you, their neighbors might! Ask at rest stops, gas stations, convenience stores. Ask the guys working on the road crew. If you’re friendly and humble about your needs, people will help you out.
Tips on How to Camp Without Hookups or Water/Electricity
One of the most important things to remember is having essentials with you. Usually, it doesn’t take that much time to fill up at a nearby stop or Walmart but if you plan to stay for a week or two, you will need to have everything you may need.
For electric use, if you are bringing along a generator, be sure to follow all the rules about noise and try not to run it all night. It can be not just dangerous, it might bother your neighbors.
If you plan to boondock often, however, you will need a good solar system setup. With the right amount of solar panels, a good inverter, and batteries you can have continuous power all day. Please note, that you will need extreme amounts of solar panels and battery power to run your AC or electric heater. If there are cloudy days around, your solar system might not generate enough power for all day.
Don’t be afraid of boondocking. It is so much fun. Nothing beats free camping especially if you are with friends. If you are still hesitant, join some RV groups and make friends you can boondock with.