RV boondocking holds lots of appeal what with so many new folks embracing the RV Lifestyle and many veteran campers looking for an alternative to crowded campgrounds. Here's a complete guide.
Let's start with a recollection of how Jennifer and I first experienced RV boondocking.
Remembering our First RV Boondocking Trip
It was the quiet that we most noticed.
There were no traffic sounds. No TV sets from nearby campsites. No laughter, no murmuring voices of anyone else. Just us.
And yet, camped in the middle of the wilds of northern Michigan miles from the nearest paved road or power line on our very first boondocking trip nine years ago, it wasn’t completely silent.
There really is, as Simon and Garfunkle used to sing, a sound of silence.
There was the crackle of our campfire. A hoot of a distant owl. The yips of a pack of coyotes somewhere far to the west. The gurgle of the Rifle River moving over a stretch of rocks just downstream from where we were camped. The whooshing sound of wind whipping through a stand of red pine.
And above, as soon as you walked away from the fire and got your night eyes focused, a gazillion stars speckled the ink-black sky.
We were boondocking, totally self-contained with no commercial power or water or Wi-Fi or sewer or any other service. Some people prefer to call it “dry camping” or “independent camping.” Other terms are “primitive camping” or “dispersed camping.”
Whatever, we were loving it.
No one else was around. Probably for miles.
Tai, our Norwegian Elkhound at the time, ran free, though not very far from our motorhome. I swear he smiled the whole weekend, blissfully exhausted from leash-free hikes and the new scents of deer trails and the deep woods.
We slept with the blinds up and the windows open with complete privacy.
That was our first experience with boondocking, even though we took up RVing that past spring of 2012. Most of our other overnights were in commercial campgrounds, state or county parks, or the driveways of friends and relatives.
Wilderness boondocking was different. We gathered our own firewood, used battery-powered lights, fired up the generator a couple of times to make coffee, and generally unplugged -literally and figuratively.
That was all it took. We became hooked on it and ever since that's been our main way of camping. Bo, our current dog, gives us weird looks when we have to use a commercial or organized campground.
Since that first trip by us, we discovered we’re not alone in making it our preferred style of camping. As it turns out, there’s been an ongoing boom in boondocking.
Looking to see what a typical RV Boondocking Trip is like and how we find our spots? Click the Video Below:
Technology advances in RVing over the past six years – like solar power and long-lasting lithium batteries – have made it so much easier to be off the commercial grid. And with super quiet engine generators and things like Roadtrek's VoltStart electrical management system, we very seldom even need to plug in anymore.
And the places to boondock are many. Some, like the parking lots at Walmart, truck stops, and other commercial businesses, are open to RVers for quick overnights, sort of a glorified rest area. The places I’m talking about, though, are in wilderness areas like state and federal forests and the vast stretches of public land available from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, which has 17 thousand campsites at over 400 different campgrounds, mostly in the western states.
Costs for boondocking on public land is typically $5-10 a night or, in many cases, free.
That post has so many resources. But here, in this article, we're giving you an idea on how to know if RV Boondocking is right for you. And keep reading to the end because we have lots of tips and resources to share here, too!
Many other RVers use private land, with the permission of the landowner, of course. That’s where our favorite spot is – in Michigan's Ogemaw County, staying on a 200 acre stretch of property owned by my brother-in-law that is bisected by the river and surrounded by hundreds of acres of state land.
But not all boondocking spots have so much elbowroom
Take the tiny, quirky town of Quartzsite, AZ, with a permanent population of 3,000. In January, though, Quartzsite becomes the boondocking capital of North America when an estimated 150,000 RVers descend to park their rigs side-by-side on the pancake-flat, treeless desert and boondock away under that warm Southwest sun and attend a giant Rock, Gem, Mineral and RV show
There are so many boondockers out there for the big January RV show that businesses set up huge tents to cater to them. It looks like a giant RV rally that goes on for two months.
Quartzsite is too crowded for our tastes those first few weeks of January. But in February, when all those in for the RV show have left, it's heaven on earth.
Here's a video we did of a visit that shows what a great place Quartzsite is for RV boondocking:
The upsides of wilderness boondocking are many. Privacy, serenity, uncluttered scenery, wildlife and truly getting away from it all are at the top of my list.
But our style of boondocking is not for everyone. In the wilds, you often have to work hard to find the right spot, to get level. You’ll have to conserve your battery power. Generator noise is never pleasant, so if that's what you have, you’ll surely limit that, too.
And because you are truly on your own, you are more vulnerable. Accidents do happen and being out in the boondocks means getting help is more challenging than at a more developed campground with people around.
Boondocking, except in a paved Walmart parking lot, is probably out of the picture for big Class A motorhomes. Our current Leisure Travel Vans Wonder RTB model with all-wheel drive has no trouble navigating the two-tracks that lead to our favorite spots.
Here's a video review of our Wonder, which is perfect for our RV boondocking style:
Sometimes, going down such roads can be slow, and sometimes, Jennifer has been known to jump out and run ahead to hold back bushes or tree limbs that could scrape up our motorhome.
Interested in trying it?
We wrote the Book on Boondocking
First, in a shameless plug, let me suggest the very detailed Beginners Guide to Boondocking book we have written.
This is a 65+-page downloadable digital guide to help you understand the nuances that come with boondocking, the most common boondocking problems, and what you need to do to get your rig “boondocking-ready.” Jennifer and I teach you step-by-step exactly what to do so you can easily enjoy your RV anywhere both on and off-road!
Resources, apps, and special tools for planning boondocking adventures
There are some websites and apps that can help.
For starters, our all-time favorite Number 1 tool for finding great places to boondock and planning our RV trips is RV Trip Wizard.
We recently did an entire RV Podcast episode on this awesome tool.
Jennifer and I have been using RV Trip Wizard to help plot out our RV travel routes and stops for years now. But since the product has been bundled into a whole suite of other related resources, its value has greatly increased.
The umbrella program that I’m talking about is RV Life Pro, a $49 a year subscription that contains a slew of tools. They give you a week's free trial to be sure you like it. If RV boondicking sounds like something you want to try, this tool will really help.
Websites and Apps for RV Boondocking
Also, check out the app for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices by AllStays (www.allstays.com). They list more than 22,000 campgrounds and boondocking spots, everything from KOAs and Walmarts to state and federal forests, military, and BLM land.
While the regular AllStays app is great, the paid version, AllStays Pro, is great for finding places to stay that really stand out, especially out of the way boondocking spots and free places to stay. Since Jennifer and I discovered AllStays Pro, the browser-based subscription site, we rely on it almost exclusively in our RV travels.
AllStays has generously offered 10% off the AllStays Pro subscription if you use this link and the discount code RVPODCAST when you signup.
Harvest Hosts is a unique membership service that lets RVers camp overnight FOR FREE at lovely outdoor venues such as wineries, breweries, museums, farms, orchards, and creameries. You can get 20% off the Harvest Host annual membership ($79) using the discount code: HHFriends20 at checkout
We've done several videos about the Harvest Hosts RV Boondocking Experience. Here's a compilation:
Another resource to help you find free or very low-cost places to stay while traveling in your RV is called OvernightRVParking.com. As of today, it has a database of nearly 15,000 locations around North America that can be searched, listing places that allow and prohibit overnight RV parking.
The site is a subscription service – $29.95 a year. I had a great conversation with the owner and he has made a nice offer to our readers. If you decide to sign up, he will extend your membership from 12 months to 15 months. That works out to a pretty nice discount so use the link above to sign up and receive your 3 free months!
If you are looking for places to boondock on private land, you'll find no greater resource than Boondockers Welcome, This is where private property owners open up their land for RVers to overnight. It's a great service that offers some awesome locations.
You surely have heard the term moochdocking by now, a variation on the boondocking trend that we've been talking about. While boondocking is typically off-grid camping in remote areas, moochdocking is camping – usually without hookups – in people’s driveways or the back of their property.
A new website called Moochdocker.com will help you find places for moochdocking, offering still another resource for RVers who want to avoid overcrowded and overpriced campgrounds.
Overnight in parking lots
Big box stores like Walmart, Cabellas, and even Home Depots in some places allow RVers to spend the night for free.
Restaurants like Cracker Barrell also welcome RV travelers.
And so do some church parking lots. In fact, there's a brand new website called Faithful Parking that helps RVers find overnight parking at churches in quiet, often secluded church parking lots across the country.
There’s no membership subscription needed, just a very small fee charged by the churches to offset costs
Best Practices for RV Boondocking
Finally, let's wrap this up with some best practices for being a responsible RV Boondocker. This list is from the Escapees RV Club.
1. Respect the Rules of the Land. Observe posted signs, obtain permits when necessary, follow usage limits, and camp only in designated areas and pre-established campsites, which vary depending on agency and state regulations. Bear in mind, some of these lands fall under federal laws, not state laws.
2. Treasure the Terrain. Camp on durable surfaces. Avoid damaging surfaces or modifying terrain by digging, moving large rocks, cutting plants, etc. Stick to predesignated paths without widening them or creating new ones. Remember, there are native plants, organisms, and ecosystems that interplay here and can be easily damaged.
3. Respect Your Neighbors. Avoid overcrowding an area or blocking your neighbors’ view. Orient your RV so that your generator isn’t directed at them and respect quiet hours. Rules vary but are generally between 10pm-8am. Maintain a tidy campsite. Keep noise to a minimum so everyone has a peaceful experience. Drive at a campground speed and be aware of kids, wildlife, pets, and your dust trails.
4. Respect Nature and Wildlife. Keep pets under control and clean up after them, even in the wild. Don’t entice, feed, or approach wildlife. Limit and eliminate use of pesticides. Check for burn bans; be mindful of firewood rules and make sure your fire is fully extinguished. (Remember, exhaust pipes on vehicles and generators can trigger fires.) Consider a propane fire pit that you can carry with you and snub out easily.
5. Pack it In, Pack it Out. Keep your holding tanks closed! Secure freshwater from approved sources and dispose of trash respectfully in public trash receptacles. Lower your impact with bio-degradable products.
Always leave the area cleaner than you found it!
Take only memories, leave only footprints.
As RVers, we should be good stewards of the land to protect this privilege for future generations. Not following these practices can have serious consequences and could be detrimental to all RVers. Public lands can be closed to camping because of overcrowding, damage to the land, and guests overstaying the time limits. Following the best practices will help ensure that we all remain good neighbors to each other and the land. If you feel that someone is unaware of these practices, share these resources with them in a positive way.
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