There's a lot of confusion these days about the definition and best practices for RV dry camping, boondocking, and dispersed camping. This post will help clear that up and give you some great ideas for off-the-beaten-path fun.
Let's start with a show and tell, though.
We just released a video that takes you with Jennifer and me (and Bo) on a recent trip. Click the arrow below to watch out the boondocking video and then scroll down through the rest of this report for amplificati0n on some of the points we cover in the video and links to the resources we show and talk about.
First, let's define our terms about RV dry camping, boondocking, and dispersed camping.
The three terms are similar but each has it's own distinctive. Think musical scales, degrees of difficulty, temperature variations. They are all considered dry camping – camping away from typical commercial campgrounds with electrical, water, and sewer hookups – but they are different in the type of challenge involved.
Sort of like novice, experienced, and guru skill levels.
But there are a couple of pretenders – entry-level types of RV overnighting that some erroneously call dry camping or even boondocking
Moochdocking may be dry camping, but it is not boondocking
Moochdocking is sometimes also referred to as driveway camping. Typically, moochdocking is staying in the driveway or the property of a friend or relative. It gets its name from the term “mooch,” or getting something without paying for it, and “docking.” the second half of the now familiar term boondocking.
Boondocking means camping in the “boondocks,” a slang term which the dictionary defines as “rough, remote, or isolated country.”
Moochdocking, could loosely be construed as RV dry camping (if there are no hookups), but it definitely is NOT boondocking.
Interested in Moochdocking? We recently did a podcast that talks about it and introduces a new peer-to-peer Moochdocking website that matches campers up with property owners who will open their driveways and backyards up for mo0chdocking.
Also, there are other resources for those looking for free places to overnight, like Overnight RV Camping and Boondockers Welcome.
“Waldocking” or “Crackdocking” is not dry camping or boondocking
Waldocking means overnighting in your RV in a Walmart Marking Lot. Crackdocking is the same thing but in a Cracker Barrel Restaurant parking lot. Us purists don't consider sleeping in a parking lot even dry camping. Wadocking or Crackdocking are not considered camping at all.
Both businesses and many others welcome RVers and let them stay overnight for free. While there are no hookups, you are not supposed to set out camp chairs, grill out or do anything but sleep in the RV.
Lately, more and more Walmarts are no longer welcoming RV overnighters
Harvest Hosts meets the criteria for dry camping, but not boondocking
Technically, you can probably include staying at a Harvest Host location in the dry camping category. But since you pay a membership fee to get the privilege of staying on the grounds of wineries, farms, and attractions that are part of the Harvest Host network.
Harvest most locations are usually way more scenic than parking lots but because they are on some sort of business property, they don't meet the “rough, remote, or isolated country” designation to be truly considered boondocking.
Since you can set out your camp chairs and “camp” there, we are okay calling Harvest Host stays dry camping.
We can save you considerable money on a Harvest Hosts membership.
Real RV dry camping – Primitive or Rustic boondocking
Now we're talking boondocking.
As you can see in the dry camping and boondocking video we just released, primitive or rustic campgrounds usually are in rough and remote country. Wilderness areas. The boondocks.
These are organized campgrounds with campsites that are laid out, usually numbered, and in a designated state or U.S. forest areas. There are no hookups and to stay there, you are doing dry camping. There may be a picnic table or fire ring and maybe even a vault toilet shared by everyone in the campground.
Most often there is a self-pay $10 to $15 fee to cover maintenance of the campground but primitive or rustic camping is indeed, most definitely, boond0cking.
We have a detailed blog post and video we recently did on the RV Lifestyle YouTube Channel that offers 17 steps on how to set up at a regular campground. The principles are the same for dry camping but, obviously, you don't hook up for water or electricity when dry camping:
Here's the video:
The ultimate level of RV dry camping – Dispersed camping
Dispersed camping is found on public land in places outside of a designated campground. There is no fee for dispersed camping. It's totally free.
With dispersed camping, you make your own campsite. You find a clearing or meadow, or as we showed in the boondocking video we just posted, we found a perfect pullout off a forest two-track that was just big enough to fit our RV.
In our case in the boondocking and dry camping video, we were camping in the Pigeon River Country State Forest in north-central Michigan. This is our absolute favorite dispersed camping location. We go here every time we can.
It is a 100,000-acre wilderness that has several primitive campgrounds and offers dispersed camping throughout the rest of the area.
They call this area “The Big Wild.”
And no wonder.
It is home to one of the largest free-roaming elk herds east of the Mississippi (about 1,000), and offers abundant opportunities to explore the outdoors. At 12 miles wide and 20 miles long, it is the largest block of contiguous undeveloped land in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
But there are areas like this where dispersed camping is allowed al over the country.
Here are some of the rules for dispersed camping in the Pigeon River Country State Forest in Michigan. Most other states have similar rules.
It is ok to do dispersed camping there if:
- The area is not posted “No Camping.”
- You are at least a mile from a designated state forest campground.
- You are at least 600 ft from the posted sinkhole lakes in the Pigeon River Country.
- You follow all state land rules.
- You post a Camp Registration Card at your campsite. The card is available at DNR offices or Print a card here.
- You are not camping with horses in the Pigeon River Country. Thre are separate camping areas for horse campers
That's how the area we showed in the video handles dispersed camping. Pigeon River Country is a State Forest. Though dispersed camping is harder to find in the eastern part of the U.S., it is widely available in the west in most states.
There is also dispersed camping allowed on federal land in National Forests, Bureau of Land Management property
CLICK HERE for a mega-post on where to find free and cheap camping sites and dispersed camping areas
Our tips for RV dry camping, boondocking and dispersed camping
In the video, we shared some of the things that we do to ensure a successful RV dry camping experience, whether boondocking or dispersed camping
- If doing dispersed camping, go to the state or federal website for the area you'll be visiting and see if there is a form you need to fill out for dispersed camping. Then print out several so you ave them with you.
- Try to visit the state or federal forest headquarters and talk to the rangers. They're usually very willing to recommend dispersed camping locations and to update you on current conditions, like roads that ave flooded or too muddy for your RV. And it's always god to let them know the areas you'll be camping in case of an emergency like a wildfire that they need to warn you about, or a severe storm that strands you.
- You should always let friends or relatives back home know where you're headed and when you hope to be back. That way, if you're not back on time, they can call the rangers and the rangers – because you previously visited them and told them where you would be – can easily locate you.
- Leave no trace behind. Never cut down trees or clear the land to make room for your RV. Carry our ALL your trash with you. If you have a fire, make sure it is completely extinguished before going to bed or leaving
- Make a campsite occupied sign or buy one like this to display in your campsite if you leave camp for a couple of hours to go exploring in your RV. You don't want other campers to steal your hard found site from under you when the site is empty.
- Have a matt outside to catch dirt. This is a must. Here is one we like from Camping World.
- Don't leave any food out in the campsite. It attracts wildlife. And that is never a good idea. Serious dispersed campers and boondockers even frown on putting out a bird feeder. Out west, they attract grizzlies. Not a good idea.
- Control your pets. They can get hurt out there if unsupervised. Or lost. Or bother wildlife. Or be bothered BY the wildlife. Don't let your dog off-leash unless he obeys without hesitation your commend to come..
- Fill up with water before heading out. If you can fill out just a few miles from where you'll be camping, so much the better. A gallon of water weighs 8.4 pounds. Filling up your freshwater tank adds a lot of weight that limits what other stuff you can carry.
- If your freshwater tanks get low, you can almost always water in primitive or rustic campgrounds. Usually, there's a well with a pump
- Pump that water into collapsible water bags like this 5 gallon one to supplement your freshwater RV tanks.
Best of all… have fun out there!
Curious about the gear, gadgets, accessories, and RV products Mike & Jennifer use and recommend?
On this RV Lifestyle Travel blog, our RV Podcast and our RV Lifestyle YouTube Channel, we mention all sorts of RV-related products and gear that we use, So we created a special page links to them. We update this all the time. CLICK HERE to go to it directly.