2021 Camping Crisis: They’re shutting down boondocking

 2021 Camping Crisis: They’re shutting down boondocking

Across the country, officials are shutting down boondocking areas in many areas because of growing problems with vandalism, litter, and even human waste.

Blame it on a combination of homeless encampments in some areas and inconsiderate campers who fail to clean up after themselves and keep clean campsites.

But the result is the same, frustrated state, federal, and local officials in charge of public lands once open to dispersed camping, are closing them down rather than fight what they see as a losing battle.

But the people who lose the most are those who like to boondock in wilderness areas, campers who do follow the rules but now find themselves with fewer and fewer places to enjoy off the grid camping on public land.

For RV Podcast Episode 349, we talk with an expert in free camping spots, Kyle Brady, publisher of the Drivin and Vibin Website. Kyle has been closely tracking the growing list of closed boondocking locations and has lots to share.

You can listen to the entire RV Podcast episode in the player below. Or keep scrolling down for an edited transcript of our interview.

Why are authorities shutting down boondocking?

2021 Camping Crisis: They're shutting down boondocking 1
This is a reason why authorities are shutting down boondocking

For starters, consider these recent stories about the shutting down of boondocking areas:

Those are just three examples. There are many more, from all over the US.

We talk about the trend in-depth with Kyle Brady. Here is an edited transcript of our interview:

Mike Wendland:          
Kyle Brady joins us right now. Hey, Kyle. How are you doing?

Kyle Brady:                  
Very good, Mike. Thank you so much for having me on today.

Mike Wendland:           
Kyle, you are the guy when it comes to finding free camping spots and all these dispersed spots. You've been a specialist in that. And I know you are disturbed and have been keeping track. They're shutting down boondocking. What's going on.

They are shutting down boondocking indefinitely

Kyle Brady:                  
We have seen so many reports over the last six months, and even the more specifically, in the last three months of these sites getting shut down indefinitely. And it's just becoming a problem because so many more people are out there on the road. And I guess these sites are seeing more usage than they've ever seen before.

Mike Wendland:          
I get email, and I bet you do too, from people saying, quit telling everybody where to go boondocking. Is that part of the problem? I don't know.

Kyle Brady:                  
Well, yeah. You know what? I get those same emails and nothing that we share isn't available on camping websites. So there are huge resources out there. And that is part of the problem, that everyone now knows about free camping. But to me, it is all of our land.

They are shutting down boondocking on public land in many areas

It's government land that's paid with tax dollars. And it's there for us to recreate on. So I don't, by no means, think we should keep it a secret to people because people should be encouraged to go out there and camp and connect with nature.

But I feel like there are a few points that are being missed seriously, and that's teaching people proper etiquette, whether that's the manufacturers or the dealers teaching them what it is, what boondocking etiquette is. But then also we see this huge homelessness problem across America. That's a totally different issue when it comes to the sites being closed down, but that affected equally.

Mike Wendland:          
Where are the sites being shut down, and what are they shutting them down for? I've read all sorts of horror stories about what they find when some of these people leave.

Reasons for shutting down boondocking

Kyle Brady:                  
Totally. We've seen a lot of these shutdown on the Western side of the U.S. In Utah, Nevada, Arizona. These are where we're seeing them happen at a much faster rate. They're getting shut down for misuse and basically littering, so that's one of the biggest things. You see mattresses. You see, in the worst-case scenario, human waste.

The problem of shutting down boondocking is nationwide

2021 Camping Crisis: They're shutting down boondocking 2
garbage abandoned in wilderness areas results in shutting down boondocking areas

But also, just signs that no one cleaned up their campsite is one of the biggest reasons why people are or why the government's closing down these campsites.

But even as eastern as Natchez, Mississippi is where we've seen some closures happen, most popularly at the Natchez Visitor Center, which is a huge spot for boondockers who are traveling across the country to stop at, because they were offering free water, free power. And you're sitting up on this bluff, overlooking the Mississippi River. It's beautiful, but now it's been shut down overnight camping just because of misuse, too much trash.

Homeless encampments are resulting in shutting down boondocking areas

Mike Wendland:          
But now that problem in Natchez and some of the others around the country seem to be more tied to homelessness, people living in cars. We've seen at the Ocala National Forest in Florida, folks sleeping under tarps, on mattresses, long-term homeless encampments. How much of these are from that, do you think?

Kyle Brady:                  
Yeah. I mean, I would say at least 50%, if not more of the ones that we're seeing being shut down, it's because of this homelessness issue.

Usually, these are areas that are located within one to three miles from a small town. This way, people without a home can camp out there, but they can still have access to a town. But obviously, this causes the boondocking sites to be shut down. So it's hard to address that issue because no RVer could fix that issue.

But these sites are still being shut down because of homelessness issues.

So rather than focusing on those, I'd like to focus on the ones that are out in the middle of the desert that are being shut down, because people are partying out there, and there's just broken glass everywhere. So that is the problem with homelessness, though.

The actions of inconsiderate RVers are the cause for shutting down boondocking

Mike Wendland:          
It is, but at least half of the areas closing are because of people who are out there camping. We were up along the Lake, Michigan shoreline early this fall in one of the U.S. Forest Service camping sites. They've closed it up early because somebody had gone in and just trashed it, left their fire burning and just walked away.

Fortunately, the Ranger saw it and was able to put it out.

Obviously, let's assume that most RVers and most boondockers are pretty responsible people. It's like pet owners. Only a few pet owners cause a problem. But what can we do as RVers when we were in a boondocking area and we see this going on or evidence of it?

How can the actions of RVers prevent the shutting down of boondocking areas?

Kyle Brady:                  
Yeah. So, I mean, a few things we can do, obviously, leave no trace. I imagine everyone listening to this podcast is leaving no trace because they are responsible campers. The next thing we can do is leave it better than we found it.

So, that means bringing an extra trash bag in. And I know it's a crummy job sometimes to pick up someone else's trash, but it does do a lot for the camping community to keep these campsites open. And honestly, the third thing that we can do is report incidents when we see it happening.

If we see an encampment that's been there for well over two weeks, it's important to at least make the Rangers aware of that. They probably already are, but if they hear enough people reporting that, they'll hopefully do something about it before a site gets closed down.

Mike Wendland:          
And the other issue that is out there is people overstaying the 14-day limits.

Kyle Brady:                  
Yes.

Mike Wendland:          
Is that showing up in some of these places as well? Are you hearing concerns about that?

Kyle Brady:                  
Some concerns about that. Usually, again, it goes back to the homelessness side of it. Most campers, most travelers don't want to stay anywhere longer than 14 days. So as far as RVers go, it's not a problem on that end of it. But just the homelessness side of it is where we see that.

Mike Wendland:          
Just kind of a slightly different aspect out there, but you must be seeing it at Drivin' & Vibin' as well. So many people say I'm going to go full time. I'm going to sell everything and go full time.

Kyle Brady:                  
Yeah.

Mike Wendland:          
And they haven't really. One of our concerns is they haven't really counted the cost of all of that.

Kyle Brady:                  
Yeah.

New RVers and full-timers are finding it difficult to find a campsite

Mike Wendland:          
And they get out there, they encounter maybe a little frustration finding a campsite and they leave. Or they're out there, their money runs out and boondocking is all they have. How does the industry handle that? I mean, the industry is selling RVs, selling them like crazy. There's some responsibility there, I think, isn't there, to educate people about this?

Kyle Brady:                  
Totally. It is one of the most frustrating things. I mean, so on LinkedIn, I like to go on LinkedIn to see what the industry is up to. It's where we can see what the people at Winnebago Forest River, all the brands are doing.

And all I see day after day is celebrating how many RVs they're selling. And I think that's great for their business, and it's awesome that people want to get out there and explore. But there seems to be no education piece on the etiquette of using an RV, or that most of these aren't even built to be used full-time.

So there needs to be an education piece that the manufacturers, or at the very least the dealers, are taking that ownership and explaining to people that this $17,000 travel trailer you're buying is not made to be lived in full time. It's meant to be used for weekend trips. And if you use it full time, it's going to wear out in four months. And that's going to be a problem because your warranty won't even be covered, likely, if they know you're using it full time. So definitely education needs to happen, and I think we'll all be better positioned.

Mike Wendland:          
Well, I think a lot of that is going to have to fall on people like you, Kyle Brady, from Drivin' & Vibin' and Austin and other influencers out there, because people are not getting any education from the dealers or from the industry. I hate to knock the industry, but it's true. And I think we have to step up and explain the realities of it. It's not all glamor, and there are challenges. And one of them is you can't go live on BLM land for six months out of the year, and you got to clean up.

Don't boondock in the same place for more than 14 days

Kyle Brady:                  
A  lot of people, a lot of avid boondockers, like to celebrate how long they've been boondocking for. We boondocked for six months straight.

And that's awesome for 1% of people who would just have unlimited solar and they know how to do it. But that's not reality for most people. That would be a stretch, to do anything more than that six days for most people.

Mike Wendland:          
Like you, we are big advocates of boondocking. It's our favorite way of camping. But there is no way that I'm going to go do boondocking for even over a couple of weeks, if that. I'll find someplace else. And I guess we got to give them that reality check.

If you litter or camp too long, they may be shutting down boondocking

But meantime, back to where they're closing boondocking. And some of it's our problem as RVers, some of it's not. But we need to be aware of that and go out of the way to be responsible for it. Kyle, tell everybody how they can follow you and learn more about free places to stay and your awesome Drivin' & Vibin' site.

Kyle Brady:                  
Awesome. Thank you. Yeah, totally. Just Drivin' and Vibin'. Type it in Google, you'll find something or any social media platform, Drivin' & Vibin', no G's. Drivin' & Vibin', because that's how we roll.

Mike Wendland:          
We should tell people for all that, that Kyle is a musician. And I just asked him before we started, how's the music coming? And he's too busy for the music, but …

Kyle Brady:                  
Too busy for the music now, but we do have an album out there. And the album is … many of the songs are about our favorite boondocking spots.

Mike Wendland:          
All right. Drivin' & Vibin', check it out. Kyle Brady, our guests. Thank you, man.

Kyle Brady:                  
Thank you so much for having me today.

Tips for Boondocking and Dry 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 have 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 have flooded or too muddy for your RV. And it's always good 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 out 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 get water in primitive or rustic campgrounds. Usually, there's a well with a pump

 

Here's a video we did offering boondocking and dispersed camping tips:

ebook boondocking guide

Yes, it is alarming that many dispersed camping spots are being closed down. But we can help you find awesome boondocking locations. Please check out our Beginner's Guide to Boondocking, an insider's manual on finding the best sites, far from the crowds.

We created 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”.

This ebook is designed to show you that boondocking might not be as difficult as you think!

And to teach you step-by-step exactly what to do so you can easily enjoy your RV anywhere both on and off-road! 

2021 Camping Crisis: They're shutting down boondocking 3
We love camping season!

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. 

Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.

8 Comments

  • Maybe they need to shut down the highways for the amount of garbage, neither is ok but people need to clean up after themselves. There are always the animals that ruin it for every one.

  • Wow, this so very sad and disgusting. This is an ongoing symptom of what I see every day on the road we live on…people who indiscriminately trash areas they drive through. So ‘trashy camping’ is no surprise. When there are no consequences people will behave like pigs, and it ruins it for everyone. On a recent trip to the Four Corners area we drove through Utah near Arches NP and saw many off road boondockers tucked back in the beautiful rock formations. I hope they are responsible campers who don’t leave a trace when they go home.

  • Great article and thank you for trying to get the word out about this issue. However, there are going to be many inconsiderate and disrespectful people that don’t care and nothing will change that. Not just with camping, but litter in general is a huge problem and scourge in this country. Some states deal with this better than others. Until excessive packaging, recycling and lack of accountability is dealt with nationwide this will continue to be a huge problem.
    I personally don’t see the appeal in boondocking. I’ve always been able to find a nice place to camp for a reasonable fee all over the country. Out of over 100 campgrounds and RV parks, there are only a handful that I wouldn’t return to. Just do your research when selecting one.

  • I’m 71 years old. I retired from the RV industry. Seen a lot from 1973 until 2013. I honestly don’t think educating people that leave a huge mess is the answer. The slobs that do this know it’s not right and have been doing this there whole life. And having the RV industry educate people is never going to happen. Most people leaving these messes aren’t in new Rv’s. Ones I see are 15 to 20 plus years old. I don’t have the answers but huge fines with jail time and skipping all the legal crap these days might be a better answer. This country has fallen in a huge hole trying to please everyone, especially law breakers.

  • Camping Crisis, they’re shutting down Boondocking. Quite an alarmist headline. The over hyping does not work well. Expect better from RVLifestyle.

  • RE: “2021 Camping Crisis: They’re shutting down boondocking.”
    As a volunteer who has volunteered in several locations with the Forest Service, I have seen a variety of messes created by both dispersed campers, as well as regular campers. I can understand why the various federal agencies are considering the closure of various boondocking sites.
    One issue that I see is the lack of manpower and funds in some of the agencies. Almost everywhere I go, I keep hearing, ” we don’t have the funds,” or “we don’t have the manpower.”
    Perhaps, the federal government should look at providing more funding to combat and educate people regarding dispersed camping.
    Just yesterday, in a campground that I take care of on a weekly basis as a volunteer, I received a report of a group, sneaking into a group site over the last weekend and camping. They not only camped and made a mess, but there was human waste in the bushes 20′ feet from a picnic pavilion. It really aggravates me that people will do such things, when a bathroom is a few-hundred feet away.
    I have also seen, that despite trash receptacles/dumpsters being close to a campsite, some people still throw their trash on the ground; makes me wonder what their home/back-yard might look like…..Frustrated…

  • This is just so sad and disgusting that nature and the wildlife suffer at the hands of humans. I love camping in the remote wilderness but would be happy to give it up to protect it from humans. We just ruin everything we can get our hands on. I’m glad they’re shutting it down!

  • I am in total support of shutting down boon docking. Unfortunately, many people (not all), are ignorant when it comes to respecting others’ property, whether it is private or public lands. Unfortunately, for people who do respect the great outdoors, we are now paying a price. I wish there was more staff at our national treasures to fine people who do trash our priceless natural areas.

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