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Why Boondocking Sites are Still Getting Shut Down

Here are the main reasons boondocking sites are getting shut down, and what we can do about it.

Over the past several months, many popular boondocking sites have been shut down. Many of them are being closed indefinitely. 

That is because there has been a convergence of several factors. 

There are more and more campers on the road. More people are becoming aware of cheap and free boondocking areas. And, homelessness is high (it is lower than the all-time high in 2013 but still high). 

Why Boondocking Sites are Still Getting Shut Down

Why Boondocking Sites are Still Getting Shut Down 1
trash

Earlier this year, I interviewed Kyle Brady, an expert in free camping sites and publisher of the Drivin and Vibin Website. This podcast on the boondocking crisis shed light on why national parks, local authorities, and others are shutting boondocking sites across the country.

The shutdowns mainly come down to three major reasons: homelessness encampments, litter, and vandalism. 

But there is good news! We can do our part to help ensure that our favorite off-the-grid place is not closed to the public. 

We’re going to delve into why boondocking sites are getting shut down, and then learn what we can do about it!

What is Boondocking?

photo of a dispersed campoing boondocking and rv dry camping spot
Our dispersed camping boondocking spot in the Pigeon River Country State Forest in northern Michigan

Boondocking, also called dry camping or dispersed camping, is camping without any access to commercial services like water, electricity, or sewer. 

Boondocking sites can be at a regular campground (at sites without hookups). But usually, it is referring to camping off the grid, in a remote area. 

Many boondocking areas occur in state or federally run lands, like state parks or national forests. Others occur on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands. 

Boondocking is usually cheap, incurring only a small fee. Or free! 

What is Happening to Boondocking? 

Why Boondocking Sites are Still Getting Shut Down 2
litter

Across the country, boondocking sites are getting shut down. This is occurring mostly because of vandalism, litter or unsanitary human waste conditions. 

Most of these boondocking sites are happening on public lands where there are not enough resources to help keep these spots open. 

State, federal and other public lands managers are frustrated, and cannot keep the messes safe and under control. Instead of fighting what they feel is a losing battle, they are closing these lands down to everyone. 

In other words, the acts of a few are ruining it for everyone! 

The people that lose the most by these closures are the campers that follow the rules. They are having a tougher and tougher time finding free places to camp off the grid. 

Living the RV Lifestyle?

3 Main Reasons for Shutting Down Boondocking Sites

While there are many different reasons that boondocking sites are being shut down, there are a few main reasons occurring across the country. Those reasons are homeless encampments, too much litter, and acts of vandalism. 

Homeless Encampments

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Homeless Encampments

Across the country, homelessness is raging out of control. From drug abuse to people losing jobs, many Americans are on the brink of homelessness. 

Every major city (and smaller ones) is battling with this rampant issue. There have been outbreaks of hepatitis, and it is nearly impossible to drive down the road without seeing homeless encampments. 

What many people do not know is how many homeless encampments are being set up in the great outdoors. That is because the same spots that RVers love are also appealing to the homeless. 

Many sites are close to bodies of water, or off the beaten path where people can have privacy. 

However, homeless encampments also come with other issues. There is often a great deal of trash or human waste that gets left behind. 

Homeless people do not have a lot of resources. They do not have trash bags to clean up after themselves. 

They also do not have “honey pots” (portable restrooms) or RV bathrooms to use when nature calls. That means they use nature when nature calls. 

Unfortunately, all that human waste and left-behind trash can cause a lot of sanitation issues for anyone wanting to visit that outdoor area later. 

Officials do not have the manpower or supplies to safely clean up after the homeless. So they often feel that their only choice is to close down the popular boondocking sites that attract these homeless encampments. 

Campers Not Cleaning Up Their Trash

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Homeless Encampments

Another issue, that is related to homelessness but not only caused by that group, is litter. Campers are failing to properly clean up their trash. 

In designated campgrounds, there are usually plenty of trash cans or dumpsters around for people to toss in their trash. 

In nature, whatever you pack in, you must pack out. If you don’t, there is nowhere for the trash to go. The local trash company is not going to hunt down your trash. 

The sad thing is that it is not only homeless individuals that lack resources that are leaving their trash behind. Regular campers that do not feel like carting out their trash to find somewhere to dump it are also to blame. 

Campers that do follow the rules are losing out on these prime, inexpensive areas to camp because of the behaviors of a few. It also makes it less enjoyable to drive into nature only to find gross, stinky trash from other people. 

It takes away from what most campers are trying to achieve: connecting with the great outdoors! 

Vandalism 

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vandalism

A third major category leading to the closure of many boondocking sites is vandalism. People that do not respect nature or property belonging to the state or federal government are damaging or defacing that property. 

Some individuals will break public property, like fences or gates. Others will spray paint or write on public signs and buildings. The bottom line is that vandalism is costly to fix. Public agencies do not have a budget or the manpower to keep up with the repairs. 

In addition to the price tag associated with vandalism, it is also one more thing that people trying to escape to nature do not want to see. Who wants to go into the great outdoors just to see tagging? 

Many public agencies do not have the money or people in place to be able to combat the vandalism occurring at popular spots. So instead, they feel that there is no choice but to close these spots. 

How Can We Prevent Boondocking Sites from Getting Shut Down?

image of camping on federal land boondocking sites
Our Boondocking Spot in the Ottawa National Forest. Our National Parks Senior Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) got us a 5-% discount on the camping fee

If you want to change what is happening to boondocking sites, then it starts with us. That is, each individual camper can do things that will help. Plus finding a way to support the efforts of communities and organizations that help find solutions to homelessness and vandalism.

Don’t Give Up Hope!

Boondocking is not dead! Boondocking is having to adapt to the stressors our nation is under, but adapt it will. Committed and responsible boondockers will find a way to continue doing what we love!

There will also be a natural ebb and flow as authorities and even fellow boondockers get a hold of the situation. Homelessness will decline. Permanent encampments will be cleared. Vandalism cases will decline.

And boondockers will help keep others accountable while picking up some of the mess the few left behind. 

It will take time, but that’s the ebb and flow of how situations like this naturally progress. If we play our parts as best we can, fewer boondocking sites will be closed, and eventually, many closed sites will be reopened. 

Leave No Trace

The first thing you can do is always ensure that you are leaving no trace of your camping experience behind. 

Pack out all of your trash. Make your campsite look as though you were never even there. 

Leave It Better Than You Got It

Another thing to consider is bringing an extra trash bag to clean up other trash that has been left behind. 

I know that it is not your responsibility to clean up after others. But leaving it cleaner than we found it can help prevent it from being shut down. 

The fact is that the few that are ruining it for everyone aren’t going to easily change their ways.

Another thing that can be done is to report incidents when we see it. If you see some sort of encampment that looks permanent, then it is important to report it to the Rangers. 

That way, it is in their hands to do something about it. With enough people reporting it, they will likely close down the encampment if they were not yet planning to. 

Responsible boondockers can then continue to enjoy the site.

Camp for Less Than 14 Days in Single Spot

Another way to prevent boondocking shutdowns is to not camp in the same spot for more than 14 days. While most RVers do not like to stay put for that long, some do. 

It is important to stay for a few days, then pack up and move onto a different spot. Otherwise, the authorities or nearby residents may start to group you into the encampment category.

If you do like to return to or camp in the same location for extended periods of time, you might be interested in the Growing Trend of Owning Your Campsite.

In the meantime, to help you find boondocking sites, check out this very thorough article on Where to Find FREE or Cheap RV Sites.

The Complete Guide to Boondocking

We created a PRINT version of our most popular guide to help you with the most common boondocking problems. We get a ton of questions from our subscribers about how to get started boondocking that range from where to go and wild animals to water conservation to what equipment to use and more. 

Why Boondocking Sites are Still Getting Shut Down 7

Throw off the shackles of traditional RV Parks and campgrounds, stop paying high fees every night that you spend in your RV, and experience the boundless amounts of nature while boondocking.

You’re done with the noisy RV parks, the 3.5 feet of room you have squished in between two other RVs, and other people’s kids running through your campsite?

You’ve ditched the hookups, the concrete blocks and have replaced them with self-leveling and Navy showers?

This is the book for you.

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7 Responses to “Why Boondocking Sites are Still Getting Shut Down”

November 26, 2021at6:15 am, What Is Highway Hypnosis And How To Avoid It | RV Lifestyle said:

[…] Attention can also be diverted by thoughts instead of the road, such as worrying about boondocking sites shutting down. […]

Reply

October 31, 2021at7:26 pm, Jeanne Marie said:

Thank you Mike and Jennifer for your wonderful tips, tech, dyi information and everything in between!

I am however concerned after 3 months of subscribing, I have yet to receive the Packing List. Could it be a Cyberspace Hold up or paper stranded in the Pacific?

Happy, safe, and Blessed Trails,
Jeanne Marie

Ps. BTW THANK YOU for the update on these self imposing rules set by some Clubs on some totally ambiguous agenda. You have saved me a lot of headache and $$$. Thanks again!

Reply

October 31, 2021at2:29 pm, Bob said:

Let’s NOT turn this political. Red, blue, or what ever color, this is not the place for politicized comments. The social issues that exist have existed for decades. I will ask one simple question, what have “you” done to actually help the issues? Let your conscience be your guide….

Mike and Jennifer, thank you for what you do for the RV community…. And please moderate politics from your various platforms….

Reply

November 06, 2021at4:17 pm, Darlene Fogal said:

Exactly! And in response to one post here (not yours) most of the homeless I have experienced where I am are not illegal immmigrants. And mental health, drug, housing issues are pertinent. Thanks Bob for your refreshing post.

Reply

October 31, 2021at1:57 pm, Ken said:

We primarily boondock and in the last two years we have noticed a significant increase in people leaving garbage and human feces that have been left at BLM and other free boondocking sites. We always leave the sites we visit cleaner and pick up after others but sometimes the sheer volume of garbage left behind before us is just to much to pick up and dispose of. We will take one heavy duty bag of garbage with us but in our van we just cannot take more. We have also cleaned up feces and bury it but we are particularly annoyed at the inconsiderate individuals that defecate right by the water sources or any other partially concealed spot and just leave it along with a pile of TP.

We do our bit, but we are getting frustrated that garbage strewn sites has started to be the norm rather the the exception. We carry contractor bags, gloves, shovel and rake as part of our basic gear these days. Shouldn’t be necessary but more than a few are going to truly spoil it for everyone. I know I wouldn’t want somebody leaving my property or nearby parkland looking this way and would probably ban boondocking if the place was always being used as a garbage dump!

Reply

October 31, 2021at1:13 pm, Jay G. said:

The big problem is YouTube and other social media outlets including this one. By advertising boondocking and the places to go, that increases awareness and the spots fill quickly. Also the young now are boondocking and working from their RVs. Kids are dragged along and given home schooling. What was once the use of the hardworking now retired folks, have become the hay day of the youth! All of this has caused our boondocking spots and even the paid spots to become overcrowded and impossible to find.

Reply

October 31, 2021at10:08 am, Mary said:

There is so much to the homeless population, much having to do with the drug epidemic as well as millions of illegals coming in, thanks to our open borders. It isn’t right allowing people to ruin our cities and countryside – but we have refused to actively take the mental health side of this as well as the obvious crisis at our borders. It’s a shame that you can find an open state park and it’s in shambles because the bathrooms are locked and the trash bins haven’t been emptied in weeks. I saw this in Washington state — what do you expect people to do?? We all need to pick up after ourselves and respect our beautiful lands. I don’t mind picking up trash that isn’t mine and I am very sure I am not the only one who does either. Much of this isn’t complicated but our hands are tied because it does have to do with politics, covid, shutting down jobs and doing so because it does cause chaos and hate.. good luck if you live in a blue state as I do.

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