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
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?
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?
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.
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.
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
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!
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?
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 Camping Sites.
The Complete Guide to Boondocking
Want to learn how to boondock?
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.
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?