The essence of RV Boondocking is camping in a wilderness setting and enjoying the magic of mother nature...
...while leaving the campgrounds (and the distractions) behind. What you haven't left behind are the comforts of home: your kitchen, bed, sofa, and bathroom are all right at your fingertips. Ahh...roughing it never felt so good. Once you try it you'll soon realize that boondocking truly is the pinnacle of RVing.
Okay, ready to cut the RV umbilical cords and be free? Here we go!
Topics I'll cover in this article include:
Is it Dry Camping, or is it Boondocking? You'll often hear these two terms used interchangeably. There is a subtle difference though. Dry camping is camping without campground hookups, regardless of where your RV is parked. Could be Milwaukee, could be a mountain top. The name "dry camping" is misleading. As long as you've got water in your freshwater tank, it certainly won't be "dry camping", but somehow that name stuck.
RV boondocking is a way to experience nature up close and personal -perhaps not as up close and personal as sleeping on bare ground - however, that's always an option! You can rough it as much as you'd like, and if you get tired of roughing it, there's a comfy couch and a fridge stocked with goodies, just a few steps away.
You'll also hear the term "dispersed camping", which is used by federal agencies like the BLM and Forest Service. It means camping outside of developed recreation facilities - where no hookups or services are available. Most BLM and Forest Service land is open to dispersed camping.
Camping without campground hookups is what RVs were originally designed to do. Before the invention of the campground, everyone who camped went boondocking. The first RVs were quite barebones, without many of the features found today, and they happily boondocked with them. Today's RVs are much better equipped for boondocking, and much more comfortable.
Features and available equipment like large battery banks, RV solar panels, wind generators, engine generators, large freshwater and wastewater holding tanks, microwave ovens, refrigerators that run off propane, giant storage areas, catalytic heaters, swamp coolers, and other gadgets make RV boondocking as comfortable as a full service campground.
From mountain meadows, to vast deserts, to picturesque lakes and streams, there are countless campsites waiting to be discovered on our public lands. And best of all, these sites aren't developed - they come just the way mother nature made them.
When searching for RV boondocking campsites, always stick to roads. There is no such thing as "off-road". When driving down a dirt or gravel road you will often see turnouts, where others have camped before. It's best to stick to these established sites.
Here's your guide to parking in paradise.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees about 245 million acres of land. Taken from the BLM website, "Most of the public lands are located in the Western United States, including Alaska, and are characterized predominantly by extensive grassland, forest, high mountain, arctic tundra, and desert landscapes."
BLM land makes for some of the best RV boondocking. Much of it is open country where you'll have an excellent view of the scenery. Finding a place to camp is usually very easy, once off the highway and onto a gravel or dirt road.
Most BLM land is open to dispersed camping and RV boondocking. Usually the camping limit is 14 days within a 28 day period. After 14 days you must move outside of a 25 miles radius.
Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVAs) are located in Arizona and California. In these areas you are allowed to camp for the entire winter season, from September 15th to April 15th. The fee is $180. Services vary depending on the LTVA site and may include drinking water, dump station, restrooms, and trash service. You can boondock anywhere you wish on the LTVA. You are allowed to camp in the same spot for the whole 7 months - or you can move between LTVAs as often as you like.
The US Forest Service manages our National Forests and Grasslands which total 193 million acres. There are some excellent RV boondocking sites to be found on these lands and recreational opportunities abound.
Typically there is a dispersed camping limit of 14 days within a 28 day period, however this can vary depending on the forest or grassland.
Finding a place to camp in a national forest can be more challenging than on BLM land. Forest service roads usually meander through mountainous terrain making them more difficult to navigate. Also, trees and overhanging branches on some roads can be a problem for larger rigs. If you are using satellite TV or RV satellite internet you'll need a clear view of the southern sky, which can be hard to come by in a dense forest.
It may be more work, however the rewards of finding a picture perfect campsite along an alpine meadow, mountain overlook, or just amidst a beautiful forest can make it all worthwhile.
Over 550 National Wildlife Refuges and thousands of wetlands are managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Many refuges allow dispersed camping. Hunting is often permitted on these lands so you may want to avoid RV boondocking during hunting season.
The Corps of Engineers oversee 12 million acres of land and water in over 2,500 recreation areas. Fishing, boating, and swimming are popular activities. Many locations have campgrounds and dry camping or boondocking is often permitted. A camping fee may be required.
The Bureau of Reclamation operates dams, power plants, and canals in the western states. There are 289 recreation areas, totaling 6.5 million acres of land and water.
Popular activities include boating, fishing, hunting, wind-surfing, sailing, picnicking, wildlife viewing, swimming, and sightseeing. There are 350 developed campgrounds and RV boondocking opportunities are available at some locations.
Your state may own land which is open to the public and where dispersed camping is allowed.
State Forests can be great for RV boondocking and dry camping. Some have rustic campgrounds with no RV hookups. A quick online search by state can show you if state forests are available for camping.
State Game & Fish Areas may also allow camping. A state atlas may show these sites. You can also do an online search for your state's game & fish areas.
There are city parks that have dry camping available. I have dry camped at Ruddick Park in Colorado City, Texas which has free RV camping. It's a pretty area and they even have a disc golf course. County parks are another possibility for dry camping.
There are ranches and country farms in beautiful settings that would make for great RV boondocking. Always ask permission first. Tell the property owner that you like the area and ask if there is a place you can park for the night.
You won't find RV boondocking campsites labeled on any map. In some parts of the country, it's very easy to find a site. I once pulled off the interstate near Flagstaff, Arizona, jumped on my mountain bike, and found a good RV boondocking campsite down a forest service road within 10 minutes. In other places it may take several days to find a suitable boondocking campsite.
Small RVs, like truck campers, pop-up campers, and 4x4 motorhomes are great for getting into the most remote backcountry campsites - these RVs can go down roads a large motorhome or travel trailer cannot. Many roads on public land can be treacherous - so if in doubt, get out and scout.
Here are some tips for locating great RV boondocking campsites:
If you think you've found a suitable RV boondocking campsite, here are some things to consider before bringing in the big rig:
Before boondocking in "the boonies" you'll want to be prepared. At the very least, charge up your RV's house batteries, fill up your freshwater tank and propane tanks, and make sure your grey water and black water holding tanks are empty. You should be good for a few days of RV boondocking, as long as you conserve battery power.
If you really want to "go the distance" there are a few things you can do to maximize your camping fun and lengthen your vacation.
The greatest challenge when RV boondocking is keeping your batteries charged. The cheapest solution is to conserve battery power. Here's how:
Methods for recharging your batteries while boondocking are:
A few boondocking trips will give you an idea how quickly your grey and black water holding tanks fill up.
This marvelous gas makes several of your RV's creature comforts possible. Cooking, baking, heating, refrigeration, and hot showers wouldn't be so easy without it. How do you avoid running out? The quickest way to deplete your tanks is to run your RV's furnace for heating.
The forced-air furnace is not very efficient in it's use of propane. When the mercury drops, using a catalytic heater (pictured on left) or an open-flame propane heater will be much more efficient. Also, these heaters won't run down your batteries like a forced-air furnace, as they use no electricity. These heaters are ventless, so you will need to crack open a window for ventilation.
If you have a travel trailer or fifth wheel, you can bring an extra propane cylinder along. That's not possible with a motorhome, however they typically have large propane tanks so running out shouldn't be an issue.
Not only is RV Boondocking a fun and low cost activity, it's also easy on the environment. You're using a fraction of the water a typical household uses, creating far less wastewater, and using much less electricity - and that electricity can come from solar or wind power. Talk about green RVing.
There are other ways you can minimize your impact on the environment as well.
By taking care of the environment we can give RV boondocking a good name and keep our cherished public lands open for the enjoyment of future generations.
Have some boondocking tips for finding a campsite, extending your stay, or making the experience more enjoyable? Go ahead and share them here! This is your time to shine some light on the wonderful world of boondocking!
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