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The Complete Guide To Boondocking

Simple, affordable, and easy to get into, boondocking is truly a great experience regardless of how much experience you have outdoors. If you’re looking to get into boondocking, there are few things you should know before setting out. Here’s the complete guide to boondocking!

What Is Boondocking?

Boondocking is a rustic type of camping that is often confused with dry camping, which is camping without hookups for water, sewage, etc. However, there is one distinct difference. Simply put, boondocking is camping (RV or otherwise) in a completely undeveloped area.

While some think of boondocking as an overnight in the Walmart parking lot (civilized or not), staying overnight is not boondocking. Instead, think of something more exotic, like pulling out into the desert with nothing but the stars to keep you company. However, due to the similarities, there is a lot of confusion about these terms. Here is a quick rundown to get them straight.

What Is Dry Camping?

Dry camping is camping in an RV without hookups but may be done in an established campground, park, or even in the city.

What Is Dispersed Camping?

Dispersed Camping is camping in an RV, tent, or shelter at no cost. It takes place outside of an established campground, on public land, (typically owned by the government). It does not involve hookups or other amenities.

Over the course of this guide, we will discuss several different tips and locations for these three experiences. However, the experience will simply be referred to as “boondocking” given these terms’ similarities. If you are interested in the technical term for what you’re planning to do, please consider the details of your trip and consult the above definitions at any time.

The Quick Essentials Of Boondocking

While boondocking can be as big or small of an experience as you want it to be, there are a few quick things to consider that will help you should you choose to try it out.

Finding a Site

Finding a good location for your RV is dependent on several factors, including the size of your RV and how far away from civilization you would like to be. Most boondockers keep their favorite campsites a secret, but you can still find good ones by word of mouth. If you have friends who love camping, ask them where they most enjoy going.

Another good way to find boondocking sites is to call the local public lands office. They will give you a list of possible campsites and any rules or regulations regarding your stay.

Staying Clean

How you will stay clean is definitely something to consider if you have to shower every day. Boondocking doesn’t allow for water hookups, which means the main cleaning method is either “sponge bathing” or washing up in any nearby rivers or lakes.

Your body does get used to a lack of standard showers; however, it takes some time to “train it.”

Staying Hydrated

Practicing good water conservation is important when on the road. Filling your RV water tank, as well as keeping a few extra jugs on hand, should ensure that you’re good to go. Remember to fill up whenever you can. Top your water reserve off at every fountain and spigot you come across.

Taking Care of Business

Most campgrounds have dumps for you to get rid of your sewage. Even if you’re boondocking, it is fairly easy to find nearby places to “unload.”

Making Meals

A good propane system cooks meat every bit, as well as an electric stove. Camping on undeveloped land does not mean you have to sacrifice good eating. Now, if you want to catch your own fish and cook them over an open fire, go for it. Just know that it’s every bit as easy to make mac and cheese on the RV stove.

Safety Precautions

While you should make a habit of locking your RV and keeping valuable things inside, most thieves are not wandering around in the wilderness looking for campers to rob. In fact, camping in the wilderness could very well be safer than camping in the city.

Where Can You Go Boondocking?

One of the reasons that boondocking is so popular is that it can be done in so many different locations. Searching “boondocking near me” is a great way to find local areas. However, a few locations are universally known as great places for boondocking, dry camping, or dispersed camping. Locations include:

  • Public lands
  • Most state parks
  • National parks (with some restrictions)
  • Walmart parking lots
  • Truck stops
  • Visitor centers
  • Trailheads
  • National forests
  • Some hotels

Most of these locations (and a few others) allow overnight camping, boondocking, or other. However, some locations, such as state parks, may have restrictions or rules. Always research an area ahead of time to ensure that you are legally allowed to stay there overnight and aren’t overlooking any regulations in the area.

Can You Boondock In State Parks?

While a few state or national parks allow boondocking, it is generally restricted to already established campgrounds. However, many national parks allow for hike-in camping. To make the most out of a trip, it’s a great idea to camp just outside of the park boundaries and then go hiking through the park during the day. This allows you to see the incredible views of the park while respecting the land and rules that help keep it looking beautiful.

Best Boondocking Locations

There are plenty of places in the country that afford beautiful views and free camping via boondocking. Knowing where to go can help you make the most of any vacation. Here are some of the best boondocking locations in the United States.

Buffalo Gap National Grassland – South Dakota

South Dakota is known for its wide-open spaces and lush greenery. In Buffalo Gap, you can witness local wildlife in their native habitat. This location is made even more enjoyable by its close proximity to the town of Wall. This allows you to make a quick trip to town for food or snacks before exploring the North Dakota grasslands!

Cook’s Chasm – Oregon

Oregon is truly one of the most beautiful states in the country, and boondocking there allows you to see it in all of its glory. While the entire coast of Oregon makes for an excellent camping destination, Cook’s Chasm is a prime spot because of its closeness to the town of Yachats as well as other amazing sights like Thor’s Well.

Blankenship Bridge – Montana

A little smaller than some other locations, Blankenship Bridge is perfect for first-time boondockers. Close to the town of Columbia Falls, this dry camping location is a perfect way to soak in the sights of Montana.

Coconino National Forest – Arizona

Near Sedona, an excellent vacation spot on its own, Coconino National Forest offers you the best of both worlds. Forest Road 525 allows for easy camping and beautiful sights of the desert landscape.

Valley Of The Gods Road – Utah

Utah is known far and wide for its outstanding views and natural scenery. Valley of the Gods is one of the best ways to experience those views. Located near the town of Mexican Hat, this boondocking location offers easy access to Gooseneck State Park, Monument Valley, and Natural Bridge National Monument.

What Are The Dangers Of Boondocking?

While boondocking sounds like a lot of fun (and it is!) you may wonder, is boondocking dangerous? While some risks are involved, it is less dangerous than camping in a tent or at an RV park or campground. In fact, boondocking is potentially safer than these other options because you aren’t located in a targeted area.

Criminals may target an RV park hoping to steal a vehicle, but you won’t stand out boondocking out on your own. The most important thing is to be well-prepared, study the area ahead of time, and take any necessary items with you when you go.

What To Take When Going Boondocking

Whether boondocking, dry camping, or just getting out of town for a few days, you should always be prepared. Your list may change depending on where you’re going and how remote the destination is. That being said, there are a few items you should always consider taking with you when you go boondocking.

1. Batteries

With no electrical hookups, you’ll need batteries to operate any equipment you bring.

2. Solar panels

To avoid bringing 1,000 batteries, equip your RV with solar panels to harness the sun’s power. This will allow you to recharge items as needed.

3. Flashlights and Lanterns

Since you’ll be camping in a remote area, it’s best to bring your own light.

4. Low-Energy Fans

Since you’re probably used to sleeping in a nice air-conditioned room, the heat of the outdoors may catch you off guard. It’s a good idea to have a way to cool off in case the heat starts to get to you.

5. Propane Heater

While fans are great for dealing with the heat of the day, some areas, like the desert, get extremely cold at night. Prepare for this ahead of time by packing a heat source like a propane heater.

6. Water-Saving Showerhead

After a few days outdoors, you’ll probably start to stink. That’s okay, but you don’t want the inside of your RV to take on your musky essence. That being said, without hookups, your water source will be limited. Stretch your water by investing in a water-saving showerhead.

What Vehicles Can Be Used For Boondocking?

Traditionally, boondocking is done with a type of RV in a remote camping ground with no hookups or other amenities. However, rustic camping can be done with just about any vehicle. It’s best to use a vehicle with enough space for any gear you’re taking, room for sleeping, and the ability to handle any rough terrain you might encounter. You don’t want to get stranded in the wild after all! A few common options for rustic camping include:

  • 4×4 Truck Campers
  • RVs
  • Travel Trailers
  • Fifth-Wheel Trailers
  • Class A Motorhomes
  • Class C Motorhomes
  • Etc.

Boondocking Etiquette

It is important to keep these tips in mind when boondocking (dry camping), especially in the city.

Thank the store by giving them your business.

Since you aren’t paying official rent, purchasing supplies from the store is a good way to thank and support them. Walmart and Cabela’s are both known for being RV-friendly and are great places to get camping supplies.

Try not to stay more than one night.

Since dry camping is often just a stepping stone to another campsite, this isn’t a common problem. Nevertheless, try not to take up space in the parking lot for more than a night, a maximum of two.

Avoid taking up space during store hours.

This isn’t always avoidable; however, restaurants especially have prime rushes, and they need all the space they can get. Park your RV in the lot as late in the day as possible, and leave as early as possible.

Park in the back of the lot.

Again, don’t take up their prime parking spaces. Go to the very back or side of the lot so regular customers can easily access the front spots.

Make yourself small.

Take up as few spaces as possible. Do not break out all of your extra features. Keep your RV tight and tiny.

If you’re curious about whether or not your vehicle can handle a boondocking (or dry camping) experience, reach out to your manufacturer or a boondocking expert. These individuals will be able to guide you about what your vehicle can handle, where you should go, and what supplies you should take with you. Boondocking is truly a great way to get outside and experience the beauty of nature. Plan your boondocking trip today!

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