What Is Boondocking? Boondocking is camping without any hookups outside developed campgrounds. Federal agencies refer to boondocking as dispersed camping. Other terms used to describe boondocking include dry camping and off-grid camping.
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Boondocking can offer incredible views, serene surroundings, and time to reconnect with nature. However, boondocking is not for everyone. We have friends who prefer developed campgrounds and their amenities: full hookups, pool, spa, laundry and play area. For those looking to camp in remote areas, away from the crowd, boondocking is a welcomed alternative. Another reason we enjoy boondocking is because the spots are often free or low cost.
Where to Boondock?
For us, the ideal place for boondocking is out in the wilderness on public land. Our favorite boondocking experiences have been dispersed camping in the national forests. Two great spots come to mind: boondocking near the Grand Canyon and boondocking near Flagstaff, Arizona.
Our second favorite boondocking experiences have been on farms, vineyards and museums through Harvest Hosts. The membership gives us the opportunity to spend a night or two on the owner’s property, learn about their way of life and support their business.
Other Places to Boondock
Outside of camping in the wilderness without any hookups, there are other boondocking options. Most of these places are for a quick overnight to catch up on sleep. After a long drive, it’s convenient to pull into one of these places and boondock for a night (with the exception of Boondocker’s Welcome).
Cabela’s is an outdoors retailer that provides designated RV parking for their customers at select stores.
Casinos sometimes provide free overnight RV parking to customers in their lot.
Cracker Barrel is a popular roadside eatery that provides overnight RV parking at select locations.
Rest Areas in some states allow overnight parking.
Streets Camping is legal in certain cities and some will offer designated RV parking to encourage visitors. One example is Saint Marys, Georgia.
Truck Stops such as Flying J, Love’s, Pilot, T&A will allow overnight parking. Most spots are first come, first serve, but some do offer a limited number of reserved parking spaces.
Visitors Centers will sometimes allow overnight parking for free or a fee in their parking lot. One example is the visitor’s center in Savannah, GA.
Walmart is a big box store that allows overnight RV parking at select stores.
Boondocker’s Welcome is a club made up of RVers that allow fellow RVers to stay on their property. Boondocking arrangements need to be made in advance..
When we meet RVers new to boondocking, safety is usually their number one concern. As with trying anything new, there is that fear of the unknown. For us, the more we boondocked, the more comfortable it became. If we arrive at a place and fear for our personal safety, we leave and find another place. Our best advice is to follow your instincts. If you don’t feel good about a boondocking spot, don’t stay there. It’s not worth putting your safety in jeopardy.
Dry camping is another term used to describe boondocking, but there is a slight distinction. While boondocking is camping without any hookups outside developed campgrounds, dry camping is simply camping without any hookups. The distinction is dry camping can take place at a developed campground. For example, when we stay at the Elk’s Lodge, we always ask about dry camping. Dry camping helps keep our cost of RV living down.
One of our main requirements for any RV is the ability to boondock comfortably for extended periods. Below is information about our last Class A motorhome and current Class B camper van.
Class A Gas Motorhome (Under 30 feet) with a tow car
- Tank capacity: 75 gallon fresh water tank, 60 gallon gray tank, 40 gallon black tank. We did not have water cans or a portable holding tank. Some RVers use these to extend the length of time they can boondock in the same spot without having to break camp.
- Electricity: 4,000 watt Onan generator, 220 amp hour 6 volt deep cycle batteries, 100 watt portable solar panel and 600 watt modified sine inverter.
- Boondocking experience: starting with a full tank of gas and fresh water, empty gray and black tanks, we could boondock for 10-12 days without moving. The black tank always filled up first which meant we had to pack up and find a dump station. To save black tank space, we always used facilities outside the motorhome when we had the opportunity. If we had good sun, the solar panel could keep the batteries charged if we limited the amount of electricity used. Otherwise we would run the generator to charge the batteries and/or run the A/C and other appliances.
Class B Camper Van (Under 21 feet) without a tow car
- Tank capacity: 30 gallon fresh water tank, 26 gallon gray tank, 4.6 gallon black tank in the form of a cassette.
- Electricity: 280 amp under the hood generator, 400 amp hour lithium ion batteries, 320 watts of solar on the roof and 3,000 watt pure sine inverter.
- Boondocking: now that we’re in a camper van, we haven’t stayed in one spot long enough to see how long we can boondock without breaking camp. Now we have more boondocking options as some of the lower clearance and narrow roads no longer pose an issue. The solar, battery and inverter combination has allowed us to use electricity and appliances without concern for running out of power. We’re also able to run the A/C for a few hours off the batteries before turning on the engine to recharge the batteries.
When we had the 100 watt portable solar panel, we could recharge the Class A batteries on a sunny day without having to run the generator. It also allowed us to charge the devices and watch TV, but we had to monitor our energy consumption.
The roof mounted solar and lithium battery setup on the camper van has changed the way we use electricity. Since we moved in, we haven’t needed to plug in to shore power or run the under the hood generator. We’re able to run the Instant Pot, A/C, charge all our devices in one day without going below the recommended discharge for the batteries. Now we can use electricity freely without any worries.
When we don’t have access to another water source such as a river or stream, we rely solely on the fresh water tank. If we’re boondocking near a river or stream, we can collect that water and filter it through the Travel Berkey and the Grayl. Both will filter out bacteria and other harmful chemicals so we end up with clean drinking water.
Since our full time job is creating content for this website and our YouTube channel, we need access to the internet. If we can’t get a cell signal, we have to break camp and drive to a place with cellular service. One gadget we love is the weboost cell phone signal booster. When we were boondocking in Mojave National Preserve we were able to boost Verizon 1x to LTE without having to break camp.
Limitations – dispersed camping on public land can have a 14 day to 30 day limit.
Some cities have ordinances that make it illegal to park overnight on the street or at businesses. Not all cities enforce the rule, but the cities that do will cite violators. One Walmart informed us the fine was $300 and the sheriff will show up randomly to dish out citations.
Conserve – 4-5 days of dry camping is a breeze, but if we want to go for a week or longer, we have to be conscious of our tanks. When you’re hooked up at a campground, you don’t have to worry about water consumption or filling the waste tanks.
Bad neighbors – we’ve only had two bad experiences in almost two years, but it can happen to anyone. One neighbor drove into our boondocking spot in the national forest and setup camp right next to us. Another neighbor drove his truck throughout the BLM boondocking area at night blasting music with spotlights and kicking up dirt.
Now, what do you think about boondocking? Share your thoughts below.
If you enjoyed this post, check out our Free Camping posts.
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I love to cook and I love to travel with my partner in crime, Joe and our rescue pup, Leo. Right now, we're roaming around the United States in a camper van and sharing our journey. “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert