Finding Great Boondocking Spots

Finding Great Boondocking Spots 1

My name is Marshall and I have a “problem”. I’m a serial boondocker.

I spend the vast majority of my time camping on public land, with most locations being free. The last time I stayed at a full-hookup RV spot was also the last time I stayed at a commercial RV park – over 4 years ago.

I’ve spent under $100 a year for campgrounds the past 4 years. On the rare occasions I stay at campgrounds, they are public and offer few, if any, amenities.

I don’t choose this style of camping because I have to. I do it because I want to! It fits my lifestyle much more than a crowded RV park.

Oh, and I’m rarely alone. So I don’t do this because I constantly need my ‘me’ time.

So I know a thing or two about how to find a boondocking spot. But first, what in the heck is “boondocking”?

Finding Great Boondocking Spots 2
Wedge Overlook, Utah

Defining Boondocking

Boondocking is camping at a site that has zero hookups. No water. No power. No sewer. And more often than not in an uncrowded spot on public land. Generally, for free. (OK, almost always free where I camp.)

Call it what you want – boondocking, dispersed camping, wild camping – it all usually means the same thing. Enjoying the wide-open spaces offered by the vast swaths of public land that the United States has to offer.

Where Can You Boondock?

Finding Great Boondocking Spots 3
Alabama Hills

The most common place to boondock is on certain public lands. The most availability of boondocking spots can be found out West because this is where the majority of the public lands lie.

There are four main types of public land that offer boondocking possibilities:

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is in charge of the vast majority of public lands in the US. Here are some BLM quick stats:

  • They manage 245 million acres (one-tenth of the US land), including 25 National Monuments and 21 National Conservation Areas
  • Greater than 99% of BLM land is available for recreational use with no fees

US Forest Service (National Forests) which administers the Nation’s forests. The Forest Service manages 193 million acres of land in 154 National Forests and 20 National Grasslands. Unless you are in a developed campground, it is generally free to camp on Forest Service land (where permitted).

State Lands which is just that – land owned and controlled by a particular state. Western states have a lot more of this publicly held land, frequently in the form of State Trust Land.

The availability of this land for boondocking will vary by state, and there is sometimes a fee to camp on this land. For example, Washington State requires a Discovery Pass ($30 annual fee). And Arizona requires a State Trust Land permit ($15 individual or $30 family annual fee).

City/County Land is the fourth type of public land and is the one that I use the least. This type of public land ranges from a gravel/dirt lot where you are allowed to camp, to a city or county campground with, or without, amenities. The fancier the location, the more likely there will be a fee to camp, even if it is dry camping with no utilities.

How Do You Find Boondocking Locations?

Finding Great Boondocking Spots 4
Nevada Boondocking

There are three ways I find boondocking spots, with two being my primary means:

  • Online with campground location websites
  • Via word of mouth from my friends and acquaintances who also boondock
  • On my own using public land maps, Google Maps satellite view, and getting out and exploring

Websites

There are many different online destinations you can use to find camping spots, including boondocking locations. However, the quality varies widely, so I use a total of two.

Campendium is my first choice when it comes to finding places to camp. It has a variety of filters that allow you to easily drill down to find the type of location you need. The user-generated reviews give you a real-world perspective of what to expect.

Free Campsites  is a distant second, and to be honest, a website that I don’t visit that often. Why? It’s just a harder website to use. Not as visually pleasing, and often includes reviews from tent and car campers so the information often doesn’t pertain to people with rigs.

While the above two websites are free to use, there are two paid options that you might wish to consider and that I have used.

Finding Great Boondocking Spots 5
Harvest Hosts Location

Boondockers Welcome is a paid service ($50 a year) that gives you access to over 2,000 locations that allow you to camp for at least one night for free. These hosts are private individuals with either a large driveway or a piece of land suitable to park at least one RV. While the majority of hosts are US based, there are many in Canada and even some overseas.

Harvest Hosts works very similarly to Boondockers Welcome but features 900+ farms, wineries, breweries, and museums that allow you to overnight. They charge a $79 annual fee and offer an upgrade to include 350+ golf courses. With Harvest Hosts, you are encouraged to patronize the establishment, so the ‘free’ stay often costs a bit, but you will get a great experience staying at some cool locations.

Word of Mouth

I have a lot of RVing friends who boondock so it is fairly common that cool spots come up in conversation. When one grabs my interest, I will favorite it on Campendium or save it as a “want to visit” pin in Google Maps.

Keep your ears open when you talk to fellow RVers. While they may not tell you about their secret hiding spot nobody else knows about, they often have no problem telling you about better-known places they love. And with thousands of potential boondocking spots, it’s always nice to have some help narrowing down your choices.

On Your Own

Finding Great Boondocking Spots 6
Eclipse Boondocking

The final method I use to find dispersed camping locations is simply by exploring areas on my own. I don’t do this much as it requires being within a reasonable driving distance of an area I want to explore, and when I am somewhere it means I already have a place to stay.

But I have had very good success using this method in the past. For example, I found a not well-known place in Idaho for a group of 15 rigs to enjoy the 2017 solar eclipse in the path of totality.

To use this method, you must first know where public land is, and if you can camp there. I’ve only done this in National Forests because the US Forest Service makes it very easy to locate where you can and cannot legally camp.

National Forests put out Motor Vehicle Use Maps that indicate where on Forest Service Roads you are allowed to camp. I use this as a starting point, then fire up the satellite view in Google Maps to get a sense of the area.

I’ll look for obvious camping spots and the general lay of the land. The downside of this is that you cannot tell the condition of the road and if a rig can go down it. That’s where getting out and exploring comes in.

You have to physically drive (not in your RV or towing your trailer!) these potential spots to see if your rig can make it down the road and if there is indeed a suitable camping spot.

Be prepared to spend some time doing this. To find the eclipse viewing location, I drove for hours before almost giving up. The last place I checked was THE spot.

Because of the effort involved, and the fact that I would have to be in the area to investigate, I only use this method a few times a year.

Boondocking: Just Do It!

Finding Great Boondocking Spots 7
Badlands South Dakota

Hopefully, this has given you an idea of how to find boondocking spots. If you are out West, there is an abundance of places you can camp for free. Out East, your pickings are slim but they do exist.

Use one of the above resources and find a spot to enjoy the freedom of not being in a developed campground. You can thank me later.

Finding Great Boondocking Spots 8

Author

Marshall Wendler

Marshall is the co-founder of Camp Addict, the premier RV answer website. He’s been full-time RVing since April 2014, spending 99% of his time boondocking on public lands.

Pin this post to Pinterest!

Finding Great Boondocking Spots 9

6 Responses to “Finding Great Boondocking Spots

  • Marshall Wendler
    Nancy Sears
    1 month ago

    Enjoyed your article, Have only boondocked once but did enjoy it. Reading your article certainly gave me something to think about.

    • Nice to hear that this blog post caused the gears to start turning! I think boondocking is great (obviously) so I’m glad that you had a good first experience.

  • this was a nice read with coffee. thanks marshall!

  • Great Article!
    We really enjoy boondocking also.
    My wife and I spent 6 weeks in Canada exploring Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Only stopping in a Campground for 2 days while meandering the real countryside of these Maritime Provinces.
    Free camping was abundant.
    Thanks for your info. ❤

  • Marshall Wendler
    Carl Turner
    3 days ago

    Love to read about boondocking. My wife and I recently took 13 weeks to get from Oregon to Florida in our Class A motorhome, dry-camped all the way. (Some of it was in developed campgrounds, but with no hookups.)

    Carl & Marty Turner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *