All About Boondocking
Updated: Sep 29, 2022
What is boondocking?
Boondocking, sometimes called dry camping, is camping without water, sewer, and electrical hookups. Boondocking allows RVers to camp more primitively than they would camp inside of a developed RV park or campground. Just like there are differences between state park campgrounds, family campgrounds, and upscale-luxury RV parks, there are different ways to boondock.
Boondocking in U.S. National Forest dispersed camping areas
Dispersed camping is camping within national forest lands without traditional campground amenities, such as campground hosts, designated campsites, restrooms, fire rings, picnic tables, or trash service. This type of camping is the most primitive style of camping because it requires campers to be self-contained and self-reliant.
Dispersed camping is free, but you must follow the National Forest Service’s dispersed camping rules to help keep dispersed camping wild and free. The regulations for fire safety, length of stay, leave-no-trace, and proximity to water, plant life, and developed areas all help to keep our national forests and grasslands a beautiful and safe place for recreation. Before you head out for dispersed camping, a good rule of thumb is to contact the National Forest Service office closest to where you plan to stay to find out if there are any fire restrictions, closures, or other circumstances that might impact your stay.
Since I live in Colorado, I use the U.S. National Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region website to get national forest and grassland information. This website links me to current recreational alerts, dispersed camping area maps, and other great tools to help me plan a weekend off-the-grid.
Boondocking on BLM land
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior, manages land in the deserts, rangelands, forests, mountains, and arctic tundra. The mission of the Bureau of Land Management “…is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
BLM public land areas also permit dispersed camping, and just like the U.S. National Forest Service, there are rules and regulations that all recreationists must follow to ensure a safe and fun BLM dispersed camping experience. Before I plan on heading out for a dispersed camping trip, I use some of the tools found on the BLM Colorado website to make sure that I am up-to-date with all of the latest information posted by the BLM.
Boondocking at developed campgrounds without hookups
If you aren’t ready to jump in to complete isolation, and boondock in dispersed camping areas, you can still have a boondocking experience in any developed campground. For a more primitive camping experience, try camping at a national forest or BLM campground. Several BLM campgrounds offer primitive-style camping without water, sewer, or electricity, yet they still provide amenities like active campground hosts, restrooms, trash services, and picnic tables. Most U.S. National Forest campgrounds have both first-come, first-served camping as well as reservation camping. Finding recreational activities or campsites in the U.S. National Forest is easy. Visit the interactive activity and campground locator or use Recreation.gov.
If you are still apprehensive about boondocking in a more isolated location, why not give boondocking a try at your local state park? If you don’t have any hookups, guess what? You are still boondocking! I had my first solo boondocking experience at Rifle Gap State Park in 2018. My experience was less than perfect, but I don’t feel bad about the things that made me nervous about boondocking on my own. My time at Rifle Gap prepared me to implement some safety measures that I still use today, so I won’t ever discount my first solo boondocking experience.
Boondocking in parking lots, retail locations, and other parking areas
Boondocking in parking lots is a thing. Some retail stores welcome RVers who need a safe place to stay for a night. Walmart, Cabelas, Bass Pro Shops, Cracker Barrel, and Sierra Trading Post are just a few places that permit overnight camping, just as long as the RVers adhere to the store rules and call before stopping for the night. Wallydocking (boondocking at a Walmart) or boondocking in any of these locations is not a sure thing, so make sure you call the store before parking for the night because some stores prohibit overnight parking.
If you don’t want to boondock at a store or restaurant, it’s understandable. Some truck stops permit an overnight stay, and so do many casinos. I’ve stayed at my fair share of casinos overnight and paid as little as $11 dollars for a dry camping spot. I’ve also moochdocked (mooched a driveway off a friend or family member), and moochdocking is almost always the most fun kind of boondocking.
Boondocking at vineyards, golf courses, and other friendly stops
Boondocking isn’t limited to dispersed camping, developed camping, and roadside camping. If you decide you like to camp without hookups, consider a paid membership, like Harvest Hosts, where you pay a fee to have access to some of the most beautiful boondock camping locations across the country. Imagine boondock camping at a brewery and having the opportunity to meet new people while supporting local businesses along your journey.
If Harvest Hosts isn’t your jam, other memberships, like Boondockers Welcome (now a part of Harvest Hosts) offer free overnight stays on private property, adding another level of security along your route. For some, boondocking at a trusted host’s location is needed, and memberships like Boondockers Welcome help calm the uncertainty of boondocking in an unfamiliar location.
Boondocking where you feel safe
Wherever you decide to boondock, just make sure you feel safe, and you are aware of your surroundings. What might be a fantastic boondocking location for a group of campers might also be undesirable for a solo-female camper. Whenever possible, look into what other people have said about the place you hope to stay. The user rating features on apps like iOverlander, Allstays, or Campendium could help you decide between a safe or a sketchy boondocking location, and no one intentionally looks for a sketchy place to camp!