Boondocking is camping at free or cheap sites with no hookups or amenities. It also goes by the terms dry docking, dry camping and dispersed camping. For some people, boondocking sounds like an adventure, while others might prefer the comforts of well-appointed campgrounds. But boondocking is a handy tool in any campers arsenal—it’s cheap, convenient and can get you access to incredible views you otherwise might not see. So if it’s your first time boondocking, here’s what you should look for.
1. Know Your Goal
Dry camping is the cheapest form of RVing, ranging from free to about $15 a night. And that’s because dry docking campsites can be anything from government land to a friend’s driveway to private property the owner charges a nominal fee to rent out.
If you’re looking for a free place to stay for one night or a few hours while you catch some shut-eye, businesses including Walmart, Costco, Cabela’s, Cracker Barrel, K-Mart and Flying J Travel Centers may allow RVers to stay for a limited time. However, it’s up to you to call and confirm that a specific location allows this practice. A handful of states allow overnight RV parking at rest areas, but in most parts of the U.S., this is a no-go. No matter what, if you’re staying in a private or government-owned parking lot, don’t open any slide-outs or extensions.
Many small towns offer free or inexpensive camping in municipal parks. Expect to pay $10 or less, sometimes requested as a voluntary donation. Most parks limit the amount of time you can stay in one location, usually between one and three nights. Staying in local parks and business parking lots can come in handy if your budget is stretched thin or you’ve run into unexpected circumstances and don’t have time to book a campground in advance.
But if you’re looking to boondock to get closer to nature, look for federal lands. National parks, forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land often have parcels of space where you can camp for free, even if they also offer paid campsites with amenities. And Harvest Hosts is a program where you pay a membership fee to receive access to free camping at vineyards, wineries, breweries, distilleries, farms and local attractions across the U.S.
In general, states out west have more opportunities for boondocking or free camping than those east of the Mississippi River, because states out west have more space to roam. If you’re passionate about boondocking as a lifestyle, you may want to head west, but good deals can be found in every state if you’re willing to do the research. There are a number of publications and membership sites that detail places you can camp for free, from coast to coast.
2. Look for the Perfect Spot
When assessing a place to set up for the night, look for something off the main road that still has quick access to an exit in case of emergency. You’ll get the benefit of privacy and silence, with flexibility if you need to leave in a pinch.
3. Keep Things on the Level
We recommend prioritizing a flat stretch of ground for your campsite. Always keep leveling blocks on hand to smooth out any mildly uneven terrain. This will help prevent undue stress on the body of your RV, as well as keep interior machinery running smoothly throughout your stay.
4. Remember Accessibility
The larger your rig, the more important easy accessibility becomes. Always look for smooth roads in and out of a boondocking campsite. The longer, heavier or wider your RV, the more careful you’ll need to be in assessing which roads you’re capable of traversing safely. There’s nothing worse than getting your RV stuck in a secluded area with rough terrain.
5. Take a Peak
When you’re boondocking, what you give up in convenience, you should gain in natural beauty. Look for the best views when you set up your camp, and you’ll always wake up happy to be in nature.
6. Keep It Connected
For more remote campsites, always consider cell phone reception and connectivity. While it’s not imperative to keep a cell phone with you at all times, if you’re camping in a place where you can’t make a phone call for help, you’ll want to take other safety precautions and communication measures. You may want to buy a good set of walkie-talkies or invest in a Togo Roadlink to help keep an open line to civilization.
7. Prepare for Special Considerations
Leaving the beaten path for a more rustic experience means you may need to plan for things you haven’t considered before. For instance, without a water hookup, you may need to stock extra water tanks and ration your water use while you’re at a dry dock site. Many locations don’t include trash cans, so you should prepare to take all waste with you when you leave. Depending on your location, you may also need to consider wild animals and take safety precautions for protecting your food and trash (and protecting wild animals from your food and trash). Also, be sure to stock up on bug spray and be aware of insects that can cause harm or carry disease, including ticks, mosquitoes, venomous spiders and anything that stings.