12 Things We Wish First-Time Boondockers Knew

Jan 12, 2022 | Travel & Destinations

12 Things We Wish First-Time Boondockers Knew

Research, knowledge, and preparation are key to an enjoyable boondocking experience. Here's what you need to know before heading off the grid.

By Amy Rekart

Photo: Amy Rekart

Boondocking can be an exhilarating adventure, but without the proper etiquette and prior knowledge, it’s less enjoyable for everyone. Boondocking refers to RV camping without hookups to water, electricity, or sewer, so you’re relying on what’s in your holding tanks. Boondockers typically camp in remote or scenic areas, often on public lands.

Related The Ultimate Guide to Boondocking

Knowing what not to do while boondocking is just as important as knowing what to do. Here are some of the unwritten (and written) rules of boondocking. 

  1. Leave No Trace. Following the seven Leave No Trace principles is a must for adventuring in the outdoors, and boondocking is no exception. These principles are consistently updated to ensure minimal impact on the environment.
  2. Don’t run your generator all night, especially if you have neighbors. While public lands typically don’t have defined quiet hours, it’s good camping etiquette to keep the noise down.
  3. Never dump your gray and black tanks at your site. If you’re on your way to a campground with hookups, wait to dump there. Otherwise, use a nearby dump station.
  4. If the site looks occupied, don’t set up camp. If you find a site with belongings but no rig, the campers are most likely out adventuring and will return soon.
  5. Research the nightly stay limit and abide by it.
  6. Don’t alter the site in any way. Many boondocking sites will already have fire rings, but if not, disperse your ring when you leave. Always make sure there’s not a current fire ban before starting a fire.
  7. Leave your site cleaner than you found it. If you encounter trash, pick it up. Bullet casings and nails are common in boondocking locations and hazardous to the environment and vehicles. 
  8. If a boondocking area has designated spots, stay within those, and don’t create your own. You could be harming the delicate, wild landscape. There’s a reason specific spots are created by the service that manages the site.
  9. Be considerate of your neighbors. This means giving them space. They’re likely seeking the same privacy and serenity you are.
  10. If it’s a self-pay site, pay the fee. Campsite fees help to maintain the area in which you are camping.
  11. Always prepare and plan for a boondocking site to make sure your rig can fit in the location and handle road conditions. If you have a larger rig, drive ahead in your tow vehicle or on a bike to make sure it’s accessible.
  12. Have a backup plan. Weather can turn quickly and you don’t want to end up stuck on an inaccessible road. Have an emergency kit that includes a hand-crank radio so you can stay up to date on weather conditions. No view is worth any extreme weather risk. 

Related 9 Beginner Mistakes to Avoid When Boondocking

A man getting into a tow truck pulling an travel trailer somewhere in the desert
Photo: Amy Rekart

Common Questions About Boondocking

Can I boondock anywhere? 

You can only boondock in areas where camping is permissible by state or national law. Some businesses—like Walmarts and Cracker Barrels—also allow overnight parking, but not all. Call and check ahead of time. You can also use the Overnight RV Parking feature that’s included in your Roadpass Pro membership.

Is boondocking illegal? 

Boondocking is legal in designated areas such as those managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. You typically can’t park an RV overnight on the side of a road or highway, and rest stops usually allow parking for up to 12 hours. Always check street signs for “No Overnight Parking” warnings.

Related How to Find a Safe Place to Park your RV for the Night

Is boondocking allowed in national parks? 

Many national parks allow camping without hookups in designated campgrounds. These typically require a fee and advance reservations. You’re not allowed to simply pull over anywhere and stay overnight inside a national park.

What do I need for boondocking? 

You need to make sure you have the essentials to boondock. This means a large enough water and food supply for the length of your stay, plus a few extra days in case of an emergency. If you plan to boondock for more than a night or two, you’ll need an additional source of power, like a generator or solar power system, in addition to your RV battery. 

Related Essential Gear You Need for RVing Off the Grid

Fall campfire with our pups in New York.
Photo: Amy Rekart

How do I start boondocking? 

Research content from experienced boondockers to learn as much as you can until you feel you have the tools and knowledge necessary to take your first boondocking trip. Always prepare by researching spots ahead of time (using websites like Campendium) instead of driving around aimlessly looking for a campsite. 

How long can you boondock? 

The length of stay allowed at boondocking sites typically vary from 1 to 21 days. Most BLM land allows stays for 14 days, but this depends on the site. Research the spot ahead of time so you know before arrival. Many times you will see a list of rules and regulations posted at the entrance to a boondocking area.

The key to an epic boondocking experience is to be prepared with resources, proper etiquette, and flexibility. Some of your most memorable moments might happen unexpectedly due to an altered route or last-minute change of plans. Embrace it, and follow local guidelines and laws, and you’ll have a safe and enjoyable experience.

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Amy Rekart

Amy, along with her husband Matthew, are the couple behind Carpe Diem Campers. They travel in their Cruiser RV Stryker toy hauler with their two dogs and two cats. Amy works remotely teaching physical education and health. In her free time, she and her husband are exploring the outdoors, visiting small towns, and finding the best breweries around.