Did you know boondocking is a great way to get away from the rat race and unplug? Not only does it save on costly camping fees and gas, but it’s also a good way to get some peace and quiet. Best of all boondocking is free!
RV boondocking is one of the best ways to experience RV traveling. It allows for more freedom and fewer hassles, but it requires you to be prepared with some knowledge on how to conserve water and power while camping off-grid. This guide will discuss the ins-and-outs of boondocking in a RV and what it entails to find a great spot for your first time—a place where you can go when you want something more exciting than a typical RV park campsite.
What is Boondocking?
The term boondocking came about in the 1950s and it originally related to people living in rural isolation. Nowadays, boondocking refers to camping off the grid without the use of modern utilities such as electricity and running water. A lot of campers like to talk about boondocking and they’re often referring to camping in national forests and on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. They may also refer to this as wild, primitive, or dispersed camping.
You can boondock on public land, on private property (with permission from the owner,) or in a Walmart or Cracker Barrel Resturant parking lot (again, with permission of the manager). You can even boondock in your own driveway!
What is the Best RV for Boondocking?
You probably already own the best RV for boondocking. It’s the one you’re in love with and can’t wait to take out on your next boondocking road trip. Chances are, whatever vehicle you are camping in now, it will also work for you on your next boondocking adventure.
In our boondocking travels, we have seen people boondocking in tents, cars, old school buses, teardrop trailers and even a 45′ Class A coach. Of course, the length of your RV ground clearance and the weight of your RV will determine where you can park when boondocking.
Off-Road & All Terrain RVs
There are RVs that have been made to handle rougher terrain called “Off-road” RVs. Off-road RVs are designed to tackle rough roads and challenging terrains. These motorhomes and travel trailers have been fitted with updated, rugged adaptations to ensure they’re road ready in even the toughest conditions. Off-road RVs typically come with off-road tires, reinforced chassis, and suspension to handle rough terrain. The axles are also raised to allow for better clearance over rough roads.
How Long Will You Be Boondocking?
Dispersed camping is allowed on public land for a period not to exceed 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period. The 28 day period begins when a camper initially occupies a specific location on public lands. The 14 day limit may be reached either through a number of separate visits or through 14 days of continuous overnight occupation during the 28 day period. After the 14th day of occupation, the camper must move outside of a 25 mile radius of the previous location until the 29th day since the initial occupation. The purpose of this special rule is to prevent damage to sensitive resources caused by continual use of any particular areas. In addition, campers must not leave any personal property unattended for more than 10 days (12 months in Alaska).
Most national forest lands will let you stay for a maximum of 14 days. Although a few areas allow for a 21-day limit. However, most will allow you to move 5 or miles away from your current site to start the cycle over again.
(Source: Bureau of Land Management)
It’s crucial when boondocking to always pick up after yourself. Keep the area clean and act like you were never there.
Pack it in – Pack it Out!
There are Four Ways to Boondock
Boondocking is a term that was coined specifically to describe dry or dispersed camping, but the term has since been expanded to include four different types of boondocking.
#1: The Overnight Stay
You’re driving to your boondocking campsite, which is 100 miles away. It’s getting dark and you want to find a place to park for the night. Fortunately, there are a few options available for one night parking.
Parking Lot Boondocking
Walmart and Cracker Barrel Resturants are popular locations for campers because they are typically near major highways and have plenty of parking.
*Not all Walmart’s and Cracker Barrel Resturants allow RV overnighters, so while you are planning your next boondocking trip, make sure to call or check with the manager to ask about their policy on overnight stays.
Rest Stop or Welcome Centers Boondocking
When we travel, we will occasionally stay at rest stops . Rest stops are especially useful when we cannot find a Walmart, or Cracker Barrel along our route.
Rest stops can be noisy if you are parked next to a semi-truck who is running their generator all night. It doesn’t bother us, but if the noise bothers you, look elsewhere for a place to sleep.
*Not all Rest Stops allow RV overnighters. Check this website to find the regulations in each state and plan accordingly.
Truck Centers Boondocking
Consider boondocking at one of the many truck centers around the country. Truck Centers offer amenities like Wi-Fi, showers and laundry facilities that may come in handy for RVers on the road.
Truck stops can be noisy since you will most likely be sitting next to semi-trucks who run their generators all night long. It doesn’t bother us, but if the noise bothers you, look elsewhere for a place to stay.
*Not all Truck Centers allow RV overnighters, so call ahead and check with the manager if it is okay to park overnight in their parking lot.
We love to stay at casinos because they have restaurants on site so we don’t have to worry about finding somewhere for dinner or breakfast. Casinos are typically located out in the middle of nowhere, and many of them do offer free overnight parking.
*Not all Casinos allow RV overnighters, so while you are planning your next boondocking trip, make sure to check the Casino’s policy on overnight stays.
#2: Developed Campground
Boondocking can be done in developed campgrounds or at designated RV Park campsites with no hook-ups. You’ll need to plan ahead more than for an overnight stay because you will sometimes have limited options when it comes to showers, bathrooms, and laundry facilities.
You will need your generator or solar power source to provide electricity.
#3: Undeveloped Campsite
Undeveloped camping boondocking is the practice of camping for free on undeveloped land.
Your rig must be 100% self-reliant when boondocking because undeveloped camp sites do not have amenities like shore power, water and sewer hookups.
The United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are two government agencies that oversee public lands that are not privately owned. The USFS manages 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands. These lands can be used for camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, backpacking & more.
The BLM manages 276 million acres of public land. These lands include wildlife refuges, recreational areas like national parks and monuments. Boondocking is permitted on BLM lands in most western states without restrictions or permits required.
You will need your generator or solar power source to provide electricity.
Moochdocking is a less well-known option for RVing but is quickly becoming popular among RVers. For those who enjoy boondocking, this might be a new way to go.
Moochdocking with Friends and Family
Moochdocking is a great option for RVers who want to spend more time with friends and family. You can visit loved ones without paying RV Park prices. It does have some risks—like ticking off grouchy neighbors or getting a citation for parking illegally-but it has some big rewards, too.
Moochdocking is a form of couch-surfing, but instead of crashing on your relative’s or friend’s couch, you sleep in your RV. This way, you can save money and visit with family and friends all while enjoying the flexibility and adventure of RV travel.
See Moochdocking With Family and Friends for more info on Moochdocking.
Other Moochdocking Options
Boondockers Welcome is a website with a mission to foster collaboration between RVers and property owners. The site provides campers with an opportunity to find free or low-cost camping on someone’s property. Boondockers Welcome connects people who are interested in driveway camping with homeowners who are willing to provide their property as a resting spot for weary travelers. A membership costs $50 annually and you’ll typically give a gift to the hosts in return for your stay.
Harvest Hosts offers a way for people to explore the U.S. and learn about the different cultures by visiting vineyards, wineries, breweries, distilleries, farms & local attractions. There are currently over 1,000 hosts offering accommodations all over the country.
How to Find RV Boondocking Campsite
Before traveling to a new area, it’s important to do your homework. The easiest way of finding RV boondocking sites is by visiting BLM land, BLM managed recreation websites, Bureau of Land Management managed recreation websites, National Forest Service managed recreation websites, National Park Service managed recreation websites, and Forest Service managed recreation websites.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages over 245,000 square miles in the United States. These lands are primarily found in Western states. The BLM is often divided into districts, which in turn manage different areas of land. These areas are often very remote and rugged, but can offer access to some amazing natural resources.
The National Forest Service
The National Forest Service manages approximately 193,000 square miles of land. It is federally funded and has many more amenities available than the BLM does. This means that many of their campsites have picnic areas, restrooms, fire rings and so on. The National Forest Service (NFS) maintains more than 190 campgrounds in 13 national forests. These campgrounds are often very popular and fill up quickly during the summer months. If you’re looking for a more isolated camping experience, dispersed camping may be your best option.
Official travel maps are available at Forest Ranger Stations can help show where exactly these types of places are located, so they’re easy for travelers to find when on-the-go. These maps are also available online.
Here’s How I Research My Next Boondocking Campsite
- The first thing I do when I’m researching is go to freecampsites.net is an excellent app for finding boondocking sites to stay at. For the most part it is accurate, but sometimes we got to our destination and it wasn’t what we were expecting. So, I use freecampsites.net to get an overview of the area I am interested in boondocking and then use the website Compendium to verify my findings.
- Next I go to the Campendium website. We have found some really nice boondocking places to stay at on Campendium. I check out all the photos, read the info and all the reviews to find out the details about the campground so we will have a good idea of what to expect when we get there. Compendium even tells us if there are any 4G LTE signals available and how strong the signal is. Nice!
- Once I decide on a potential boondocking site, I go to Google Maps and zoom in on the area in satellite mode to check out the roads and surrounding terrain. I also look for RVs parked on the map which will confirms we will be able to boondock there. And since we have solar onboard, I also check for sites that are not covered with trees. (If I want to see what is available near my current boondocking site, I search Google for, “rv boondocking near me“.
- Next, I call the Forest Ranger Office nearest to the target boondocking destination to find out if there are any “gotchas” we need to know about before we get there. Is the area closed? Are there any nearby forest fires? Are there any other boondocking areas available for RVs?
- Finally, even if I think I have found the perfect boondocking spot, I always have a Plan B ready, just in case.
Apps and Websites We Use to Find Info and Places to Park:
- RECREATION.GOV (PC) Free
- NATURAL FOREST SERVICE (PC) Free
- BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT (PC) Free
- U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE (PC) Free
- COMPENDIUM (IOS | PC) Free / $
- FREECAMPSITES.NET (DROID | PC) Free
- FREEDUMPSTATIONS.NET (DROID | PC) Free
- ALLSTAYS: ( IOS | PC ) $
- RV PARKY: (DROID | IOS | PC) Free
- US PUBLIC LANDS (DROID | IOS) $
- iOVERLAND (DROID | IOS | PC) Free
Powering Up While Unplugged
One of the biggest problems associated with boondocking is battery anxiety, which can be caused by not having enough charge in your batteries or feeling like you’re constantly battling power deficits. There are a few ways to avoid these problems and enjoy your time off the grid.
RV Boondocking Generator
When RV camping off-grid, it’s important to know what power sources are available and which you should use it. Generators are common power sources for campsites without hookups because they provide a constant supply of electricity. A gas-powered generator can produce enough power to run most of the essential appliances in your RV, such as the fridge, lights, and TV. While these types of generators are often the most convenient to use, they can be noisy.
Solar power for RV Boondocking
If you’re going to be boondocking, a solar power system is an essential item for your RV. Personally, we wouldn’t boondock without solar power onboard. It’ll provide electricity and help you live off the grid. They come with panels, batteries and an inverter which will provide the electricity to charge your batteries while using appliances like the television and computers.
A charge controller is used to regulate the voltage and current to the battery bank. An inverter is used to convert the DC current into AC current, which can then be used to power all your household items in your RV.
With that said, be aware that It takes a lot of electricity to power the coffeemaker, microwave, hair dryer. Air conditioning will quickly drain your batteries unless you have invested in a large solar setup.
When you are RV camping off-grid, it is important to have an energy efficient solar power system. This will help reduce the need for any additional resources and provide a more comfortable experience during your stay in the outdoors. Once everything has been set up correctly, maintenance should be easy as well because there won’t be anything that needs attention on a regular basis
Best RV Batteries for Boondocking
RV batteries are an important part of the RV camping experience. Lithium-ion batteries are more energy efficient than lead-acid batteries, have lower internal resistance, charge quickly, and they also weigh less for the same amount of energy stored. The only potential downside to them is that they cost more than typical RV Deep Cycle Battery
RV Boondocking Wate
When you’re boondocking, it can be incredibly difficult to conserve water. This means that you will be dependent on your freshwater tank so you will have to conserve water in order to have enough water to last you through your stay. If you are boondocking for a week or more, you are going to have to make some drastic changes on how you use water for your everyday needs. While RV boondocking, it is important to learn how to save water. Fortunately, there are a few ways to conserve water while boondocking.
Collapsible 5 gallon Jugs
Some other options storing extra water include using 5-gallon collapsable jugs for cooking, drinking, and washing dishes. They can be filled with fresh water before arriving at your destination. They allow you to store the water without having to worry about carrying around heavy containers, which make it ideal for boondockers since they collapse and take up less space than traditional containers.
The RV owners love the AQUATANK-2 water bladder because it’s durable and easy to use. This RV boondocking water bladder is a small, lightweight water bladder that can hold 30 gallons of water and weighs just 2 pounds when empty. It’s made from quality materials to ensure it will be durable over time and won’t leak even if you roll it onto its side in the truck bed.
To make it easy to get the water from your water bladder to your RV freshwater tank, I recommend (and use) the DrillPump750 – Self Priming Water Pump attachment for drills.
In the RV Kitchen
Saving on water can be difficult when you are on the road. With limited water sources on board, the temptation to use the sink to wash dishes, rinse vegetables, and take a hot shower can be too much to resist. The best way to save water while boondocking is to have a plan for how you will use the water on board. The following tips will help you conserve water and still have a satisfying, functioning kitchen. Tips for saving water in the kitchen while boondocking in a RV.
- When you start your meal preparation, limit the amount of water you use.
- We use paper plates and plastic cups and silverware to cut down on water usage.
- Get creative in the kitchen. Learn to make meals using only one pot or even better, stick to meals that don’t require any cooking at all.
- I cook on the outdoor grill instead of using pots and pans.
- I do meal prepping before we boondock.
- I pre-wash fruit and vegetables when we’re connected to city water.
- Capture sink water in a smaller basin for washing with less water.
- Collect leftover water from washing dishes and use the water instead of freshwater from your RV’s tank to flush the toilet.
- Clean dishes/wipe down with wash rag quickly versus letting food dry on them.
In the RV Bathroom
It may surprise you to learn that, on average, approximately half of all water usage takes place in the bathroom. Furthermore, about 75% of all water used in the bathroom is for flushing toilets and showering.
- Every time you brush your teeth, turn off the tap.
- Turn off your tap while shaving.
- Fill up a cup with some warm water for rinsing your razor.
- Avoid flushing when not necessary to conserve water.
- An efficient way to save water usage in your RV toilet is to use the gray water you saved from the dirty dishes.
Showering in a RV
The average American uses 20 gallons per day on just one shower. With that in mind, you can lower your consumption by taking short showers and using a bucket or hand-held showerhead when you’re out of the RV. Here are some helpful tips for reducing your water usage while showering in a RV while boondocking.
When boondocking, it is very important to conserve water by limiting showering. When showering is necessary, it is best to use water sparingly and opt for showers at a local gym or truck stop in the nearby city. If these options are unavailable, national parks often have bathroom facilities with running water that you can take advantage of.
Consider Doing the Following:
- Install an efficient water saving shower head with an on/off switch.
- Reduce water consumption by shortening your showers.
- Leave the shower on the ideal temperature setting.
- Alternatively, use a washcloth or sponge to give yourself a quick, but effective clean.
- Baby wipes are a great alternative to showering.
- Consider using dry shampoo.
If you do decide to have a shower, use less water by getting accustomed to having a “military style shower.”
Consider a “Navy Shower” to Save Water
When it comes to boondocking, finding places to dispose of their trash can be difficult. For others living full-time in their RV, they may not have the luxury of carrying their trash home. When RV boondockers camp, they have to deal with different types of waste each week. Trash bins tend to pile up after a few days of boondocking in an RV.
We have found that the ideal solution is parking overnight at a campground or at RV park is the perfect time for to get rid of your trash.
Some Things to Keep in Mind When Boondocking:
- Park overnight at a full service RV park for the night and dispose trash, dump, and resupply water, etc.
- Paper you can burn in a campfire, but you should not burn plastic.
- Take items out of packaging before going to your boondocking site and dispose of it properly.
- Collapse or crush items to reduce space in a garbage bag.
- Many highway rest stops have large dumpsters that truckers use.
- Dump stations.
- Truck stops.
- Local landfill or Transfer station.
- Visitor centers.
- Gas stations.
Boondocking is an off-grid RV experience that often means you’ll be miles away from a dumpster. Some boondockers will take their trash with them on the next leg of their journey and dispose of it in one of the places above. Other boondockers will burn the trash, after first removing any plastic and other items that might cause a fire hazard.
The main thing to remember when boondocking is that there are few trash receptacles, so you’ll need to be mindful of your waste. Pack out what you pack in and always think about how you’ll dispose of your waste before it becomes a problem.
Boondocking is the ultimate free camping getaway. The RV community has embraced boondocking because it’s a great way to get away from the rat race, unplug, and find peace and enjoy nature.
It’s important to remember that boondocking is a skill. You won’t be perfect from the very first time you try it. Practice makes perfect, so don’t give up. Your RV boondocking adventure is just around the next corner!