Boondocking 101: How to find those boondocking campsites you keep hearing about

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July 23, 2011

By Bob Difley

boondocking_colorado3Camping comfortably without hookups was the subject of last week’s post, so today let’s look at ways to find the boondocking campsites you keep hearing about but whose actual locations remain vague and illusive. It’s not that boondockers are obsessively secretive about their favorite places and dueling with broadswords to secure possession, they mostly just don’t want to publicize them to the whole world.

The point to keep in mind is that where there is a boondocking campsite  there will be others nearby–and there is always room for one more rig. That said, there are logical steps to follow to find boondocking areas (called “dispersed camping” areas by federal agencies) and campsites. Stop at visitor centers and chambers of commerce for area or state maps that show recreational lands, such as maps with colored shading to designate where the various public lands are located or check online at the forest service’s website (more on that below).

Then visit the BLM, Forest Service, or other federal office or ranger station for more specific maps of dispersed camping areas. Ask for a list of the campgrounds in the area also, most of which will be dry-camping and can be quite nice, though not as private as boondocking on open land, and they will likely charge a fee, though modest compared to RV resorts. The office personnel or rangers (better) can give you more detail on the access road, terrain, size and number of sites, etc.

Most roads to these sites will be dirt but were built solidly for logging and cattle trucks and fire-fighting equipment and most should be suitable for RVs if they have been continuously maintained. If you are still nervous about driving on a dirt road that you haven’t personally seen, leave your rig at the ranger station and drive your tow or toad to check it out first. Then come back for your rig.

Be aware that the previous rule for boondocking on public lands stated that you could camp anywhere off the road, as long as you did not block any roads or parts of roads. The new Forest Service Motor Vehicle Travel Management Plan, which will go into effect in some forests by the end of 2011, will specify which roads are authorized for motor vehicle use and which areas are authorized for dispersed camping.

Ask at the ranger station or check the individual forest’s website to determine which plan is currently in effect. Though specifics are vague and slow in coming, it appears that anywhere that RVs have camped before will be included in the approved dispersed camping areas. But ask anyway. You can find dispersed camping areas online for some forests, but you have to follow the thread, from the original Forest Service’s “Find a Forest” website to the state you are interested in, then select a forest, choose “recreation”, “camping and cabins”, and either “campground camping” or “dispersed camping” and there is a description of the area and the rules governing that area. I used the Roosevelt NF in Colorado as this example. Other forests will have different paths, some with less information. All forests do not operate the sameway.

If you are not near or will not pass a ranger station or field office, and are not in a location where you can go online (and forgot to do it before you arrived in the area) you can still find boondocking sites by watching  for FS or BLM roads and following them in search of campsites. Sometimes just a couple hundred yards from the main road you can find an acceptable spot, or you can park your rig there temporarily and drive your tow or toad further in to look for something more acceptable.

And remember, it is always hardest finding the first boondocking site. After that it is more a fun exploration and hunt for something better, knowing that you have a site if you can’t find one. Record all the acceptable boondocking sites you find so you can find them again, even if you don’t camp at them. Successful boondocking–after you get the comfort and resources issues settled–then becomes exploring and data collecting. Once you’ve done it a few times, it will not seem so intimidating or mysterious.

Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public LandsSnowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.

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  24. Tom gourley

    Boondocking is the only RVing we do. We have done it in CA, UT, AZ, and NV. Dropping the 5th wheel when looking for something new is the easiest trick. Nothing like waking up in the woods on a mountaintop and you see no one around.

  25. William Fincher

    Another accurate article on primitive camping.We have had the true pleasure of boondockng in southern Ca. We love other campers,and have had alot of great primitive settings.Through experience on off road camping,pull the rig well of the path of thru road paths,but tread lightly not to drive over sensitive terrian not established, and never had even a second look from any law enforcement.
    Be safe,

  26. Ron Butler


    Another good article. Two negative comments about stopping in at the ranger stations.
    1. Have a tough time finding them opened and staffed. This is probably a result of budget cuts, but on some, we can’t/didn’t find what the hours were. This happened several times this spring coming up through CA. on our way back here to the NW. Guess I have to do better planning and use the websites more before we leave next time!

    2. No room to pull in with the rig and tow car in a number of the offices.

    Oh well, as I said, I just have to get better organized, but that’s hard to do for me!

    Take care.

  27. butterbean carpenter

    Howdy Guru Bob,

    Another well written article on the wonders of boondocking… If people will listen to the old master they’ll learn something…

    Smooth roads, clear skies & balmy breezes !!!!!!!!!!

  28. Gary

    We feel that a major part in boondocking is just the fun of finding a spot that ” nobody has ever found before”. Yes there have been others, but if they are not there, they never have been. Many years ago we were headed for Yellowstone but needed to finish sewing our curtains, uh huh, and stayed outside the park for a few days. Private, scenic and free. Good times!! Had trouble in the park with the regulations and people, but not outside. What a difference 2-3 miles makes.
    Boonin’ will be forever on our list of “to do’s”