Boondocking 101: Why would anyone want to boondock?

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July 9, 2011

deschutes_nf_century_driveBy Bob Difley

Though you’ve heard about boondocking from other RVers and on blogs but never tried it you might wonder why anyone would want to camp where there were no water, sewage, or electrical hookups. After all, camping in an RV in an RV resort or upscale campground is pretty comfortable, and living without those hookups would seem to make it less enjoyable.

But in reality, all modern RVs have been manufactured to be not only mobile, but also to be independent of appendages that hook them up to land-based resources. All RVs have a holding tank for fresh water, and most of the time two holding tanks for waste, one from the toilet and one from the shower and sinks. They also have a house battery or batteries to supply 12-volt electricity to the RV in lieu of plug-in 120-volt power, and a generator to produce 120-volt electricity directly to both the 12-volt and the 120-volt systems, and to recharge the battery/ies.

So when using your RV’s systems rather than a campground’s, it opens up many more camping possibilities. There are vast natural areas on public lands for enjoying your RV lifestyle, such as in our national forests (photo Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest) and on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The National Forest Service (FS) manages the nation’s 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands–193 million acres.

The BLM manages approximately 253 million acres–one-eighth of the landmass of the country—most of it in the West. These massive areas, and more managed by other agencies of the Federal Government such as the National Park Service, Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, plus National Wildlife Refuges are known collectively as federal public lands. In addition there are state forests, state game and fish land, fishing accesses, and Indian Reservations.

boondocking rte 97

RVers are permitted to camp–boondock–on these public lands, sometimes in primitive campgrounds (those without hookups) and sometimes on open land (called “dispersed camping” by the FS and BLM). If you only go to campgrounds, think how much of this country’s wonderful natural and scenic land you are missing, not to mention the joy of solitude when you find a boondocking campsite by a tumbling mountain stream or on a broad desert plain under the shade of a mesquite tree–and there is no one else in sight.

First, though, you have to get comfortable with camping without hookups. You can start off with boondocking for just one or two nights which won’t burden your onboard systems(photo – an enroute boondocking campsite in Klamath NF off Highway 97 northeast of Weed, CA–and only about 200 yards off the road).

But to go longer than that you need to learn some conservation techniques and alter some resource wasting habits. And that is the subject of next Saturday’s blog, Boondocking 101: How do you camp without hookups?

Check out my website for more RVing tips, destinations, and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands (now available in a Kindle version), Snowbird 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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  8. Lloyd Carlson

    Last year we found a small campground in Missouri that had five
    electrical sites and a group camping area. It was awesome.

    Do you have any suggestions about materials that might have similar
    style places around the USA? Does such a campground book exists?

    Soon to be an empty nester,
    Lloyd Carlson, Iowa

  9. Jimmy Crumpler

    oh the joys of boondocking

  10. Ken – Yes, I have run into problems when boondocking, however, none of them were situations where a gun, mace, or pepper spray would have been a solution. Mostly, the problems consist of making sure that where I am boondocking I will not get stuck in mud or soft sand (I’ve done that), that I don’t have 20-something neighbors close enough that their partying will keepme up all night, and not to leave un-secured valuable items like a portable generator lying around my campsite for easy pickins. After 17 years of boondocking I have never had a situation where I felt unsafe by other humans. I’ve only had something stolen once, and that was in a campground. I’ve had someone knock on my door after dark while boondocking but did not open my door to them (they said they ran out of gasoline–probably true, a young couple ). Ask any veteran boondocker and I think you will find that fears of personal safety are unsubstantiated.

  11. There has been allot of discussion in our Good Sam Group about Boon Docking and safety of it! some Want to carry some sort of weapon with them like Mace or Pepper spray and some talk about a hand gun! What are your thoughts and have you ever ran into problem while Boon docking?


  12. Sean Williams

    Hello everyone,
    I was hoping to maybe get some insight on a new unit in general. “Boondocking” doesn’t sound all that bad just to get away from everyone though! My family and I are very new to the RV world and are oblivious to what we are even looking for. We are thinking that we want a new travel trailer but aren’t real sure on what brand or on where to get one from. If you guys have any suggestions on where to try to find one, that would be great!

  13. Geoffrey Pruett

    We “boondock” most times in relatives drive ways but do go to undeveloped areas to escape people at times. The only changes made to our small A were one of the better, non remote, vent fans over the bed and the range extender mod to the holding tanks. This gives us 3 days easy, 6 if fresh water is near by and this was like most of the era intended for campgrounds. Even with 2 cabin batteries we will run out of power before needing to dump and a small car style battery charger actually brings the batteries up when using the genset for a couple of hours. The ability to be alone when visiting is a kindness to both visitor and visitee and worth any extra driving expense. We plug in only in below freezing weather which seldom is during visiting times.

  14. Dave Armbrust

    I think I have done all the boondocking / drydocking I want years ago while traveling on a motorcycle. It was all I could afford. Other than an occasional night in walmart or a truckstop on the generator I choose to plug in. I will admit I have looked at a campground packed like sardines and driven away to find a nice truckstop and slept pleasantly to the sound of my generator or a large truck. I have some medical needs that cause me to desire electricty or at least be allowed to run my generator. Having gotten myself in a tight spot or two in our Class A with dingy I prefer to go where I know I can get out without a wrecker.

  15. Liz

    Mike Stock – instead of just Walmart’s, I have heard there are Elk’s lodges that allow you to park for free or a small donation. Some even let you use their electricity. I also heard there are some VFW Posts and American Legion Posts who allow it also for free. Don’t forget Cracker Barrell resturants.

    I know there are National Forests and Parks on the East Coast. All it takes is making phone calls or checking web sites. We are planning on traveling this fall, when it will hopefully be cooler, and will be able to do this a couple of times to stretch the gas dollars.

  16. MikeStock

    You people in the West make me sick (jealous). I get so tired of hearing about your public lands. All we have here for boondocking is Walmart parking lots.

  17. Cathy McPeek

    I don’t Boondock, I drydock. I’m not always in the Boonies when I do it. I actually prefer it over the wall to wall, door to door, window to window resorts even though I am a member of Thousand Trails and K&M. Many Casino’s have special parking areas. Most WalMarts allow overnight parking. I have a Wal Mart RV Atlas that lists the Rv’er the Amnities available at each store. Many Cabella’s have free dump stations.

    When going cross country, I have many places, beside rest stops to sleep or just streach my legs at no cost. When I went to Alaska in 2005, I drydocked 3 nights and RV Parked on the 4th saving tons of money and putting it into the gas tank instead. I zig zaged 6000 miles from Tacoma to BC, to Alaska with one leg on the Alaska Ferry System and home in 32 days. What a wonderful experience that I hope to do again soon.

  18. Thomas Brunswick

    I would appreciate any recommendations concerning communications while boondocking in remote Alaska.

    I would think that in an RV near a highway, a CB radio might have limited range.

    SAT phones would be my next thought.

    How about shortwave radios?

    Does anyone use SKYPE ??

    I’m pretty sure cell phones are limited!!

    All input is appreciated.

  19. butterbean carpenter

    Howdy Guru Bob,
    Boondocking 101??? What do I do with all of these other tidbits of information I’ve collected thru the years, hah?? I’ll put’em all together, make up a pen name, write a book and make a zillion $$$$$$$$$…LIKE YEAH!!!

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

  20. We love boondocking, getting away from the crowed RV parks, screaming kids, drunks on the weekend etc.
    We have a lot on the Sea of Cortes on the baja, no electric. We did put in our own water and sewer and have solar for electricity. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

  21. Sonny Hamm

    We were n the road 6 month last year from South Carolina to Alaska by way of Texas about 29,000 miles and the beat places we stayed we out of the way campgrounds I have been doing this for 40 yrs and you can have your RV RESORTS

  22. Rae

    Take a Canadian snowbird, for example. In Canada, there are only a handful of places where you can spend the winter. RV park fees, propane, and electricity average out to about $1,000. Cross the border into the US where there are a ton of free or nearly free boondocking opportunities. If your rig is self-sufficient, then you can live indefinitely with almost no RV facility fees (just the occasional dumping fee perhaps). Add to that the fact that many boondocking areas are scenic and afford tons more privacy than sardine-can RV parks. Having to pull out every few weeks to deal with my waste or take on water is a small price to pay for the advantages that boondocking affords! I have a 150W solar panel on my roof, which gives me all the power I need.