Why do only one in four RVers boondock?

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May 21, 2011

boondocking_overlooking_lakeBy Bob Difley

There are few RVers that hit the open road for days or weeks at a time that haven’t dry-camped (without hook-ups) at least a few times. If you’ve stayed in a Walmart or forest service campground you’re done it. Weekenders probably spend most of their camping trips hooked up since it takes more time to find or get to a good boondocking site which cuts into the actual camping time on an all-to-short weekend.

However, less than 25% of RVers boondock, preferring to stay in organized campgrounds. I would guess that the reason is that convenience trumps all else. Why else would RVers prefer to pay for a campsite rather than stay at a free or cheap one? Or be shoehorned in with other campers when you could have lots of space and privacy instead? And why prefer a campground with almost incessant noise from the other campers, running vehicles,and  late night partiers around a campfire, when you could have peace and quiet and solitude?

One reason is that most RVers are sociable types and like meeting other campers and being part of a campout community. There are other reasons also, like access to a swimming lake with a lifeguard to watch the kids, park campfire programs and talks put on by rangers,  amenities offered by RV resorts like  Wi-fi, cable TV, heated swimming pools, hot tubs, recreation rooms with programs, games, TV, and potlucks, proximity to cities, restaurants, golf courses, and shopping.

Otherwise, choosing organized campgrounds or RV resorts seems to be for convenience. Campgrounds are listed in campground guides and online and are easy to find, convenient to main roads and highways, easy in and out, have hook-ups so you don’t have to monitor your state of battery charge and your water and waste tanks, or having to drive down a dirt road and get your rig dusty.

Are those advantages more important to RVers than physical open space, private campsites with few if any neighbors nearby, scenic settings with long views, star-filled skies not dimmed by campground lights, access to hiking trails and wild areas, the sound of rustling leaves or a babbling brook instead of noisy vehicles, kids, and barking dogs –and all at little or no cost? It seems that about 75% of RVers do feel that convenience or amenities are more important.

Or is boondocking in the wilds–as differentiated from dry-camping at a Walmart–just too much of an unknown, alien to their normal way of camping, just plain scary, or does being out in a natural environment not appeal to you? Not that I would like all RVers to suddenly decide to boondock and I find all my favorite places always occupied. What are your reasons that only one in four of you boondock?

Check out my website for 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 (now available for $6.99 and as a Kindle version), and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.

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74 comments

  1. Jan

    We have never done it and it is probably because it is a real unknown to us. Would love to boondock one day though.

  2. sandrich

    Security of a campground plus we older campers have concern about getting lost or in serious trouble w/ our RV’s in unfamiliar areas.

  3. Ron Clement

    We boondocked 2 out of 3 nights coming and going to Alaska from Oregon in 2003…never felt unsafe and enjoyed the tranquility of the experience!

  4. GaryM

    For us, it depends on what we are looking for on the trip. For instance, there is a great little golf course in a small Montana town on our way into Wyoming. We found a nice little organized campground right along the Boulder River. It is nestled down in a valley – if the wind is blowing, you can’t even tell. The camp hosts are close by so we can leave our pets in the 5er while we hack our way around the golf course. We don’t mind the neighbors as everyone knows that the hosts will not put up with any monkey business.
    Once we are in Wyoming, we are more into fishing so we seek out high mountain creeks for the solitude of a good fishing day. Occasionally we find a good spot and spend the day on 4 wheelers – you got to love the others who go 4 wheeling as we all make the same amount of noise.
    We are totally blessed with plenty of places to camp however we choose – I actually think that is the biggest joy in camping. I love golf, my wife loves floating and fishing and we both get a big kick out of climbing up a mountain on a 4 wheeler. Being retired is the best occupation that we have found. It serves us well. Happy camping everyone – regardless of your passions.

  5. Gary

    My wife and I have boondocked in England, Scotland, Wales, Greece, Italy, Germany, France, Ireland, Morocco, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, etc., and most of the western states of America. Never had any problems with finding or getting help, water, dumping the portapotti, finding petrol, diesel or gasoline, and sure hope that we never stop looking for just the special spot. Once, in Ireland after 3 days at one spot, time to move on. Drove 20 minutes and stayed at the next with a grocery, water and a swimming place, one of the few “safe” swimming areas in the sea, for 7 days. Everyone in a bikini. Whatatreat!

  6. vet66

    Our favorite dry camping places are Walmart, Pilot/Flying J truck stops, any establishment with sufficient access and parking open 24 hours, rest stops, and designated camp sites that don’t require long drives on dirt roads that clog air filters, oil filters, fuel filters and electronics.

    Having worked on railroads for most of my life and recently retired from a class 1 western railroad I have found that many KOA’s are located near railroad tracks and whistle boards where trains begin blowing the required warnings 1/4 mile ahead of a crossing. Unless you like train whistles on busy main tracks at all hours you might have second thoughts if you have to drive across tracks to get to your RV site. Trains going up hill move slowly and make a lot of noise including turbo whine. Going downhill you can expect dynamic brake fans sounding like propellors on airplanes as they blow hot air out the top of the locomotives.

    Part of the adventure. We try not to park alone preferring safety in numbers like the old wagon train days. We always carry protection and cell phones within sight of the nearest cell tower.

  7. Frank H

    To me the major problem with boondocking is keeping the batteries charged. Sure you can buy solar panals or a generator but they are a major expense
    compared to spending a comparatively small amount by simply plugging the unit in each night. Most of us are out for a weekend or a two to four week annual vacation and it does not make sense to spend a major amount . If you draw off your batteries for several days or more without getting a current to them you can cause major damage to them: they are never quite the same afterwards.

  8. Ardis

    If you live in the deep South or Texas, 5-7 months out of the year, modern folks cannot survive without air conditioning. We would rather plug in than wear out an expensive and noisy generator.

    Though we do boon-dock about 7 times a year in a tailgating parking lot during football season. AC is needed (via generator) for all but a couple of late games. Try College Station, Texas, in a concrete parking lot, with hundreds of other rigs in early September. The definition of hot! But, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else those weekends. Those tailgating trips are the main reason I own a motor-home.

  9. Ron Butler

    Good article Bob. I think some of the comments point out why people don’t boon dock more. As we get older, the fear of being isolated and possible dangers, real or imagined, stops many.

    On the other side of the coin, I’m glad that only 25% don’t dry camp in our national forests and other places, for whatever reasons! Just leaves more room and quiet for the rest of us!!

    Take care.

  10. We had to camp on the Wal Mart parking area one time in Kansas last fall as we were returning to Missouri from southern Utah. Convenient for a stop over but the scenery was poor. We enjoyed the convience and amenities, not to mention the beautiful settings, of the campgrounds and state and national parks in southern Colorado and southern Utah as well as northern Arizona.

  11. Pete

    Back in the east we don’t have a lot of the open lands of BLM, etc. On out of town trips I have used Walmart, Flying J and other big parking lots when trying to make miles rather than spend time off route looking for a CG. I do have 200 watts solar and it was one of the best investments I made, if even only for keeping the original set of golf cart batteries (9 years old) charged year round. Dry camping at the Rally counts as boondocking 🙂

  12. Dennis Foxworthy

    I am alone, in a 40 foot Rv. Boondocking for me is the best when i can find a place near the water for fishing, or just relaxing. If i am going to spend money for fuel, I prefer not to be confined in an organized campsite. I use my telescope in complete darkness, and I can play my music or use my generator without fear of annoying my neighbors. I love the “community” feeling in an organized campsite, and sometimes i crave the companionship, but mostly, I have an RV to escape the crowd of humanity, and Boondocking fits that bill perfectly for me.

  13. William Fincher

    Great feedback on the boondocking.We love to meet other campers,but adore being out in nature depending on conservation of water, electrical,and respect of the nature.This is the thrill of boondocking.Have never had any security issues nor problems out in the boonies, common sence and being aware of surroundings goes a long way.Led lights, gel pac batteries,a good 700 watt inverter can keep the geneator off a lot.A satallite finder for 39 dallars can dial in the direct tv situation.
    Get out and camp,be safe, enjoy.

  14. Geoffrey Pruett

    Since a lot of our RV travel is to visit relatives and square dance events our unit spends most of its hook up time in the driveway, once we cut the cord it is often a week of better before plugging in again. We are probably easy with this as our first rig was a class C before they existed, a pickup minus the bed with a full over the frame camper and living with the single battery and limited water supply is second nature. Our current A is like staying in a four star hotel even without hookups. Besides with a little care you can be out of cell phone reach when boondocking, even if there is signal.

  15. Tom Smith

    For many RVers their first exposure to living in the outdoors was in their $200,000 Motorhome. My wife and I started camping is a smelly 12 x 12 foot umbrella tent in the early 70’s. So boondocking comes natural to us; however it’s now in a 30′ Cougar travel trailer. We purchased the Cougar based on the large holding tanks that allows us to boondock longer.

    We are members of an RV club of 55 rigs of all flavors. Recently we were rally masters on a 6 night 7 day trip to the Nevada outback (no cell service, minimal hookups). We actually embarrassed some of the Large Class A’s into joining us when I suggested that their next motor homes should have fresh, gray and black water tanks and a generator.

    Upon completing this trip, I found out that half of the club has boondocked before and we’ve now formed an informal subgroup entitled “The Dry Campers”. Our motto is “We don’t need no stinking hookups”. All members of the club are welcome to join us on our trips and as they hear about the solitude of where we camp, they have now become participants in this thing called boondocking.

    I think that we’ve become so enamored with full hookups that we forget the conveniences available to us in our modern RV’s. Also there is more resistance from the women than the men. Most men have had military housing experiences that make the average RV look like a Four Seasons or a Ritz Carlton.

    If you haven’t tried it …you need to.

  16. Jeff Heisel

    I boondock a lot since I live not far from great places to camp. Let’s all discover the state fishing lkes of Kansas. My favorite places range from Atchison, Leavenworth, Miami, Lynn, Douglas, Chase, Wichita, Potowannamee, just to name a few. The camping is free and the fishing is awesome. Quiet and secure, and rangers do stop to check your safety and even offer good places to discover.

  17. Sheila Allison

    Our little group did the no power water bit for a while. We finally moved everyone closer and put the power and water in. Now instead of them leaving the campers here all year round just to have a place to sit, they spend more time with us. We have lots of room and it is quiet here. The creek is close and the branch that flows into it now has water. The frogs are singing all nite. We are so far back that they have no tv, cell is hard to receive and right now the wifi is off. Long winding mountain to get to our place but worth every inch of road to get here. I wouldn’t trade it for a real campground with all the fluff and stuff. We love to find a campground once in a while and make it a base and head out on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sleep and head out again.

  18. Carla McGilvery

    We’ve done it on a few occasions while traveling from point A to point B, but I will admit that it makes my husband and I nervous. We don’t sleep rested, trying to keep one ear peeled for people messing around outside. Truck stops area have too much noise of vehicles moving in and out which startles me out of sleep. So I guess it’s the lack of security.

  19. Manuel Enos

    I have spent more than enough time boondocking in the military so I love the plug it in RV parks…I have never stayed at parks where people are elbow to elbow, most parks have plenty of room between the rigs. Plus, the safety in a park is much better than out in the boondocks, I have lived to long to have something or someone jump on me and mine. Leave the boondocking to the young and fearless which I am no longer one of when it comes to safety. As far as I am concerned, I love my comforts, something I have worked hard all my life to enjoy…

  20. David Rohwer

    Almost never stay in RV park and rarely use it in the summer. Mostly use the 28′ Desert Fox as winter base camp for mountain snowmachine trips. So I’d guess that makes us less than 1 in 4 if you add in winter (as in snow winter) vs. summer as a “when” factor. Nothing like camping in the mountains in the winter! I have used it down to -30F but usually avoid serious below zero temps. This has been our pattern since 1992. A little preparedness is required but very do-able.
    Anyway, my point is that in addition to boondocking the RV opens up more of the year to get out. Wonderful tool!

  21. Our home is in Ontario and we have done most of our camping in the eastern part of North America in meadow-like settings and in hardwood forests. Any dry camping we have done has been in Walmart parking lots and at rallies. However, last spring we decided to detour to the Grand Canyon on our way home from Florida. We were equipped with a tiny new 13-foot Trillium trailer, cute, but limited for boondocking with only a porta-potti for a toilet/holding tank. Driving in the Tucson area along Old Spanish Trail, we came upon Colossal Mountain Park. Dry camping was available in the picnic area there, well away from the caves themselves. We decided that would be a good time to try boondocking – no electric, no water, no restrooms, no neighbours – only desert plants (prickly), desert flowers (lovely), and a telephone high on a post in the wilderness! It was beautiful. We were locked in at 8 pm, not to be “free” until morning – security reasons, apparently – with only that unfound telephone for contact with “the outside”.
    For easterners, not used to the desert, we found it to be an unnerving experience. It was lovely and dark – a clear night-time sky with billions of stars, and very quiet (no trains, no radio noise). It was exhilarating and normally we might have loved it, but we felt very tentative and slightly nervous. Was it our general inexperience with boondocking or our unfamiliarity with the surroundings? Were we unnerved by being in lock-down overnight? We were not sure. but in the morning it was very nice to be on the road toward the canyon once again.
    We will definitely try boondocking again sometime but perhaps that will have to happen in more familiar surroundings first – like down a backroad in an eastern forest. Then, one day, definitely with a bigger rig, we will head for Quarzsite and join you other boondockers for another try at desert camping.

  22. Richard

    I think it must be much easier to boondock in the mid west and west coasts. Not too much available on the east and southern coasts.

  23. Judy

    Being a single lady of advanced age, I have a real fear of being out away from the safety of others. I am aware that there isn’t always safety in numbers, but the odds of having someone to hear me yell, that may come to my assistance, is better in a public campground. Love your articles on boondocking though. keep them coming.

  24. “Also there is more resistance from the women than the men. Most men have had military housing experiences that make the average RV look like a Four Seasons or a Ritz Carlton.”

    I beg to differ on the women part; we live in Air Force housing and our house is nice….and I’ve been in DFPs that were cozier that a stupid pop-up.

    We have a new 18 ft Starcraft for our family of 4 (which includes two small girls) which we are using a lot between my husbands deployments and TDYs. We dry camp for 2-3 days when we find one with hardly anyone in it but with 4 people, our 10 gal each reserve tanks don’t go that long so we do prefer full hookups most of the time. From our experience it is the full hookup $30 a day spots that are the nicest, quieter places. We have yet to be in one of those that is crowded or loud. We don’t do KOA or resorts because that just isn’t camping to us. My sister and her family do that and their style of camping is a joke to us. We never spend much time in a camp ground, we are usually gone all day hiking with our kids. Boondocking may appeal to us one day when it is just the two of us, and we have a larger trailer, and the time to hunt out the locations, but for now we aren’t interested.

  25. Rock

    I’m one of the 25% who loves to boondock. I enjoy the privacy and quiet that boondocking provides as well as the natural beauty of the surroundings. I prefer the southwest deserts but also enjoy the forests ( though I get a little claustrophobic there).
    Needless to say I don’t enjoy RV parks with all the kids and noise as well as the closeness of the campers. I don’t like to feel that I’m too noisy or have to worry about bothering somebody next to me because my radio is a little too loud. Too many people are inconsiderate with campfires and will light a fire right next to your open window which is a health hazard.

  26. butterbean carpenter

    Howdy Guru Bob,
    Man alive, you got’em talking with this one!!! As long as I could, I got as far back in the woods as possible, to camp; or high on the top of a hill.. Now my ‘boondocking’ is confined to areas with smooth hard surfaces and no deep loose dirt or sand, as my electric wheelchair gets stuck in 2″ of loose ‘anything’…
    I do enjoy your articles on the outdoor camping life and live vicariously through your
    enjoyment…

    Smooth roads and balmy breezes!!!!!!!!!!

  27. MrOAK

    I get really surprised that people that RV to camp can not understand that there are other reasons to RV than to comune with nature. We started RVing to see America. That means not only the mountains and fields but the cities and attractions as well. If you spend months on the road I can’t imagine not wanting television and internet access. If you boondock a lot you need to spend a lot of time and effort finding water, a place to dispose of waste, and the energy you need. That takes away from the time we would rather spend exploring. In your article you identify that staying in RV parks maybe done for convenience. That is exactly it. We wanted to see America. In the last two and a half years we have lived in our RV about 40% of the time and been in all of the lower 48 states, Canada and Mexico. I doubt that we could have pulled that off if we had been boondocking all the time. Not only that but I would have lost my wife along the way. I can understand why a lot of people like to boondock but there are a lot of reasons to RV with out boondocking. We have had truly great adventures RVing across America and have only boondocked a handful of times.

    Jim

  28. Joe LaGreca

    The reason we don’t boondock more is because it’s hard to find places here in southern california!

    If you know of any near San Diego, or resources that will help us find places, please let me know.

  29. Gene0

    Call me a wuss, but after 20 minutes of walking around Cherry Hill SP (PA) last week without a single soul around, I chose to move on down the road to another park where there were a few other folks. Safety in numbers frame of mind, I guess. I did spend two nights at the edge of hotel parking lots however. Neither totally by choice.

  30. We live in South Central Ontario Canada and we do not have the access to much boondocking here. I do not like confrontation, so on our last trip to California and north through Oregon to BC, I was leery of parking in a spot where I might be called upon to move for whatever reason. We did boondock at a couple of Casinos and a couple of Truck Stops, but would really like to try a true boondocking adventure. I am comfortable being alone and in a remote place, so maybe next trip.

  31. John

    We prefer the convenience of campgrounds, rather than watching batteries, and tanks, although we have solar on top for house battereies. While driving to Alaska, we stayed on our first Wal-Mart parking lot in Grand Prairie, AB, and it was convenient since we had no clue as to where a CG was and quiet most of the time but kinda spookey for my wife being it was our first time to dry camp. Then we stayed 3 nights in Wal-mart parking lot in White Horse, Canada with probably about 35 other dry campers and thoroughly enjoyed it for campers were very friendly and we even saw 3 from our home state area on the lot. Then, upon return from Alaska, we pulled over on a side turn out in northern Canada where one 5th wheeler, Canadian, had stopped to camp. Several other rigs pullrd over and dry camped and when we awoke there were many othercampers there, including one 18 wheeler tanker that we did not even hear pull up. He perhaps cut the engine and rolled into place. Safety in numbers was a great feeling out in the open far from civilization. Safety would be a concern in a place where one cannot even have mace, as in Canada per he border guards. That was strange in view of the fact that they advised bear spray if one goes out in the booneys. LIke how do you get bear spray out there? Just raise your hand and a can appears out of the sky! We are presently cam;ped on CG and it is realllly nice, and really quiet. Nice gulf beach, nice dining, as desired, nice swimming and fishing and Naval Museum is nearby as well as a lighthouse one can climb to the top. Awesome view! Safety is always a concern in the world we now live in especially out in the boonies.

  32. Having just finished 3 weeks in our 5th wheel, a week for $9/night in Zion NP was the most expensive. 4 nights on the North rim in Kaibab NF, dry, a night in Lees Ferry, then 4 more nights near Williams in the NF lands. Couldn’t be better unless diesel prices come down!

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  34. Yes, we have a list. Our list isn’t just about what we need to take with us but also what tasks we don’t want to forget broefe we take off. For example,Turn off or down heat/air, turn off water heater, transfer phones and mail, etc. Yes, it it pretty automatic and I must admit it is my wife who is the keeper of the list. But in all fairness, it has saved our butt a few times.

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