What is Boondocking?
RVers tend to have different ideas of the definition of boondocking.
Some say that is strictly parking out in the "boonies" without electric, water, or sewer hook-ups. Others use a broader definition and don't have the "boonies" requirement - simply parking anywhere without hook-ups (also know as "dry camping") qualifies as boondocking.
We will use the broader definition for our purposes here. However, in our opinion, the best reason to boondock is to get out in the "boonies".
Why do RVers boondock?
Well, as previously mentioned, one great reason is to get out in nature away from cities, crowds, traffic, and awning-to-awning campgrounds and RV parks.
The other primary reason RVers boondock is to save money. Parking without hook-ups can greatly reduce to costs of RVing. There are numerous places across America where we can park for free or for highly reduced fees if we are willing and able to forgo the luxury of hook-ups from time to time.
We love doing both. We certainly like having hook-ups, but there is nothing better than finding a secluded spot with a beautiful view where the only sounds you hear are natural sounds. So we do a combination of free camping and pay camping. By doing both, our average nightly camping fees are about $15 a night.
Where do RVers boondock and how do they find these places?
Well, the options are numerous. There are some boondocking spots all RVers know about, while some of the best spots can take a tremendous amount of research to find. RVers are certainly a friendly bunch, but sometimes boondockers aren't very forthcoming with their favorite places.
Let's look at some general boondocking options.
Park Anywhere You Want?
Technically, you can park anywhere you want. However, you could be subject to fines, penalties, arrest, a middle-of-the-night wake-up, or looking down the barrel of a property owner's firearm.
We tend to break boondocking spots down into the following categories:
What can make things tough is there can be a fine line between all those categories.
We prefer category 1 and 2 and will occasionally go with 3, but we avoid 4 and 5. There are some that take the risk with 4 and 5 and do it often, but that's well out of our comfort zone.
As we go through our list of general options, we'll see that the lines are blurred when trying to figure out whether it's okay to boondock somewhere.
Some rest areas allow overnight parking for RVers, but many do not. Interstate rest areas require caution and a good sense of awareness about your surroundings. The closer you are to major metropolitan areas, the more cautious you need to be. Rarely do we here about crimes against RVers, but of the few we've heard, a fairly high percentage have occurred at interstate rest areas.
Personally, we're not a fan of driving on interstates, and staying overnight at a rest area, even if allowed, would be completely out of the question for us.
Private Business Lots
Most RVers know that they can park in Walmart parking lots overnight for free. Other businesses that allow overnight parking include Camping World, K-marts, Flying J Travel Centers, and various other truck stops and businesses with large parking lots.
Here's the rub. Although corporate policy may be to allow overnight parking at certain businesses, often local ordinances preventing overnight parking trump the business RV-friendly attitude. So, you have to be sure you check of "No overnight parking" signs all around. And the better thing to do is to always get permission from a manager and verify overnighting is okay.
Let's look at some basic etiquette when camping is allowed as a convenience by a private business.
Private Property of Family & Friends
This may not be the option you were thinking about when you bought your RV. It probably won't be very scenic. But, it can certainly help your budget. AND, it often makes for a much better visit when you can retire to your own home every night.
In addition to your friends and family, as you travel, you will meet people all over the country, and many of those folks have places on their property where they will invite you to come and stay. They might even have hook-ups for you, but often it's boondocking.
And there is a relatively new website called Boondockers Welcome. This site has people all over the country signing up to host traveling members of the Boondockers Welcome site. It's another fabulous way to meet people and park for free (or for a minimal donation).
Click on the banner below to explore the Boondockers Welcome website and to sign up.
Campgrounds & RV Parks
Most private RV parks have hook-ups, however some have overflow areas or overnight areas with no hook-ups at a lower rate.
Public campgrounds all over the country are a mish-mash when it comes to hook-ups. Many have no hook-ups, and some have full hook-ups (electric, water, and sewer). Most fall somewhere in between with partial hook-ups - electric & water, electric only, water only. Often, but not always, they will have a dump station. If there are no water hook-ups, there may or may not be spigots in the campground where you can take on water.
Generator use is usually limited to certain hours; however, there are some public campgrounds where generator use isn't allowed at all.
Having the ability to boondock increases the opportunities in our wonderful public parks.
America owns a lot of public land and quite a bit of it is available for public recreation. In many cases, there are designated campgrounds on public land held by the National Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and other agencies.
Dispersed Camping (camping on public land, but not within a designated campground) is allowed in many areas, especially in the west. This can be the best boondocking you can find, but it can also be the most difficult to find. General restrictions apply such as:
And rules may be interpreted differently by enforcement officials.
Of course, dispersed camping is completely prohibited in some areas.
As you become an experienced boondocker, you meet others and get tips on great spots. In addition, you learn about additional resources and learn some tricks for finding special places.
In the west, you can literally park on public land year-round for free and some people do.
Another great resource comes from the same folks that started the Boondockers Welcome website we mentioned above. On their other website, Frugal RV Travel, they sell ebooks for various regions of the country.
Click on the banner below to check out their "Frugal Shunpiker's Guides For RV Boondocking".
What equipment is needed to boondock?
Well, most self-contained RVs come with the necessary equipment to boondock for at least a day or two. Most have a fresh water holding tank and a 12-volt pump, wastewater holding tanks, and a "house" or "coach" battery. Almost everyone can boondock for a day or two with just this equipment.
Add a generator, and most folks can boondock for a few days to a week.
Add an inverter, a larger battery bank, solar panels, and you may be able to boondock for weeks or months at a time and rarely need a generator. Of course there will be a need to take on fresh water and dump wastewater, but it's not out of the question.