Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means we will earn a commission on the products or services you purchase using the links. There is no additional cost to you and the earnings help keep this website running. Read the Affiliate Disclaimer for more information.
What Is Boondocking? Boondocking is camping without any hookups outside developed campgrounds. Federal agencies refer to boondocking as dispersed camping. Other terms used to describe boondocking include dry camping and off-grid camping.
Boondocking can offer incredible views, serene surroundings, and time to reconnect with nature. However, boondocking is not for everyone. We have friends who prefer developed campgrounds and their amenities: full hookups, pool, spa, laundry and play area. For those looking to camp in remote areas, away from the crowd, boondocking is a welcomed alternative. Another reason we enjoy boondocking is because the spots are often free or low cost.
Where to Boondock?
For us, the ideal place for boondocking is out in the wilderness on public land. Our favorite boondocking experiences have been dispersed camping in the national forests. Two great spots come to mind: boondocking near the Grand Canyon and boondocking near Flagstaff, Arizona.
Our second favorite boondocking experiences have been on farms, vineyards and museums through Harvest Hosts. The membership gives us the opportunity to spend a night or two on the owner’s property, learn about their way of life and support their business.
Other Places to Boondock
Outside of camping in the wilderness without any hookups, there are other boondocking options. Most of these places are for a quick overnight to catch up on sleep. After a long drive, it’s convenient to pull into one of these places and boondock for a night (with the exception of Boondocker’s Welcome).
Cabela’s is an outdoors retailer that provides designated RV parking for their customers at select stores.
Casinos sometimes provide free overnight RV parking to customers in their lot.
Cracker Barrel is a popular roadside eatery that provides overnight RV parking at select locations.
Rest Areas in some states allow overnight parking.
Streets Camping is legal in certain cities and some will offer designated RV parking to encourage visitors. One example is Saint Marys, Georgia.
Truck Stops such as Flying J, Love’s, Pilot, T&A will allow overnight parking. Most spots are first come, first serve, but some do offer a limited number of reserved parking spaces.
Visitors Centers will sometimes allow overnight parking for free or a fee in their parking lot. One example is the visitor’s center in Savannah, GA.
Walmart is a big box store that allows overnight RV parking at select stores.
Boondocker’s Welcome is a club made up of RVers that allow fellow RVers to stay on their property. Boondocking arrangements need to be made in advance..
When we meet RVers new to boondocking, safety is usually their number one concern. As with trying anything new, there is that fear of the unknown. For us, the more we boondocked, the more comfortable it became. If we arrive at a place and fear for our personal safety, we leave and find another place. Our best advice is to follow your instincts. If you don’t feel good about a boondocking spot, don’t stay there. It’s not worth putting your safety in jeopardy.
Read: Safety While Traveling in an RV
Dry camping is another term used to describe boondocking, but there is a slight distinction. While boondocking is camping without any hookups outside developed campgrounds, dry camping is simply camping without any hookups. The distinction is dry camping can take place at a developed campground. For example, when we stay at the Elk’s Lodge, we always ask about dry camping. Dry camping helps keep our cost of RV living down.
One of our main requirements for any RV is the ability to boondock comfortably for extended periods. Below is information about our last Class A motorhome and current Class B camper van.
Class A Gas Motorhome (Under 30 feet) with a tow car
- Tank capacity: 75 gallon fresh water tank, 60 gallon gray tank, 40 gallon black tank. We did not have water cans or a portable holding tank. Some RVers use these to extend the length of time they can boondock in the same spot without having to break camp.
- Electricity: 4,000 watt Onan generator, 220 amp hour 6 volt deep cycle batteries, 100 watt portable solar panel and 600 watt modified sine inverter.
- Boondocking experience: starting with a full tank of gas and fresh water, empty gray and black tanks, we could boondock for 10-12 days without moving. The black tank always filled up first which meant we had to pack up and find a dump station. To save black tank space, we always used facilities outside the motorhome when we had the opportunity. If we had good sun, the solar panel could keep the batteries charged if we limited the amount of electricity used. Otherwise we would run the generator to charge the batteries and/or run the A/C and other appliances.
Class B Camper Van (Under 21 feet) without a tow car
- Tank capacity: 30 gallon fresh water tank, 26 gallon gray tank, 4.6 gallon black tank in the form of a cassette.
- Electricity: 280 amp under the hood generator, 400 amp hour lithium ion batteries, 320 watts of solar on the roof and 3,000 watt pure sine inverter.
- Boondocking: now that we’re in a camper van, we haven’t stayed in one spot long enough to see how long we can boondock without breaking camp. Now we have more boondocking options as some of the lower clearance and narrow roads no longer pose an issue. The solar, battery and inverter combination has allowed us to use electricity and appliances without concern for running out of power. We’re also able to run the A/C for a few hours off the batteries before turning on the engine to recharge the batteries.
When we had the 100 watt portable solar panel, we could recharge the Class A batteries on a sunny day without having to run the generator. It also allowed us to charge the devices and watch TV, but we had to monitor our energy consumption.
The roof mounted solar and lithium battery setup on the camper van has changed the way we use electricity. Since we moved in, we haven’t needed to plug in to shore power or run the under the hood generator. We’re able to run the Instant Pot, A/C, charge all our devices in one day without going below the recommended discharge for the batteries. Now we can use electricity freely without any worries.
When we don’t have access to another water source such as a river or stream, we rely solely on the fresh water tank. If we’re boondocking near a river or stream, we can collect that water and filter it through the Travel Berkey and the Grayl. Both will filter out bacteria and other harmful chemicals so we end up with clean drinking water. Read our Berkey Water Filter review.
Since our full time job is creating content for this website and our YouTube channel, we need access to the internet. If we can’t get a cell signal, we have to break camp and drive to a place with cellular service. One gadget we love is our RV cell signal booster. When we were boondocking in Mojave National Preserve we were able to boost Verizon 1x to LTE without having to break camp.
To learn more about staying connected on the road, check out our post on Internet for RV Living.
Limitations – dispersed camping on public land can have a 14 day to 30 day limit.
Some cities have ordinances that make it illegal to park overnight on the street or at businesses. Not all cities enforce the rule, but the cities that do will cite violators. One Walmart informed us the fine was $300 and the sheriff will show up randomly to dish out citations.
Conserve – 4-5 days of dry camping is a breeze, but if we want to go for a week or longer, we have to be conscious of our tanks. When you’re hooked up at a campground, you don’t have to worry about water consumption or filling the waste tanks.
Bad neighbors – we’ve only had two bad experiences in almost two years, but it can happen to anyone. One neighbor drove into our boondocking spot in the national forest and setup camp right next to us. Another neighbor drove his truck throughout the BLM boondocking area at night blasting music with spotlights and kicking up dirt.
Now, what do you think about boondocking? Share your thoughts below.
If you enjoyed this post, check out our Free Camping posts.
10 thoughts on “Boondocking – What Is It? Why Boondock? Where to Boondock? Is It Safe?”
South Dakota: A well known free camping site – not quite boondocking – is “The Wall” – for which Wall SD and its well advertized “drug store” are named. 5 miles south of town on national grasslands. Room for 50+, view is interesting when parked at the edge.
There is a snort stretch of road through national forest south of Rapid City SD before entering Custer State Forest with a wide variety of plausible camp sites.
Further west there are forest service roads off Hwy 17 & the Mickelson Bike Trail with boondocking areas.
Because of CoVid19, this summer we are first-time boondock campers. We are older, in our 60s, and normally do campgrounds. At first, we located isolated spots on BLM, National Wildlife Refuge, National Grasslands or US Forest Service lands around Colorado where we live. While realizing we were vulnerable by ourselves out there, we always felt safe. After a month or so of that isolated boondocking, we needed lakes and rivers to deal with the summer heat. We now spend time and feel safer at designated dispersed camp spots at National Rec Areas – these have vault toilets, fire pits, trash clean up & dumpsters. We’ve expanded our territories north to Montana, the Dakotas and Wyoming. We feel completely safe at these popular lake areas. Plus there is a lot of area around each spot – unlike organized campgrounds – for the CoVid-fearful like us. Lastly, the boondockers seem to take great pride in maintaining the dispersed camp areas clean and even rake their sites and fire rings. Cheers & thanks for your great blogs.
I am reading your first book now, and I am just starting to read your blog. Is the best way to read your blog is by signing up and receiving it by email? How do you find your videos? I have seen a couple by just luck when looking at Class B vans. Is your present Class B a Travato KL or GL? I really think I want a 59 KL but I am trying to research as much a possible before I buy. Thanks!!!!
Hi Fox – The newsletter provides links to new articles as well as other RV related content…so absolutely sign up for it. You can find our videos here: https://www.youtube.com/weretherussos
We’ve never had a Travato, rather we had a Hymer Aktiv: https://weretherussos.com/camper-van-hymer-aktiv-class-b-rv/ which is no longer sold.
One point of fact in your article. You can’t camp “out in the wilderness on public land”. Wilderness has a very distinct definition set by Congress. There are no roads, no power lines, no motors, no mechanical advantage (bicycle), no sign of man, etc in a wilderness. Travel is by foot, horseback, or in some cases non-motorized boats (raft, kayak, etc) only. Nice article, but the misuse of the term wilderness is a pet peeve of mine.
I am going for 2 months next summer with a teardrop camper want free camping need inverter generator cant pick up more then 44lbs using microwave sleep apnea lights fan this is first time we are both seniors can I use a dressing room and put sm toilet excited to go
Really enjoy your posts and videos.
I am curious the “ruggedness” of the roads you travel on? How off the beaten track are you going?
Not too rugged – fire and forest service roads. If we had more clearance and possibly 4×4 we’d be going a bit more rugged
I love watching your videos and reading your blog. I also own a Bay Star and I was saw that you converted from the stock 12 volt batteries to 6 bolt batteries. Do you have any info on the conversion? I was curious what batteries you used and how you rewired it for the 6 volt ones. Mine is set up the same way as yours, with the batteries up front under the hood. Thanks!
Pretty simple…you just need an EVEN NUMBER of IDENTICAL 6 volt batteries, with interconnecting HEAVY GAUGE copper conductor insulated cables (I get them made up at welding supply shops). Be sure that the battery connection terminals will fit the cable end fittings.
Measure your available space, and get the largest size 6 volt golf cart batteries that will fit your space. Golf cart batteries are the most inexpensive way for “deep cycle” storage
Be sure to provide means to hold the batteries securely in place.
Connect two batteries in “series” (positive terminal on one battery to the negative terminal on the other battery). This will give you 12 volts, but with more storage power.
Connect the positive terminal of each pair of batteries to your coach connection, and the same with the negative terminal of each pair of batteries