Whether you are just getting started RVing or have been a seasoned veteran of the RV world, there is a whole new world out there with boondocking. As we RVers call it, boondocking is free camping, typically on public lands, where you are disconnected and not relying on hookups to have a great time. Now, that can sound a bit daunting for a lot of people. It’s not easy to leave the comfort of your 50 amp power post, city water connection, and sewer dump. But let me tell you, nothing is better than waking up in total silence, overlooking a great view with no one in sight. Now, we are going to teach you how to get there!
Step 1: Identify Where You Want To Go
This one is obvious–where are you going? When we are planning our routes, we have a loose idea of where we want to go, what we want to see, and anyone that we might want to visit along the way. This usually involves putting our main destinations into Google Maps. You can also use the trip planner on FreeCampsites.net which I talk about later on in this blog post. This gives us an opportunity to look at the places we will pass by on the way. This is one of my favorite things to do. I love entering in stops and messing around with our routes until I find the perfect itinerary.
We always try to keep our drives while towing under 3 hours and ideally under 250 miles so we can do the whole drive on one tank of gas. This means that we will split up longer drives, if we are not in any hurry (meeting people, making it to a reservation, or avoiding bad weather). Making sure to limit the amount of driving time in a day will really help with travel fatigue. Remember, most major accidents or mistakes happen when you are tired, frustrated, or in a hurry.
Step 2: What Do You Need In A Campsite?
We always have a few parameters a site must meet for us. We need good internet service, accessibility for our 30′ trailer, close proximity to a town/post office (typically less than a 30 minute drive), close proximity to a dump station/freshwater (typically less than a 30 minute drive), and somewhere beautiful! You need to ask yourself, what do you need to stay off the grid?
What We Look For In A Site:
A great place to start is to read previous reviews from websites like Campendium where people post their cell reception and their up/down speeds. We work remotely and this is our primary determinate on if we will stay somewhere. In addition, we use the individual carrier maps of service and my personal favorite app, OpenSignal. This app lets you find if where you are going has service and how strong it is. It also shows you where cell towers are located so I can position our directional antenna to acquire a strong signal! There are a lot of products out there that will boost cell signal. We are hoping to upgrade to the weBoost Drive 4G-X RV 470410 Cell Phone Signal Booster.
This one can be difficult to get the information with a new spot but reviews on our usual websites are how I determine this. Thankfully, people go out of their way to share their exact locations with information on their accessibility. But remember, One man’s rutted, impassable road is another man’s treasure and vice versa! I will typically look for the person’s rig information to gauge how much to take into account their review. If someone has a similar size rig to us, truck and 30′ trailer, then I will usually take their review with more salt. Just as an example of when reviews aren’t always great to rely on. One of the worst roads we ever found ourselves on, that we didn’t think we’d make it back from, was referred to as “interesting” by another reviewer.
Looking at satellite pictures of the area is always a great way to determine how accessible a site is. The best bet is detach your trailer, toad, or take a bike down the road to make sure you that your route is passable to your planned site. Trust me, you do not want to be in a situation you can’t get yourself back out of… We know.
Proximity To Town/Post Office/Library/Dump/Freshwater
As much as we love being in the middle of nowhere, we need usually have to stay reasonably close to civilization. However, a town doesn’t need to have 10,000 people, we just need a grocery store, gas station, somewhere with internet (usually a coffee shop or library), and a post office! AllStays is a great resource to look at an area to determine if it has the amenities that you need.
SaniDump is a great resource for dump stations. We don’t have the largest holding tanks in the world, so we rely on dumping our gray tank into our portable tote and taking that to a dump station every few days. We are able to put our tote in our truck bed and drive it to a dump station. This is definitely something that I would invest in so you don’t have to hitch up and take your rig into town or seriously ration your water usage.
Lastly, we need fresh water, who doesn’t? We have a fresh water tank in our RV but we supplement it with three, six gallon water jugs. These jugs have been so useful and are not too heavy that they aren’t able to be picked up and moved. I am buying an extra water pump to pump the water straight from the jugs in my truck bed. This can take a lot of effort out of refilling your water tanks.
We wouldn’t live this lifestyle, if it didn’t bring us to some absolutely gorgeous places. We are always trying to make our next backyard better than our last! Why wouldn’t we? Make sure to look for pictures on previous reviews.
Step 3: Where To Find Your Site
There are tons of websites out there that can help you find your next boondocking site. We have a few favorites that we use every time but I’m also going to share all the different sites out there. In addition to sites dedicated to campsite reviews, there are dedicated travel bloggers like us that post blogs about the campsites they stay at (Well, the campsites they don’t mind other people finding out about). We also use these sites for RV parks or campgrounds as well but they are a great resource for boondocking sites.
Our Go To Websites:
Campendium.com – Campendium is a great resource for finding all sorts of places to call home for the night. Their simple to use user interface and popularity gives it a leg up and there are a ton of reviews of potential spots. We really like how you are able to put in cell reception but would love for a feature to filter by cell service (hint hint, Campendium….).
AllStays – Allstays is amazing! So much information and I really like the interface. It has a lot more information than just campsites and is not limited to free sites. I subscribed to Pro which I use a lot. It has information on gas stations, propane, dump stations, low-clearance bridges, box stores (Home Depot, Walmarts, etc.), and more. It is color-coded and easy to identify things we like to know about when driving around with our home in tow.
FreeCampsites.net – FreeCampsites.net is more dedicated to free campsites… DUH! It has tons of information about all the different free camping that people have found throughout the years. One of their features that is great is their trip planner. They give you the ability to enter in your stops and it shows you the sites that you can stay at along the way. I will say that I have found that Campendium has more reviews from people in RVs and this site has a lot of people staying in passenger vehicles and tents.
Other Websites You Can Use
Boondockers Welcome: This website lets you subscribe and then you gain access to people who allow camping on their property. However, we have never given this one a try.
Boondocking.org: This site has a bit of an unfriendly user interface but has a lot of good information.
Ultimate Campgrounds: This site has tons of site but I have never used it that much.
Harvest Hosts: Harvest Hosts is a great subscription service that allows you to boondock at vineyards, breweries, farms, and other great locations for one day at a time. We haven’t used the service but stayed at a location that is a Harvest Host location, Blue Heron French Cheese Company.
Explore and Find Your Own Path
In addition to campsite review websites, you can go STRAIGHT TO THE SOURCE! This allows you to find places that maybe no one has found before and gives you a sense of exploration. Most of the boondocking takes place on public lands and you can always just go out and find your site.
Here is an app that has information and maps of all public lands, US Public Lands.
You can look at a detailed map of National Forest Land here: https://www.fs.fed.us/ivm/
Here are some rules you must follow straight from the Forest Service website:
- You need to be self-contained. No amenities are provided; such as water, restrooms or trash cans.
- You may camp in a dispersed area for up to 16 days. After 16 days, you must move at least 5 road miles for camping in another dispersed area. Campers may not return to the same campsite within the calendar year.
- Please place your campsite at least 100 feet from any stream or other water source.
- Keep a Pack-In Pack-Out camp. Follow Leave No Trace guidelines.
- Contact the local Forest Service office to see if any restrictions, especially fire restrictions are in place.
- Be Bear Aware. There are bears on the National Forest, so camp accordingly.
- Do not drive on meadows to access your camping site. Drive on existing roads to prevent resource damage.
- Dispersed camping is allowed in a one-mile perimeter away from campgrounds and 100 feet from any stream.
- To prevent resource damage please keep your campsite within 150 feet from a roadway.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM):
Here are some rules you must follow straight from the BLM website:
• Whether in a developed campground or at a dispersed site, you may usually camp in an
area for up to 14 days before having to move at least 25 miles from your original spot.
You may not return to that area for 28 consecutive days.
• Choose sites that are already established.
• Camp at least 200 feet away from water sources.
• Use existing fire rings or camp stoves.
• Check current fire conditions.
• Dispose of human waste properly (away from water and in a 6” or deeper hole).
Step 4: Making your approach
You don’t want to get stuck in the mud or go up a road you can’t turn around on–Trust us. I talked about this a little bit before but it should be repeated. You should scout out your boondocking site. Make sure you know you can make it back out. I will typically ride my mountain bike down the road, if it’s not too far, or I will detach the trailer and take our truck down to scout it out. Save yourself the headache… Scout ahead.
Step 5: Enjoy!
Finally, you made it! You’re there! Now it is time to enjoy your little slice of paradise. You’re done reading this blog so go! We hope to see you out there.