Boondocking Defined

www.rv-camping.org defines boondocking as remote location "dispersed camping", and the term "dispersed camping" is defined as "camping outside developed campgrounds". There is no official definition of the term boondocking however, but overnight RV parking places such as WalMart or truck stops, NASCAR races, federal and state campground, and any time RV hookups are not available (dry camping) have been referred to as boondocking.

Boondocking isn't for everyone. Dispersed RV camping in remote areas requires research, exploration, and a sense of adventure to find those great campsites RV magazines like to show on their covers.

Boondocking In Pike National Forest
Boondocking - Pike National Forest

Boondocking Locations - Where You Can Camp

As a general rule, boondocking is allowed anywhere on federal public lands within 300 feet of any established road, except where otherwise restricted. That's not to say that you can cut down trees or build a new access way into your RV campsite. The idea is to utilize previously used campsites, or areas that will not be damaged by your vehicle. The USFS offers free travel management maps called MVUM (Motor Vehicle Use Map) that show exactly where dispersed camping is restricted and which roads are open for travel. MVUM Information

A few US National Parks allow overnight RV parking and boondocking, but generally camping is restricted to established campgrounds. USFS (United States Forest Service) and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) high popularity areas often have restricted access camping areas. For example, the area around Mammoth Lakes, CA is extremely popular with tourists, and many areas allow camping only in designated campgrounds. Information about camping restrictions are available at USFS Ranger District and BLM Resource Area offices.

Generally speaking, you can stay 14 continuous days for free, but subsequent camping days must be 25 miles away. This rule applies to most BLM and USFS administered lands, but there are exceptions. For example, the INYO National Forest of California allows 42 day stays at designated camping areas, while the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming has areas that it allows only 3 day stays near Grand Teton National Park. BLM LTVAs (Long Term Visitor Areas) allow stays of several months for a nominal fee.

We've only mentioned the USFS and BLM so far, but FWS (US Fish & Wildlife Service), USACE (Army Corps of Engineers), Bureau of Reclamation, State Parks, and State owned lands offer boondocking opportunities. Arizona for example has a permit available for a nominal fee allowing boondocking on State lands.

There are also boondocking opportunities to be found on private lands. Ranches and farms may have a corner of the "back 40" they will allow you to stay for free or small fee. If you find a spot you would like to camp that is on private land, it never hurts to ask. We've had good success in farm country asking permission to camp at nice areas near a river with good access for overnight boondocking...we usually share the space with cows.

We know of no public land locations that allow unlimited length of stays, and while BLM Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVA) permit multiple month stays, some Public Lands have specific length of stay limits of as little as two days. It is your responsibility to learn and follow the rules. Rules are published on official government Internet web sites, and are available at public land managers offices.

Boondocking On The Beach

Photo courtesy Jerry Campbell - Boondocking On The Beach

How To Find The Best Boondocking Locations

So now that you know that you can set up camp just about anywhere in the forest, how do you go about finding a great RV camping/boondocking site? This is where the work starts, but the harder you work at it, the better the RV campsite you'll find. If you live near the public lands area you wish to camp in, your task is easier as you can explore more frequently and learn the area completely. For those of us that travel and want to find great boondocking sites, we've found that doing our homework before we get to a new area will always pay off with a great boondocking site.

RV type and size sometimes determines where you can boondock. Pop up and truck campers have a distinct advantage for getting to really remote RV camping sites. When you have a large 5th wheel or motor home, boondocking seems more difficult, but with just a little practice, you will soon determine how to explore effectively to accommodate your rig.

The easiest way of finding RV boondocking sites in a new area requires that you:

  • Have maps and navigational information.
  • Contact Public Lands administrators for the area being visited.
  • Locate a "base" campground.
  • Exploration.

After determining a general location you wish to boondock, it's time to examine some general information. USFS - USDA Forest Service, the BLM - Bureau of Land Management, and other State and US Government departments have Internet web sites with recreation information. Getting official travel maps of a new area can help in finding a good RV camping site. Topographical maps are in our opinion the best way to determine where we want to camp. We prefer DeLorme Topo 6.0 maps for our personal exploration needs. MapTech is our choice for online topo mapping information. Examine the Topo map for areas that look interesting for your type of RV camping. It won't take long to find areas that look interesting to you.

The areas you find with your Topo map can further be researched by contacting the local public lands administrators. Ask about dispersed camping in the area you are interested in. You may or may not get the answers you need. Some of the folks providing information may not be aware of some great RV camping sites. Get information about designated campgrounds and if reservations are required.

Armed with the campground information, locate one near where you think you want to boondock. This campground will be your "base" camp to explore for that perfect RV boondocking site. You will often find a great RV camping site on the way to the designated campground, which eliminates the need for exploration, but always plan on needing to find your own RV camping site.

Exploring can be fun, but it's also frustrating from time to time. Our frustrations always come from finding great RV camping sites that don't offer a clear view of the southern sky for our satellite Internet connection. Most folks won't have that as an issue, and will easily find boondocking sites. The size of your RV is a major consideration when heading into remote areas, and be sure to consider potential weather changes and how they might effect road conditions where you want to camp.

Official USFS Rules

The following comes from the US Forest Service South Park Ranger District of Colorado's Pike National Forest. The same rules apply to RV camping, and finding some great campsites is easy once you get some experience finding the type of camping location you desire.

DISPERSED CAMPING

MINIMAL IMPACT CAMPING TECHNIQUES

PLAN your trip, know what it is you wish to experience, think about the time of year and expected weather. This is part of the outdoor adventure and should always be your first step. After you have selected the area you would like to visit, contact the South Park Ranger District for answers to any questions you might have and to learn about any special regulations in the area. When planning where you are going to go, be sure you are on National Forest Service System land.

CONCENTRATE your impacts in heavily used areas. Many of the areas that are easily accessible receive heavy use during the summer months. If there is a fire ring at the area do not build a new one, sometimes that means that you will have to clean out the old fire ring )don't forget that collapsible shovel). We all have to do our part to keep these areas open for folks who prefer this type of experience.

CAMP at least 200 feet from water. This practice is important for a variety of reasons. A campsite located on stream banks or lake shores can create visual impacts and detract from the sense of solitude. Accordingly, it is also important that you camp far enough from roads and trails that the site is screened from other campers. By camping close to water you risk contaminating the water. Remember, water is very important to the wildlife who live in the area, they need easy access to and from water sources and your presence may disturb their normal behavior.

PACK IT IN, PACK IT OUT. Dispersed areas do not have trash services and rarely receive clean-up services. Please do not put glass or aluminum (even those food packages that appear to be made of paper often have foil liners that do not burn) into the fire. This practice is unsightly and makes the site less attractive to the next user. All food scrapes and trash should be taken home with you, or take it to the nearest landfill if you are on a long journey.

PROPERLY DISPOSE of Human Waste. This is not something you were taught in school, maybe it should have been. Human feces not properly disposed of is not only unsightly, but can actually create health hazards. Catholes are the most widely accepted method of back county human waste disposal (again, that collapsible shovel comes in handy).

1. Select a site that is far from any water sources, 300 feet is a good, safe distance. The site should be inconspicuous and where someone would not naturally be walking. If you are camping with a large group or camping the same site for more than one night, you should spread the cathole sites over a large area. Try to find a spot with deep organic material, which will help decompose the feces. If possible, locate your cathole where it will receive maximum sunlight, this will also aid in decomposition. Chose an elevated site where water would not normally pool.

2. Now you are ready to dig. Your hole should be 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter. If you hit a rock or root which prevents you from reaching the correct depth, you should find another site (early planning comes into play). Toilet paper is a strong attractant to small rodents and should be packed home with your other trash. When finished, the cathole should be filled in with the previously removed dirt and disguised with native materials.

CAMPFIRE BUILDING and wood collection. Campfires were once thought to be a necessity and are built in history and tradition. Attitudes toward campfires are changing. The new perception of their use is a direct result of past misuse of campfires, and the sometimes ugly and negative impacts caused when fires are built incorrectly, built in the wrong locations or left unattended. If you choose to have a campfire, you are choosing a very large responsibility.

1. Your first step is to choose a location for your fire. If there is an existing fire ring, use it. If it is a bad location, move it to a better location and clean up all remnants in its original location. Never place a campfire within the radius of the largest branches on a tree. Fire can actually travel through the tree's root system and cause a forest fire. Never build a fire close to a rock or other natural object where the fire will scorch the object and leave lasting impacts of your visit.

2. Next, you will need to collect firewood. There is only one type of wood that is acceptable for building a low impact campfire; this is dead and downed wood. Breaking branches off of a live standing tree leaves a very discernible and long lasting impact. Firewood size is very critical. A good rule of thumb is if the wood is too large to break with your hands or by stepping on it, then it is too large to burn. Keep the firewood in its natural lengths, breaking into smaller pieces as you feed the fire. If there is any unburned wood left when breaking camp, it can be scattered around the forest and will blend in naturally.

3. Finally, remember to clean up after your fire. The intent is to get other campers to use the same fire ring. Cleaning up the fire ring of any food waste and trash, burning wood completely and scattering the cooled coals and ashes will make it more likely that it will be used again.

HELPFUL TIPS

BEARS - Help keep bears alive AND in their natural habitat! When you go to the mountains and forest, you are in bear county. Do not leave ANY food, refuse or other bear attractant unattended. It is prohibited by Special Order. Unless food is being eaten, prepared or transported/store it in bear resistant containers.

KEEP THE FOREST WILD - Help the wildlife stay wild!

The wild animals in National Forests are part of an intricate web of life. When we feed these animals, we alter this natural balance. Unnaturally high populations may be created. The animals, ability to find food in the winter--when visitors are gone--may be damaged. We can be affected too. Animals sometimes bite and some of them are infected with rabies or fleas which spread bubonic plague. Help to protect the wildlife and yourself. Show them the respect they deserve and let the animals find their own natural food.

NOXIOUS WEEDS

A noxious weed is any non-native plant that grows unchecked by natural enemies, like insects or diseases. Noxious weeds displace native plants, thereby robbing wildlife and livestock of natural food sources and nesting sites. They steal water and nutrients from native plants and disrupt the ecosystem. Some are harmful or fatal to animals. Contact your local Forest Service Office, County Extension Office or County Weed Control Office to obtain more information on recognizing, eradicating and preventing the spread of noxious weeds where you live, work and/or play.

HIGH ALTITUDE

You may notice that your breathing is faster or deeper and you may feel short of breath, especially when you exercise. This is the body's first and most effective response to altitude. Your heart is likely to beat faster also; this too is a helpful, normal reaction. Once you arrive, take it easy for the first day of two. Reduce consumption of alcohol, caffeine and salty foods. Drink more water than usual. Altitude illness feels very much like flu or a hangover, but is much more serious. Do not push. If you feel worse or the symptoms do not go away soon, get medical help!

SUNBURN

The sun has more power in the thin air, and a bad sunburn can spoil your stay. No matter how tanned you may be, use a protective cream. "Cold sores" are aggravated at high altitude but might be prevented by a medicine which your doctor can prescribe. Sunburn of the eyes is a real danger, even on foggy or cloudy days. Wear sunglasses or goggles with ultraviolet protection.

TICK/FLY SPRAY RECIPE

2 cups white vinegar 1 cup Skin-So-Soft bath oil 1 cup water

1 Tablespoon eucalyptus oil (available at drugstores & health food stores)

This homemade spray does not contain aerosols to pollute the environment, nor chemicals to contaminate the ground and it works. We have reports of successful use on animals as well.

Portions of this page printed from: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/psicc/recreation/camping/

Advanced RV Camping

Once you find that terrific RV boondocking site, it's time to settle in and enjoy the area. Conserving your resources is the key to enjoyable boondocking. Leave no trace camping principles should be your guide to help protect our RV camping resources for future generations. Boondocking offers the RVer the most options for outdoor recreation, but the responsibility of good stewardship towards the land is in your hands. You wouldn't want to find a great RV boondocking site that has trash and human and pet waste all over the area, and you shouldn't leave your site that way either. Always leave your RV camping site better than you found it.

Here are a few tips to extend your resources:

  • Battery charge can be extended by turning off your furnace/heater at night and adding a blanket or two on the bed. Turn off lights when not needed. Minimize use of TV and other electrical appliances. Florescent lights use less energy. Solar panels and an inverter can set you free...electrically.
  • Generators are popular for extending RV camping trips too, but try and limit their usage to battery charging so as not to bother nearby campers.
  • Generators are popular for extending RV camping trips too, but try and limit their usage to battery charging so as not to bother nearby campers.
  • Extend your RV propane supply by turning off your water heater and only use it when needed. Adding that extra blanket to your bed will save propane too. Put on a sweater or jacket instead of turning up the heat.
  • Water...It seems you can never have enough. Carry extra water containers if you can. Take very short "military" showers. Wash dishes once a day after wiping dirty dishes off with paper towels. Wash dishes in a dishpan. Use disposable dishes, cups, and eating utensils. An electric transfer pump can move water from containers into your RVs fresh tank easily. Using an old milk jug filled with water for flushing is much more water efficient than letting your RVs toilet do the job.
  • Bears poop in the woods, and you can too. As long as you are well away from water, digging a "cathole" is perfectly acceptable, and part of the Leave No Trace camping principles mentioned above.
  • Your dirty dish water can be dispersed as long as you are well away from water sources. Don't dump it in the same place all the time as flys will become a problem. Some folks use their dish water for flushing purposes.

Boondocking locations can be found on the Internet on RV forums and newsgroups. Local chamber of commerce offices and visitor centers are good places to inquire at too. Talking to other RVers is one of the best ways to find new places, but be aware that many people don't want to share their favorite RV camping and boondocking sites. Finding great RV camping and boondocking sites can be a bit of work, but with some research and exploration, you should find exactly what you are looking for.

The USA Camping Map on our home page has links to each individual states public lands administrators website. It's a great place to start looking for RV camping and boondocking locations.

To find boondocking campsites, you need a good map. We recommend Benchmark Maps and the Atlas & Gazetteer by DeLorme Publishing Company to find RV camping locations and as a great paper recreation atlas. Put that together with DeLorme Topo 6.0 Software (if you can find a copy for pre Windows 7 machines) and you have a powerful set of tools to help find the best RV camping sites.

More Boondocking Resources
www.rv-camping.org
RV 
 
Camping In The Teton Mountains, Wyoming

 
Custom Search
www.rv-camping.org
Join the Good Sam RV Camping Club!

Federal Public Land
RV Camping Information

USFS (US Forest Service) - Describes USFS policies and rules about RV camping. Information about camping, campgrounds, regulations, and tips on how to find great free RV camping sites.

NPS (National Park Service) - General information about RV camping and campgrounds in US National Parks. Campgrounds are located in the most historic and scenic places in the USA, and the NPS offers some of the best places for RV camping in America.

USACE/COE (US Army Corp of Engineers) - USACE (perhaps better know as COE) manages water recreation areas throughout the USA. Information about finding USACE lakes, RV camping possibilities, and rules and policies for use of these water based recreation areas is included.

BLM (Bureau of Land Management) - Located throughout the western USA, BLM managed lands offer great camping locations. Developed campgrounds, and almost unlimited dispersed camping opportunites.

RV Camping

Rent A Private Forest

Located in western Arkansas, Ridgeline Trails is a place where you actually can rent the forest. This private reserve offers groups or descriminating individuals a unique boondocking experience.