Boondocking, or dispersed camping, refers to free off-grid camping without any hookups to water or electricity. “Electricity?”, I hear you ask- that’s right, these terms are specific to RVs and vans rather than tents and hammocks. Backpackers, avert your eyes!
With the recent COVID surges- and the surges in “Van Life” influencers, boondocking in primitive campsites has become increasingly popular amongst campers- with good reason! This strategy is an incredible boon for last minute, unscheduled camping; ideal for those who want complete freedom of movement.
Boondocking isn’t all the glitz and glamor of opening your window to incredible view- often you’ll find yourself opening the window to a great view of a Walmart parking lot. It’s important to check that you are allowed to park in a location overnight- most Walmarts, Cracker Barrel’s and Visitors Centers in the US will allow boon docking but it’s always a good idea to check with each location before committing to the spot. Often these locations will have you check in in a guest book or buy one of their products, but otherwise dispersed camping is free- that’s kind of the whole point.
The best perk of boondocking is, of course, getting out into real wilderness (or as much wilderness as your vehicle’s suspension can handle). Many national forests and the Bureau of Land Management allow dispersed camping on designated areas in public lands as long as there are no signs posted otherwise. Boondocking in one spot is allowed for up to 28 days before having to move at least 25 miles away and many campers take full advantage of this rule. One of the more popular boondocking sites we visited outside of Arches National Park was more like a block party in the desert than a campsite.
It’s not a good idea to go totally off-roading in search of the perfect spot- it wouldn’t do to disturb new growth and animals after all. Most secondary roads have boondocking areas along their path and those spots can usually be recognized by telltale tire marks and flat spaces that make it easy to park. Spots must be at least 200 feet away from lakes and streams!
Generators can be used if needed, but be mindful of fellow campers, and try not to run the loud machines for too long- we’re trying to experience true wilderness, here!
There are, of course, no luxuries like trash bins and toilets in these places, so it’s important to bring everything needed upon arrival and to pack everything out when finished with the site. Don’t forget to bring plenty of food and water, especially when camping in the Southwest of the US. Most experienced RVers should already have levels on hand, but they are especially useful here to even out difficult angles.
My personal boondocking experiences have been nothing short of spectacular. We were able to plan our experience on the fly which was a great departure from my usually meticulously planned out vacations. It makes each trip unique and completely personal to roll out of bed and choose where to go each day. Being able to open the door to incredible views of mountains and wildlife is also an amazing gift and writing a few blog posts made me feel like I had the most incredible office views in the world.