The Complete Guide to Boondocking: How to Get the Most Out of Free Camping

The Freedom of Boondocking

Are you tired of staying in crowded RV parks or shelling out big bucks for developed campgrounds? Fear not, my adventurous friend, because today I’m going to introduce you to the wonderful world of boondocking, aka free camping!

As an Idahoan, I grew up exploring the great outdoors and camping on BLM land. The Frank Church Wilderness Area was practically my backyard, so I know a thing or two about boondocking. I’ve learned firsthand how freeing it is to camp at those hidden, off-grid spots that will take your breath away.

So, grab your GPS, pack your solar panels, and let’s hit the open road!

What is Boondocking?

Boondocking, also known as dispersed camping or dry camping, is the practice of camping on public lands without the amenities found at established campgrounds. That means no full hookups, no picnic tables, and sometimes not even a designated campground in sight.


But what boondocking lacks in amenities, it more than makes up for in freedom, solitude, and cost savings.

A Brief History of Boondocking

The term “boondocking” comes from the phrase “in the boondocks,” which refers to remote or isolated areas. It has evolved to describe free camping in wild, undeveloped spaces, often far from the beaten path.

Now, let’s dive into the different types of boondocking to help you plan your next adventure.

Types of Boondocking

Dispersed Camping: This popular boondocking style involves camping on public lands like national forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas. You’ll often find yourself on forest service roads or dirt roads, surrounded by nature’s beauty.

Driveway Camping: Driveway camping is a more suburban approach to boondocking. It involves parking your RV in a friend or family member’s driveway for a night or two. While not as scenic as dispersed camping, it’s a great way to catch up with loved ones while on the road.

Overnight Parking: This type of boondocking involves staying overnight in a parking lot, like a Walmart or rest area. It’s usually just for one night, and it’s essential to check if overnight RV parking is allowed at your chosen location.

Tips for a Successful Trip

Research Your Destination

Before embarking on your boondocking trip, do your homework. Familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations of public lands like national forests, national parks, and BLM land.

Websites like can help you find boondocking sites and read reviews free campsites from fellow campers.

Conserve Your Resources

Since you won’t have access to full hookups while boondocking, conserving resources like fresh water tank, and electricity is crucial. Invest in solar panels, use LED lights, and be mindful of your freshwater tank usage when washing dishes or showering.

Respect the Land

When boondocking, always practice the Leave No Trace Principles. Pack out your trash, properly dispose of black and gray tanks at designated dump stations, and respect local wildlife. Remember, we’re guests in these beautiful natural spaces.

Where to Go

While you can find boondocking spots across the country, some areas are especially popular among free camping enthusiasts. National forests and BLM lands in the Western United States offer a wealth of opportunities for dispersed camping. Additionally, many state parks and even some national parks allow boondocking in designated dispersed camping areas.

Remember to check with the local visitor center or public land management office to ensure you’re following the rules and regulations for each specific location.

Staying Safe While Boondocking

Boondocking often means camping in remote areas, so it’s essential to keep safety in mind. Here are some tips to help ensure a secure and enjoyable experience:

Be Prepared for Inclement Weather

Check the weather forecast before heading out on your boondocking adventure, and pack appropriate gear for any potential conditions. Additionally, be aware of your surroundings and look for signs of flash floods, especially in desert regions.

Communicate Your Plans

Share your travel itinerary with a trusted friend or family member, including your planned boondocking spot and expected return date. This way, someone will know your whereabouts in case of an emergency.

Stay Alert

While boondocking is generally safe, it’s essential to stay aware of your surroundings. Keep your doors locked, and be cautious when approaching strangers or accepting help from others. Trust your instincts, and don’t hesitate to leave an area if you feel uncomfortable.

Have an Emergency Plan

Prepare for unexpected situations by carrying a well-stocked first aid kit, a satellite phone or a personal locator beacon, and basic tools for roadside repairs. Familiarize yourself with the nearest medical facilities and emergency services in the area where you’ll be boondocking.

Be a Good Neighbor

Even though boondocking often means more solitude than developed campgrounds, it’s still important to be a considerate neighbor. Here are some guidelines to help you become a beloved boondocker:

Keep Noise Levels Down: Respect the peace and quiet of the great outdoors by keeping noise levels low, especially during early morning and late evening hours.

Give Others Space: When choosing your boondocking spot, leave plenty of room between you and your fellow campers. This will provide everyone with a sense of privacy and allow you to better enjoy the natural surroundings.

Follow the Rules: Abide by the regulations set forth by the land management agencies, such as BLM, National Forest Service, or National Park Service. This includes adhering to any posted restrictions, like campfire bans or limits on the length of stay.

The Ultimate Camping Adventure

Boondocking offers a unique and rewarding way to explore the great outdoors. With its cost savings, solitude, and connection to nature, it’s no wonder this style of camping is becoming increasingly popular among adventurers.

So, are you ready to trade in those crowded RV parks for wide-open spaces and starry nights? With a little preparation and a sense of adventure, you’ll soon discover that the world of boondocking is truly where the wild things are. Happy camping!


Q1: How do I find boondocking sites on public land?

A1: To find boondocking sites on public lands like national forests or BLM land, you can start by visiting the respective land management websites. You can also explore resources like Campendium, which offer user-generated information about free camping spots. Additionally, visitor centers in the area can provide helpful tips and recommendations for rv sites.

Q2: Can I stay overnight at rest areas while boondocking?

A2: Overnight camping policies at rest areas vary by state. Some rest areas allow overnight RV in parking lots, while others prohibit it. Always check the specific rules and regulations for the rest area you’re considering before planning your stay.

Q3: What amenities can I expect at a primitive camping site?

A3: Primitive camping, also known as dispersed camp or dry camping, typically offers few to no amenities. You may find vault toilets, fire pits, or picnic tables at some sites, but there won’t be access to water, electricity, or sewer hookups. Be prepared to bring everything you need to be self-sufficient during your stay.

Q4: Is boondocking allowed in state parks and national parks?

A4: Boondocking is generally more common on national forest and BLM land. However, some state parks and national parks do allow boondocking in designated boondocking areas. Always check with the park’s visitor center or website for specific rules and regulations.

Q5: What’s the difference between overnight parking and wild camping?

A5: Overnight parking typically refers to staying in a parking lot, like those at Walmart or Cracker Barrel, for a single night. Wild camping, on the other hand, involves camping in remote, undeveloped areas, often far from any established campground. Both types of boondocking offer unique experiences but differ in terms of location and amenities.

Q6: How do I manage my black and gray tanks while boondocking?

A6: When boondocking, you won’t have access to drinking water or to sewer hookups, so it’s essential to carefully manage your black and gray tanks. Conserve water usage by taking shorter showers and using a basin to catch water while washing dishes. To empty your tanks, find a nearby dump station, often available at truck stops, RV parks, or some public lands.

Q7: Can I use a composting toilet while boondocking?

A7: Yes, a composting toilet and water tank is an excellent option for boondocking. It helps you conserve water and reduces the need to find dump stations for your black tank. Just make sure to follow proper maintenance procedures and dispose of the compost according to local regulations.

Q8: Is it legal to boondock on private land?

A8: Boondocking on private land is only allowed with the landowner’s permission. Without permission, you would be trespassing. Always respect private property boundaries and seek permission before camping on someone’s land.

Q9: How can I stay off-grid for longer periods while boondocking?

A9: To save money and extend your boondocking adventures, invest in solar panels, conserve water, and bring extra fuel for your generator. Also, consider a composting toilet, which reduces the need for black tank maintenance. Plan your trips to resupply and empty your tanks at regular intervals.

Q10: Can I park my RV in national forest service roads for boondocking?

A10: Yes, many national forest service roads allow dispersed camping, which is a popular form of boondocking. However, specific regulations may apply, such as camping only in designated sites or staying a certain distance from the road. Always check with the local forest service office or visitor center for the rules that apply to your chosen

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