America is one of the few countries in the world where you can experience beaches, deserts, forests, lakes—and sometimes all in one state. Camping is the best way to see and experience this diversity. However, camping costs can add up, especially with a trailer. Boondocking is a great way to save money and to have more open spaces for yourself.
What Is Boondocking?
Boondocking means different things to different people. At its core, it refers to dry camping. This involves camping with no utilities, such as water hookups, electricity, or sewer. Instead, you fill your freshwater tank or jug before you get to camp and you rely on a generator or solar for electricity.
Some people also equate boondocking with dispersed camping, which refers to camping outside designated campsites. This usually involves camping in far-to-reach places away from civilization.
Ideally, boondocking is free, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, you do need permits.
How Do I Find Good Boondocking Spots?
In the past few years, RVing and camping have exploded. Not surprisingly, even the most helpful RVers have become a little tight-lipped about how and where they find their favorite boondocking spots. Thankfully, there are tons of resources online for you to try.
1. State Parks and National Parks Sites
If you are new to camping but still want to save money, you can go boondocking at established campgrounds to get started. This will help you test your RV in an environment where you can holler for help when you need it. This type of camping comes at a cost.
You can also ask park rangers and other people working inside the campground where to camp. For example, I learned about Poverty Flats from workers at a Lake Mead campground in Nevada. Some might not share this information, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Some parks designate large areas as backcountry, which usually allows free use with some restrictions. There are usually no designated camping sites and no amenities. Always check with the rangers to see what the rules are before heading out and always ask for a map.
It’s not a bad idea to spend one night at a designated campground and then go campsite hunting with just your tow vehicle in the morning. I have found some interesting campsites while off-roading on the fringes of Lake Mead.
3. BLM and National Forest
You generally come across the Bureau of Land Management in the desert and the National Forest in wooded areas. Both work essentially the same. They are custodians for federal land set aside for public recreational use with some restrictions.
BLM and National Forest areas usually do not have designated campgrounds but some do. Others don’t have designated campgrounds but still provide some amenities, such as a toilet or water spigot. Quite often, BLM and National Forest land have no amenities at all. Camping here may or may not be free.
4. State Trust Land
I first encountered state trust land in Arizona and I’m not quite sure any other state has this. The land comes from concessions from the Federal government that gave Arizona the lands it needed to establish statehood. The Arizona State Land Department manages these properties to generate revenue for several beneficiaries, such as grade-school education.
At the mention of revenue, you can already guess camping on this land is not free. If you’d like to try it, check out the one I did outside the Ghost Town of Vulture City. From Wickenburg, head south along S Vulture Mine Road. Be sure to check online or with park rangers for information before setting up camp. They have “No Trespassing” signs everywhere.
5. Apps and Websites
Every RVer has go-to websites or apps that they use to find campgrounds. Smart ones use more than one, so they can cross-check references for campgrounds and find backup spots. These are the top sources most RVers and overlanders recommend:
- Campendium: Campendium has an app for Apple devices but not Android. However, the website is mobile friendly. This is the best spot for cross-referencing campgrounds. The information is almost always up-to-date.
- The Dyrt: If you want one app to do everything, outdoor lovers stand by Dyrt. You can access campsites for free, but you need the pro version to get offline access.
- Hipcamp: Personally, I think the campsites on Hipcamp are pricey, but some RVers and overlanders swear by it.
- FreeRoam: This app is free and has found me some amazing campsites, but the information is sometimes outdated. Always check the dates on the reviews.
- iOverland: This app is perfect for boondockers whose adventures will take them overseas. That’s because it is one of few apps providing information on camping spots around the world—not just America.
- Airbnb: Did you know that landowners often Airbnb plots of land that you can camp on? This is actually how I found the property I just bought in New Mexico.
- Boondockers Welcome: This is the true Airbnb for boondockers. You pay an annual membership and access spots on people’s properties for free or a few dollars. Keep in mind that Harvest Host recently bought Boondockers Welcome.
- Harvest Hosts: Harvest Host provides the same service as Boondocker Welcome, except that the hosts are businesses. You pay an annual membership and stay for free, but you are expected to support the businesses.
- RV Village: I learned about this website and app after becoming a member of Xscapers. Join an active group of RVers and leverage their experience to find excellent camping spots. I once used this to look for a campground close to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.
- Instagram: Another great place to ask for boondocking advice is Instagram. I recently found some amazing Mexico camping spots after seeing posts from other Instagrammers and asking about the locations.
There is a lot of posturing in the outdoors community. This could pressure you into thinking you need to boondock in a specific way or it doesn’t count. Ignore the fuss. If you’re saving money and having fun, you’re boondocking just right.