If you’re new to the RV lifestyle, you’ve probably encountered the concept of boondocking here and there. But what is boondocking, exactly?
This term refers to camping outside of a developed campsite, typically without the usual amenities you’d find at a campsite. Whether you’re in a remote location off the beaten path, in a group with other RVers, or even just camping out in a Walmart parking lot for the night, any of these can qualify as boondocking.
There are a few different types of boondocking, each with slightly different terms. Dry camping refers to camping without any hookups (water, sewer, electric), which you could potentially do at a developed campground. Dispersed camping refers to when you are on public lands. Overnight parking is sometimes used when talking about staying in the parking lot of a Walmart or Cracker Barrel. All of these are frequently referred to as boondocking.
Where Can You Boondock?
There’s a huge array of public lands across the U.S. that allow dispersed camping. Both National Forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land are popular options, especially out west. On the coasts, you can even find places close to the beach to camp for the night. While the rules can vary from state to state, most places will allow you to stay in one spot for up to 14 days. RV apps can be great resources for finding places where you can legally set up camp. You can also just head to the US Forest Service homepage to search for forests in your state and see specific rules for each forest.
You can also set up camp in the parking lots of a variety of national chains (as long as they allow it). One of the most popular locations to do this is Walmart. According to the Walmart FAQ, many stores will allow you to stay overnight, so long as you get permission from the store manager.
Flying Pilot J also advertises overnight parking to RVers on their website, with the added benefit of providing things like propane refueling and waste dumping. Costco, Cracker Barrel, and Cabela’s are just a few more popular options.
What Are the Rules?
So, are there any rules or restrictions to camping on public land? Yes — a few. Naturally, all the usual rules of road safety apply. As for where you can stay, typically you can stay on public land for 14 days before you have to move. It's always best to look up the local park rules to be sure. There, you can also find what fire restrictions may be in place.
The importance of fire safety cannot be overstated. Always know the rules of the land you're camping on. Always clear the area around your fire of flammable debris to make sure your fire doesn’t spread. And always make sure your fire is completely out before moving on. There should be no smoking embers, as the fire could reignite after you leave.
An important rule of etiquette is to leave no trace. When camping out in nature, you want to leave the area cleaner than how you found it. This means not only picking up after yourself, but also burying any fire pits. Remember, no one is coming by to clean up these areas. It’s up to you to preserve these campsites so other RVers can enjoy them once you’ve left.
One of the primary reasons RVers like to boondock is the convenience. There are loads of places to do it all across the country, and it’s pretty easy to find a free spot to spend the night. Even if you’re passing through a city without any BLM land nearby, there’s always a Walmart or Cracker Barrel somewhere nearby. Walmart alone has nearly 5,000 stores in the U.S. Convenience like that is a great help when taking a spontaneous road trip.
When you’re just stopping for the night, finding a campground and paying a fee can feel pretty excessive. You’ll appreciate the time you save when you’re on one of those long, cross-country journeys. Plus, if you stay at a Walmart or truck stop, you can use the opportunity to stock up on supplies.
Space and Privacy
Campgrounds and RV parks can get a little crowded when they’re busy. At RV parks, you’ll typically be pretty close to your neighbors. But out on public land, you can spread out as much as you want. You’re less likely to be bothered by your neighbors and you won’t have to worry as much about bothering anyone else. Don’t like your neighbor? Just pick up and move. At a campground, you have to check with camp management. Many RVers prefer the freedom of being able to move around as much and as often as they want.
Boondocking can also be a way to meet other RVers in a safe setting and get in touch with the RV community. Sometimes you may want to find a remote location where you can be all by yourself. But you can also find places where campers like to congregate and make friends with fellow nomads. You’ll still be spread out more than you would be at a campground, but you’ll also get the chance to make new friends. RVers are a notoriously friendly and helpful bunch and a group boondocking spot can be the best place to connect.
This can also be a great way to meet up with other RVers on the road. If you go to a campground or RV park, you may have a hard time getting spots close to each other. You’ll have no such problem when setting up on public land. Just find a spot with enough space and you’re good to go!