You must admit, the thought of not having to pay a mortgage payment, rent payment, or campground fee is extremely desirable. Add to that, spectacular views and peaceful surroundings, and it’s a done deal.
We plan on boondocking, dry camping and stealth camping occasionally once we hit the road. So, we’ve researched information that will guide us through the process of finding the best areas, following the rules (or not), and living off the grid.
UNDERSTANDING THE TERMINOLOGY
Boondocking (also referred to as Dispersed Camping) is when you camp without hook-ups outside of developed campgrounds.
Dry Camping is when you camp without hook-ups inside of developed campgrounds.
Stealth Camping is when you camp without hook-ups where you aren’t supposed to park. SHHH!
In each of these camping situations, you’re unable to rely on the conveniences provided by RV parks, but you also don’t have to pay the fees associated with staying in those parks. And, you can’t discount the solitude and amazing views that many boondocking and dry camping spots deliver.
On the other hand, camping without hookups in remote areas requires water, energy and food conservation. It isn’t for everyone… If you can’t tolerate hot and/or cold weather, or you can’t get through one day without a shower, you may decide hook-ups are a must. I know Curt can boondock without a problem, but the jury is still out for me.
The following apps will help you find free and cheap camping spots:
BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Land
Some of the best boondocking spots are located on land managed by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), predominantly in the west. Options include areas that are near and far from civilization, some offering amazing views, solitude and time to reconnect with nature.
You should always review BLM rules before you camp in a particular area. Most areas allow you to camp free of charge for 14 days. Then, you have to move 25 miles away. Not a bad deal! They occasionally charge a small fee, such as $50 for two weeks in Quartzsite, AZ.
Camping in National Forests is an inexpensive and pleasurable way to camp without the crowds and expense of National Park campgrounds. Like BLM land, there’s limited dispersed camping in the east, so look to the west.
You’ll find some information about dispersed camping in National Forests on the internet, but most of the information you’ll need is found behind the counter in ranger stations.
Once you select your National Forest camping location, determine which field office has jurisdiction over that location and check their website for any closures, restrictions, alerts and warnings. This type of information will guide you to legal camping areas within that National Forest. Their sites also have detailed maps with Forest Service Roads.
Familiarize yourself with the rules of a particular National Forest before you go. If you can’t find information on their website, try calling, or find a camp host or forest ranger on location within the forest.
If you camp in a National Forest that’s adjacent to a National Park, knowing the boundary lines is extremely important due to the different rules. An activity that’s legal in a National Forest might land you in jail within a National Park.
Maps are essential when you’re trying to determine the type of public land you’re using.
You should have a good Road & Recreation Atlas on hand when you camp in National Forests!
Unique boondocking experiences provided through a membership with Harvest Hosts include farms, vineyards, museums, and more. You’ll learn about their way of life and enjoy an exclusive camping experience, while supporting their business.
Boondockers Welcome is a member organization that provides you with access to private properties that allow boondocking. You contact hosts on your route to arrange stays with them.
Other Boondocking Locations
Cracker Barrel is a popular restaurant and country store that provides overnight RV camping in many locations.
Walmart is a big box store that allows overnight RV parking in some locations. (The number of Walmart stores that allow overnight parking is decreasing due to new laws and regulations, and campers that abuse the privilege.)
Cabela’s is an outdoor retailer that provides designated RV parking for their customers at some locations.
Casinos sometimes allow free overnight RV parking, or they charge a minimal fee.
Rest Areas allow overnight parking in some states.
Visitor Centers allow overnight parking in some cities.
Truck Stops usually allow overnight RV parking on a first come, first serve basis.
As you can see, the boondocking possibilities are almost endless. It’s easy to understand how Bob Wells and his event, the RTR (Rubber Tramp Rendezvous), have become so popular within the nomadic community.
Again, dry camping is when you camp without hook-ups inside of developed campgrounds. There are opportunities to dry camp at RV parks and National Parks around the country.
Camping in National Parks gets you up close and personal with some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet and all Mother Nature has to offer.
Although campsites in National Parks are available on a first come, first serve basis, you can reserve sites at some campgrounds by visiting the Recreation.gov website.
The America the Beautiful Pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country. The annual ticket costs $80 and there are various discounts available. Each pass covers entrance fees at National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges, and standard amenity fees (day use fees) at National Forests and Grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and US Army Corps of Engineers.
The term “stealth camping” refers to parking and sleeping somewhere you aren’t supposed to, like neighborhoods, hotel parking lots and hospital parking structures. In many cities, it’s illegal to sleep in your car, so you must remain inconspicuous.
Here are some stealth camping tips that we learned from van lifers and RVers:
- Pick a safe spot and have a quick exit plan in case of nefarious visitors.
- Park after 9:00pm and leave before 6:00am.
- Keep your rig clean and well maintained.
- Close all curtains and shades.
- Don’t use faucets or flush the toilet.
- Don’t turn on lights or use technical equipment with lights.
- Don’t argue with police or security or try to make excuses. Be polite and promptly follow their instructions.
- If you’re staying in a city for a prolonged period of time, change your location nightly.
Good spots for stealth camping are:
- Hotel Parking Lots
- Church Parking Lots
- Hospital Parking Structures
- Abandoned Developments
- 24-Hour Fast Food Restaurants
In closing, we hope to try each one of these camping areas and tactics! Do you have any tips for boondocking, dry camping or stealth camping?
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