If you haven’t had the opportunity to take advantage of boondocking in some of America’s public lands you’re missing out.
Don’t worry, it’s ok! Our goal is to give you all the information that you need to feel comfortable with the whole boondocking thing. We get it, for some people, the idea of “camping in the wild” is a bit foreign or even scary.
If you’re anything like us, I have a feeling that once you know the basics of boondocking it’ll end up being your absolute favorite way to camp.
Boondocking aka dry camping is when you camp in areas without hookups (water, sewer, electricity). The best part is they don’t cost anything.
Government agencies (The National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management) refer to boondocking as dispersed camping. However, as you become more experienced with the art of boondocking you’ll begin to hear of other phrases such as dry camping, off the grid, primitive, moochdocking or my favorite stealth camping!
All in all, when you hear any of these terms just know that you’ll be camping in areas that don’t have the things you may be familiar with such as water, electricity, bathrooms, and a sewer station.
BOONDOCKING ON PUBLIC LANDS
When you’re looking for the best way to find free camping there are a couple of great boondocking apps that make locating BLM and Forest Service land a breeze.
We love using Campendium and Allstays to help us. Or if you’re feeling adventurous just drive down some forest service roads and start looking for a spot. If it’s public land and you find a spot that looks inviting and vacant you’re usually good to go. Unless of course, you see a “no camping sign.”
If you’re new to this whole dispersed camping thing and unsure what land is public and what is not you can always stop by the local forest service or BLM office to ask. The people who work in these offices have a ton of knowledge about the area and can probably offer you some beta on the ultimate spot for boondocking.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT TO FIND ON PUBLIC LANDS?
Both BLM and The National Forest offer amazing opportunities for camping. These vast open lands will afford you plenty of room to stretch out. If you’re lucky you may find an area with a portapotty but don’t bank on it. You’ll often see a makeshift fire ring from a previous camper.
Always practice pack-it-in pack-it-out and try to leave the camp better than you found it. Follow burn restrictions and if you do have a fire make sure it’s cold to the touch when you leav.
IS BOONDOCKING LEGAL?
Alright, so now that we’re on the same page when it comes to free camping and what you can expect. You’re probably wondering is boondocking legal and how the heck can it be free?
I know, there are very few things that are free when it comes to travel but boondocking is one of those free things that we LOVE to take advantage of. Not only is it free, but Government agencies actually encourage that we all use it!
Boondocking is legal and you shouldn’t run into any problems as long as you stay in the designated areas. Most public lands have a limit on the number of days you can stay, typically this is anywhere from 14-30 days.
If you stay within the limits you should be fine. Just be aware boondocking is contagious! Once you start down the path of camping in beautiful expanses of land, with a perfect sky for stargazing, and very few neighbors it really is quite nice.
BOONDOCKING ETIQUETTE.. WHAT ARE THE EXPECTATIONS?
As mentioned above it’s really important that you leave no trace while camping. The sad reality of boondocking is that more and more sites are being shut down each and every year because of the trash that campers are leaving behind.
Second, don’t be “that guy.” Yes, you heard me. Don’t be the person who crowds your neighbor by setting up camp right out his front door when there’s plenty of other camping options to choose from. Obviously, some public lands are more popular than others but use your judgment when it comes to setting up camp close to your neighbor.
Last but not least be respectful! Be mindful of how loud you’re being especially if you have neighbors nearby. If you have dogs and want to let them roam, keep them within sight so that they aren’t causing trouble at a nearby camp.
Just be aware of others in the area and play nice so we can all enjoy this great experience together.
HOW DO I FIND BOONDOCKING NEAR ME?
For us, we love blazing our own path! However, if you’re not up for the adventure there are tons of apps and resources you can use to help you find the perfect spot to post up for the night.
Here are a couple of our favorite resources for locating boondocking options
WANT THE DEETS ON OUR FAVORITE BOONDOCKING SPOTS?
Our two favorite places to boondock are Flagstaff, Arizona and Moab, Utah.
If you haven’t been to Flagstaff I highly recommend a full day of mountain biking followed by a tasty beer at Dark Sky Brewery and a boondocking experience in the Coconino National Forest.
If you’re into tasty craft beers there’s no shortage of fine places to get a cold beverage. Here’s a list of our favorite breweries in Flagstaff.
There’s also several great day trips you can do from the Flagstaff area that are worth checking out. Our absolute favorite day trip from Flagstaff is visiting the ghost town of Jerome Arizona. Jerome is a must if you’ve never been, it’s a fantastic little town with a ton of character, great places to get a bite to eat, and some kick a$$ bars.
If you happen to find yourself in Moab there are so many things you can do to keep yourself entertained. Obviously, one of the things on your bucket list should be to check out Arches National Park. Once inside the park, you can hike to the Delicate arch or pick another hike that suits your hiking style.
The best time to visit any national park is during the off-season. Last year we went to Arches at the end of February and just about had the whole place to ourselves, it was incredible!
WHAT’S ALL THIS I HEAR ABOUT PEOPLE BOONDOCKING AT WALMART AND CRACKERBARREL?
I’m glad you asked because obviously there will be times where you need to find a place to pull over for the night and you aren’t near any public lands. In this case, I’d like to introduce you to the world of camping at a good ole Walmart for the night.
Yep, you heard it. Walmarts, Crackerbarrels and some big box hardware stores like Lowes and Home Depot allow people to camp for free for the night. Make sure to check the parking lot signs to make sure they allow overnight parking or better yet use a boondocking map app from Allstays to look into the details.
THE 101 ON BOONDOCKING SAFETY AND CONCERNS
I get it, whether it be boondocking or stealth camping it can be a bit worrisome if you’ve never done it before. The first step is to follow any rules when they’re posted.
The more you boondock or stealth camp the more comfortable you’ll become. Over the years we’ve become pretty good at picking safe and legit boondocking locations. Use your gut and follow your instincts, if something doesn’t feel right it’s probably not!
- Keep an eye out for signs that restrict overnight parking.
- If you’re parking in a parking lot consider parking under the lights and look for security cameras and park near them.
- Always lock your vehicle during the night.
- Keep you’re driver’s seat clear and know where your keys are so if you need to leave in a hurry you can.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON BOONDOCKING
Boondocking is the absolute best way to score free camping with the ultimate view. If you’re looking for ways to find the best locations for your overnight camping make sure to check out some of the apps I mentioned above.
The forest service maintains online maps of National Forests and the BLM allows you to access their regional maps. If you need help just drop by the ranger station and have them give you the lay of the land!
Or just start exploring. We love cruising the roads of our public lands. The further you explore, the better your chances are of finding that ideal spot.