An Introduction to Boondocking: Tips for All Campers

Last Updated on January 7, 2021 by Jody

Camping is a great way to relax, connect with nature, and recharge your batteries.

Developed campgrounds (like KOA) offer a variety of amenities and activities you can take part in. They will usually have hookups for your RV, dedicated ten sites, fire rings, picnic tables, and a variety of other comforts to make your stay relaxing and enjoyable.

Boondocking has its own benefits. Though you may not have access to the amenities provided by developed campgrounds, you’ll be much closer to nature and often have more space all to yourself.

boondocking_Black Hills_South Dakota
Boondocking in the Black Hills of South Dakota

If the idea of not having hookups or amenities makes you nervous, this guide will help you find out what boondocking is all about and give you tips for camping ‘off the grid’.

Boondocking Tips for Beginners

What Is Boondocking?

You’ve probably heard the term boondocking, and maybe you’ve even done this type of camping without realizing it.

Boondocking is camping without any sort of hookups, such as water, sewer, and electricity. For example, staying in a Walmart parking lot is boondocking. So is parking at the home of a friend or relative for a few nights.

Boondocking in Alabama Hills CA
Boondocking in Alabama Hills CA

More commonly, when someone is talking about boondocking, it’s in reference to staying on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land or other types of public lands. These lands typically offer plenty of space to spread out, incredible views, and a peaceful atmosphere.

You’ll need to prepare before taking on this type of camping because you won’t have easy access to amenities you take for granted at developed campgrounds.

So, let’s talk bout how to prepare for boondocking.

Where Is Boondocking Allowed?

Finding the perfect boondocking location isn’t always easy.

Many Walmarts allow overnight stays, but not all of them are accepting of this practice. Most rest stops will allow you to sleep for a few hours, but camping is not encouraged. Truck stops are also a place to spend the night, although not ideal for staying any length of time.

So where should you boondock and how can you find a good location that will allow you to stay more than one night?

Boondocking in Alabama Hills CA

BLM, national forest, or national park land are some of the best boondocking sites available. These locations will usually allow you to stay for up to 14 days for free, but check in with the local office for the location you’re thinking about staying to inquire about stay limits and fees.

Learn about finding private campsites with Hipcamp

Often, you will have to traverse dirt or gravel roads to get to these locations, so be sure to read reviews to be sure your equipment is up to the challenge. It’s up to you to use your common sense, though, when you reach a location. If you’re not comfortable taking on the road, then don’t. Getting your RV stuck in a remote location is never worth a free campsite.

Getting Fresh Water and Finding Dump Stations

One of the biggest concerns when it comes to boondocking is finding dump stations as well as places to fill your fresh water tank.

A great place to check for both drinking water and a dump station is the gas station. Many gas stations have RV lanes for filling your gas tank and some have figured out that adding a dump station in this lane is convenient for RV travelers. Sometimes there’s also a fresh water fill hose too. If there isn’t one, you can always inquire whether a hose connection is available to fill your water tank.

camping_ Water Filling Station
Water Filling Station

Rest areas are another location where getting drinking water and dropping you black and grey tanks is possible. You can find this information by checking the local department of transportation website. They should have details about what is available at rest areas throughout the state.

Visitor centers, public parks, and nearby developed campgrounds can also provide these amenities. Keep in mind that you may have to pay to use the dump station in a developed campground, but for the opportunity to camp for free in an amazing, secluded location, it’s totally worth it.

Some people will install composting toilets in their RVs. Doing this means you won’t have to worry as much about finding a location to drop your black water tank.

Keeping Your Batteries Charged

Another thing to consider when staying more than a night without power is how to keep your batteries charged.

While you won’t have to worry about this if you just stay one night in a parking lot, if you plan to max out a 14 night stay on BLM, forest service, or private land, you’ll want a way to keep the power flowing.

Installing solar panels is one way to do this. Power is stored in a battery bank that you can then use to charge your batteries, keep your lights on and other things going strong.

The other option for charging your batteries is buying a generator. Generators come in a variety of sizes and put out a varying amount of amps and wattage, so make sure you get one that can handle the job you need it to do.

filling camping generator
Filling up the Generator

When you stay on public lands that aren’t RV parks, you won’t encounter rules about running generators. This means that your neighbor can run their generator all night. Be courteous of your neighbors when you boondock, and if you need to run your generator for long hours, try to park further away from other campers.

Read: Campground Etiquette 101

Other Boondocking Tips

Overnight Parking

If you need to stay overnight in a parking lot, there are many locations that will allow you to do so. As previously mentioned, many Walmarts allow RVs to stay overnight, but did you know that Home Depots, Costcos, and Cracker Barrels are also known for letting RVs park overnight? It’s important that you always check with management before you stay in any of these types of locations, as it is often at the manager’s discretion. In some cases, it will depend on city or county regulations.

How Safe is Boondocking?

Boondocking on the Beach
Boondocking on the Beach

There are often concerns about the safety of boondocking. Having your rig parked in the middle of nowhere without hookups or any sort of security measusres in place might seem scary. But, for the most part, RVers have a strong sense of community and campers look out for each other. Additionally, BLM and forest service rangers do patrol those areas.

Of course, you always want to use your own judgement. If you get a bad feeling about the area or another camper in the area, it might be best to find a better spot.

Regardless of the type of camping you like to do, you may find yourself in a situation where boondocking is necessary. It’s a good idea to be well-prepared for this type of camping, as the rewards of a remote location and the surrounding nature are well worth the lack of amenities.

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