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Have you heard of boondocking? This article will answer all your questions about boondocking. What is boondocking, dry camping, or wild camping? Where can I find Free boondocking sites? How can I stay safe?
The great thing about having an RV is that you can camp anywhere you are allowed and able to park your rig. The challenge so is finding the best place to camp for free. In this post, I cover where to find free boondocking sites to camp in the US. However, some of the same tactics may apply to Canada and other countries.
If you are interested in renting an RV, you should know a couple of things about boondocking in a rented camper. Make sure the rental company or the RV owner allows off-grid camping. Many companies do not allow you to drive off the paved roads. To get around this, many private owners in the sharing economy allow you to dispersed camp. Each will show in the description or you can message the owner. Search for an RV here on Outdoorsy (+ use our $50 off discount.)
What is Boondocking?
Boondocking is a common term in the RV community for free, off-grid camping. Also called dry camping because you are not hooked up to water, electric, or sewer. Boondocking campsites can be found on public lands, Forest Service, BLM, private undeveloped land, farms, parking lots, and more.
Why Would You Want to Boondock?
There are two main, but different, reasons most people consider boondocking. Which reason you have will guide you to the type of boondocking that you want to find. First, during a long road trip, you may need to stop for the night and rest. In this case, you can stay on public lands near the highway, campsites on the sharing economy, or overnight parking lots.
The second reason people boondock, is they want to find a beautiful campsite that is free, secluded, or in an area that does not have campgrounds. In this case, you will be looking for longer-term accommodations on public lands or other places that are near to your desired destination.
Psst: Looking for a secret place to boondock in the canyon country of Colorado? This free dispersed camping in Western Colorado is amazing.
I will tell you more about the process that I use to find campsites after I tell you where you are most likely to find a site, scroll to the end for more.
Where to Find Free Boondocking Campsites
National Forest Land
The US National Forest Service allows dispersed camping in most locations within a couple of rules. You must be 150 feet from the road and 100 feet from a stream or lake. The duration you can camp for depends on the region that you are in. Generally, you can camp for 14 to 16 days, and sometimes you only need to move a couple of miles.
Dispersed camping is NOT allowed near campgrounds or trailheads. (Although you can get away with sleeping in your car to hike the next morning.)
Read all the rules for dispersed camping at USFS here.
If you plan to boondock on Forest Service Land make sure to check the regulations for the forest region you are camping in and know about any fire restrictions. Go to their website and choose the region on the interactive map and then check fire restrictions. USFS regions.
Note: Of you plan to camp on Forest Service lands make sure you have a good property ownership map. Maps are available at the local Forest Service office or we use the OnX app.
Also, you should know about your rig and your ability to drive it. Scout your campsite first because you can easily get stuck.
Bureau of Land Management
The other federal agency that manages large areas of public lands in the US is the BLM. You can disperse camp on BLM lands unless it is specifically not allowed. The BLM requirements are “Dispersed camping is allowed on public land for a period not to exceed 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period.” The specific rules are may vary based on the state and region that you are in so check with the local office.
For more information on dispersed camping on BLM lands see the BLM camping website here.
Note: Similar to camping on Forest Service, you need an accurate property map. Frequently the property boundaries are difficult to define once you are there. The local BLM will have paper maps, they have an accurate map online and we use the OnX app.
Make sure you know you how to drive and the limitations with the camper. We know well, that you can easily get yourself stuck. We have learned from experience on the trip in the photo above. Before we found this beautiful spot we tried a different place that the tires got stuck and we couldn’t make the turn to get out of.
State and City Campgrounds
The state parks, recreation, and wildlife divisions frequently manage lands in each state. Many of the lands that the state manages have free campgrounds and dispersed camping. For example in Colorado, Colorado State Parks, US Army Corps of Engineers, Colorado Fish and Wildlife Service allow free RV camping at some locations.
In Idaho, we visited this lake near Twin Falls Idaho that allowed camping on a donation basis.
Note: To find these locations check the state recreation website, call the local Management office or do an internet search for “free camping near me”
Also see the list of resources and my proven way to find free campsites at the end of this post.
This is the website that is part of the sharing community. This is basically a club that lists places that people are happy to have boondocks stay on their property for free. This website is part of the sharing community that people like to get to know each other through lending and borrowing things.
Although not free, an annual membership is only $50 and $25 for hosts. After that all locations are free. You will find a way to a variety of interesting campsites such as farms, vineyards, or someone’s driveway. Best of all you will meet interesting people.
Another Organization That many people enjoy staying on private land for free is harvest house. This organization focuses on people who have farms and me for RVs which room for RVs to camp on.
We need to speak a small fee to be a member and then you are welcome to camp on anyone anywhere listed on the website. They also request that you eat at the restaurant or buy something small from the gift shop.
An alpaca farm near Glenwood Springs is part of the Harvest Host. You can stay in the fields near the alpacas with a beautiful view of the Colorado River Valley.
Frequently when you’re on a long trip you need to just stop and rest overnight before the next day. This is when a parking lot and a business that allows overnight stays comes in handy. There are a few rules and things to remember
In fact you may find people welcome dry camping in unusual places. The owners of the alligator rescue allow boondocking in their parking lot. Crazy but true, we camped with hundreds of alligators in Colorado.
Depending on the state that you’re in, overnight parking may be allowed or even encouraged at highway rest ups. For example, Oregon actually encourages people to stop and rest to keep tired drivers off the road. I can tell you that Oregon’s rest stops can become very crowded at night. So if you roll in late you may not find a place to squeeze in.
The 17 states that allow overnight stopping are:
- Connecticut at areas along the Illinois Toll Road
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Washington state
Many truck stops allow overnight parking and have a place specifically for trucks to park. If they have extra room sometimes they will allow RVs to park overnight as well. Make sure to check inside and be conscientious of the truck drivers. Truck drivers are all actually working and just stopping along the way to deliver things.
Trucks times can be a little noisy because of all the idling diesel engines engines. If you do stay at one make sure to fill up with gas while you’re there and grab a snack in sight.
Companies that Allow Overnight Parking
Although Walmart is the best known, other companies also allow overnight parking as well. We have stayed in our share of Walmart parking lots as we pass through a city.
Some cities prohibit overnight parking so these companies are not allowed to let people stay the night in those locations.
If you are planning to make a stop at one of these places make sure to call ahead and find out if parking is actually allowed. I will describe at the end of this post my process for finding the best places to camp including parking lots. Here is a list of companies that generally allow overnight parking.
- Sam’s Club
- Flying J truck stops
- Cracker Barrel
- Fred Meyer
- Bass Pro Shops
- Home Depot
Where You Cannot Camp for Free
You should be aware of the places that you cannot generally camp for free. The most obvious is any place that you do not have permission. You don’t want to be woken in the middle of the night by the police or a landowner telling you to move.
Of course, you are more likely to get away with camping if you are in a small campervan, than in a large travel trailer like ours.
- National Parks
- Private parking lots
- City parks
- Rest stops in states that forbid it
How to Reliably Find Free Boondocking Every Time
After boondocking as a stopover and spending days at dispersed free campsites, I have a system that I am going to tell you about. This system for finding campsites is how I find boondocking sites at midnight when we are ready to stop for the night. This is the same way I find camp spots when I am planning months in advance.
First, plan out your route and location on a map, generally Google Maps. Then look on the map for the type of ownership for the surrounding land. Will going through a city or on a highway through the mountains?
That will determine which places to look first. Then you can start by doing a web search for free camping in your location and searching on the following websites:
This is a list of my go to free camping websites in the order that I use them:
This is my go-to website. You can find free camping near you, gps coordinates and reviews, and notes from other campers. You are likely to find out of the way places and random parking lots.
Another go to website that has RV campsites listed by state. Each listing has the address the latest price, max length, and more.
All Stays has a section for free camping. One nice feature is the list of Walmarts (and other businesses) by state. They also have review of top truck stops by state.
You can find casinos that allow overnight parking and camping. If you stay at a casino you may have to eat a meal or join their club. If you are not a gambler it still could be worth it.
If you look at Google Maps you can see generally where some good campsites are. However, you may need to verify the land ownership with a map.
iOverlander is an all volunteer maping project for and by RVers. It contains user generated information about places to stay in na RV.
This app is actually used for hunting but it has excellent and very accurate land ownership maps. You can download a map and even find a small road off the side of the highway. We have parked right off the highway in Utah and woke up in a beautiful field of windmills.
How to Boondock Responsibly
Here are some quick tips for boondocking so that others can continue to enjoy the benefits of free camping.
- Follow Leave No Travel Principles by staying on flat grassy ground and picking up after yourself
- Use established spots that have plenty of room to maneuver your rig
- Ask permission if you are on private land or at a business
- Follow the rules and regulations of the landowner or manager
- If you are at a business parking lot, stay connected, leave the slides in and don’t unload anything
- Do not dump your tanks, even the gray water
How to Stay Safe While Boondocking
After all this you may still be wondering – is boondocking safe? Here are some tips to staying safe while boondocking.
- Stay at businesses that are 24 hours and have security
- Always ask permission to park overnight. Call or go inside a business and let them know you are there
- Do not disconnect your trailer or car and leave to visit other places
- Use a security camera system to watch the outside around your rig
- Travel with a big dog (or at least pretend to)
- Place a sticker on the outside to warn of a security system or guard dogs
- Know your exact location and be aware of your surroundings
- If you don’t feel safe, don’t park there
Wrapping up How to Find Free Boondocking Campsites
Boondocking is a great way to find a quick place to stop for the night on a long trip or scout a beautiful camping spot for free. Sometimes you need to do a little planning and searching to find a good place to park overnight.
You will want to keep your kids happy on your road trip and have an unforgettable RV vacation. Read the following resources on our blog to help plan your vacation.
- The Ultimate RV packing Checklist
- Secrets to Finding a Cheap RV to Rent
- What to pack for an RV trip with toddlers
- 15 Essential Tips for your First RV Trip with Young Kids
- Tips to Surviving a Road Trip with Kids (From a mom of 6)
Hi, I’m Shauna – Welcome to Family Travel Fever. We are a large family, that was bitten by the travel bug! We travel with kids and extended family. I take the kids by myself sometimes because I don’t mind flying or driving solo with my crew to discover the coolest places.
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