RV Boondocking: Wild & Free Off-Grid Camping
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RV Boondocking: Wild & Free Off-Grid Camping


What if you could escape the crowded campgrounds? What if your campsite could go on for miles
and miles and miles? What if nature came to you, instead of you
having to go to it? What if you could avoid the noisy generators,
noxious fumes, and polluted air at popular campgrounds? What if the only sounds you could hear were
birdsong and the breeze through the trees? What if the view from your campsite was free
of man-made structures like signs and buildings? What if there was no camping fee? Is this a fairytale? Nope, it’s called boondocking, and it’s
the most adventurous and rewarding form of RV camping. The essence of boodocking is camping in a
wilderness setting with a front row seat to the sights and sounds of nature. It’s leaving the campgrounds, and the distractions,
behind. What you haven’t left behind are the comforts
of home – your kitchen, sofa, bed, and bathroom are right at your fingertips. “Roughing it” was never so comfortable. Once you try it you’ll soon realize that
boondocking truly is the pinnacle of RVing. Before the invention of the campground, everyone
who camped went boondocking. Camping without campground hookups is what
RVs were originally designed to do. The first RVs were quite bare bones, without
many of the features found today, and they happily boondocked with them. Today’s RVs are much better equipped for boondocking,
and much more comfortable. Features and available equipment like large
battery banks, solar panels, wind generators, large freshwater and wastewater holding tanks,
microwave ovens, refrigerators that run off propane or super-efficient electric refrigerators,
catalytic heaters, swamp coolers, and other gadgets make RV boondocking as comfortable
as a full service campground. When boondocking, you are totally self-sufficient,
relying on your RVs systems and the supplies you brought along. You’ll want to be adequately prepared with
fully charged house batteries, plenty of propane, water, and food. Of course, just like tent camping, bring clothing
suitable for the weather forecast, flashlights, a lighter or matches, and some emergency supplies,
should you become stranded or injured, as help could be miles away. So, where on earth can you go RV boondocking? Well, here in the United States we are lucky
to have millions of acres of federal public lands, much of which are open to boondocking. There is also state land, such as state forests,
state game & fish areas, and some state parks that are open to boondocking. Wherever you see or hear the term “dispersed
camping”, take note. Dispersed camping is the term used by federal
agencies like the BLM and Forest Service. It means camping outside of developed recreation
facilities – where no hookups or services are available, in other words, boondocking. Most BLM and Forest Service land is open to
dispersed camping. The Bureau of Land Management oversees a whopping
245 million acres of public land. Most of this land is in the Western United
States, including Alaska, and is predominantly composed of extensive grassland, forest, high
mountain, Arctic tundra, and desert landscapes. Some of the best RV boondocking campsites
I’ve found have been on BLM land. Much of it is open country, where you’ll
have an excellent view of the scenery. Finding a place to camp is often very easy,
once off the highway and on a dirt road. Usually the camping limit on BLM land is 14
days within a 28 day period. After 14 days you must move outside of a 25
mile radius before you can camp again. More public land can be found in our national
forests and grasslands, which total 193 million acres. There are pristine boondocking campsites on
these lands and recreational opportunities abound. Finding a place to RV camp in a national forest
can be more challenging than on BLM land. Forest service roads usually meander through
mountainous terrain, making them more difficult to navigate. Trees and overhanging branches can be a problem
for larger rigs. If you rely on solar to charge your batteries,
it can sometimes be difficult to find a campsite with enough sunlight. Be sure to pick up a free Motor Vehicle Use
Map at the ranger station before heading out into the forest. This map will show you which roads are open
to motor vehicles, but more importantly, it will show you which roads have dispersed campsites. While viewing the map, take note of any dots
shown along the road. These dots indicate that there is a pullout
or dispersed campsite in that area. This can save you much time and trouble, as
you can simply avoid those roads that are not dotted and do not have campsites. In the end, it might be more work, but the
rewards of finding a picture-perfect campsite amidst a lovely forest, mountain overlook,
or on the edge of a forest meadow, make it all worthwhile. Over 550 National Wildlife Refuges and thousands
of wetlands are managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Many refuges allow dispersed camping. Hunting is often permitted on these lands
so you may want to avoid RV boondocking during hunting season. Some National Monuments permit dispersed camping. Three that come to mind are Ironwood Forest
National Monument and Agua Fria National Monument in Arizona, and El Malpais National Monument
in New Mexico. The BLM manages several National Conservations
Areas, that are also open to dispersed camping. Your state may own land which is open to the
public and where dispersed camping is allowed. In Arizona, you can purchase a State Land
Recreation Permit for a small fee, which enables you to camp on State Trust Land. Many State Forests allow dispersed camping
and boondocking. Some have rustic campgrounds, and are perfect
for boondocking. A quick online search by state can show you
if state forests are open to camping near you. State Game & Fish Areas may also allow camping,
such as nature preserves and wildlife areas. A state atlas may show these sites. You can also do an online search for your
state’s game & fish areas. Believe it or not, you can even go boondocking
in Florida. Florida has several designated Wildlife and
Environmental Areas and Wildlife Management Areas where primitive camping is allowed. Some state parks are open to boondocking. Anza Borrego Desert State Park in Southern
California is one. This expansive state park has undeveloped
campgrounds, where there is no camping fee, and no services. There are also many dispersed campsites scattered
throughout the park. Here are some tips for locating great RV boondocking
campsites. State atlases from Benchmark and DeLorme are
great to start with as these usually show public lands. BLM and Forest Service maps will show you
more detail, along with some back roads. USGS topo maps or topo mapping software is
great for zeroing in on a location and getting the lay of the land. Last but not least, I wouldn’t go anywhere
without using Google Earth to view satellite images of the area. The satellite view can show you roads that
may not be on your map; in fact, the images are so detailed I’ve found several campsites
solely using Google Earth, without ever having been to the area. You can tilt the view to get an idea of the
terrain and see just how level that potential campsite might be. Contact the local public land office ranger
station or visitor center for information on dispersed camping in that area. The rangers will know where some of the best
campsites are. Many federal agencies, such as the forest
service and BLM, will have this information on their websites. Choose a “base camp” where you can begin further
exploration of the land. This could be an easy to find campground,
where you can stay until you find the perfect boondocking campsite. Explore the area with your tow vehicle, toad,
mountain bike, or motorcycle, seeking out potential RV boondocking campsites. Keep an eye out for small “side roads”, which
are easy to miss. Drive slow and watch for faint dirt roads
branching from the main road. These often dead end at a spot where others
have camped before. If you think you’ve found a suitable RV boondocking
campsite, here are some things to consider before bringing in the big rig: Are there any trees or low hanging branches
in the way? Do you notice any dead branches or snags that
might fall during high winds? Is the site reasonably level? Does the site have good drainage? Or Is there a possibility of flooding? Will dense tree cover shade your solar panels? And lastly, is the view drop dead gorgeous? Not essential, but that’s something to strive
for! Not only is RV Boondocking a fun and low cost
activity, it’s also easy on the environment. You’re using a fraction of the water a typical
household uses, creating far less wastewater. Your using much less electricity, and that
electricity can come from solar or wind power. There are other ways you can minimize your
impact on the environment. Practice “Stealth Camping” – When you find
the perfect RV boondocking campsite, keep it that way. Before you leave, make it appear you never
arrived. Remove all traces of trash, camping equipment,
and campfires. Camp at least 100 feet away from a water source,
such as a river or lake. Do not wash anything in a water source, or
dump dishwater near a water source. Use biodegradable soap, and at least 100 feet
from a water source. Travel and camp on durable surfaces. If you create a campfire ring, scatter the
rocks and cold ashes afterwards and return the site to its natural state. Use only downed and dead wood for campfires. Don’t cut down trees or branches. Pick up any trash left by previous visitors. By taking care of the environment we can give
RV boondocking a good name and keep our cherished public lands open for the enjoyment of future
generations. Stay safe out there, and enjoy RV boondocking! It doesn’t get much better than this!

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