For many RVers, boondocking is their favorite style of camping. Boondocking refers to a style of free camping without access to utility hookups. Now that we know the boondocking basics, we’re covering where to boondock.
An RVer can boondock in a wide variety of locations. These include public lands, such as national forests and other federally-protected lands, casino parking lots, the parking lots of many businesses, locations offered through several types of membership clubs, rest stops, and more. Here, we will list and describe in detail all the places available for free boondocking across the United States. You may be surprised at just how many places are available!
1. Public Lands
Did you know that the United States has over 610 million acres of publicly-owned land across the country? This includes lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the United States Forest Service (USFS), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the National Park Service (NPS). Besides the lands managed by the NPS, most of the other public lands across America are open to campers for boondocking purposes. Rangers in federal land offices sometimes refer to this as dispersed camping. Among those who love to boondock, dispersed camping (camping on public lands) tends to be the most popular.
There are many benefits to camping on public lands. These include gorgeous views, minimal interactions with others, peace and solitude, access to nature in its purest form, and plenty of wide open spaces. However, free access to these gorgeous places comes with a few rules.
- First of all, campers must ensure that they cause minimal impact to their campsite by leaving no trace and packing out all trash and waste.
- In addition, all campers must be sure to camp for a maximum of fourteen days, although this number can vary depending on the location.
- Finally, campers must respect any burn bans that may be in place, as well as any other conditional rules their camping area may have. When in doubt, call the nearest ranger station to double check on the rules.
Camping on public lands is incredible for all those able to experience it, and it is able to be regulated and enjoyed by everyone when campers adhere to the rules in place.
2. Business Parking Lots
There are many businesses that also allow RVers to park overnight for a night or two, free of charge. As a general corporate rule, some of these locations include Walmarts, Home Depots, Cracker Barrels, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, K-Marts, Targets, Costcos, and many other places. However, while camping is generally permitted at these locations, city ordinances in certain places may prohibit camping. As with each other free camping location, there is a process you should follow to ensure that camping is actually permitted at each individual location.
- Start by locating the business where you are thinking of staying. Find the contact information and call, asking to speak with a manager.
- Once you get a hold of someone, confirm whether or not camping is allowed, and ask if there are any specific rules to follow. This could include allowance of generator usage, where to park, if you are allowed to open your slide-outs, and more.
- If you are unable to get a hold of a manager, it is not recommended that you try to stay overnight, as this could lead to fines or ticketing. However, keep in mind that most Walmarts are allowed, unless signage indicates otherwise.
3. Membership Clubs
There are a few membership clubs that RVers can join for access to even more overnight camping. Each of these has a yearly fee, but after paying this one-time price, members can access to many unique locations for an entire year.
Boondockers Welcome is a great program in which hosts allow RVers to stay on their personal properties for free. Often, this may be in someone’s driveway or even in their backyard. A membership will allow members to gain access to the full repertoire of over 2,000 locations, each complete with information such as number of days permitted, what size RVs are allowed, whether or not the location is pet-friendly, and more. Often, this can be a great option for those camping in cities where overnighting in business lots is not permitted. In addition, it is also great for building a network of friends with similar camping interests.
Harvest Hosts is another unique program that allows those in self-contained RVs to stay overnight for free at over 1,100 business locations across North America. These include locations such as farms, vineyards, breweries, museums, and so much more. The membership costs a low yearly fee, and members are expected to patron their Hosts’ business, but the total amount spent is still significantly less than what one would spend at a campground. In addition, it gives campers tons of personal and interesting experiences that cannot be found in typical campgrounds or parking lots. Once you have joined, the website’s interactive map allows members to view hosts and details about their location before requesting to camp.
4. Rest stops
As a last resort, most rest stops along interstates and highways allow free overnight camping. While this may not be ideal, due to safety, noise, and comfort, this can be a very convenient option when traveling quickly from one place to another. Generally, there are few rules at rest stops. Just be sure to look for signage indicating that camping is permitted before setting up for the night. And as always, keep noise to a minimum, and properly dispose of all garbage.
Finally, many casinos across the United States allow visitors to camp overnight in their self-contained RVs, free of charge. Most of these locations are Native American-owned and can be found in the western half of the United States. This camping option is excellent for those who wish to be near a city and save some money on camping fees. Like dispersed camping, casino camping tends to have a few rules.
- First, campers will need to check in with security and ask where in the parking lot they are allowed to camp. Typically, there is a set area where the casino owners would like RVs to park if they are staying overnight.
- Next, you will want to check to see if there are certain hours when generator use is permitted. If there are no set hours, you will want to stick to a 9pm-9am schedule for quiet hours, during which time your generator should be off, out of politeness to fellow campers and your host.
- Then you will need to check and see how many days you are allowed to stay. This can be anywhere from a single night all the way up to two or three weeks, depending on the casino.
- Finally, any campers enjoying their free overnight accommodations should be sure to patronize the casino with a small purchase of some entertainment or a meal. After all, the camping is permitted because it is profitable for the casino, so if RVers do not spend any money, the casino may begin to rethink whether or not it wants to allow free overnight camping.
If there is no public land and no casino camping available nearby, then you may look to any of the next three options for free campsites.
Free campsites are available in almost every area an RVer could wish to visit. Even if you only wish to camp for free occasionally, the money saved can allow you to enjoy even more fun while on vacation. Consider any of these location possibilities for an excellent variety of campsites to choose from. Stay tuned for our next post, where we will discuss what tools are most useful for locating and selecting specific boondocking sites.
Where do you like to boondock? Did we miss any of your favorite places? Feel free to share in the comments below!