Boondocking is a common term you have probably heard before, and you might have even practised this type of camping without noticing it. Boondocking refers to camping without any hookups such as electricity, water, and sewer. For example, staying in a Walmart parking lot overnight is boondocking.
Similarly, parking at a relative’s or friend’s home for a few nights is boondocking. In most cases, when people talk about boondocking, it is in reference to staying on BLM or Army Corp of Engineers lands. These lands provide a lot of space you can spread out, a peaceful atmosphere and incredible views.
Before taking on this type of camping, you need to prepare adequately because you will have limited access to amenities you usually find easily at developed campgrounds.
Is Boondocking Legal
Boondocking is legal on public lands. In fact, boondocking is encouraged by state, federal, and local agencies as a way to reduce crowding at developed campgrounds. However, just like any other established campground, these agencies have set up rules for boondocking.
In most cases, they have marked out specific areas of public land where boondocking is not allowed. Given that most campers are not familiar with these rules and regulations, they tend to get into problems with local law enforcement and park rangers. The lack of awareness and proper knowledge of the law makes many campers believe boondocking is illegal.
Federal, state, and local agencies refer to boondocking as “background camping” or “dispersed camping”. There is nowhere within the jurisdictions of these agencies that says boondocking is illegal. All they ask for is adherence to rules and guidelines on boondocking and respecting the land’s natural resources.
Most of the agencies encourage this activity because it helps control crowds in other campgrounds. In fact, some state agencies have designated “overflow campgrounds” that act as alternative locations once the campgrounds fill up.
How Long Can You Boondock in an RV?
From a realistic perspective, you can boondock in an RV for about two weeks before needing to dump your holding tanks and refresh your water tanks. You can go for an extra day or two, depending on your supplies and the surrounding conditions.
Generally, boondocking in an RV can be a rough experience. Every camper wants to boondock while enjoying access to essential amenities like electricity and running water. However, with an RV, your resources are limited by the power and size of your setup. Your camping habits also play a role in it.
Some of your main limitations will be your freshwater tank, power supply, and holding tanks getting full. Depending on your personal camping habits, one of these essentials runs out before others. In some cases, the holding tank can fill up first and require dumping. In others, your batteries might run out early.
Can You Boondock at Walmart?
Yes, you can boondock at Walmart. Most of the Walmart stores will allow you to camp in their parking lot for a night. Boondocking at a store parking is a convenient way to spend a night. Most stores don’t mind this habit. However, you need to beware of the local laws.
This is because some cities might have laws that prohibit camping or sleeping in your car. But still, a good percentage of stores allow it. One of the popular options you can boondock is at the home improvement stores. The reason is these stores open very early in the morning; hence law enforcement and security may think you just got there early for shopping.
Can You Boondock in National Parks?
Several national parks in the US allow overnight boondocking and RV parking. However, camping is generally restricted to developed campgrounds. BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and USFS (United States Forest Service) high popularity areas have camping sections with restricted access.
For example, the area around Manning Lakes, CA, is very popular with tourists, and camping is only allowed in designated campgrounds. Before camping in any national park, you should research the various camping restrictions. This information can be found at the BLM Resource Area and USFS Ranger District offices.
Generally, you can stay in a national park for 14 consecutive days for free, but the subsequent camping days must be around 30 kilometres away. This rule applies to almost every USFS and BLM administered land. However, there are a few exceptions; for example, the National Forest of California allows a 42-day stay at their designated campgrounds.
On the other hand, the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming has campgrounds that allow only a three day stay. However, there are campgrounds (Long Term Visitor Areas) that allow stays of several months at a lower fee.
Boondocking Locations — Where You Can Camp
There are several locations you are legally allowed to boondock overnight. Discussed below are some of the popular options.
- Visitor Centers: In most cases, visitor centres remain unoccupied overnight. These locations are ideal for boondock because they may have access to bathrooms and running water. Before boondocking, always check with the centre’s management and inform them that you plan to stay.
- Rest Areas/ Truck Stops: Many rest areas and truck stops allow campers to stay overnight. Make an effort to inform the relevant administration because there is usually little supervision in these places. However, it is advantageous because you will be close to a restroom. Even though traffic can be noisy given that you are right off the road, some rest areas in rural locations can give an environment similar to campgrounds.
- Trailheads: In many cases, trails are used for overnight boondocking. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see several vehicles parked at such locations overnight.
- Walmart Parking Lots: If you are looking for a boondocking location, a Walmart parking lot will come in handy. Boondocking here is advantageous because you can stock up on the supplies. Besides, security is better because guards and CCTV cameras monitor the parking lot.
- National Forests: Just like boondocking in a Walmart parking lot, you can also park off forest service roads. Keep in mind that some national parks don’t allow camping for more than a night.