Flights of Fancy Mom

I'm a mom with dreams.  I want to live my life with no boundaries.  One day at a time.

Boondocking ~ How to Find Your Free RV Campsite

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By now, you all know that I am hoping to purchase an RV and travel the country while working from the road. I previously wrote about Six of my Favorite Travel Campers. There are many people who want to live this kind of lifestyle, but, feel they can’t afford it. So, I researched that further and found that it is actually cheaper to live as an RVer than it is to live in an apt or house, paying rent or mortgage. Here’s my post on RV Budgeting That Won’t Break the Bank. What Can the RV Life Cost?

One of the best ways of keeping your budget down?  Boondocking!  What is boondocking you ask?  Well, I’m glad you did 🙂  Boondocking is parking your RV/Camper at set locations that do not cost you anything.  There are many locations across the country. Boondocking suits your gypsy heart because you are not set to hook up at a campsite or an RV Park. While you can’t just boondock anywhere, it sometimes feels like you can. You can set your camper on any public land.  Public land is owned by US Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

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Each agency or bureau have different agendas, but most allow “dispersed camping” aka “boondocking” on their land.  In short, you can camp wherever you find a spot that seems suitable and accessible. First, the agenda as while they are government offices, their missions are not the same.

The US Forest Service (USFS) is part of the Department of Agriculture, while the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) is part of the Department of the Interior.

Per their sites, both have a mission “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

As a result, both of these agencies manage two kinds of activities on their land: recreational use (camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, biking) and productive use (cattle grazing, mining, logging, etc.).

In stark contrast to the USFS and BLM, the mission of the National Park Service is to preserve America’s natural and historical treasures. For this reason, the whole notion of dispersed camping runs contrary to their charter, which is preservation. As in, don’t touch, keep your hands off. You get the idea.

Now for the rules. The rules for boondocking and are usually very simple and nonnegotiable:

  • You can stay at a location that there is evidence of a campfire ring or other signs of being a campsite. Do not park and build your own. These are set already for safety
  • Observe fire restrictions. Some locations it is easier for a wildfire to start. I wouldn’t want to be on the losing end of that lawsuit!
  • Clean up after yourself. Any trash in, must go out. Common courtesy basically
  • Bury any human waste under at least 6″ of dirt. Keep a hand shovel handy
  • Depending on the location, you can stay a total of 14 – 16 days. Then, as any full time gypsy RVer, time to move on to your next destination

If camping is not allowed, there will be a sign stating “No Overnight Parking” in an easy to see location when you enter the park.  So, in other words, even living a gypsy lifestyle, you will still want to make sure you know where you can and can’t park yourself for the night.

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The reasoning for the 14 – 16 day time limit is understandable. They don’t want people to set up and call the land their home and have to go through an eviction process. As much as we may love the idea of the early 1800’s, wagon trails and the Gold Rush and setting up where you want and calling it home? We’re not in the wild west any longer. We are a civilized society, for the most part and we don’t want to ruin this lifestyle for others by having gun shy agencies say it’s too much trouble. We want to be able to enjoy nature at it’s finest. Even if it’s two weeks at a time.  In some locations, Rangers will monitor how long you’ve stayed. And if there aren’t, let’s still make sure to be respectful of the rules :). If you want to stay somewhere longer, it’s best for you to either set up at an RV park. For shorter stays, just passing through an area that may not have a boondocking area, you can join a community of RVer’s (that I just recently heard about!)  who have land and don’t mind allowing you to set up on their land. Check out Boondockers Welcome for a list of host locations throughout the United States. If you are an RVer and haven’t joined Boondockers Welcome, you can join by clicking here: Boondockers Welcome – Be My Guest RV Parking.  They have memberships available for Hosts as well as Guests only.  (Please note, I’ve edited this information at the request of the Boondockers Welcome site owner.  I misunderstood the purpose. They are a short term community. Not a long term community.)

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Speaking of Rangers. There will be offices at various regions.  They are a great source of information. See if they have maps and ideas of what to do in that area. Get to know them. If you particularly like a specific spot, ask how long you have to be gone before you can come back again.

You CANNOT camp at American National Parks. Grand Canyon and Yosemite are off limits. The only exception is at Big Bend National Park in TX. Check out the Tips & Tricks of Boondocking at Big Bend.

Giving a shout out to RoadsLessTraveled.us for being such a great resource! I love their site as they’ve been doing this since 2007. They are in my bookmarks :).

For boondocking locations in your region, make sure to have your Atlas’s on hand. Benchmark Atlas and Delorme Atlas are good ones to keep on hand.

As you can see from the information provided, being a full time RVer is doable on a budget. You get to see places you normally wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Don’t have the misconception that you have to do something at every location. Sometimes, there is nothing wrong with sitting back for two weeks and enjoy the location in front of you. Set up your awning, pull out your chairs, light a fire and enjoy the view.

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I will be posting more about boondocking as well as RVing in general. I have a great blog series coming in the next year as well. Make sure you stay tuned!

Disclosure: I am an Affiliate with Amazon and Boondockers Welcome. There are affiliate links included in this post.

24 Comments

  1. Alli Rutherford Smith

    I’ve never heard of boondocking before and didn’t know there was such a thing. Who knew you camp for up to 16 days FREE on public land? I’m glad you shared the rules and the signs to look for to make sure camping is allowed. Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Vera Sweeney

    I didn’t realize they called it boondocking before!! What a great way to explore and see the country on a budget!

    Reply
  3. jmanandmillerbug

    I have never heard of this before! But I do know a lot of people that would love to have these pointers. I have friends that have an RV and are traveling the country as we speak. I’m gonna tell them about this.

    Reply
  4. Kori

    I have ambitions and dreams, one day, of taking a cross country road trip purely by RV. I don’t mind camping most of the time, but I’d rather have the added comforts of sleeping in an RV.

    Reply
  5. Kelly (@KickingWKelly)

    This is the perfect weather for camping and taking the RV on the road. I have a friend who goes out every weekend!

    Reply
  6. Ricci

    Free campsites?? I will definitely be telling my sister about these! She and her family camp all the time and they would love this! Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Dee

    I never knew that you could have a free campsite for your RV. I have never been camping in an RV before, but this is some good information to have.

    Reply
  8. Liz Mays

    This is an awesome guide. We would really want to keep the traveling costs down so boondocking could be a nice option.

    Reply
  9. mimicutelips

    Boondocking is a new one for me but it sounds really fascinating. I keep reading about your camping and more and more I wish I could pack up and explore the world in an RV. White I didn’t know it was a thing 16 days of free living, doesn’t sound bad at all.

    Reply
    1. Jacqui (Post author)

      That’s the main that that will make it very affordable to be a full time RVer. Not having rent or a mortgage? It just seems very freeing and I’m looking forward to hitting the road after my daughter graduates 🙂

      Reply
  10. Stephen Parry

    I wish the service extended to Australia – always looking for a great place to camp!

    Reply
  11. Rebecca Swenor

    This is an awesome post with great information for the RV campers. I would love to travel like this and work while traveling going from one site to another. Thanks for sharing the resources and information.

    Reply
  12. Brandy

    This is awesome! I hope to get an RV and travel next summer with the two dogs, three kids and my man. We shall see, knowing how to find free rv sites will matter then!

    Reply
  13. CourtneyLynne

    Oooo this is good to know!!!! I’m I totally a camping gal, but I will camp via RV! That’s basically like staying in a hotel!

    Reply
  14. Marianne Edwards

    Hi Jaqui,
    Thanks for mentioning Boondockers Welcome (my site). Can you please correct and clarify your post as follows? You mention it’s for RVers who “want to stay somewhere longer” and willing to help out. In fact our site is the opposite – hosts offer overnight RV parking for a night or two to those who are “traveling through” and want to visit the sites in an area (some hosts may permit slightly longer but not much.) There’s no payment required and no trade of services is expected. Hosts are also RVers themselves and use the website on their own travels. Also, we have hosts in various countries – although most are concentrated in Canada and USA.

    Reply
    1. Jacqui (Post author)

      Absolutely! Thank you for stopping by and clarifying this! I’ll go make that change now 🙂

      Reply
  15. Terri Ramsey Beavers

    Boondocking sounds fun. I’ve been wanting to purchase and RV but haven’t made that commitment yet. I’ll bookmark your site for when I do.

    Reply
    1. Jacqui (Post author)

      Terri, one thing that’s great? When you purchase an RV, they actually consider it a home and you can get a mortgage for up to 20 years if you want to. That will be an added expense, but because it’s cheaper than a regular home, your payment won’t be as high.

      Reply
  16. rosepetalsinthesea

    It has years and years since I’ve been camping. I have never heard of boondocking, but I love the idea! – HilLesha

    Reply
  17. Miss Millennia Mag (@MissMillMag)

    Great information for the RV campers! I have never heard of this before but this is some good information to have.

    Reply
  18. Marielle Altenor

    This is good to know! My hubby’s dream is to go across Canada in a RV with the family. I just hope it’s a nice Rv with a kitchen hehehe

    Reply
    1. Jacqui (Post author)

      LOL. My main requirement is a full sized bathroom! I don’t want one of those with the shower and toilet in one spot!

      Reply
  19. Leslie

    I had never heard of boondocking before, thank you for introducing me to something so foreign to me. I live in New York so other than through HGTV tiny homes, I’m not exposed to the different types of mobile homes (I’m guessing that’s what an RV is?). I love nature so the idea of docking in a place by nature would be a great experience and great way to save money on travel.

    Reply
  20. Amanda Love

    I don’t know much about RVs and how to manage when you’re living in one and you’re on the road. I think boondocking is a great idea and it’s definitely a good solution when it comes to saving money. Thanks for all the awesome information, I really learned a lot.

    Reply

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