The Guide To Boondocking and Free Camping USA

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Our guide to boondocking and free camping USA edition is sure to get you going!

Most popular amongst the VanLife and RV crowds, boondocking is a great way to camp at reduced costs. In most cases, campers can find great sites for free!

If you are the type of person looking to bypass campground fees, boondocking may be perfect for you! When boondocking, there are often no hookups and sites are a first come first serve basis.

Boondocking is not as simple as parking anywhere you’d like though. This guide will help you understand the principles and best practices of boondocking. 

Note that federal agencies refer to boondocking as dispersed camping. 

Here is a peak at what’s to come…

Table of Contents

Ready to learn about the best ways to access free camping sites?

Without further delay, let’s jump in!

What is Dispersed Camping?

Dispersed camping refers to camping on public lands, away from facilities and amenities. 

Many public land sites are open for dispersed camping, with some exceptions. These notes exceptions are in circumstances when:

  • The camp conflicts with other authorized uses
  • The area “close to camping” via an appropriate notice
  • Camping would affect the wildlife or resources on the land.

Dispersed camping is also called boondocking. 

Boondocking is a great way to access free campsites or overnight parking space for your RV. If you are looking for free camping in an RV, you will find a spot in the city with ease. 

Want to experience RV camping in the backcountry or on public lands? While it is more difficult to find, boondocking and free campsites can be a great alternative. 

Here are some considerations when looking for boondocking and free camping sites.

Boondocking and Free Camping USA: Close to Home

Looking for a place to camp for free is easy in the wilderness. Using campsite apps, you can find Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites to boondock. There will be a more in-depth look at this later in the article.

Looking for free camping in the city? That might be a bit trickier, but we have put together some of the most popular locations. 

We try to do our best to keep things up to date, permissions may change. Always double-check overnight parking policies.

Visitors Centers

Often unoccupied from dusk to dawn, visitors centers are great for free camping. 

Boondocking at a visitor center may offer amenities like water and bathrooms. 

Truck Stops and Rest Areas

Truck stops and rest areas make good overnight parking places. Often with restroom access, they are great for those keen on boondocking. 

You’ll want to consider the following. Due to the high volume of traffic, it can be noisy. Truck stops are also near major highways, adding to the decibel levels. If you find a truck stop outside of the city, you are due for some better rest.

If you are choosing to stay at a truck stop, be sure to inform someone of your whereabouts.  There is generally little supervision at these sites. 

Walmart Parking Lots

Our boondocking and free camping USA guide wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Walmart! 

Walmart a great place to buy camping essentials, and most stores allow 24-hour stays. If you are planning on boondocking in their lots, check out this amazing article. The Dyrt wrote a piece on maximizing your comfort while staying at Walmart.

As of the time of writing this article, some locations are clamping down on boondocking. An app has emerged that helps to track which stores allow boondocking. Be sure to double-check with management though no matter what.

Boondocking and Free Camping USA: Into The Wilds

While free camping in the city is great and all… boondocking and free camping in nature is even better. Here are some great options for you to find free camping.

Trail Heads

Experienced hikers over take on trails suited for overnight camping and backpacking trips. A trailhead marks the start of the trail. As such, you will often find cars parked at trailheads overnight.

Trailheads make great places for boondocking.

National Forests

Most of the options in the list so far involve some kind of parking lot. Boondocking in a National Forest can please the frugal camper and nature lover in you! 

There are two main ways that one can boondock in National Forests and similar sites. Let’s expand on these two ways below.

Can I Camp For Free On Public Lands?

The short answer is yes, with some considerations. 

Boondocking and free camping is usually allowed on public lands.

It is important to check with regional authorities for extra rules, but here are some good tips.

How long am I allowed to camp on public lands?

Let’s take a look first and boondocking and free camping on public lands. You can camp for free on public lands for a period not exceeding 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period.

This 14-day limit applies to consecutive nights spent on the land or separate visits. Once you have exceeded the limit, you must leave the site. Rules state that you must move beyond a 25-mile radius until the 29th day after initial occupancy.

Note that this time limit applies to public lands. Private lots are different and subject to the owners preferences. More of this later.

Public Land Campsite Selection

Next in our guide to Boondocking and Free Camping USA edition is campsite selection.

Often unmarked, boondocking and free camping sites are situated along secondary roads. The more popular locations are often recognizable by a flat disturbed area. As you look for dispersed camping sites, use existing sites to reduce disturbances. 

Some States may have more restrictions for boondocking and dispersed camping. While this guide addresses the best practices, we recommend checking regional information sites.

When you have found the perfect campsite, aim to keep it that way. NEVER dump hazardous materials, sewage, refuse or pollute the area.

Boondocking In National Forests

As mentioned earlier, many BLM lands and national forests allow access to primitive campsites. 

What is a primitive campsite you ask? 

According to ReserveAmerica.com, a primitive campsite is a remote area without: 

  • Bathrooms
  • Running Water
  • First Aid Supplies
  • Other developed amenities

While you can camp anywhere in a national forest, you’ll want to ensure there is no signage noting otherwise.

If you are boondocking in an RV, be sure to follow the forest access roads. In doing so, you’ll find great places for boondocking and free camping. 

For those with a larger RV, check with the local ranger station ahead of time. Some forest access roads may be difficult to navigate with a larger RV.

The Bottom Line

We hope that you enjoyed our guide to boondocking and free camping USA edition! 

As you prepare for your first camping trip, check out these articles to help you in your planning process:

Best 7 Websites and Apps To Find Camping Sites

The Essential Camping Checklist

Boondocking can be great for low-budget campers as it saves money on campground fees. It can also serve as a temporary layover on longer hauls. This helps to ensure you do not experience fatigue while driving.

If you found our guide to boondocking and free camping USA valuable, or you feel like we missed something, let us know.

Reach out to Tame The Wilds on your favorite social media platform and connect with us today!

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AUTHOR

Whether travelling with the family in his RV, exploring the backcountry, or a day by the beach with the family, Mike has a passion for all things outdoors. In summer you will find him exploring the wilds near the camp, and in winter, Mike loves getting on his freestyle snowboard and hitting the slopes.