My definition of boondocking is camping in a remote area. The remote area should have the following attributes:
- Not known to many other people
- Remote so it is unlikely that someone will even drive by your site
- Free is preferred (although I don’t mind paying)
- Great views
- Remote so it is unlikely that someone will even drive by your site (just want to emphasize this)
Great boondocking sites can be found just about anywhere, you just need imagination, research, and time to explore for great sites. I live in Southern California with a population of over 22 million people. One would think there is no such thing as a remote boondocking site where I live. That is entirely wrong. We have about a dozen secret boondocking sites within an hour of our house. Given the fact it has taken me decades to locate these secret places, I am not going to tell you where there are. If I publish the location of these sites, they will not longer be remote unused places. But I will tell you that we normally can drive to our secret places on a holiday weekend and find them empty.
If we extend the radius of our travel we have dozens and dozens of secret places. We never make reservations, even on holidays. We know where we can go without competition from other campers for these remote places. We have many in the high Sierras too, which we often go to on holidays.
How to find a boondocking site
There are several methods I use, and it is similar to how I find unpopulated backpacking areas. Here is a backpacking trip report to one of these places. Hike to a Secret Place.
Get a big-ass road atlas. A map of the entire state is preferred. Now look for large areas of land that have few roads on it. And if the road is designated “unpaved” that is a good sign!
Now start drilling down to the large portions of vacant public land. The Internet is helpful. Your best bet are lands that are managed by the Federal Government such as the National Forest Service (NFS), National Park Service (NPS), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Often you can view maps online, but it is better to contact the agency and purchase a paper map. Many maps will indicate how the land is designated for use. For example, you cannot drive in designated wilderness areas.
Now that you have located an area you want to go, study the rules and regulations for the area. Typically, if there is a charge for a specific camping site, then there are going to be people there when you arrive — bad idea. Some areas will be designated as dispersed camping areas — that is good!
If you are driving down a paved road in a remote area and you see a public dirt road, this maybe worth exploring. I have found some of my best secret places using this method. You may not want to do this with your camper hitched to your tow vehicle, you may get stuck. Normally when we are camping somewhere will spend a little time on each trip to drive around and look for dirt roads. If we see something interesting, we will explore. When exploring on dirt roads, keep an eye for how your camper will tow on the road. You may decide it isn’t a good road to tow a vehicle.
We do not have 4WD, but many dirt roads are accessible with 2WD. Be careful in deserts!!
Above: Notice there is a dirt road to the right of the paved road. This led to an awesome dispersed camping site. We have never encountered another person camping there. It is a legal place to camp. On our return trip on the paved road with found another road on the other side, which had even better secret camping places.
Above: Turning onto the dirt road we found it to be in fairly good shape. There were a few places where the road had ruts and holes, indicating infrequent maintenance. Again a good thing. Agencies don’t maintain dirt roads that have little traffic.
We found many roads that were just too rough and had large dips that would make towing our camper difficult. Because of this we did a suspension upgrade on both our campers to extend the places we could tow. See Meteorite Axle Upgrade and Niagara Axle Upgrade.
Above: Keep an eye out for intersecting dirt roads. At the right of this picture is another dirt road that led to what has become one of our favorite boondocking sites.
Above: Keep an eye out for sharp turns that might make it difficult to travel with a camper in tow.
Above: Watch out for obstacles.
Above: Watch for indicators that might turn potential campers away, thus making it more likely you will have the place to yourself. 🙂
Above: Areas with lots of large rocks, boulders, and outcroppings often lead to excellent sites.
Above: Keep an eye out for distant dirt roads near scenic places. But at the same time keep an eye on the road you are diving on!
The other thing to keep in mind is water. Your perfect site may not be close to water. That actually is a good problem, as it means you have less chance to encounter other people when boondocking.
After we upgraded our Niagara axle, we were able to carry 26 gallons of water on-board the camper, and safely navigate rough roads. With 4 7-gallon Aquatainers in the back of the SUV, we have a total capacity of 54 gallons of fresh water. Also, the water containers make it easy to go get additional water during extended boondocking stays.
Most agencies have designated dispersed camping areas. So stop by a Ranger or Field Office to find out. However, keep in mind the office personnel may never have been out to the dispersed areas, or they might be hesitant to give out information. Dispersed areas are infrequently patrolled, and the agencies may not want to encourage camping in remote areas. A good attitude is always helpful.
Above: NFS yellow post site.
Many National Forest areas have designated dispersed camping areas and are identified with a yellow post. Normally there is just a single campsite for each post. Often yellow post sites are several miles apart — meaning your closest neighbor might be a mile or more away.
Above: Some designated dispersed camping site have fire rings.
Above: If you secret site has a fire ring make sure you are familiar with the local fire regulations. Sometimes there is a fire ban to include dispersed sites with a fire ring.
Some great sites require driving up steep roads, or sites that are not completely level. It is important to consider views, shade, lack of shade if you need to use solar panels, spots to set up your dining area, or trees to lounge under during the day. With a little ingenuity you can get your camper into a perfect spot for multi-day trips.
Always walk your site before setting up your camper. It needs a good view, and orientating your camper to maximize the view from under the awning or your bedroom window will make each trip more successful.