Dispersed camping is by far our favorite means of RV travel. Also called boondocking or dry camping, dispersed camping refers to free, primitive camping on public land with no hookups.
Why would someone want to live this way? I addressed this extensively in a past post, but, essentially, we enjoy the solitude, quiet, privacy, views, and price (read: $0) that come along with the boondocking life. We encourage every RVer to try it at least once and, if they enjoy it, implement it as part of their travel style, even if only as an occasional thing.
While boondocking, we must supply our own source of water, sewer, power, propane, Internet, trash disposal, mail delivery, and laundry services. We have various means of making this off-grid life work for us, of which I highlighted extensively here.
Note that boondocking and free camping can be achieved in other places besides public lands, but the best views are definitely found in the wild. For this reason, we choose dry camping on public lands as often as we can, but other sources of free camping can be found using Boondocker’s Welcome, Harvest Hosts, Walmart, Cabela’s, Cracker Barrel, Bass Pro Shops, casinos, rest areas, and many other sources. Camping in these other free locations is also called “Blacktop Camping,” and I wrote an extensive guide to blacktop camping.
In this post, I will be addressing the five resources we use to find and locate boondocking locations, the pros and cons of each service, and our experiences using these websites/apps over the past eighteen months.
Campendium is our number one go-to resource for boondocking sites. This is a website and app resource geared towards finding great campsites. To find campsites on Campendium, simply search the area you are looking to visit and select “free” on the price drop-down. The boondocking sites will show up in green.
When you click through to examine a certain site, you will find a short description of the site, as well as a collection of photos, cell data information, and reviews left by others who have visited the spot before. The site’s description typically includes the official name of the site and its street address, a phone number to call for more information, a website link (which usually leads to a BLM or NFS site), the price (in case of boondocking, $0), GPS coordinates (which link to Google maps navigation), elevation, the max RV length allowed, whether or not tent camping is allowed, and the max number of days allowed to stay (usually 14, but I have seen as little as 4 or as many as 21).
This information is invaluable to us when we are deciding where to camp. In these reviews, we can almost always find details about the condition of the road from which the site is accessed, the relative busyness of the site, more in-depth data and cell coverage information, and nearby amenities and resources. At the end of a review, the reviewer must select whether or not they would recommend a certain site, and this specific detail has saved us from going out of our way to visit sites where we likely would not have stayed. This saves us gas, time, and overall frustration by allowing us to avoid sites that are less than ideal. I cannot stress enough how much we value the plethora of information found here.
Below the site description, you can sometimes find icons which indicate additional factors about the site. These indicate details such as if a permit is required if it is best accessed by vehicles with 4×4 capability, if it is open seasonally (usually summer-only for areas that experience harsh winters), and if the sites are only suited for small rigs. Again, this is invaluable information for choosing a site to visit.
Occasionally, we will come to a site that we would like to try that has no reviews or photos, or sometimes a site with photos but no reviews. In this instance, we may try our luck with the site (which is a 50/50 toss-up for us at times), and then we will leave a review for others who may be interested in camping at the unreviewed site but are unsure of what to expect. This is actually how we have found some of our all-time favorite sites. A site without reviews could be an unideal place, or it could be your version of paradise. You never know unless you are willing to try.
Lastly, I will note that Campendium is a great resource for choosing all types of camping, not just boondocking. On Campendium, there is an extensive list of RV parks, national park campgrounds, national forest campgrounds, and a variety of blacktop camping locations, all with the same amount of information as the boondocking sites. We have found many great sites at private RV parks or tucked into national parks and forests on Campendium and recommend it as a resource for all of your camping needs.
If we strike out seeking a boondocking site on Campendium, freecampsites.net is where we search next. It has many of the same sites as Campendium, albeit typically with fewer reviews and data coverage information than the former. However, we often find that, for whatever reason, there are more sites listed on freecampsites.net than on Campendium. The quality of the additional sites found here is typically not as great as the sites found on Campendium, which could be the reason for their choice to not include the sites on their website. Or, it could also be because freecampsites.net allows users to add their own free sites to the website for others to experience as well. Either way, freecampsites.net has saved us several times when we were in a pinch and unsure where to camp for free in a certain area.
AllStays is a huge series of apps which detail various places to park, similar to Campendium. Here, you can find a variety of campgrounds and RV parks, as well as some boondocking on national forest and BLM land. Allstays has an excellent Camp and RV app (available for $9.99) with all their camping information, including boondocking, campgrounds, Walmarts, rest areas, gas stations, dump stations, travel plazas, military family campgrounds, and much more. They also offer individual apps with specific categories of information, such as:
- an Overnight Walmart app (not all Walmarts allow overnight parking – $2.99)
- a camp and tent app (this is basically their dispersed camping app – $5.99)
- a truck stops and travel plazas app ($2.99)
- a military campground app (free)
- a rest stop app ($1.99)
- an RV dump station app ($2.99)
While I do tend to favor Campendium, AllStays has some really valuable information for RVers, especially the information on overnight-friendly Walmarts and rest areas. While not exclusively dispersed camping, this information has really helped us out many times, and we consider AllStays another valuable resource.
iOverlander is a relatively new app with which I don’t have a ton of experience. It is another catalog of campsites and other useful information for RVers that I have heard great things about from close and trusted friends. Here, you can find a ton of information about public lands camping, as well as lots of blacktop boondocking. There is some information given about each site, along with short reviews by people who have visited. Like freecampsites.net, users can add sites that they have enjoyed for others to experience as well. To further diversify your free camping info resources, this app comes highly recommended.
NFS and BLM maps (US Public Lands app)
This method of boondocking scouting is not for the faint of heart. It involves utilizing National Forest Service (NFS) or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) maps to find your own sites. Technically, [most] NFS (National Forest Service) and BLM land is open to the public for camping, so this is a viable option for finding sites. It’s also a great way to ensure that you are most likely unbothered while out camping, but it could also lead to lots of time researching and planning with potential dead ends.
Although we do not find our sites like this, it is a perfectly valid means of finding great boondocking sites. One of our close friends often uses this method to find sites, with great success.If you plan to scout your own sites, I would suggest in investing in the “US Public Lands” app, which allows you to plug in coordinates and see exactly what type of land the coordinates are located on. This is a great way to double check that you are, in fact, camping in a location where camping is allowed.
I’m sure there are other ways of finding dispersed camping, but these are the five methods we have used over the past eighteen months of boondocking ninety-eight percent of the time. This is great starting point for finding your dream campsites, and we hope that you enjoy the off-grid life as much as we do!
Do you boondock? How do you find your sites? Are there any resources we missed or tips you would add? Feel free to share in the comments below!