If you love camping but would prefer to camp without fellow campers a few feet away, try boondocking.
If you haven’t heard the term "camping for free" it’s called boondocking. When you boondock, you are on your own. There are no water spigots, no electric hookups, and no dump stations.
If you’ve never boondocked you might think it's a little scary. In this boondocking for beginners guide, we'll help you understand how boondocking works.
For the last few years, we’ve camped full-time in our RV. The total fee we've paid each year is $30. Considering campgrounds charge from $15 to $45 dollars a night, we’ve been camping almost free. Isn’t that awesome?
Boondocking Compared To Campground Camping
When most people camp, they don’t think of boondocking. Instead, they head to a campground that’s usually run by a state or a national park. And once they arrive at the destination, they fork over their hard-earned money to rent a spot to park their RV. What do they get for their money? They stay a week or two within earshot of other campers who are doing the same thing.
When boondocking, there aren't regular Ranger patrols and there are no fees. And there's rarely anyone camping next door.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
When boondocking on BLM land, campers find places that are open to camping. The limit is 14 days. And it's free.
State and federal campground
Most state and federal campgrounds have either developed campsites or primitive campsites. But most will have a dump station.
Developed campgrounds have paved pads, and usually bathrooms and showers.
Primitive campgrounds have dirt pads and minimal facilities.
How to camp for free (almost)
We live and camp in Nevada. In Nevada, if you are a disabled veteran or over 65 years old you can buy a state park pass for $30. The pass lets you camp in state parks for free. Nevada is especially generous but many states have discount programs available.
Tip: If you like staying in campgrounds, an annual pass is worth the money. Check with your state parks to see what programs they have for discounted camping.
How to camp for free
If you want to camp for free, it's easy to do. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holds land owned by the people, and because we own it, we can use it. And we don't have to pay anything.
Tip: In most areas where there is a state or federal campground, there is usually camping nearby on BLM land.
At one of the state campgrounds where we've stayed, there is a huge BLM area that is about 4 miles away. People stay at the paid campground and pay $15 dollars a night while other people stay 4 miles away for free. And when they need to dump their tanks and get fresh water, they can visit the state campground. In Nevada, we pay $5 to dump our gray and black water tanks and fill the freshwater tank.
BLM land camping permits
In most states, camping on BLM land is free. If you want a campfire, permits are usually required. Before camping on BLM land, it’s best to contact the local BLM office to ask about the required permits.
Tip: BLM offices are a great place to visit. They’ve given us maps, and they’ve given great advice on where there is the best camping. They're also a great source for hunting and fishing spots. And they can issue you any required permits.
How To Find Boondock Camping Sites
Finding boondocking locations isn't hard to find if you know where to look. Here are some great online resources.
Another great resource is the US Public Lands App
Tip: Once you’ve found a spot that looks good, go to Google Earth and do a virtual flyover. Check out the surrounding area. It might save you a trip if you see something you don’t like.
Boondocking Frequently Asked Questions
How long can you boondock on BLM land?
You can boondock on BLM land (Dispersed Camping) from 14 days to 30 days. Some areas aren't supervised, and we’ve seen people who have camped on BLM land for months. How long you can camp depends upon how aggressive the local rangers are in policing BLM land. Our experience is they are not very aggressive in most areas.
What do you do for power when boondock camping?
For extended camping, you'll need solar panels or a generator to charge your batteries.
Another option to having power while camping is a solar generator. We have one, and we rarely use our gas generator. A solar generator won't run an air condition or microwave, but it will run a TV, power laptops, run fans, and most have USB ports to charge your phone. And they're great for those who have CPAP machines. With the exception of running the air conditioner, we wouldn't own a gas generator.
How do you dump your tanks while boondocking
At boondocking sites, there are no dump stations. When you choose a spot to camp, try to find a place near a campground that has a dump station. You can also see if there are any RV parks nearby. In both cases, you can dump your tanks for a small fee. At the same time, you can refill your freshwater tank.
If I’m boondocking can I dump my tanks on the ground?
No. No. No. That's not to say we haven't seen people do it, but they risk getting a hefty fine. Most if not all states view gray or dirty water as sewage. And no one can dump sewage on the ground.
Is there water available when boondocking?
There usually isn't water at boondocking campgrounds. With water, you have to think of water conservation. Here’s what we do to make our water last:
- Shower every other day.
- Take a Navy shower. Get wet, turn off the water, wash up, and turn on the water to rinse.
- Install a water-efficient showerhead. It's surprising how much less water you use and you won’t notice a difference in the shower.
- Use a small amount of water to wash dishes and use a rinsing tub.
- Bring bottled water for drinking and cooking.
- Use plastic knives and forks, paper plates, and foam cups.
- Wash with hand sanitizer instead of running water to wash your hands.
- Use bottled water to wet your hairbrush and toothbrush.
With a little effort, you can lower your water consumption.
Disposing Of Trash While Boondock Camping
One of the things we hate seeing is people who boondock and then drive away leaving bags full of garbage. It looks nasty and it’s bad for the environment. And it’s unfair to the next camper.
Like the hiking rule says: if you pack it in, pack it out.
Here’s what we do with our trash:
- Burn paper products in the fire pit. Don’t burn plastics and garbage.
- Crush things like soda and vegetable cans and plastic bottles
- Dispose of garbage in plastic bags for later dumping.
To make things easy, bring along a collapsible garbage can.
Where to dump the garbage
- When we dump our tanks, we dump our garbage. Most dump stations have garbage cans at the dump station, so we use them.
- Campgrounds have dumpsters. If there aren’t garbage cans at the dump station we’ll drive into the campground and dump our garbage. Be sure to pay any required fees.
- Rest areas usually have garbage cans. We try not to use them, but we have used them in a pinch.
- Gas stations, restaurants, and grocery stores have dumpsters. Always ask before throwing away garbage in a business dumpster.
Boondocking is a great way to camp. And it's free. We have one area where we can camp on the lake. It's quiet, beautiful, and free.
Give it a try. You'll like it.