Boondocking 101

Get started with learning how to boondock on public lands. Find out if you're a right fit for boondocking, and learn about the fundamentals of dispersed camping.

Learn How to Boondock

Boondocking is not for everyone. Consider the following…

  • Boondocking demands that you find campsites in the western half of the United States. This is because there are far more public lands available for boondocking. You can still find boondocking sites east of the Mississippi River, there are just fewer of them, and far more people competing for them.
  • Boondocking requires that you drive your vehicle along bumpy dirt roads, often for several miles. Most of the time, the roads are packed and graded enough to support any vehicle without too much bumping around, provided you drive slowly. Campsites closer to a paved highway tend to be crowded, while campsites much further down a dirt road tend to be open. See our article, “Do I Need Four-Wheel Drive for Boondocking?“, and also read, “Will Rocky, Bumpy Roads Damage My RV?
  • Showering, pooping and peeing becomes more rustic when boondocking. If you have an RV with its own toilet, then perhaps boondocking won’t make much of an impact on your daily routine. But if you’re in a car or van, you will not have the convenience of walking to a restroom or shower facility. Read our article, “Can I Still Shower Everyday When Boondocking“, and also read, “Where to Take a Shower When You Live in a Car.”
  • Managing your trash can be a challenge. If you plan to boondock in the same place for more than a week, you’ll need a way to store that trash where it doesn’t stink up your vehicle, and where animals won’t rip it open. Read, “How to Minimize Trash Accumulation While Boondocking“.
  • You’ll need a generator of some kind. Sure, solar panels and batteries are definitely recommended, but if you plan to make boondocking your full time lifestyle, you’ll find yourself wanting a generator of some kind. Read, “Which Generator to Choose For an RV?

If you’re good with the five bullet points above, then boondocking is likely a good fit for you. Read on…

boondocking for beginners
Boondocking in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Is It Legal to Camp on Public Lands?

Yes, absolutely it is. This is probably the biggest stumbling block for most people thinking about boondocking. They’re worried they’re doing something illegal.

  • There are six (6) federal agencies that manage recreation lands. Two of those six agencies provide about 90% of all federally managed public lands, and they are the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), in that order. Read more at, “The Six Types of Federal Public Lands“.
  • As long your vehicle is on land managed by the BLM or USFS, it’s pretty much certain you are legally allowed to boondock there. There are, of course, exceptions. But, it’s pretty easy to figure out what lands are open for boondocking and what are not. Read more at, “Where Can I Find Boondocking?
  • Many states also have public lands that freely available to camp on, usually in the form of state-managed fishing and hunting areas, and state trust lands. Read more at, “Camping on State Trust Lands“.

Is It Really Free, Or Are There Any Fees?

Yes, it’s truly free. As long as you’re boondocking, there are no camping fees, camping permits, or parking fees required. Interestingly, camping in a developed campground will require fees per night, and sometimes even an entrance fee, depending on how many other recreational facilities the campground has. But boondocking is always free.

State-owned lands, however, are a different matter. There are several states that will require you obtain a “recreation permit” in order to use their lands. Arizona, Washington, Colorado, are just three examples.

Are Reservations Required to Boondock? Do I Have to Notify Officials?

No, absolutely not. Boondocking never requires reservations, and you never have to notify officials in advance. As long as you are parked on BLM or USFS land, it’s pretty certain that you are legally allowed to do so, and camp there for several nights in a row.

How Do I Find BLM Land and USFS Land?

Our Boondocking Map depicts BLM land (shaded in yellow) and USFS Land (shaded in green).

  • This map also has markers of popular boondocking sites, with GPS coordinates.

Okay, So What Are the Exceptions to Boondocking on BLM and USFS Land?

There are numerous exceptions, and most of these exceptions are specific to certain areas of land and certain forests. Here is a list of the most common exceptions…

  • Your vehicle must stay on marked trails and roads. You cannot drive off the road and tear up the landscape. Thus, you are restricted to previously-used campsites. Read, “Can I Drive My RV Off-Road on BLM Land“.
  • If an area is closed to boondocking, the BLM and USFS will usually erect a sign, or post a notice at a kiosk, stating so. They will often block off roads. Obviously, you cannot drive through these blockades.
  • You cannot camp in parking lots, which includes visitor centers, viewing areas, trailheads, picnic grounds, and other day-use areas.
  • You cannot drive your vehicle into “Wilderness Areas”. Wilderness is a legal term coined in the Wilderness Act of 1964, and applies to BLM, USFS, as well as all other federal and state land management agencies. Don’t worry about accidentally driving into a Wilderness, because there are no such roads. You are still allowed to boondock on lands bordering a Wilderness for the purpose of camping there, and hiking into Wilderness. You are still allowed to camp in Wilderness as long you hike in your camping gear. Read more at, “Can You Camp on BLM Wilderness?
  • Boondocking is not allowed in areas that require a fee to camp. These are going to be developed campgrounds in which you are restricted to marked campsites.
  • Several individual forests, grasslands, and national monuments have adopted camping setbacks from water, roadways, and populated areas. Arizona, for example, prohibits boondocking within 1/4 mile from a body of water or livestock watering tank. Several national forests will prohibit boondocking too close to residential areas. As long as you camp at least 1/4 mile away from town, you’re always safe. Arizona is going to be a little more picky about things. Read more at, “How Far From Water Should You Camp?

For How Long Can You Camp on BLM and USFS Land?

The general rule of thumb is fourteen (14) days. But it actually varies. Each BLM state office will adopt its own occupancy limits, and in fact some BLM field offices will enact further limits. The same goes for the USFS. Each forest and grassland is free to adopt its own occupancy limits.

Most BLM and USFS units use the 14-day limit. A few go as high as 28 days, and some go as low as 3 days. There are also nuances to these limits in the form of how many days you have to stay away, and far away you have to leave.

How Do We Stay Cool in the Summer and Warm in the Winter?

This is a big reason why a generator is important for boondocking. A generator will power your air conditioning unit(s). Heating is different. Most boondockers rely on propane heating, which doesn’t require a generator, in most cases. However, propane furnaces found in RVs still require 12 volt power to run the furnace fan, the control board, and the igniter, and thus your battery banks needs to be recharged to keep this power going. A generator can be used to recharge those batteries.

Most boondockers, however, camp in high elevations (at least 7,000 feet up) during the summer, and in Southern Arizona and California during the winter.

Read more at, “How Can I Stay Cool When Boondocking“, and “How Do I Keep My Camper Warm in the Winter?

What Kinds of Tools and Supplies Will I Need for Boondocking?

Great question! At the very minimum, you don’t need much if you’re planning to boondock for just a couple of nights. But if you plan make boondocking your full time lifestyle, then it’s definitely wise to keep some basic tools, supplies, and equipment handy to handle most unexpected circumstances.

Read our full list of recommended stuff at, “Basic Tools You Will Need for Boondocking“.

How Much Water Will I Need for Boondocking?

The general rule of thumb is one (1) gallon of fresh water for drinking, per person, per day. This also includes cooking. This also considers you will be drinking other forms of packaged beverage like soda, sports drinks, juices, milk, etc.

  • Add an additional one (1) gallon of water, per person, per day, for cleaning, such as washing hands, dishes, brushing teeth.
  • Add three (3) gallons of water per person, per day, for showering. This is a conservative, “Navy style” shower.
  • Add two (2) gallons of water, per person, per day, for flushing the toilet. This is assuming you have an RV with a standard RV-flush toilet.

For more information, read, “How Much Water Do I Need for Boondocking?

Can I Still Get Internet Access While Boondocking?

Yes! Internet access is still available in many undeveloped lands across the United States. Most boondockers rely on cellular phone networks to get Internet access. Most cellphones capable of connecting to 3G, 4G, and 5G networks will usually get data service while camped deep inside the woods and deserts. Getting cell signal while nestled inside canyons and boulder croppings is difficult, however.

You can connect your laptop to the Internet wirelessly using your cellphone’s “mobile hotspot” feature. You can also buy a dedicated hotspot device from your cellular provider.

Read our other article, “How to get Internet While Camping“.

And Will I Get Attacked by Wild Animals and Crazy People?

Probably the one wild animal we’ve had biggest problems with was… mosquitoes.

But more seriously, the animal you should probably be most concerned with are poisonous snakes, and that’s only while you’re out hiking. But even at that, it’s rare you’ll ever see a venomous snake. Most snakes hibernate during colder part of the year. At best, you’ll see non-venomous varieties.

The one animal you’ll probably “hear” the most are coyotes, but they never come close to your camp. You just want to keep your cats and dogs within view. Read more about this at, “Will I Get Attacked by Wild Animals When Boondocking?

As for violent criminals, the fact is that anyone looking to steal, destroy, or hurt someone is not going to look for victims way out in the forest or desert. They’re going to find victims in RV parks and places more close to town. We’ve never had a problem with people breaking into our RV, stealing our stuff, or threatening us. Read more at, “Is Boondoocking Safe?

What’s Next?