If you’re new to off-grid camping, you’re wondering how to find boondocking sites. There are already some popular websites and apps that list thousands of previously-camped boondocking sites with reviews. But once you get used boondocking, you’ll learn how to find boondocking sites that not yet mentioned anywhere online.
How to Find Boondocking Sites
The easiest way to find boondocking sites is by using three of the most popular websites and apps…
- FreeRoam.app – a 100% free website for finding boondocking and campgrounds
- Campendium – A mostly-free website for finding campgrounds, RV parks, and boondocking
- iOverlander – another great resource for finding camping.
FreeRoam is our personal favorite because it’s 100% free, and offers several free features that Campendium charges money for.
How to Use FreeRoam
Navigate your browser (or mobile browser) to https://freeroam.app and create a free account.
Other videos about FreeRoam…
- Using FreeRoam To Find Places to Camp
- Using FreeRoam Overlays to Find Boondocking Sites
- How to Find BLM Boondocking Using FreeRoam & Google Maps
- How to View Motor Vehicle Use Maps Inside FreeRoam
How To Find Boondocking Sites Using Google Maps
Google Maps can be used to find boondocking sites, but you still need FreeRoam to show you the BLM land boundaries. See the third video linked above entitled, “How to Find BLM Boondocking Using FreeRoam & Google Maps”
Once you’ve identified an area of BLM land you’re interested in, you can then switch over to Google Maps and scroll over to that same area.
- At this point, you simply find a road leading into BLM land, and zoom in close enough to where you can follow the road until you find what appears to be a cleared-off area alongside the road. You can also look for short spur roads leading you to roundabouts where people had previously-camped.
- If you find a cleared-off area, or a roundabout, and it’s on BLM land, then it’s highly likely you’re allowed to camp there.
The same can be done for US Forest Service lands. FreeRoam will also show you boundaries for USFS lands.
Understanding Types of BLM Lands
The BLM operates numerous classifications of recreation lands…
- National Monuments – All allow boondocking, but each national monument is allowed to make its own rules. It’s best to stop at a visitor center to ask about boondocking policies.
- Wildlife Management Areas – All are open to boondocking. These are simply areas where hunting comes with restrictions.
- Wilderness Areas – All are open to tent-camping only, and vehicles are not permitted. You must hike your camping gear in. Read, “Can You Camp on BLM Wilderness Areas?“
- Off-Highway Vehicle Areas – These are parks where off-road vehicles can go willy-nilly anywhere. Camping is allowed in special areas.
- Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) – These are areas of land designated for recreation, often for camping, hiking, and wildlife viewing.
- Long Term Visitor Areas – These are effectively developed campgrounds, but with very few facilities and no marked sites. Campers can stay up to 7 months. Read, “Boondocking at BLM Long Term Visitor Areas“.
- Developed Campgrounds – These are the classic campgrounds with marked sites, picnic tables, fire rings, pit toilets, and maybe even running water. Some are free, some require payment.
- Open Lands – This is all the other remaining BLM lands that are not otherwise classified. These are the lands most people think of when they talk about boondocking on BLM land.
It’s important that you be able to identify the classification of BLM land you’re looking at when using Google Maps or FreeRoam. It will help you to understand what restrictions may apply when boondocking there. In most cases (except for Wilderness Areas) there are little to no restrictions. If there are any, they will be posted on signage as you enter.
The best way to identify the classification is to use the BLM’s very own map, and zoom into that area to see.
How to Find Boondocking Sites in National Forests
The method described above for finding boondocking sites with FreeRoam and Google Maps also works for national forests. As long as you know the national forest boundaries, you’re generally good to boondock just about anywhere…
- National forests also have their own, “Wilderness Areas”, and vehicles are not allowed there. Don’t worry about accidentally driving into Wilderness Areas, because there are no roads.
- National forests also have developed campgrounds, but you’ll know when you enter one because there will be signage and a pay-station. Note that some developed campgrounds are free.
- You’re not allowed to boondock or park overnight in parking lots like visitor centers, rest areas, picnic areas, boat launches, or viewing areas.
- Most major forest roads have a kiosk with notices posted informing you of special rules or areas that are off-limits to camping.
- It’s often a good idea to stop at a national forest visitor center or ranger station to ask about road closures, camping limitations, campfire restrictions, and to pick up a printed map.
How to Find Boondocking Sites on National Wildlife Refuges
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) operates over 500 national wildlife refuges. Only a fraction of these allow camping, and small number of those don’t charge fees. The good news is that national wildlife refuges remain one of the best kept secrets among boondockers because people tend to gravitate towards BLM and national forests.
We’ve already prepared a camping guide for finding these sites. Read, “Camping at National Wildlife Refuges“.
How to Find Boondocking Sites on Army Corps of Engineers Land
The Army Corps of Engineers operates many of the nation’s dams and reservoirs. They’ve created recreation areas at most of them, including camping. The ACOE has developed campgrounds, primitive campgrounds, and areas where boondocking is allowed.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to find ACOE recreation areas where boondocking is allowed. To find them yourself you have to navigate to ACOE’s Gateway for Lakes, and then click on a state, then select a lake in the drop-down menu, and make sure to check the “camping” box. Then look for campgrounds that do not require a reservation. Chances are that it’s either a free campground or a boondocking area.
How to Find Boondocking at National Parks
Is there boondocking in national parks? Yes, there is, but only a handful of them allow boondocking. Many national parks allow, “backcountry camping” which is typically for hikers with tents, and then restricted to certain areas of the park. However there are a few that allow backcountry camping with vehicles.
The National Park Service also operates “National Recreation Areas” (NRA) and many of them do have areas set aside for boondocking or primitive camping.
How to Find Boondocking on Bureau of Reclamation Lands.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation also operates several dams and reservoirs, all in the western half of the United States. Just like with the Army Corps of Engineers, they’ve created recreation areas along shore lines.
The USBR outsources the management of most of its recreation areas to other government agencies. For example, recreation along Lake Powell in Arizona and Utah is outsourced to the National Park Service. However, the USBR does manage recreation on its own for a handful of reservoirs.
How to Find Boondocking on State Owned Lands
Most states do not allow boondocking on state-owned lands. But there are some that do…
- State Trust Lands – many states still own trust lands that were deeded to them by the federal government at the time of statehood. Some of these states allow camping and boondocking, and most of them require the purchase of a “recreation permit”. Read, “Boondocking on State Trust Lands“.
- Michigan – the Great Lakes State allows boondocking on state forest lands, but will require you to purchase a “Recreation Passport”. Read, “Is Camping Allowed on Michigan State Land?”
- California – the only place where California seems to allow boondocking on state-owned land is in Anza Borrego Desert State Park. You get a generous 30-day limit. For more details read, “Can You Camp Anywhere in Anza Borrego Desert State Park?“
- State Parks – Other than Anza Borrego Desert State Park mentioned above, we’re not aware of any other state parks where boondocking is allowed. They all seem to restrict camping to designated campgrounds or camping areas.
Read More About Boondocking for Beginners
- Boondocking 101 – a good place to start if you’re new to boondocking
- Is it Cheaper to Boondocking Than Staying in RV Parks?