Boondocking in national parks is perhaps the most desirable way to RV camp because of the gorgeous scenery, but it’s perhaps the most difficult to do. Most all national parks have strict rules on camping because of how crowded they can be, and due to the sensitive natural environments they’re trying to protect.
Boondocking in National Parks
First of all, the National Park Service uses the term, “Backcountry Camping” to describe boondocking, dry camping, wild camping, or any other camping outside of developed areas.
Second of all, many national parks don’t allow backcountry camping using vehicles such as RVs. They instead permit backcountry camping via hiking, meaning you have to carry your camping gear by foot and walk it out to a site. However, it depends on the national park. Some actually do allow backcountry camping by way of off-road vehicles.
Third, all national parks require you to obtain a backcountry permit for overnight use. These permits will cost money, generally in the neighborhood of $10.00 to $40.00, depending on the national park. The fee is per permit, not per number of days. So, once you obtain a permit, you can stay up to the maximum number of days permitted by each national park. Most national parks, that allow backcountry camping, allow up to 14 days.
You will have to inquire at the visitor center inside the national park to find out if backcountry camping is permitted, and if it’s also permitted by vehicle. You can also visit each national park’s website, and look up, “backcountry camping”.
National Parks Support Explorers, Not Fulltimers
The National Park Service allows for backcountry camping as part of its mission to facilitate exploration. They do not permit camping for people who just need a place to stay for the next couple of weeks. What they want are people looking to spend all their time hiking, climbing, and enjoying the areas deep inside the national park. What they don’t want are RVers who just stay at their RV and live there for the next 14-days.
Generally what they want to see is you driving your vehicle through the backcountry areas of the park, camping for one night, and then moving on to another area of the park. They don’t want an RV setting up camp in one place, and staying in the same place the whole time.
Boondocking Just Outside of Park Boundaries
Many RV boondockers who claim to have boondocked inside a national park actually camped just outside of its boundaries. For example, someone who claimed to have boondocked at Grand Canyon National Park, actually boondocked inside Kaibab National Forest. Otherwise, Grand Canyon National Park does not permit backcountry camping via RV or other vehicle, they only allow it for hikers with tent camps. The same is true when someone claimed to have boondocked at Joshua Tree National Park; they actually boondocked on BLM land just south or just north of park boundaries.
If you know someone who boondocked inside Grand Canyon National Park, or other national park that doesn’t allow RV backcountry camping, then they broke the rules and got away with it.
Most National Parks have BLM or Forest Service Buffers
Almost all national parks are surrounded by a buffer of public land owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or U.S. Forest Service (USFS). This is done largely to prevent private parties from buying land right on a national park boundary. You can often boondock in these areas, provided there is an access road for your RV to drive on.
However, some national parks were established in recent years and thereby have “inholders“, people who owned property in the area before the park was there.