Boondocking is not illegal on public lands. It’s actually encouraged by local, state, and federal agencies as a way to relieve crowding at developed campgrounds. These agencies, however, do have rules for boondocking, just like they do for developed campgrounds. Because many people are not aware of these specific rules and limitations, they get into trouble with park rangers and local law enforcement. It’s this lack of awareness that causes them to believe that boondocking is illegal.
Is Boondocking Illegal?
Local, state, and federal agencies refer to boondocking as “dispersed camping”. Some may refer to it as “backcountry camping”, particularly where hiking and tent camping is expected. Nowhere do these agencies say that boondocking is illegal within their jurisdictions.
They will actually offer rules and guidelines on how to boondock safely while respecting the land’s natural resources. These agencies will encourage you to boondock because they see it as a way to relieve crowding at their developed campgrounds. Many of them have actually designated “overflow campgrounds”, which are areas designated for dispersed camping, and refer campers to them when their campgrounds fill up.
Can I Just Park My RV Anywhere on Public Land?
For the most part, yes. Public land is our land. It belongs to the citizens of the United States. But, there are rules for boondocking, as well as certain areas that agencies designate as off-limits for vehicles, and even off-limits for camping. It’s your responsibility to know these rules and where these areas are.
For starters, you are not allowed to drive your vehicle away from roads. You must keep it on established roads, which includes dirt roads and truck trails. You are permitted to drive your vehicle into clearings as long as there is an established access to that clearing. You are not allowed to create your own roads, nor are you allowed to clear away plants, trees, and large rocks to get your vehicle into other areas. Read our other articles, “Can I Drive my RV Off-Road on BLM Land?” and “Can I Drive Anywhere on BLM Land?“.
What Are the Rules for Boondocking?
National Forests and National Grasslands – Read our article, “Rules for Boondocking on USFS Lands“.
Bureau of Land Management – Read our article, “BLM Camping Rules – How to Camp on BLM Land“.
National Parks – Read our article, “Boondocking in National Parks – How and Where“.
Is Boondocking Illegal in Cities and Neighborhoods?
Yes, in most cases, it is illegal to camp in cities and urban areas. Most cities have laws against camping within their borders, with exceptions being made for RV parks and developed campgrounds. Most cities also have laws against sleeping overnight in your vehicle, and many also have laws against parking your vehicle overnight in shopping center parking lots. For more on this, read, “Is Stealth Camping Illegal?“
What About Boondocking on My Own Property?
Believe it or not, it’s often illegal to boondock on your own land too. This is often due to building and safety codes, as well as many cities having banned camping. There are building inspectors, and code enforcement officers, who will flat out not accept your RV as a residential structure, and thereby cite for you for camping within city limits, or cite you for sleeping overnight in a vehicle. Read more about this at, “Can You Legally Live in an RV On Your Own Land?“