Yes, Boondocking is legal in California. It just depends on where. It’s totally legal on federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Reclamation. However, some of these agencies may have restrictions in certain places. Boondocking is also legal in some California State Parks.
Is Boondocking Legal in California?
The State of California does not have any laws against boondocking in general. The question of whether boondocking is permitted or not is specific to each locality, state park, or federal agency in question. For the most part, lands managed by federal agencies are open for boondocking, with the exception of National Parks. The Bureau of Land Management has the least restrictions of them all. National forests in California generally permit boondocking in most areas.
With respect to California State Parks, only Anza Borrego Desert State Park maintains an open policy of permitting boondocking in most areas. You will have to check with the visitor center for specific locations of where its permitted and not permitted. Usually, if you see a sign prohibiting camping, it’s off-limits. If you don’t see a sign, it’s permitted.
Most county parks and city parks in California do not allow camping for free.
Camping Within Cities Is Generally Illegal
Most all California cities have laws on the books that prohibit camping within their jurisdiction, with the exception of designated campgrounds and RV parks. You can’t just park your RV on a city street and live there for several days in a row. Even though many RVers do so, and get away with it, does not make it legal.
Moreover, many cities have laws that make it illegal to sleep in your vehicle overnight. Many cities have also enacted parking limits that prohibit parking between 2:00 AM to 5:00 AM. If you do so, you can be ticketed.
Most cities and counties make it illegal to camp on your own property. Generally, they don’t mind if you set up a tent in the backyard for your kids. However, if you or someone else ends up living in a tent in your backyard for weeks or months in a row, you can expect your neighbors to call code enforcement on you.
Parking an RV in your driveway is often a violation of city code, or HOA rules. Code enforcement officers in California cities will often argue that city sidewalks are not strong enough to withstand the weight of an RV being driven or towed across it. Hence, if they see your RV parked in your driveway, they’ll cite you for it. The same is true with most home owners associations, penalizing you for parking an RV in your driveway, or even just on neighborhood streets.
What About Boondocker’s Welcome?
Boondocker’s Welcome is an online property-sharing service where property owners list their driveways, properties, or just the street in front of their homes, as places where others can boondock, usually for a fee. However, most cities and counties in California make it illegal to camp within their jurisdiction, even if it’s on private property. Most property owners who list their properties on Boondocker’s Welcome are actually violating law. However, law enforcement will cite YOU, the boondocker, not the property owner.
If you plan to use Boondocker’s Welcome to find places to park your RV, it is imperative to make sure the property owner has already researched the legality of this, and will agree to reimburse you for any fines you may incur from staying there. Read more about, “Is Boondockers Welcome Illegal?“