The best state for boondocking in our opinion is Arizona. This is because the Grand Canyon State is the only true, “four season state” for boondocking. You can head to high elevation in the summer and low elevation in the winter, and still remain relatively comfortable.
What is the Best State for Boondocking?
We’ve boondocked all across the western United States, including Alaska and parts of Canada, as well as some states in the Midwest. We keep going back to Arizona because it offers so much flexibility and so many boondocking choices.
But here is a run down of our top 10 favorite boondocking states…
The Grand Canyon State seems to have best mix of federal land choices. You have lots of BLM land and lots of national forest land. Its state trust lands are also popular with boondockers, and it’s also home to the only national wildlife refuge with true boondocking. Even its system of highway rest areas are lenient with no restrictions on overnight parking. But Arizona is the only “true” four season boondocking state in that you can camp at high elevation in the summer and low elevation in the winter. As long as your RV has air conditioning, you can stay comfortable all year round.
The Beehive State was almost our pick for number one except that it’s just not seasonally friendly in the winter. Even if you remained at low elevation, it still gets terribly cold and you’ll find yourself stressing over frozen water lines. But in the warmer parts of the year, it too offers a multitude of boondocking choices. Utah tends to be more crowded in the summer than Arizona, but there still seems to be plenty of land go around. Utah’s system of rest areas have no limitations on overnight parking. Their state trust lands are more lenient than Arizona’s. And Utah’s scenery seems to be a bit more spectacular too.
It’s really the amazing landscapes that keep bringing us back to the Cowboy State. I mean, Montana bills itself as “Big Sky Country”, but Wyoming ought to call itself “Big Landscape Country” because when you go boondocking there, that’s what you notice… so much land! It too has tons of acreage of BLM land and national forest land that you’ll never be able to see it all. The best part is that these lands are less crowded than Arizona and Utah. During the summer you can still find cool weather boondocking as high as 10,000 feet. We also like Wyoming having the lowest gas prices west of the Rockies. It’s rest areas are not as lenient as Arizona and Utah, and they don’t offer any state trust lands for camping purposes.
Once again, a wide variety of boondocking choices is what makes this northern state a top favorite. While there is plenty of BLM land in the eastern half of the state, it’s really the national forest lands in the west that make Big Sky Country a winner. During the height of summer, you can easily boondock at 8,000 to 10,000 feet for cool comfort, and not have to fight to find a site. But one of its best kept secrets is all the boondocking along the Missouri River. You have the massive Fort Peck Lake in the east, and the very popular Canyon Ferry Lake in the center. It too has a lenient state trust land system, along with a lenient system of highway rest areas.
The Gem State has a strong overall balance of BLM lands and national forest lands, including a very popular system of state trust lands. But its gorgeous scenery of forests and mountains make Idaho destination to return to every summer. It’s national forests are fraught with roads packed with dispersed camping that you’ll never have a problem finding idyllic views. Idaho also has a strong system of camping administered by its State Fish & Game department. It’s network of highway rest areas are generally open for overnight parking, but can be limited in some areas.
You’d think that Colorado would place higher in our list of best boondocking states, but in our years of boondocking across the country, we found that dispersed camping is becoming more crowded and more restricted. We still placed Colorado in our top 10 because the landscape is still breathtaking, and because there are some really solid, “true” boondocking areas. The Centennial State has a solid mix of BLM and national forest lands, but often very crowded and increasingly policed. It’s system of state trust lands have become more limited, while its highway rest areas prohibit overnight parking.
Even though we’ve spent many years camping and living in California, we continue to downgrade the Golden State in our list of favorite boondocking states. It still has tons of boondocking choices, but these choices are getting crowded and heavily policed. It’s actually a “true” four season boondocking state like Arizona, but because environmental policies have shut down many of its areas, as well as perennial threats of wildfire, it’s become difficult to boondock there all year round. We still love California for boondocking, and we still have many more places on our bucket list, it’s just becoming less and less of a priority for us. Having the highest gas prices in the nation is a hurdle as well. It has no system of state trust lands, and has restrictions on overnight parking at its rest areas.
The “Beaver State’s” plenitude of national forest lands makes it a contender for this top 10 list. Even though it does have an awful lot of BLM land, most of that land is in the south-east quadrant of the state where there is little to no cellular service and less-than-inspiring landscape. Still, it’s national forests are vast and beautiful, with a seemingly endless supply of boondocking opportunity. The Columbia River Gorge along the state line with Washington offers some boondocking choices with spectacular scenery. It’s system of highway rest areas offer a generous 12-hour stay for overnight parking.
The Silver State has the most BLM land of any state, however almost all of it is “meh” in terms of beauty. Of all the times we’ve boondocked in Nevada, we seem to leave without feeling enriched or inspired. Still, there’s a lot of land there to boondock in, and very little of it is crowded. Unfortunately, the majority of that BLM land has little to no cellular service. But, Nevada is strategically located in between some great boondocking states like Arizona, Utah, and Idaho, which makes it excellent for boondocking in between destinations.
10. New Mexico
We wanted to place the Land of Enchantment higher on our list, but it just didn’t stack up well. Even though there is lots of BLM land and national forest land, there are just not a lot of roads leading into these areas, and the cellular service throughout New Mexico is not that great either. It’s still a better state for boondocking than the plains states, the midwest, and the east, but it’s more for people who don’t care about cellular service, and don’t mind remaining isolated.
- South Dakota – Known more for the Black Hills and its network of Army Corps of Engineers camping, there’s very little “true boondocking” here, though still a lot of free, developed camping.
- Washington – Even though it has a good deal of BLM and national forest lands, it’s eastern half gets very hot in the summer, reaching into the 100s. That leaves a very crowded and somewhat limited western half of national forest lands.
- Alaska – We wanted to put this in the top 10, but because the distance and time to drive there is so great, we just couldn’t put it up. Moreover, you have a very limited three month window running from June to August, and requiring you to leave by the start of September, otherwise you will get trapped by iced roads.
- Michigan – There is actually a lot of boondocking opportunity within its three national forests, and the State itself offers quite a bit of boondocking within its state forest system. Mosquitoes are a huge problem however.