Let's Go Boondocking!
By: Boondocking Beauty
Speaking from personal experience I can say some of the best times I've had camping are the trips where we've had to just "figure it out". We plan our trip out with a final date and destination as well as the basic roads we want to travel and leave the rest up to how we are feeling each day. These trips mean finding spots along the way to camp when we have traveled and seen as much as we want each day. Whether these spots offer water and electric is irrelevant. We only need a spot to park the truck and RV, cook dinner, and get some R&R. No thrills, no frills, just boondocking. To some boondocking can be a scary thought, but if you've never boondocked then you don't know what you're missing. Of course it's amazing and fun to take the RV to a campground that has electricity, water, and other awesome amenities (I mean I've seen, or at least read about, everything from hiking trails to swimming pools to private campground amusement parks for the kids!) but when you're making a long distance trip half the fun is sightseeing and finding spots to camp along the way! The first long distance trip we ever made was full of doubt as we were unsure where we could park and spend the night, but now that we are familiar with what companies are accepting of boondocking it's only a matter of what we find along our route when we get tired and are ready to stop.
There are many options for boondocking. Parking lots, national forest service roads, public rest stops and visitor centers, truck stops, and trail heads to name a few. Several places that we have stayed have been various parking lots (Wal-Mart, IHOP, Cracker Barrel, and Cabellas), public rest areas, visitor centers, and trail heads. There are other businesses that allow 24 hour overnight stays but those are our favorite so far. Wal-Mart is great for those stops when we need to stock up on supplies and Cabellas parking lots sometimes offer water and septic draining stations for boondockers in need. If neither are needed we have found that we enjoy finding a trail head or national forest service road to camp along so we can really enjoy our surroundings. Typically if you do not see signage stating camping is not allowed along a national forest road or trail heads you're good to go.
Another spot I have recently discovered allows boondocking are public beaches. Yes, public beaches! I've seen a few since my discovery and all have had several boondocking campers! Upon further research I discovered that some beaches will charge a nominal fee; however, most are first come, first serve and free! We have always been a hiking, sightseeing, bird watching, nature loving family, but that was before I found out I could camp on a beach, watch the sunset, hear the ocean waves, and let the kids play in the water ! I know I will always be a nature loving gal, but boondocking on multiple beaches is now on my bucket list! I need balance right?!?!
While boondocking is fun, there are several things to keep in mind:
Boondocking is primitive camping so there is no water or electricity readily available unless you find a spot (like Cabellas) that offers septic draining and water fill ups so you may be doing without even those basics. Some people will pack a generator for electricity. We did/do not. We carry lanterns and flashlights to use when needed as we usually park late afternoon/early evening so we can eat and be ready for bed when the sun goes down. If we stay up after dark to chitchat or play games we use our lanterns.
Always fill your water tank up before leaving and work to find spots that allow you to drain your tanks and fill back up when you can. Sometimes we were lucky and sometimes we were not so we also pack extra gallons of water to cook with and work to conserve as much water as possible. This is really when our experience with military showers and the other techniques (showering every other day and/or utilizing public restrooms..for pooping *ick I know but it has to be said* and showers...when available) we have learned over the years come in handy.
The spots you find along the way that allow free camping will remain free as long as everyone cleans up after themselves. We go by the old "Leave it better than we found it" motto. When we park we look around, if we see trash we pick it up, even if it isn't ours. We do this again after we have packed up to leave to make sure nothing was missed. We all have to work together to keep our country beautiful.
When boondocking you probably aren't alone. We started noticing after about our third stop that we were never the only people boondocking. There was usually another one or two RVs somewhere nearby. It was nice to see other people doing the same thing we were but at times the noise coming from other camps would get a little loud. Generators, tvs, and radios running can be a little much when it's coming from several different directions.We talked to our kids about noise levels and worked to ensure we were not being disruptive so it's always a good thing to keep in mind when traveling.
All in all we love boondocking. We feel like it opens us up to really traveling anywhere we want to go and it's free. We aren't restricted to finding campgrounds that have connections where everyone else has decided to stay and we can focus on disconnecting from the noise that surrounds us every day when we are at home. If you haven't gone boondocking before I highly recommend it. I think once you've taken a road trip and planned to "figure it out" along the way you'll find you enjoy it just as much as we do! You'll see more than you ever dreamed of this amazing place we get to call home and give you a whole new appreciation!