What Is Boondocking (And What It Isn’t)

Here at Campendium, we love boondocking. Boondocking, to us, is the opportunity to camp off-the-grid, far from the services and amenities that can be found at RV parks or developed campgrounds. It’s a quieter way of camping, one that often lands us in beautiful destinations for days or weeks at a time.

We’ve often been asked, ‘What exactly is boondocking?’ From phrases like ‘dry camping’ to ‘dispersed camping,’ there’s a lot of terminology to contend with whether you’re a seasoned camper or just starting out. Here’s our take on boondocking—what it is, and what it isn’t.

The Definition of Boondocking

Boondocking has two main components: how you camp and where you camp. ‘Dry camping’ and ‘wild camping’ are two ways to describe the “how” of boondocking. When you boondock, there are no connections to water, electric, and sewer like you’d find in a developed campground. There won’t be bathrooms, water spigots, or picnic tables. Just you, your camper, and a piece of land to call your own for a night or two. Boondocking is generally free, though sometimes a permit is required.

Now, let’s tackle the second component of boondocking, the “where” of camping. Here’s our take on what is boondocking, and what is not.

Trona Pinnacles
Trona Pinnacles | Trona, CA – Photo by: thecampingnerd

Dispersed Camping (Boondocking)

Boondocking is dispersed camping on public land. Dispersed camping is camping outside of a designated campground, on lands that are managed for this purpose. You’ll find a durable surface to park your rig or pitch your tent, but little else.

The National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Department of Fish and Wildlife are great examples of public land management agencies that allow dispersed camping on some of the lands they manage. You can find locations on Campendium or check directly with the managing agency for more information.

Once you’ve found a place where you can enjoy dispersed camping, be sure to adhere to the Leave No Trace principles. Good campsites are found, not made!

For more information about Boondocking, be sure to check out our Boondocking 101 article for more rules and boondocking tips.

designated dispersed camping
Forest Road 611 East Rim

Designated Dispersed Camping (Boondocking)

With the increased interest in dispersed camping over the years, some popular destinations have suffered from irresponsible campsite creation, littering, overcrowding, and other issues. To make monitoring easier, the Forest Service has created “designated dispersed camping” areas in some locations.

In these areas, campsites are marked with numbers or letters and generally have occupancy limits in addition to stay limits. Camping outside of these campsites is not permitted. This helps to keep use under control, and the areas easier to manage.

Stay limits in many areas are usually fourteen days, but we’ve seen them as short as one night, so be sure to confirm with the managing agency before settling in.

How to Find Boondocking

The easiest way to find boondocking is by searching Campendium for the location you’re interested in camping in. From there you’ll want to click on the price filter and select “Free.” Then, click on the category filter and select “Public Land.”

Not Boondocking

At Campendium, there are some forms of dry camping that, to us, simply don’t capture the essence of what boondocking really is. They are:

dry camping
Lake Powhatan Campground – Asheville, NC

Dry Camping in a Developed Campground (Not Boondocking)

While not being plugged in may feel like you’re roughing it, developed campgrounds actually come with some amenities which technically eliminates their chances of being considered a boondocking location. Camp hosts, vault toilets, and picnic tables are some of the tell-tale signs of a developed campground, along with the fee you’ll often pay for your stay.

Parking lot camping
Tropicana Laughlin Hotel & Casino | Laughlin, NV – Photo by: KathrynB

Parking Lot Camping (Not Boondocking)

Overnight parking at a Walmart, casino parking lot, truck stop or rest area is simply dry camping in a parking lot. Because these aren’t public lands, they can’t truly be considered boondocking. Wally-docking and casino camping are the only ones that have a cute name, we’ll have to work on something for the others.

Campendium HQ mooch-docking at a friend’s house.

Mooch-docking (Not Boondocking)

Even though there is a website that welcomes boondockers to private driveways, camping in a driveway is not actually boondocking. If you aren’t paying to stay overnight, it’s fun to call it mooch-docking. If you are paying, then it’s more accurately described as driveway camping.

Get Ready to Boondock

While dry camping is not always boondocking, it’s a great way to test the waters.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to boondock but are nervous about taking the leap, an RV Park or even your driveway is a great place to practice dry camping. Put away the power cable, water, and sewer hose and see how long you can go!

The next step will be to move on to an actual dry camping spot. You’ll be in the comforts of an organized campground where your spot is clearly marked and the road in should be easy to access. After a few nights of dry camping in a campground, you’ll be ready to head out into the boonies.

When you research your first boondocking spot, be sure to read the reviews. You’ll want to go somewhere that’s easily accessible and most reviews will describe road conditions. Plan to arrive during the day when there is enough light to find a spot, and most importantly, before pulling down any dirt road with your rig, be sure to find a safe place to pull over and get out and scout the road. Quite often conditions change and while a previous reviewer had no problem accessing a spot, the last thing you want to do is get stuck. Sometimes you can scout on foot, and in other cases, you may have to unhitch and drive. It’s worth repeating, arrive during the day, and be sure to scout ahead before driving down dirt roads.

There is nothing like the wide-open space of a boondocking spot where the only sound you hear are the birds chirping and it doesn’t cost a dime. You’ll be hard-pressed to return to an RV park anytime soon (until it’s time to empty your holding tanks!).

When you’re boondocking, make sure to follow Leave No Trace principles and adhere to any posted stay limits. Boondocking on public lands is a privilege. Treat the land with respect and care, and we’ll all be able to enjoy the experience for years to come.