RVing has become such a huge part of traveling around the US and exploring National Parks. And boondocking is a unique RV experience that gets you off the grid to see another side of a National Park like never before. For anyone wanting to get off the beaten path and live life to its fullest, we’ve got everything you need to know to get started on boondocking.
Table of Contents
What is Boondocking?
Boondocking is parking your RV off-grid, away from campground services. This means no water, electric, or sewer connections. You’re just out in nature, rolling your home wherever you want to park.
Benefits of Boondocking
Boondocking can be a fantastic RV experience with a number of benefits:
- FREE: The number one benefit of boondocking is that it’s free compared to camping in a campground where you can pay 30,40, up to $100 a night. It definitely makes full-time living more affordable.
- EPIC LOCATIONS: You can boondock in some epic places, literally immersing yourself in whatever location you want. For example, in the middle of a cacti field, in the mountains, or even next to a river or lake.
- TOTAL EMERSION INTO NATURE: Limited campground spaces keep you from truly immersing yourself in nature compared to boondocking. You can really enjoy the surroundings and take advantage of the outdoors.
- CHOOSE YOUR NEIGHBORS: Boondocking also allows you to choose your neighbors and create your own neighborhood with friends and family. This is in comparison to the campgrounds choosing for you.
Is Boondocking Legal?
Boondocking is legal in the US, and finding places to boondock has become easier over the years. Some boondocking areas have restrictions on how long you can stay. It’s important to make sure you know the rules for the country you’re boondocking in.
Is Boondocking Safe?
Traveling in an RV is typically quite safe, and boondocking is no exception. It’s definitely an acquired taste – if you’re from a big city, boondocking might be a bit strange for you being so far from many people. But, there’s always safety in numbers, so boondocking with others helps with feeling safer. But it’s just as safe, if not more, than being on a campground. You can always look at reviews about a specific area first. We have boondocked all over the US and never had any issues.
Where Can I Find FREE Boondocking Sites?
Today, there’s an app for finding free boondocking sites just about anywhere! The Dyrt, Campendium, and iOverlander are all great apps to use in order to see what areas are public lands and what restrictions they have. They’re also great for checking reviews of previous boondockers and seeing pictures of the area.
And if you need wi-fi, you can also look for reviews on what other people say about the wi-fi services in the areas. If you need wi-fi, you might want to plan around that.
What Do You Need to Boondock?
It’s not necessarily about what type of RV you have, but the setup you have for boondocking. It’s easier to boondock if you have a smaller RV. If you’re traveling in a 45-foot 5th wheel, you’ll have limited options on what areas you can boondock at. The smaller you are – like a van – the greater opportunities you have of boondocking anywhere.
Here are the basic things you need to boondock:
- WATER SUPPLY: While boondocking, you need to make sure you have enough water for all your usages due to a lack of water connections. So you need an RV with a big enough tank for water use.
- ENERGY SOURCE: You also need an energy source, either a generator or solar, and it doesn’t matter what type of RV you have, as long as you can create a power source.
- Solar Panels – A 100-volt panel is enough to charge phones, computers, etc. Still, if you want to boondock for extended periods of time and run more than just the basics, you might want to switch to lithium batteries and upgrade solar panels for more power and time.
- Generator – You can also boondock with a generator and run off of it for a few days, but just remember to bring extra gas cans in case you run out.
Tip: Start with the basic setup and see how long you want to stay off the grid and how much power you need, and then choose a solar system from there.
How to Prepare for Boondocking
Since boondocking requires “being off the radar” for some time, it takes a bit of planning beforehand. Here are our Top 5 tips on how to prepare for a boondocking trip.
- Water tanks: Go with a full water tank and empty grey and black tanks. Grey tanks include water from the sink and shower go, and black tanks are where waste from the toilet goes.
- Energy: Bring a few full tanks of gas if you’re using a generator, and be aware of where to get more gas if needed. For solar-based boondocking, check the batteries and the weather. If the weather doesn’t include any sun, you’re not going to get anything from your solar panels.
- Meal-planning: It’s always best to plan easy, versatile ingredients and meals. Easy meals that don’t create a mess are best and don’t require much for washing. Using paper plates also eliminates the need for washing with precious water.
- Mentally Prepare: Prepare to be in consumption mode. Train yourself to conserve water and energy. Be ready for the unknown!
- Be Flexible: Have a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C in case locations don’t work out. Look for areas that have gas stations, water stations, or a dump somewhere nearby. Remember to check your boondocking apps in advance.
“If you tend to freak out from new, unexpected situations, boondocking might not be for you. But if you like adventure, exploring new areas, and getting out of your comfort zone, I definitely recommend you try it!”
Can You Boondock in National Parks?
Absolutely! We’ve boondocked in National Parks all across the US, including in Utah, Colorado, Sand Dunes, Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Saguaro, Arcadia, and more. California National Parks tend to be more crowded depending on the time of year, so check the status in advance.
Where Can You Boondock at National Parks?
The best way to check where to boondock at a National Park is by using one of the apps we mentioned above. This will tell you which area of land is managed by what bureaus. For example, in Indiana, we actually boondocked in the State park right next to the Indiana Dunes National Park, instead of at the National Park itself.
Another example is Yosemite. You can boondock there, but you will have to drive an hour each way just to arrive at the park from the boondocking area. So sometimes convenience wins, and we ended up staying in the campground to avoid the long drive.
Best National Parks for Boondocking
There are so many great National Parks to boondock at, and it really depends on what time of year you go and the crowd situation.
Zion is a gorgeous National Park, but it’s super crowded in summer, the shuttle system gets backed up, and it’s sometimes hard to enjoy. You can find the most epic boondocking spot and explore just outside it. Sometimes the area surrounding the National Park is just as gorgeous as the National Park itself and less crowded.
At Yellowstone, you can boondock right off the north of the park in an incredible location! No crowds, beautiful, close to the river – all the attractions but without the people. And as soon as summer ends and all the people leave, you can enter the park stress-free!
TOP 3 Tips for Boondocking at National Park
- Bring friends along – Everything is more fun when you can experience it with others.
- Plan to arrive early – You want to have options to pick a good area to boondock in. If you arrive late, it’s stressful to pick out a spot and set up in the dark.
- Avoid high seasons – For the iconic places, those big National Parks – Yellowstone, Glaciar, Yosemite – go right before or after the high season. The weather is still nice, but you won’t be dealing with the massive crowds.
How to Create a Boondocking Community
Most people start out wanting to see everything on their bucket list, so for the first 6-months, that’s what they do. We did the same thing, but something was missing. So we connected with an organization called Fulltime Families. It’s an amazing Facebook group where you can connect with other like-minded people. They create events all over the US where you can meet others, and you meet so many amazing people that way. It’s a great way to connect and build a community of other RVers who you enjoy being with. There are so many families on the road right now full-time, so it’s much easier to meet with people and create that community.
About Our Featured Guest:
Shirly and her family of four have been traveling full-time in their Class A 36 ft. Fleetwood Bounder Classic 34B for the past three years. They have visited many National Parks and iconic places all over North America including, the US, Canada, and Mexico. They love to boondock and spend quality time outdoors with their family and fellow nomads they meet along the way.
They document all their travels on their Instagram page, @zulalife, along with tons of great information and tips about RVing.
National Trippers Podcast
Did you know we also have a podcast all about Boondocking? Get ready for even more tips and advice on how to get started!