RV Boondocking for Beginners: How to Find Free and Beautiful Overnight Places?

RV boondocking is a great way to explore wild areas while saving some money, but picking a good spot is essential to enjoy it. You will find here all you need to know to do it right!

My first experiences with an RV made me quickly realize that boondocking is the best way to find the feeling of freedom that only a road trip can provide. Waking up early in the morning to hit the road, exploring some cool places during the day, and picking a nice spot just before sunset…  Add a cold beer grabbed from the 12V fridge and I call it paradise!

Praia de Barriga
Praia Barriga, Portugal

To be honest, I chose a 4WD campervan just to be able to go deep in the nature! This allowed me to find the coolest places I could imagine, such as these stunning cliffs in Portugal. 

Praia de Barriga
The Cliffs of Praia Barriga (2mn walk from the spot!)

Sounds interesting to you? Let’s see the ins and outs of finding the right spot! You’ll be surprised how easy it is to practice this method of camping!

  1. What is RV Boondocking?
  2. Picking the spot: the different types of boondocking
    Option 1: Overnight Stay
    Option 2: Developed Campground: No Hook-Up
    Option 3: Undeveloped Campsite
  3. How to Actually Pick the Spot?
  4. Additional Resources to Help You Find the Perfect Spot!

Already confident you will find a great spot for the night? Check out our additional tips to enjoy boondocking even more!

What is RV Boondocking? 

Binn
Binn, Switwerland

If you are not familiar with the concept, boondocking is parking your RV in a wilderness area without any hookups or amenities. The principle is to not take advantage of water, sewer, and electric hookups. Because you’re camping “off the grid” in this manner, it’s also called dry camping and wild camping.

When you boondock, you’re able to stay in remote areas and have more private camping experiences. It gives you a chance to get closer to nature, spend more time away from the crowds, and… save some money! Boondocking is usually a free practice, though some sites require you to file a permit. Depending on the area, you can stay for as little as one night or as long as 14 days.

Picking the Spot: Different Types of Boondocking

There are different ways to practice boondocking and you should pick the one that suits you the best depending on your needs. Are you looking for saving money? Or to get away from the crowds?

Option 1: Overnight Stay

While I love to get lost in the woods with my RV, I have to admit that I sleep on parking lots pretty often as well. Car parks at the bottom of ski lifts have always struck the right chord with me…

Car Park Chamonix
My preferred car park in Chamonix, France

This is the simplest type of boondocking because you’re finding a spot for one night only. Sometimes these nights sneak up on you; maybe you spent too much time sightseeing and didn’t make it to an RV park on time, you want to be as close as possible from the hiking trail for the day after. In that case, you can often find a large parking lot to park in. Some campers don’t consider this true RV boondocking, calling it mooch-docking instead.

One important thing to know, cities and local businesses can have regulations about this, so you’ll have to double-check before you get towed. Walmart and other big box stores have famously been accepting of allowing boondockers. Parking at a truck stop or in a friend’s driveway could also be another decent idea for a single-night stopover. 

Option 2: Developed Campground, No Hook-Up

Boondocking doesn’t mean you’re parking somewhere that RVs typically don’t go; you can boondock at a campground. You can find developed campgrounds all over, but staying at one in a national or state park will keep you close to nature like you’re probably wanting.

Gastlosen Campsite
Developped (yet free) campground in Jaun, Switzerland

Sometimes, you might have to pay a fee for the spot, even if you’re not getting all of the accommodations you’d normally get at an RV park. However, since you’re only paying for a spot to stay, the fee should be much lower than usual.

Even though you’ll be staying at a developed campground, you’ll want to prepare for the experience just as you would for boondocking in the wild. Make sure you have enough water, even if there will be a spigot on the grounds.

One perk of boondocking at a developed campground is that there might have a dumping station where you can empty your black and grey tanks. Since you can’t do this on natural land, it’s a good chance to get rid of the waste you’ve been carrying around.

Option 3: Undeveloped Campsite

Gastlosen
Wild spot in the Gastlosen Mountains, Switzerland

Most people are picturing undeveloped campsites when they imagine boondocking. This is a site that has no services: no water, showers, electric hook-ups, or dump stations. You only have whatever’s packed in your RV, and you’ll be completely off the grid for as long as you stay here. Because these sites are so untouched by humans, you might only find a nondescript marker showing you where the campground is.

It might seem intimidating to boondock without any nearby resources or people, but if your RV is well-stocked, then you’re going to have the time of your life. These campgrounds are as close to nature as you can get, and you’ll appreciate the beauty that surrounds you!

How to Actually Pick the Spot?

How to pick the spot?
Wengen, Switzerland

The key concept to boondocking is trusting your gut. You’re an experienced traveler so you have an idea of when things seem right, or when a place gives you a bad vibe. Even if an app or previous camper reviews say one thing, trust yourself above anyone else.

Consider when and where you’re traveling. Be cautious if you intend to boondock with the temperatures expected to go too high or low. If it is the case, make sure you equipped with appropriate heating of cooling system. I personally have a heating system directly plugged into my diesel tank, and this it is a pretty effective solution.

Some areas open for boondocking can get flooded during the rainy season and you won’t be able to access them. If weather conditions have made roads impassable, don’t push your RV to get to your dream spot. It could damage your vehicle or cause you to get stuck. 

Unexpected snowstorms and wildfires can also throw off your plans. After you find an ideal spot, check the weather almanac so you know what the conditions have been in prior years. You’ll be able to find out how long it takes snow in the area to melt and how that runoff affects the ground. It happened to me a couple of times to not be able to access to a spot because of snowy roads.

The great thing about boondocking is that even if you can’t get to your intended spot, it shouldn’t be too hard to find another. Plus, with the free or low-cost accommodations, you won’t be out any money. 

Resources to Help You Find the Perfect Spot

Believe it or not, Google Maps can help you find a good boondocking location. If you zoom in on the area where you’ll be visiting, try the street view mode and in most cases you will see how it looks like from the ground. This method is my favorite, but it is quite time-consuming.. 

Aerial view of Praia Barriga in Portugal, discovered thanks to Google Maps

I can only recommend coupling the Google Maps method with the use of other sites or apps that can help you find the right location:

The Bottom Line

Boondocking is an excellent way to go camping with the comforts of your RV while saving money and getting close to nature. 

Follow the advice I’ve outlined here as a starting point to pick your spots, but most importantly, trust your gut! Boondocking is an adventure, and though you’ll have a few bumps in the road, you’re going to have a blast camping in this manner. 

To make your experience even more enjoyable, check out our additional tips and good practices, or just hit the road of one of the best RV road trip routes in the USA!

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