8 Ways To Find Free Boondock Sites
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Please read our full disclaimer.
Updated February 26, 2019
In the last post, I talked about a variety of things related to boondocking: what is boondocking, why we boondock, the amount of public lands there are, how RVers boondock, how long the Toaster can boondock for, and what we look for in boondock spots. I also briefly talked about how we find boondock sites, but I want to go into more detail in this post.
Finding boondock sites isn’t hard nowadays thanks to the popularity of RV living and people’s desire for free overnight stays and being closer to nature. There are many websites and apps dedicated to cataloging public lands with available spaces for vehicles of all sizes to stay. I’m only going to list the ones that we use in this post.
Before I continue, I want to say that while sharing is caring, oversharing can, and is, ruining our public lands. Think twice before you share your boondock site with everyone online - whether it’s via its name or GPS coordinates on social media or websites. Oftentimes, boondock sites can’t handle the large amount of traffic sharing online brings - especially as road-living is getting more and more popular. Some boondock sites are surrounded by sensitive land that can easily get ruined by people who don’t respect nature or understand Leave No Trace principles. Some boondock sites should remain between close friends or just with those who put the work into finding them the old way - map and scouting. Please read my post Leave No Trace Principles for RV & Van Boondocking.
Besides, sometimes sharing will backfire on you when you try to come back to an area only to find what once was a secret now crowded with a sea of rigs. And sometimes certain areas closed down due to the damages that have occurred from too much traffic and human impact.
Please share responsibly.
Our first and biggest concern when it comes to boondocking is whether or not we’ll find a spot that will fit the Toaster. It sucks to arrive to a place late in the day to find that the spot we were hoping to stay at isn’t going to work. The total length of the truck and Toaster is ~39 ft (being a fifth-wheel, the Toaster overlaps the truck bed). But we don’t need a site that length because the truck can be at an angle to park the Toaster, and then we unhitch and leave only the Toaster parked in the spot. But it does mean we need a smaller spot nearby to park the truck.
Our second concern is whether we can get enough sunlight to charge our solar panels. This isn’t an issue if we’re staying in a spot just overnight. And in reality, depending on how fully charged our batteries are, we can go a few days without sun (it was ~3 days when we had lead acid batteries and we haven’t had the chance to test it out with our lithium batteries). But ideally we want to be in a boondock site that lets us charge our batteries because when it comes to living in a rig powered totally by solar – we have to think about the future and how much sunlight we’ll get later on. When it comes to the sun, it’s not just about how much tree coverage a site has but also whether the boondock site lets us park with our solar panels facing south. Solar panels get the maximum hours of sunlight when they are faced south and the second best direction is anything closest to south. If you want to get more tips on parking your rig for solar, read our The Art of Solar Parking post.
Now, let’s talk about how we find boondock sites:
Campendium is our first and foremost used website to find boondock sites. I had randomly come across this website sometime during the second month we were on the road and have used it ever since.
Leigh and Brian of Aluminarium are the people behind Campendium. They work hard to provide this great website with its extensive list of RV parks, campgrounds, and boondock sites. Campendium is extremely user-friendly and has a clean interface.
Here’s why we always go to Campendium first:
Unlike a lot of review-based websites, Campendium attracts high quality reviews that are full of important and useful details such as: what the road condition were like to the site; site quality; what size rigs will fit; and what cell service is like.
Most of RV sites listed include photos. This gives us a visual idea of what the place looks like and allows us to gather additional information that isn’t necessarily included in the written review – like how much tree coverage there is.
We even find the sites that are listed on Campendium, but don’t have reviews, useful. Those sites give us a potential place to boondock and we can research more online and via maps.
If Campendium doesn’t work out or we want more options, we head over to Free Campsites. While there’s a little bit of an overlap in available free sites between that and Campendium, we’ve found places that aren’t listed on Campendium.
What we like about Free Campsites, which is also the same thing we don’t like about it, is that the reviews aren’t always submitted by RVers. The upside to that is it opens up more options of places to boondock, but the downside is that we’re not sure if we’ll fit in those sites. While some of the reviews on Free Campsite are very detailed, others lack critical information that we search for.
After several months of not visiting Free Campsites, I went back and saw they’ve added a section about cell service availability to each site. Sweet!
The boondock sites posted on iOverlander are entered by travelers in truck campers, unimogs, vans, and other shorter vehicles. This creates a similar issue as with Free Campsites where we’re not always sure the Toaster can fit – most of the time we can’t. But if we can’t find any other potential sites, we’re willing to scout these out (in person or via map) to see if it’ll work for us.
The site details aren’t great in this app, but a little something is better than nothing, and sometimes a photo or two are available. One of the downsides of the app is that it doesn’t let you save places you find in the app for future use.
4. Ultimate Campgrounds
Ultimate Campgrounds has an app dedicated to the U.S. and one for Canada. In addition to iOverlander, we used Ultimate Campground Canada the most while we were in Canada. This app, the U.S. and Canada version, has thousands of campgrounds listed and a lot of filter choices to help narrow down the kind of sites users are looking for. As an RVer, the main thing to keep in mind when using Ultimate Campgrounds is that it was created for users of all kinds: car campers, RVers, backpackers, boaters, etc. The app doesn’t have an extensive list of boondock sites, but we have found established campgrounds that will fit RVs and are free to use.
The main downside is the app doesn’t have a comment/review section for campsites. The vital information for sites are mentioned in the main description, but extra information that users sometimes add aren’t available – such as cell signal strength, max RV length, etc. Once in a while photos are available for those some of the campsites. I wrote a review of Ultimate Campgrounds in this post.
5. The Frugal Shunpiker’s Guide
Marianne is the author of six The Frugal Shunpiker’s Guide: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California, and Colorado. We use her e-books and find them to be fabulous! She provides extremely detailed information about boondock sites along with scenic photos of the area, descriptions, directions, and GPS coordinates. She has personally been to all these sites during the 12 years she’s travelled and includes what size RVs can fit into each one.
What I enjoy the most about her books is that she includes local information about the areas such as hiking recommendations with GPS coordinates, scenic sights to check out, closest place for services and supplies, RV dumps, tidbits and historical facts, etc. Reading her books feel like reading an email a friend has sent about a place they’ve recently been.
6. Google Maps
We always turn to Google satellite maps when we find boondock sites we want to check out but the website we find it on doesn’t provide enough information to make us feel confident.
More and more we are turning to Google maps to look for potential boondock sites.
But we don’t rely our finds just from that because there other things to consider – mainly making sure the place we found is definitely on public lands. Once that’s determined, we call the local office that oversees the land and double check that boondocking (the term “dispersed camping” is more commonly used with federal land management offices) is allowed. We also find out from the office what the local rules are for the area - such as max number of days allowed to stay, are campfires allowed, etc. And talking to a person over the phone gives us a great opportunity to find out about current road conditions and if they have suggestions for other spots that are good for RVs.
Some bloggers will openly share their boondock sites. I kind of do, but less and less due to the negative impact I’ve seen it have. The ones I do share, I do usually by writing reviews about them on Campendium. You can type “boondock” in our search bar and see which places I’ve mentioned. A lot of boondock sites I don’t publicly share (the GPS coordinates or specific names) because I don’t want to see those areas damaged due to the negative impacts of more people using it. I will share information with close friends who I know will treat the land with respect. I’ve all together stopped tagging my Instagram photos aside from a vague nearby town name or national forest.
But there are other bloggers out there who choose to continue to share, and whose websites we’ve used once or twice:
Wheeling It: Nina does a great job providing detailed reviews of places her and her husband have stayed.
Watsons Wander: Amanda and Tim share information on the places they’ve stayed – free or paid.
@boondockinglife: I just recently came across Boondockinglife’s Instagram account and started following him because he lists the GPS coordinates (and some info) of the places he’s staying in his photos. I haven’t had to chance to use any of the GPS coordinates since we’re back east right now, but I’ve saved a few spots that look super nice.
8. ROAD FRIENDS
Sorry, but you can't Google or purchase this one. Once you've been on the road for awhile, you'll meet other full-time travelers who become friends either instantly, over time, or sometimes never.
There are a great many things about having road friends, but one of them is that you share boondock site information with one another. Our most recent example is a place in Utah. On our own, it might have taken us ages before we found out about this place. But our friends Road It Up were aware of this climbing area and they invited us to hang out with them there back in April. Through them we learned about some fabulous boondock sites.
Sometimes we (us and the friends) share that information publicly and other times we keep it quiet amongst friends.
Here are some additional tools that can be used to find boondocking sites, but we haven't used them much or at all:
National Forest Motor Vehicle Maps: Detailed motor vehicle use maps are available for specific ranger districts at local ranger stations. These maps show all the roads in the forest district, what kind of vehicles are allowed, seasonal opening dates, amenities available in the area, and usually areas that allow dispersed camping - along with camping requirements. Topo features are not shown on the maps.
Topozone: Free USGS topo maps for the US with additional layers that can be added on like satellite and US forest service topo.
I hope this helps you get started boondocking! Holler if you have any questions or want to share a source that you really like to find boondock sites.