How To Find Epic Boondocking Spots
If you haven’t boondocked out in the beautiful public lands the US has to offer, then you haven’t had the full RV experience... yet. It took us a while to get used to the idea of boondocking, in fact we had to ease into it. Once we were able to move past the boondocking basics, we were able to enjoy the hunt for the best boondocking spots. Today we’re going to show you how we use a combination of Campendium, Satellite View on Google Maps, and the U.S. Forest Service website mixed with a little bit of curiosity to find epic boondocking spots.
We LOVE Campendium! This is our go-to app for finding the best boondocking spots. Campendium is not only useful for finding free camping on Bureau of Land Management lands and other public lands, but also includes private campgrounds, and paid camping (like Army Corps of Engineer Campgrounds) as well, so we recommend you give it a try no matter what kind of camping you are looking for. Using Campendium is literally easy as 1-2-3.
When we are heading into an area we pull up our Campendium app (or the website) and run a search for the area we will be in. As an example, this week we headed into New Mexico near the Organ Mountains so we began to type in “Organ Mountains” and before we were done typing “Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument NM” popped up. We have also used the “use my current location” option, and that’s very useful if you weren’t able to plan as much as you would have liked.
2. Sort & Filter
Once you hit search, all of the nearby options will come up as well as a map. For boondocking, you’re going to want to focus on the green pins as a green pin signifies public lands (whether BLM, USFS, etc.). You have the option of sorting your search results by ratings, distance, or the amount of reviews. You can also apply filters for the type of campsite you’re looking for, price, hookups, recreation activities, and any memberships (like Passport America). In the case of boondocking, you can start to filter by selecting “All Public Lands”, or what we most often do, by selecting “Free” under Pricing.
If you choose to quickly filter for pricing only, you will see purple pins which will be free rest stops or parking lots. These are not so Epic, but are very helpful when you are between Epic boondocking spots! For those Epic spots we’re talking about, stick to the green pins or filter a bit more if you prefer.
3. Read the Reviews
Once we have sorted and filtered our search results, we read through the reviews. The reviews will include ratings for Access, Location, Noise, Site Quality, and Cleanliness. It will also have the contact info, if applicable (phone, address, etc.), last price that was paid, number of sites, pad type, elevation, and most importantly GPS coordinates. We also love that cell coverage is included as well.
Some reviewers take pictures, which help you to get a feel for the site. Reviewers will often mention what kind of rig they took there and what other types of rigs they would or wouldn’t recommend the site for. The reviews can vary, even if for the same site, as weather conditions change, cleanliness and noise can vary from one season to the next, and well, because things can always change. Nonetheless, the reviews are an excellent resource, and a fantastic way to begin your search for your epic boondocking spot.
Satellite View on Google Maps
On occasion we are in areas with few reviews on Campendium, or an area that we haven’t researched much but suddenly want to stay in. To get an idea of areas that have a potential for being good boondocking spots we open up Google Maps, toggle on Satellite view, and look at the aerial view of our location.
One of our favorite spots in Flagstaff, AZ was found in this manner. We were meeting up with our good friend, Drew, on a whim. We drove down from the Grand Canyon, and assured him we could make it to dinner by evening. At the time we were still in our Travel Trailer, so parking at the steakhouse we were going to meet at was not an option. We also hadn’t done any research. This was a spontaneous meeting because we hadn’t realized we were in the same area. We were running out of time, and we needed to find a spot specifically where we were at.
So, in this case, being in the Coconino Forest, we opened up Google’s satellite view to see what options we might have. For the most part, public lands are designated with a light green color, and you can zoom in to see if the light green color is U.S. Forest Land with USFS roads (light green areas are not your only option, just a good place to start if you’re in or near a forest land like we were). Zooming into the roads we were able to look for telltale round, brown patches. More often than not, a break in the trees that comes in the form of a round, brown patch means there is a campsite.
Sure enough, we found a spot along one of the USFS roads and were able to make it to dinner. This ended up being one of our favorite spots, and yet it was found in a hurry simply using Google Maps!
U.S. Forest Service Website
Another favorite resource of ours is the US Forest Service Website. The site is chock-full of detailed information on our amazing national forests where we have often boondocked. It is a great site for researching both dispersed camping and RV camping (sometimes dispersed camping options in a location will be tent-only).
When you land on the homepage look for the big, green box on the right hand side that allows you to find a forest or grassland. Select the state you’re in or researching, and then select a forest from the options in the second drop-down menu. If you were using google maps to check out the area you are in, then you can jump straight to that particular forest rather than browsing the various options in the drop-down menu.
The above steps will then take you to the homepage for your selected National Forest. At that point, we usually click to open the “Recreation” menu over on the left. Then, we click on “Camping and Cabins”. From there, for free boondocking, we click on “Dispersed Camping”. The website will then explain to you where free camping is allowed and what amenities if any can be found. Any limitations on how long you can stay are also explained. Beneath that information will be specific dispersed camping areas. When you click on each you will find helpful information such as the nearest town, nearest stores, nearest restrooms (if there are any) and if they are flush or vault, and more.
There will be times that you will not see “dispersed camping” as an option when you click “Camping & Cabins”. This doesn’t mean you won’t find any great boondocking, it just means that there aren’t any free options. When this happens, you will want to click on “RV Camping” or “Campground Camping”. We generally click on “Campground Camping” first. While we were staying in the Bend, Oregon area we found a fantastic spot in this manner. Our boondocking spot was right on the Deschutes River. We were able to float down on our tubes by walking mere feet from our front door! Though not free, it was very reasonable at $10 per night.
Dash of Curiosity
Last, to truly get to the most epic boondocking spots, we feel you need at least a little spark of curiosity. A desire to explore will go a long way toward finding some sites that may not have shown up in your search. We have often gone to a general area, or even specific coordinates, and then spotted another road. A desire to explore and discover has often taken us down that road and into some pretty amazing spots.
I would, however, like to include a word of caution. Jon is particularly adventurous, and, on occasion, I may have had to be the voice of reason. I’ll admit, he’s usually right, and if he didn’t insist, we could have missed some epic spots. That being said, there was the time that we had to use a crowbar to get our rig back out (I knew it didn’t feel right!)… And the time we reached the end of the road and had to reverse for an hour to get back out… And also the many times where the road did not lead to anything all that interesting. So please have fun, but use good judgement. Think about elevation as well as the size and clearance of your RV. We know our 4 x 4 truck with Travel Trailer combo can make it to more rugged spots than our Winnebago Class C, as an example, due to the Class C’s lower clearance. When in doubt, scout it out! If we have any doubts at all, one of us will jump out and scout out the road ahead.
If you have any questions on finding your next boondocking spot, or would like to know more about specific spots we have stayed at, leave us a comment below. We will be walking you through how we use the websites and apps above on our YouTube Channel, subscribe so you don’t miss when we take you step by step in our upcoming videos!