Dry camping, “boondocking,” and “wild camping” are all different ways to camp without using RV hookups of any kind. Though it might be a rustic choice for some, it can be an incredibly liberating way to enjoy RV camping, as long as you’re able to find a secure place to park!
How did it come by the name “dry camping?”
Basically, dry camping refers to camping without any hookups. No sewer, electric, or water. People sometimes use this term interchangeably with “boondocking,” but the former usually means you’re camping with no hookups, while the latter specifically describes camping outside of campgrounds without any hookups.
The difference is subtle, but it’s worth noting that if you stay in a campground and choose not to hook up to the power/water/sewer, you might get some funny looks from fellow campers if you call that “boondocking.” For many in the RV community, the difference can be summarized: not all dry camping is boondocking, but all boondocking is considered dry camping.
Tip #1: Find a safe place to dry camp or boondock
You can dry camp or boondock on private property (with permission!), government-owned lands, or any other place you can park legally. There is also heated debate over whether staying in a parking lot counts as boondocking, but we’ll leave that argument alone here. Most of the time, this option is low-cost or free, making it an ideal escape for those on a tight budget.
One great resource for finding boondocking sites is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is a government agency that manages swaths of land in the US that fall outside of state/national park organizations and are not privately owned. Most of the time, land that is managed by this branch of the US Department of the Interior is free to camp on as long as you follow the rules and regulations as outlined.
The United States Forest Service (USFS) also manages unowned lands that are largely open to dry or “dispersed” camping with some restrictions. Your state Wildlife Management Areas or State Water Management Land may also provide access and instructions for boondocking on a local level.
You can also check out resources and tips through your online or real-life RV community, but be sure to thoroughly research any area you decide to try to go dry camping in before heading out. Sometimes rules and regulations change, property is purchased, or other things can make what was once free land, well…no longer free for dry camping.
Lesser-known options include a few other retailers and restaurants that allow RVers to dry camp for a single overnight, which include:
If you choose one of these options, be sure that you feel safe and comfortable in your surroundings before getting a little shut-eye. Not every location for each of these stores offers overnighting, so make sure yours does before you plan to sleep there. These may not be suitable for all types of travelers or parties, but they are worth considering for a single night of sleep in a pinch.
No matter where you choose to stay, make sure you abide by the stay limits and don’t overstay your welcome. Even if you don’t see anyone enforcing the rules, you should always follow these rules out of courtesy for the land and other guests.
Tip #2: Take only photos, leave only footprints (respect nature)
Any time you visit a natural area, you’ll want to do everything you can to be courteous to the next campers and keep the local ecosystem healthy for the native plants and animals in the area. This means that you shouldn’t collect firewood, rocks, shells, or anything else you find.
In the same vein, you’ll also want to keep the location clean and pleasant for the next visitors and not leave anything behind. If you bring it in in your RV, you should bring it out, just like a backpacker. Don’t leave your firewood, trash, or other waste items around, and make sure that if you have a campfire, it’s fully enclosed and extinguished before you leave.
If you find yourself camping near water, it’s recommended to park at least 200 feet from any body of water for your safety. This distance can protect you from flooding and other water-related catastrophes.
If you wind up really far out in government-managed land, you will most likely encounter wildlife. Remember that you’re visiting their home, and provide them with plenty of space to get on with their lives. Never approach or pet a wild animal, and never feed them. You may need to remind your children that this is a very important rule, and it can have dire consequences if not followed.
Tip #3: Be courteous of other travelers
Similar to respecting nature, you also want to be respectful of others who are trying to enjoy it! Part of the appeal of dry camping is getting your RV away from crowds, so try to park far enough away from your neighbors so that everyone can enjoy their recharging time.
It’s also helpful to observe quiet hours in the evening, even if the camping area doesn’t have designated quiet hours. Most travelers appreciate quiet time from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Additionally, no one goes dry camping in the wilderness to hear your generator running, so it’s nice to use it sparingly.
This courtesy extends to wastewater and trash disposal as well. You should never dump either of your wastewater tanks on the ground, as wastewater is smelly, attracts bugs, may interfere with local wildlife, and can contaminate the water. If you plan to dry camp for a long time, you may consider a large black tank or a cassette toilet. A portable dump tank and macerator pump to remove the dirty water from the tanks and into the portable dump tank may also be worth looking into.
Trash should be carried into town and thrown away in trash cans. While you’re waiting to get rid of your trash, be sure to bear-proof your trash bags if you’re in an area with bears! You may also want to avoid recipes with a lot of fish or garlic, as these smells may attract bears and other wildlife. While it’s inadvisable to burn plastic, compostable items like fruit/vegetable peels, some food waste, and paper products may be best disposed of in a fire.
Ready to try dry camping in an RV of your own?
We know that purchasing an RV is a big decision, no matter what size you want or where you plan to boondock or otherwise camp with it. That’s why our friendly and knowledgeable staff here at Transwest is eager to help you choose from the highest quality motorhomes from top manufacturers. Find a location near you today, or browse our online inventory and let our experts help you find the perfect RV for your next dry camping adventure.