One of the most common questions I get online is “How do you find those gorgeous southwest desert boondocking locations you visit?”
I wish there were a simple answer, but the fact of the matter is it takes a fair bit of research. There isn’t one all-encompassing site or database to send folks to.
Since the question arises so often, I’ve decided to publish this blog post with a video detailing the various methods and information sources I’ve used.
BLM Field Offices
The southwest states are broken up into smaller chunks with their own BLM Field Offices. Many of the field offices have little visitor centers with rangers, staff, or volunteers on hand. You’ll find addresses and telephone numbers on the BLM website. Nothing like getting the official dispersed camping rules straight from the horse’s mouth.
As an example, this past spring, we visited the area known as the Arizona Strip with a BLM Office located in St. George, Utah. Upon visiting the BLM office in person, we found a nice little visitor center with several helpful volunteers on hand, eager to dispense advice. One gentleman was a fifth-wheel camper like us, so he gave us first-hand knowledge of several areas where we could take our larger trailer and areas to definitely avoid.
They also had detailed topographical maps for sale showing the exact BLM boundaries. For a great place to buy BLM and Forest Service maps, check out PublicLands.org. For online maps, head to the BLM Recreational Opportunities webpage and click camping for a detailed map showing BLM boundaries and campsites.
Campsite Database and Review Sites
When researching new areas for potential boondocking locations, I hit up several websites for information. Here is a list of my go-to websites.
Allstays Camp and RV – This site has a comprehensive list of camping opportunities but can be filtered only to show certain types. For example, pick a state, then the map feature, then choose the filter “All Public Lands.” Allstays come in App form for your smartphone or tablet, but I invest in the paid Allstays Pro desktop version for extra features and full-screen capability.
Freecampsites.net – Has an easy-to-use mapping feature. Just enter the desired location, and you’ll get a map with markers indicating free or low-cost camping. The great thing about this site is folks have left reviews and firsthand information about each location. Very handy indeed, although some can be a little dated.
USCAmpgrounds.info – (The most comprehensive guide to Federal, State, Provincial and Local campgrounds) Another map-based campsite location website loaded with information and links for each spot.
Campendium – This is one of my favorites. It has a modern layout, up-to-date reviews, and scads of campsite location photos and videos.
Harvest Hosts – Although it’s a paid program, I’ve found it worthwhile since we travel so much. As a member, you get access to a database and map of different locations that will allow overnight stays. Locations like farms, wineries, breweries, golf courses, museums, and more. They can make for an interesting and unique stopover.
Blogs of Avid Boondocking RVers
As you search for information on a particular boondocking location, you’ll likely run across links to blog articles with detailed write-ups, photos, and sometimes video footage. Many of us, including myself, love to share our journeys and often highlight the most beautiful spots we visit.
When you find a helpful article, look around the blogger’s website for a boondocking category or use the search feature by entering the keywords “boondocking” or “camping” you’ll likely find more articles leading to new campsite discoveries.
For example, a standout blog in this realm is called Wheeling It. Some of the most thorough boondocking site reviews and information you’ll find. Best of all, since they travel in a large Class “A” you can feel fairly confident about accessing the locations mentioned with most rigs.
Word of Mouth
Nothing beats “has been there done that information.” I get some of my most useful recommendations by striking up a conversation with an RV neighbor, especially if they have a roof full of solar panels. A fellow RVer with experience camping in a specific location will be able to provide valuable information like where to get good fresh water, where to dump the waste tanks, fill propane, groceries, road conditions, etc. And most important of all, “will it be suitable for my size rig?”
Image, Map, and Video Searches
Once you have narrowed down your search to a potential boondocking camp area, take the name and feed it into the search boxes on sites like Google Images, Google Maps, and YouTube. The resulting visuals can really help you get a sense of the place before venturing out.
One of my favorite mapping programs to utilize is Google Earth. It has a cool tilt feature that looks like a 3D flyover of the area. Look for images people have uploaded scattered about to get an on-the-ground view. Zoom in and look for signs of previous campers, like stone fire rings and tire tracks. Large flat-looking areas with these things is usually a good sign.
Social Media Sites
With the explosion of smartphones and internet connectivity, even in the boonies, social media has become a valuable resource for a boondocker. Facebook has several groups dedicated to free camping and boondocking, and Pinterest has many great boondocking-related boards to follow.
A really handy one is the hugely popular Instagram, where people upload photos and short videos from their phones with a bit of text and multiple hashtags. By searching for a specific hashtag like #boondocking, you’ll get a feed of the latest photos posted. When you find a user posting camping spots you like using a rig similar to yours, follow them.
Old School Forums
They may seem outdated in this day and age of fancy social media sites, but old fashion bulletin-board style forums are still relevant and contain reams of easy-to-search and digest information. Here are a few I like to use IRV2.com, RV.net, RVForum.net, RV-Dreams.com, and my own Love Your RV! Forum.