Commonsense guidelines for boondocking

One simple way to reduce RVing expenses for fulltimers is to occasionally boondock to save RV resort and campground expenses, but some RVers have been turned off of boondocking by finding many dispersed camping areas to be trashy with the detritus of previous campers. It seems that many campers might think that when you are boondocking on free public lands you don’t have any rules to follow and are free to act irresponsibly.

Admittedly, there are far fewer written rules that apply to boondocking than to organized (and more tightly packed) campgrounds. The administrators of our public lands, most notably the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service (FS), have some rules, but these are mostly meant to preserve the natural environment, like no dumping of trash or holding tanks, and leaving the campsite in a natural state. The rules aren’t hard to follow or unusually restrictive and don’t infringe on or detract from your boondocking experience. Simply put, common sense is how these guidelines should be interpreted:

  • Upon arrival, walk the site with a bag and pick up any man-made trash left behind by previous campers. Just do it and don’t fret about it. It won’t take you long.
  • If you build a campfire, anything that will not burn to ashes, carry it out.
  • Keep your campsite neat. Put things away when not in use. Nobody wants to see all your stuff scattered about like a yard sale in progress.
  • Only have a campfire if there are no burning restrictions in place. Pick up only downed and dead wood for a campfire. Chopping limbs off trees or uprooting bushes to burn is something only clueless teenagers would do. Best practice is to buy local firewood. Learn more at Don’
  • Think safety when building a campfire. Scrape all debris several feet away from your fire and keep your fire small. Build a rock ring or dig a depression to contain the fire. Rangers also suggest that when you leave, dismantle the fire ring and leave the area as if there had never been a campfire.
  • If you plan to discard your dishwashing and rinsing water, wipe all food bits off everything with a paper towel first. Always use biodegradable soaps. Empty your dishwashing tub on thirsty plants or bury in a hole well away from your campsite.
  • When you leave, your campsite should appear as if no one had been there, just the way you would like to find your next boondocking site.
  • Remember that the way others — hikers, off-road wanderers, rangers — see your site is the way all RVers are perceived. Set a good example — that of a responsible, environmentally aware, and conservation-minded steward of the land. It’s good for all of us. And thank you for doing so.