Boondock or Free Park in an RV
Courtesy of TrailingAway.com

How to Find Places to Boondock or Free Park in Your RV

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Boondock or Free Park in an RV
Courtesy of TrailingAway.com

Park Place

Boondocking involves parking RVs in a remote location that's free to use, but comes with few or no amenities (sometimes called "dispersed camping" or "dry camping" because of the lack of water hookups). If you're interested, you're not alone, according to Bob Hamilton, founder of RVDream. "This is really the trend in RVing," he says.

The movement reflects how a niche hobby has become a crowded industry, leading to very crowded RV parks. "People try to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, only to be jammed 4 feet away from RVs on both sides with diesel trucks running early in the morning and kids screaming all day at the top of their lungs," he says. "And to make the RV Park experience complete, the prices have risen drastically as record RV sales continue year after year. It's not uncommon to pay $100 a night, with some parks going over $200 a night and more. RVers today are looking for more peace and less cost, and boondocking is an ever-growing alternative." If more peace and less cost sound good to you, here are some places where you can boondock and park your RV for free.

Related: 32 RV Tips for Laundry and Cleaning on the Road

Walmart
Ed M./yelp.com

Walmart

The world's largest retailer tops many experts' lists for boondocking options, including that of Luca Sumberac, category manager at RV parts and accessories supplier CAMPERiD.com. While many store parking lots offer free overnight parking, "the most commonplace option is definitely Walmart," Sumberac says — and Hamilton agrees, though with the note that about 25% of Walmarts now turn RVs away.

"This is for many reasons. Misuse of the parking lots like dumping trash is one, and local RV parks objecting and pushing city councils to pass ordinances, etc. Also, in many cities there is a homeless problem with people having to move into RV's to live. There is a difference between an RVer who wants to stop for the night and a local person who wants to move in for weeks," Hamilton says.

Like most things in life, the level of welcome you get will likely be proportional to the respect you show. "We always ask permission to boondock at Walmart and make a point to make a purchase at the store before leaving," says Grant Sinclair, who along with his wife, runs the RV blog Our Wander-Filled Life. "We always arrive after dark and leave early in the morning. We don't treat it as a campground, just a place to stay the night."

Cracker Barrel
Courtesy of tripadvisor.com

Cracker Barrel

The country's most famous Southern/country-themed roadside restaurant and gift shop chain is also known for welcoming RVs. "Cracker Barrel is a real favorite place for RVers," Hamilton says. "They often have specific parking spots just for RVs. Of course, it's only courteous that you go in and buy something or have a meal if you're going to stay the night."

Camping World
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Camping World

Another national chain that serves as a beacon for boondockers should be fairly obvious — it has the word "camping" right there in the name. "Of course, most Camping World stores will allow you to stay one night in their parking lot," Hamilton says.

Other Big-Box Stores
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Other Big-Box Stores

Many big, well-known chain with sprawling parking lots might allow or even encourage RVers to park, including Lowe's, Home Depot, Hobby Lobby, and more, says Kelly Beasley, co-founder of RV education and product review site Camp Addict.

Truck Stops
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Truck Stops

For generations, America's truckers have cooled their engines, filled up on coffee and snacks, and caught a few winks at the country's network of truck stops. In many cases, RVers can join their trucker brethren — but boondockers should keep in mind that RVs are not trucks and they shouldn't impose on those who rely on truck stops to drive safely and earn a living. "Truck stops and larger gas stations are also usually RV friendly," Beasley says. "At a truck stop, don't park in the semi truck spots overnight unless you want to lose a side mirror or have a 'surprise' flat in the morning. Those spaces are for the semi trucks only."

Travel Centers
Guaranty RV Travel Center & RV Park/yelp.com

Travel Centers

Souped-up chain truck stops called travel centers have also been a favorite place for RVers to stop for the night. "Pilot/Flying J, for example, has been a great spot to stop for the night, with trucks on one side and RVs on the other side. Many travel centers have dump stations, propane, and even fresh water, generally for a small fee," Hamilton says. "Not all travel centers allow RV parking so, once again, you need to check in front."

Rest Stops
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Rest Stops

Even common roadside rest stops sometimes allow RV parking, although the length of time you can stay will usually be watched pretty strictly. "Some rest stops allow overnight parking or parking for X number of hours," Beasley says — that could be eight, or maybe as few as three, and Hamilton advises that rest stops are usually a last or at least very temporary resort: "Rest stops tend to be noisy with trucks coming in and out and not all are particularly safe as well. As one RVer advised, if it feels unsafe, it probably is, and you should move on."

Hospitals
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Hospitals

Some boondocking options are less obvious. You may not think of the stressful hustle and bustle of a medical center as a normal place to post up for the night, but it can be a pretty good location for dry camping. "Some hospitals in the U.S. even have special spots for RVs," Hamilton says.

Casinos
Black Oak Casino Resort/yelp.com

Casinos

Like hospitals, casinos might not jump out for dry camping, but can be surprisingly accommodating for free overnight parkers. CasinoCamper.com is a great place to find the best spots, Hamilton says.

Harvest Hosts
Courtesy of TrailingAway.com

Harvest Hosts

The favorite option of TrailingAway.com co-founder Brook Baum — she and her husband Buddy are full-time travelers who spent a year exploring the U.S. and Canada in a 25-foot motorhome — is Harvest Hosts. "You do have to pay a little bit for an annual membership, but then you get an awesome list of wineries, breweries, farms, and other unique places where you can park for free with your membership," Baum says. (The service suggestion is seconded by Hamilton, who explains that for versions in countries such as New Zealand, Australia, and in Europe, "farms are the main site for what they call 'caravans.'")

Use Apps and Other Digital Resources
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Use Apps and Other Digital Resources

The internet opens up a vast network of RV-related resources, including apps that let you plan while you're on the move. The AllStays app shows places to park overnight; Campendium.com is another good resource for finding free camping, Beasley says. They can also make sure it's a place you'll want to be. "Make sure to read the reviews in advance," Sinclair says. "We intended to stay at a Walmart in northern Utah but ended up driving a couple of hours to Wyoming because the local laws prohibited boondocking. That particular stay was one of the worst we have ever had. Nothing but large trucks idling all night long."

P2P Boondocking
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P2P Boondocking

The site Boondockers Welcome links RVers directly to private citizens who have a free spot for them to park, making it a person-to-person (or "P2P") business. "This is a great listing," Hamilton says. But the host is not obligated to accommodate all RVs. "You call in front to see if they have an opening for you."

BLM Land
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BLM Land

Much of America's most open wilderness falls under the jurisdiction of a government agency boondockers should get to know well: "When it comes to boondocking or dry camping, often on public lands, one of the best resources is the Bureau of Land Management, says Megan Buemi, senior manager of customer experience for person-to-person RV rental marketplace RVshare. "This government agency manages vast sections of land that's neither privatized nor managed by state or national park organizations. In most cases, it's free to camp on, provided you obey posted rules and regulations about campfires, pets, party size, and the length of your stay."

U.S. Forest Service Land
Courtesy of TrailingAway.com

U.S. Forest Service Land

Your choices for boondocking on public land aren't limited to just the BLM. Another government agency that manages unowned lands is the U.S. Forest Service. Most of the land under its jurisdiction is open to dry or dispersed camping, though you will be subject to certain restrictions, Buemi says.

Know Your Public Lands
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Know Your Public Lands

If you're considering boondocking on government grounds, there are a couple of ways to look at it: "For the most part it's dry camping at any spot where you don't see any restricted signs," Hamilton says, while Sumberac suggests there's more to it — and that thorough planning and research is a must. "Generally, land that is owned by the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management is open to recreational use, while national parks do not allow overnight camping," Sumberac says. Always check ahead, as each park has its own rules. "Lastly, avoid straying too far out in an unknown area, and never park somewhere you don't feel comfortable." Most public lands to boondock on are out west on BLM land, while national forests are scattered nationwide but require the use of campsites. Those can fill up fast via Recreation.gov, reservations, making them difficult to use for spur-of-the-moment travel, Sinclair says.

Lean on the Experience of the RV Community
nazar_ab/istockphoto

Lean on the Experience of the RV Community

Even in the digital age, one of the best sources for boondocking information is old-fashioned word of mouth. The RV community contains a wealth of collective knowledge that you can't find online. "If you are around other RVers, ask them where they boondock. They will have inside information on spots you may never have dreamed of," Hamilton says.