Boondocking and Dry Camping
Dry camping is simply camping without hookups. You can dry camp almost anywhere, such as in a campground, at a Walmart parking lot, in your friend's backyard, etc. Boondocking is a type of dry camping that takes place in the middle of nowhere, in the "boondocks." It typically happens on state or federal land and is free, but there are some rules to abide by. If you're interested in learning more about boondocking, read on!
Follow the Rules
Even though boondocking is done in the middle of nowhere, there are still rules and etiquette you should follow to ensure you're not breaking any laws. These rules will vary depending on where you are, so check the website of the specific state or area you're going to be visiting to be sure you are not going to violate any rules. For example, most states prohibit alcoholic beverages in public places. This includes public land where you may end up parking your rig, so know before you go whether you can bring along your favorite alcoholic beverages.
Michigan offers a lot of opportunities for boondocking, as it can be done on any state-owned land with the exception of state parks, recreation areas, state forest campgrounds, or state game area campgrounds. When choosing an area to boondock, keep your eyes peeled for areas marked “no camping” and be sure you choose a spot at least one mile from a designated state forest campground. Other than that, all you need to do is follow all the State Land Rules and you’re all set.
Proper etiquette is mostly common sense, but some things may not be as obvious. Here is a list of some of the things we recommend when boondocking:
- Use an established road and site. It’s not a good idea to just start driving through the forest in search of the perfect spot. Not only will you be causing damage to the land and vegetation, but you won’t know the stability of the land and its ability to hold the weight of your vehicle and your RV.
- Make sure you find a proper dump site for both your gray and black water tanks. Dumping in the woods or in a field is not only rude but it can cause damage to the surrounding plants, animals, and water source. If that’s not enough to keep you from emptying your tanks out there, getting fined may be! If caught while emptying your tanks illegally, you'll pay a hefty fine for it! Instead, plan ahead by locating a nearby dump station where you can empty your tanks safely and legally. Visit Sanidumps.com or download their app to find the nearest site to you. For 10 more RVing apps to make life easier on the road, read this.
- Be sure to clean up after yourself. Pick up your trash and don’t leave anything behind. Remember, you are not camping in an established campground where park rangers maintain it. Be respectful of nature as well as the next camper who will use the site.
- If there are people camping near you, be polite. Consider your noise level, pets, and proximity. Don’t park too close to another camper. You're all boondocking because you want to escape the busyness of RV parks and enjoy a peaceful location, so give everyone else the space they are looking for in the great outdoors. If you have pets, make sure to keep them at your site. Don’t let them run off and potentially end up at your neighbor’s campsite. Also, always clean up after them, even in the wilderness. Abide by quiet hours that most campgrounds have, which is 10PM-7AM. Nobody likes having to listen to their neighbor's music or conversations.
- Check the limit on camping in the area you are in and abide by it. In general, boondocking is limited to 14 days unless you have a special permit. Remember that there are others who would like to get out there and enjoy these free spots as well, so share the land.
There is a lot more preparation for boondocking than for camping with full hookups. In addition to packing the essentials and must haves, you'll need extras of things since you'll be far from a camping store or convenience store in case you run out of supplies or have an emergency.
One of the main things you need to be sure you have enough of is water. Hopefully you have an RV with a good-sized clean water tank so you can bring a good amount. It also wouldn’t hurt to bring some extra jugs of water along to be safe. While camping you will want to conserve as much water as you can, so think quick showers or even sponge baths and try limiting water usage on washing dishes or clothes. If you use all-natural soaps, you can utilize the water in your gray tank for things like washing your trailer or watering plants. This water is also good to use in a watering can to sprinkle around your campsite to keep the dust level down (if needed).
Consider purchasing a water distiller if you're going boondocking so that you can utilize the water in nearby lakes, ponds, and streams for drinking water.
Since the very nature of boondocking puts you in the middle of nowhere, make sure you plan for the unexpected. Pack a properly stocked first aid kit just in case you suffer from an illness or injury while camping. You will also want to make sure that you are prepared for bad weather. We all know how "accurate" the weather forecasts are, so be prepared for any change in weather that may happen (rain, thunderstorms, ice, hail, damaging winds, flooding, etc.).
Trash & the Black Tank
To help combat the odor that will eventually start to form inside your black tank, be sure to add a septic tank deodorizer before you head out to help keep odors at bay. Since you will want to be using as little water as possible, the waste inside your black tank will be more concentrated and can cause a stench really fast. It may help to simply put some borax in the tank ahead of time to help out with this.
Gathering trash while boondocking can be a bit more complicated than at a campsite that is equipped with dumpsters. In order to keep it from repelling you and attracting animals, we suggest double bagging it and then keeping it in a storage bin or even bringing along a deck box in the bed of your truck to put the bags in. This way you won’t wake up to uninvited guests making a huge mess of your site.
If you plan to get serious about boondocking, the sun will be your best friend! Channel the power of the sun by using solar panels that you install on your RV. If you aren’t ready to invest in having your rig modified, consider a portable solar panel which would be more affordable and could be used for other things than camping.
If solar power isn’t an option for you, the next best thing is a generator. This way you can recharge your battery and have an unlimited power source. The best way to do this is to couple the generator with some deep cycle batteries. Unfortunately with a generator you have to lug along enough fuel to run it, and you have to listen to the lovely noise it makes when it’s running.
Of course there is always the old-school way of illuminating your camping adventures with lanterns! This is fun and really makes you feel like you're roughing it!
For boondocking you want to ensure you have a lot of shelf-stable food, especially if you’re forgoing the electricity. Think canned goods, condiment packets, packaged food, and meals that can be made over the fire. If you have a Dutch oven, your possibilities for amazing meals are endless! Or try these Easy Taco Salads (walking tacos!) or these recipes for Campers on the Go!. Avoid using the stove and oven in the RV while boondocking to help conserve your fuel and power sources.
Where to Camp
Now that we’ve covered the basics of boondocking, let's talk about finding a site. There are a few options here. If you know where you want to stay, you can research the land in the area and see where state land is nearby. A simple google search can bring up a lot of resources on that specific area.
Start talking! Joining social sites and groups and talking with other campers is a great way to find sites you might not otherwise know about. You can find all kinds of groups on Facebook and forums all over the Internet. Just be sure to do your research as well. Just because someone else boondocked in a certain area doesn't mean it's automatically ok to do so. Take it as a recommendation and look into it yourself.
Here are a few recommendations we found for our home state of Michigan:
- Hovey Lake Dispersed Campsite in the Hiawatha National Forest
- Paint River Forks Campground in the Ottawa National Forest
- Lake Michigan Recreation Area in the Huron-Manistee National Forests
- French Farm Lake in Emmet County
With boondocking (and dry camping), your camping possibilities are endless! Truck stops, casino parking lots, sport complex parking lots, and other areas offer quick and easy dry camping when needed. Escape the busy RV parks and crowds and try boondocking for a quiet, peaceful camping experience.
Do you go boondocking or dry camping? Tell us where in the comments!