Here’s a question from a reader of RVtravel.com about boondocking.
We do most of our camping east of the Rocky Mountains, and therefore have fewer public lands for boondocking such as National Forests and BLM land. Are there other public lands in our area that we may not be aware of where we can camp and boondock? —Bruce and Theresa
Hi Bruce and Theresa,
We Westerners sometimes fail to appreciate how fortunate we are to have 245 million acres of BLM land and 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands – most of this acreage in the eleven Western states – on which to boondock. But there are other public lands that are also open for boondocking, though with varying restrictions from one to another. Here are a few to look for in your part of the country:
U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS (USACE)
The Corps manages and conserves 12 million acres of public lands and waters nationwide, including more than 400 lake and river projects in 43 states. Recreation at Corps locations can include fishing, boating (including water sports) and camping. On the Corps website map, click on the state on the map you are interested in for the USACE locations. Click the “Camping” box and the resulting map will display all the Corps properties in the state along with camping facilities.
U.S. BUREAU OF RECLAMATION
Reclamation manages, develops and protects water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner. This includes 289 developed recreation areas on 6.5 million acres of land and water in 17 states (including some that are east of the Rockies) that include water-based outdoor recreation including camping (350 campgrounds), fishing, boating (1,000 boat launch ramps), swimming (140 swimming beaches), bird and wildlife viewing, and sightseeing. Many of Reclamation’s projects are co-managed with Indian Tribes, states and other Federal agencies such as the Forest Service (FS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish & Wildlife Service, and National Park Service (NPS).
Each state has its own management agency, which frequently also manages the state parks or forestry departments. But not all state forests have recreational activities or camping. Internet searches by state or at visitor centers can provide this information.
U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE & NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGES
The USFWS manages 150 million acres including the nation’s 550 National Wildlife Refuges and 37 wetland management districts. Primitive camping is allowed on some of the refuges but you might want to find out when the hunting seasons are and avoid them at that time. Usually the cost is free or minimal. Many NWRs are located next to major waterways, lakes or constructed ponds and can provide excellent birdwatching in non-hunting seasons, often with chaotically busy nesting and roosting areas.
STATE GAME & FISH AREAS
Like state parks and forests, these state agencies have to be checked individually by state. However, be on the lookout as you travel for signed game and fish areas or places marked as fishing access and look for signs of previous campers. That is a clue to whether camping is allowed. If camping is not permitted it would most likely be signed. Otherwise, go for it.
Read more about boondocking at my BoondockBob’s Blog.
Check out my Kindle e-books about boondocking at Amazon.
Do you have a question for Bob? Email him at bob.rvtravel (at) gmail.com .
The Tennessee Valley Authority allows dispersed camping on its thousands of acres of undeveloped land in Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and the northern portions of Georgia and Alabama. Check out this map showing all the places you can camp: https://tva.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Embed/index.html?webmap=b110b866ffec492cb95e5c62b1a4f40f&extent=-88.891,33.5017,-82.0685,37.389&home=true&zoom=true&scale=true&search=true&searchextent=true&legend=true&show_panel=true&basemap_gallery=true&disable_scroll=f
The TVA also has reasonably priced developed campgrounds. PLUS they give 50% discounts on the base camping rate (RV site $14 and a tent site $10) for holders of the Golden Age, Golden Access, America the Beautiful Access Pass and America the Beautiful Senior Pass! You can add water, sewer and electric hookups if you want.
The number of dispersed camping days on TVA property is very lenient: “Stays on undeveloped TVA public lands are limited to a maximum of 14 consecutive days within any 30-day period, unless otherwise posted. After 14 days, users must move at least one river mile before re-establishing a site.” So you can just keep moving around!
Re TVA undeveloped lands for boondocking, you can download an app that will let you see and use maps of the TVA undeveloped lands to help you find campsites. Go to this PDF file for instructions for download and use of the app:
I hate to say this, but I think if I lived “back east” (I was born and raised in Chicago) I wouldn’t even own a trailer. Boondocking areas are almost non-existent ( Boondocking is our ‘thing’), and it sounds like making reservations wherever you go is almost mandatory. RV’ing is rough back there . . . Just sayin’.