Wednesday, February 1, 2023


How to get started boondocking in the Southwestern deserts

Here’s a question from a reader of about boondocking. 

Hi Bob,
We’re from the Midwest and are leaving after Christmas for our first trip to the desert. We hope to spend a few months and do a lot of boondocking but don’t know where to start. Can you point us in the right direction where we’re not too isolated (we’re not that confident yet)? Thanks. —Warren and Bernice 

Hi Warren and Bernice,
Unlike the Midwest, East and Southeast parts of the country where most of the land was divvied up in giant parcels to privileged founding colonists in the 1600s and 1700s, much of the western deserts remains in the hands of the U.S. government. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), certain designated portions of these public lands have been set aside as Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVAs) specifically for self-contained RVs. 

La Posa LTVA

A seasonal permit, which is good at any LTVA, costs $180 and you can stay or move between LTVAs as you wish with this pass. A shorter 14-day permit is also available for $40. Amenities usually consist of a water source, trash cans, and a dump station – and the ambiance and camaraderie of other boondockers. Near the LTVAs are areas of open desert where you can stay free for 14 days. 

LTVAs are the ideal place to try some primitive camping, where you are in the company – but only as close as you want to be – of other friendly folks. Try the LTVAs at Quartzsite or at Senator Wash, adjacent to the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge near Yuma. If you want to learn about boondocking and the methods, ideas, and inventions that these independent RVers utilize, time spent in one of these LTVAs can be an eye-opening RV education.

For a little more privacy, check into the many Short Term BLM visitor areas that are restricted to two weeks and are free. Here you can camp in-close with neighbors, or spread out and be as solitary as you like. Then take time to enjoy the desert. Take hikes, watch for the emergence of spring’s wildflowers, hang out a bird feeder, climb a mountain, follow critter tracks in the sand, stalk a javelina, spot a phainopepla, and howl back to a coyote. Go ahead. You’re among boondockers – they understand.

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) .





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TR Kelley
4 years ago

We’re in our 50’s, camp in a 28’TT. We spent many wonderful weeks at the Senator Wash LTVA last year, and one of the things i really liked about it was that there ARE older funkier trailers, mid-price models, and high-end Class A rigs all together in the desert, like a real city rather than a gated “resort” that only allows newer rigs. People of all colors and income levels, everyone naturally gravitates to the area/neighborhood they like best. It’s 3500 acres, you don’t have to be next to anything that offends your sensibilites. It does get windy and dusty though, can’t stop that, but can adapt. Lot of Canadians as well as USAmericans. Mostly seniors, few children, lots of leashed dashboard-sized dogs. The camaraderie at Imperial is great, it’s a true community with many volunteer-driven opportunities including jam sessions on Sunday at the ramada, exercise classes, a library! I totally recommend it as a first-boondock experience, most everyone is very friendly but also respectful of personal space.

John T
4 years ago

I spent 2 weeks at the Imperial Dam (Senator Wash) LTVA last winter. It was a complete slum, with semi-derelict trailers surrounded by piles of junk.

4 years ago

We camped in many SW desert places and for sure you need a water softener as most of the SW water is hard,and some is downright nasty. Another thing is the constant dirt blowing around…be prepared to clean the inside of your rig every day.

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