Here’s a question from a reader of RVtravel.com about boondocking.
Several times while traveling I’ve noticed areas of land that appear to be government property (no development), some without signage and others stating they are a National Wildlife Refuge or State Forest, or some other designation other than a National Forest or BLM land. Can I boondock for 2 or 3 days in these areas if there are no signs prohibiting it? —Julio
Not necessarily. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) manages 150 million acres of public land including the nation’s 550 National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) and 37 wetland management districts. Primitive camping is allowed on some of the refuges, but not all, and unless you are a hunter, you might want to find out when the hunting seasons are and avoid them at that time. Usually the cost is free or minimal, though don’t expect to find any amenities. You might want to identify a USFWS property that’s on your route before you enter it and pass the office for the refuge, as it may not be visible from the road, and you will have to register there before boondocking.
The 118,000-acre Buenos Aires NWR along Highway 286 in Arizona southwest of Tucson, as an example, stretches to the Mexican border and was established to reintroduce and preserve the masked bobwhite quail and pronghorns. The semi-desert savanna grasslands is flanked by mountains, contains the Arivaca Cienega and Creek riparian zones, and preserves habitat for threatened and endangered plants and animals. The refuge has a free spread-out designated camping area with nearly 100 marked campsites, though it feels more like open area boondocking since the campsites are spread so widely apart from each other that you can’t see your neighbors. Birdwatching is world class along the Arivaca Cienega and Creek.
Other NWRs that are located next to major waterways or constructed ponds can also provide excellent birdwatching in non-hunting seasons, often with chaotically busy nesting and roosting areas called rookeries. Since NWRs are primarily for hunting, if you land there when there are no active hunting seasons, they can be quite enjoyable boondocking places – and you will never find crowds. State forests, Bureau of Reclamation properties, utility watershed lands, and other government agencies are similar. Be sure to contact the regional offices and ask about “dispersed camping” – you might be pleasantly surprised. There could be some very nice camping areas that hardly anyone knows about.
Do you have a question for Bob? Email him at bob.rvtravel (at) gmail.com .