Boondocking for the night in the mountains of Montana

By Dave Helgeson

In my last entry (Boondocking in a coronavirus world. Part 1: Why?) we looked at the definition of boondocking (dispersed camping on public land) and why it is a good fit in a coronavirus world. Given some of the comments that were received, I believe many readers equate boondocking with staying put for long periods (entire seasons) of time like those that camp in long-term visitor areas (LTVA) like Quartzsite, Arizona.

Boondocking isn’t restricted to staying put in the same location for months or weeks – dealing with limited showers, constantly monitoring your house batteries, greasy hair, hot days without air conditioning, conserving holding tank space, etc.

Boondock locations can also serve as convenient places to spend a night or two en route to your final destination like an RV park, RV rally, etc., where you plan to stay for an extended time. As I previously pointed out, boondocking minimizes your exposure to known virus transmission sources, such as people at the check-in desk, doorknobs, water spigots, electrical pedestals, etc., allowing you to “bank” non-exposure boondock stays against those stays that have a higher risk of transmission points like conventional campgrounds and RV parks. The strategy of RVing in a coronavirus world is all about minimizing the overall risks of exposure during your trip.

While you could “dry camp” for a night at “Camp Walmart,” Cracker Barrel or a number of other private businesses, those options typically require you to go inside and obtain permission from the manager, which then requires you to touch door handles, don a mask and talk face to face with the manager, dodging others in the likely crowded aisles along the way. Most businesses also expect (rightfully so) you to patronize their business, subjecting you to further risk of virus exposure.

Even if you do receive permission to stay the night without face to face contact (maybe by phone) or patronization, there are still others that might approach you or your rig in the parking lot. Sadly (both for RVers and those down on their luck), these same parking lots attract the homeless people that you may have no choice but to interact with. I speak from experience, as a number of years ago we received permission to stay in a mall parking lot only to have a homeless woman with mental and/or drug issues enter our RV and deposit garbage inside our door and then vandalize exterior components.

My wife and I haven’t stayed in the parking lot of a commercial business since, only the boondocks, which in my experience are much safer. Had this happened during the pandemic we would have been left wondering if she was infected or had been exposed and found myself wiping down any potential touch points on the RV.

Let’s look at an example on how you might utilize boondocking locations en route to your destination. A couple of summers ago I was invited to speak at an FMCA Convention in Gillette, Wyoming, where my wife and I would be staying for a week with hookups. Since it was summer with the potential of hot temperatures along the way, I planned a route from our home in Renton, Washington, to Gillette and back that involved boondocking locations in the mountains along our route.

Each stop was only for a night or two, so rationing of resources or holding tank capacity wasn’t an issue as free dump stations with potable water abounded along the route, and driving during the day kept our house batteries charged. The high elevation boondocking spots were naturally cool, negating the need for air conditioning in the RV.

Other than fuel (pay at the pump) we didn’t have to stop at a commercial business or campground and didn’t have to engage with others. We took over a week going and returning home, and not only did boondocking along the way save us the cost of an RV park every night, it also eliminated the hassle of calling numerous RV parks trying to find an open space and make a reservation.

Most RVs are designed to go a night or two without hookups or the owners sacrificing much, if anything, in the way of comfort. With a little planning, you too can limit your risk of virus exposure along your route and enjoy some very scenic and free campsites in the process.

As always, I welcome your comments or questions using the comment section below.

##RVT953

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Carson Axtell
23 days ago

For many of our pioneer ancestors, boondocking was how they made their way across the continent, heading westward toward a new life. Today, of course, RVers travel more for pleasure than out of necessity, and the value is as much in the journey itself as in the destination. The pioneer’s “urge for going” is the inheritance they passed down to some of us, while the urge to stay put was passed down to the descendants of villagers who chose to stay right where they were.

Judy S
23 days ago

Google Earth is invaluable for zooming in and checking out the terrain of potential boondocking spots.

Dave Helgeson
23 days ago
Reply to  Judy S

As you said – invaluable! A picture is worth a thousand words.

www.travelwithkevinandruth.com
23 days ago

Two apps that are the best for finding boondocking locations are iOverlander and Ultimate Campgrounds.

Leon
23 days ago

I see boondocking as being miles off the interstate on dirt one lane roads with almost no places to turn around. Only to find someone else parked in the only space there. I have never attempted to boondock, because I am always in a rush to get where I’m going or the fact I need my A C. Plus the fear of facing a low bridge with no place to turn around. All my THing has been in a class B or my current 25 ft class C.

Dave Helgeson
23 days ago
Reply to  Leon

“Miles down a dirt road” is one of the misconceptions of boondocking. While boondocking spots can be miles down a dirt road quite often they can just be a short distance off the freeway providing a private spot to spend the night. I would estimate 80% of the places I have boondocked over the years are less than 100 yards off asphalt

Don
25 days ago

Love the concept, but I have no idea HOW you ID boondocking locations on your route. Clearly there must be some resource that I’m not aware of! Got any hints? (PS: we’re near Gig Harbor, so not at all far from you).

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
25 days ago
Reply to  Don

Hi, Don — in Gig Harbor! Here are three videos by Dave Helgeson on the RVtravel.com YouTube channel about boondocking:
What is RV boondocking and how to do it: https://youtu.be/v_QYa0PYUsk
Where to RV boondock for free on public lands: https://youtu.be/4ST9aJFGnxg
Using Google Earth to pinpoint RV boondocking locations: https://youtu.be/bCkLWhCxHOA
If you still have questions after watching those, I’m sure Dave will be more than happy to answer them for you. Have fun! 😀 —Diane at RVtravel.com

Don
23 days ago
Reply to  RV Staff

Many thinks, Diane. I’ll review all of these and get back if I still have questions…

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
23 days ago
Reply to  Don

You’re very welcome, Don! Thanks for asking about that. Happy boondocking! 😀 —Diane at RVtravel.com

Dave Helgeson
23 days ago
Reply to  Don

Don – Diane saved me looking up these links – as Diane said I would be happy to answer your questions. Post the questions here rather than on the YouTube videos as I am more likely to see them here.

Don
2 days ago
Reply to  Dave Helgeson

Finally got around to watching the videos. Wow! NOW I understand. We’ve been sitting around Gig Harbor waiting out the Covid. Think I’m going to start planning some trips! THANK YOU to Diane and Dave for this great advice.

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
2 days ago
Reply to  Don

You’re very welcome, Don. (Dave did all the work — I just linked it. 😉 ) Have fun boondocking! 😀 —Diane at RVtravel.com