The notion of primitive camping in wild places is not for everyone, but for adventurous, intrepid travelers that don’t mind the mystery and gentle grit of off-the-grid living, the United States offers boundless opportunities for campers and RVers to experience some of the country’s most impressive natural areas- all without dipping into your wallet. From BLM public land (Bureau of Land Management) and National Forest service roads to wildlife areas and state parks and everything in between, here’s our roundup of some of the best places for boondocking in the United States.
Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California
California is one of the most traveled-to and populous states in the country, so it’s no surprise that free dispersed campsites can be a bit harder to find. Boondockers traveling to Southern California can find solace in Anza Borrego State Park, though: the state’s largest state park, and the only one that allows permit-free and fee-free primitive camping. With hundreds of miles of slot canyon hiking trails and remote dirt roads that truly make you feel like you’re off the beaten track- and sometimes, on another planet! – it’s quite the dose of solitude, yet you’re still under two hours from the bustling San Diego coast. Our insider tip: try and go during Spring to catch the park’s rainbow carpet of wildflowers!
Image Credit: My Public Lands Magazine via Wikimedia Commons
Quartzite, a small Arizona desert town halfway between Phoenix and Palm Springs, has a bit of a legend’s lore attached to it. While there certainly may be more scenic places to boondock in Arizona, part of Quartzite’s allure is the community it attracts, especially during the winter months, when the town’s population swells tenfold, and it hosts several mineral and gem shows, quirky swap meets, and a handful of notable rendezvous geared toward those living on the road. It’s nearly all primitive camping, and you can park as close or as far away from others as you wish, but the most memorable part of your stay will probably be the conversations and connections with like-minded travelers and characterful rubber tramps, so don’t stray too far from the action
Lake Whitney, Texas
Located right in the heart of Texas and less than 90 minutes from the cities of Dallas and Waco, beautiful Lake Whitney is a boondocker’s hidden treasure. Maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, the entire lake- which is a controlled reservoir on a section of the Brazos River- offers several different areas of free primitive campsites, most of which come with a fire ring, a shaded picnic table, and a spectacular view of the water. The public access is superb, with endless opportunities for swimming, fishing, and boating, and the abundance of trees around the sites makes you feel like you have your own slice of lakefront paradise. It’s a fantastic retreat for campers looking to beat the Texas heat.
San Juan National Forest, Colorado
Colorado makes a strong case as one of the very top states for truly epic boondocking experiences, and for good reason: the dispersed camping is often very dispersed, and the storybook views you’ll find from many sites are hard to beat. Some of our favorite areas lay within the rugged, awe-inspiringly beautiful San Juan National Forest, close to the towns of Durango, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. The forest service roads you’ll have at your disposal are seemingly endless, and you can take your pick based on what your vehicle can handle.
While trickier during the snowy winter months, summer and the shoulder seasons offer crisp high elevation air, and more outdoor activities to keep you busy than you’ll know what to do with.
Moab leaves quite an impression with its stately red rock formations and towering desert buttes, and the boondocking options are bound to do the same. From the La Sal Loop Road in Manti La-Sal National Forest- oh, the views! – to Klondike Bluffs Road on BLM land just outside of town, places with dispersed camping are far and wide, and often offer a gateway to adventure right outside your doorstep, which is probably why you’re in Moab to begin with! Although a bit further from the city, there are plenty of accessible public land pull-offs right outside of Canyonlands National Park, too, if you’re looking for a quick gateway into the park.
Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Coconino National Forest blankets an expansive area in and around the flourishing cities of Sedona and Flagstaff, and you could probably spend years trying to explore all the boondock- able service roads in the area and still not see them all. Depending on how far you’re looking to stray from the main trailheads and attractions- and more importantly, depending on the off-road capabilities of your home on wheels- you’ll find something that suits your style and comfort level. The closer to Grand Canyon National Park you get, the tougher it may be to simply pull up and snag a spot, but if you look hard enough, trust us, you’ll find something.
Buffalo Gap National Grassland, South Dakota
It’s hard to grasp the vastness of Buffalo Gap National Grassland until you’ve spent a few days camping within the area. With sweeping prairie vistas, alienesque rock outcroppings and slingshot views of neighboring Badlands National Park, this sprawling piece of nature in southwest South Dakota is a boondocker’s delight, and camping seclusion at its finest. A couple of the most desirable areas to drop anchor are Badlands Overlook and Nomad View, sections of dusty, bumpy roads teetering alongside cliffs that offer surreal vistas of the Buffalo Gap and the distant Black Hills. It’s a great place to truly unwind and feel the scope of endless skies and grasslands on the horizon.
Image Credit: Intermountain Forest Service, USDA Region 4 Photography / flickr
Caribou-Targhee National Forest, Idaho/Wyoming Border
Both Wyoming and Idaho have their own long lists of spectacular boondocking areas- like the Sawtooth in Idaho or the Bridger-Teton Wilderness in Wyoming, for starters- but one of our favorite under-the-radar spots is the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, which extends its sprawling woodlands, winding rivers and granite peaks into both states. The primitive campsites which straddle the Idaho-Wyoming border near Moose Creek are especially inspiring and are bound to offer a solitary wilderness experience- and perhaps even some wildlife sightings! – you won’t soon forget.