The term "boondocking" means different things to different people. Free camping, overnight RV parking at places such as Wal-Mart or truck stops, and any time RV hookups are not available (dry camping) have been referred to as boondocking. www.rv-camping.org defines boondocking as remote location dispersed camping. With this in mind, you might call boondocking advanced RV camping. This type of camping isn't for everyone. Dispersed camping in remote areas requires research, exploration, and a sense of adventure to find great campsites.
The term "dispersed camping" has started showing up in official US government agency web sites. It also has been referred to as "car camping", and is defined by the USDA Forest Service as "camping outside developed campgrounds".
Boondocking Locations - Where You Can Camp
To find boondocking campsites, you need a good map. We recommend Benchmark Maps and the Atlas & Gazetteer by DeLorme Publishing Company to find RV camping locations and as a great paper recreation atlas. Put that together with DeLorme Topo 6.0 Software and you have a powerful set of tools to help find the best RV camping sites.
NEW - The USA Map on our home page has links to each individual states public lands administrators website. It's a great place to start looking for RV camping and boondocking locations.
As a general rule, boondocking is allowed anywhere on federal public lands within 300 feet of any established road, except where otherwise restricted. That's not to say that you can cut down trees or build a new access way into your RV campsite. The idea is to utilize previously used campsites, or areas that will not be damaged by your vehicle.
US National Parks do not allow overnight RV parking and boondocking, and overnight stays are limited to designated campgrounds. USFS (United States Forest Service) and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) high popularity areas often have restricted camping areas. For example, the area around Mammoth Lakes, CA is extremely popular with tourists, and many areas allow camping only in designated campgrounds. Information about camping restrictions are available at USFS Ranger District and BLM Resource Area offices.
Generally speaking, you can stay 14 continuous days for free, but subsequent camping days must be 25 miles away. This rule applies to most BLM and USFS administered lands, but there are exceptions. For example, the INYO National Forest of California allows 42 day stays at designated camping areas, while the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming has areas that it allows only 3 day stays near Grand Teton National Park. BLM LTVAs (Long Term Visitor Areas) allow stays of several months for a nominal fee.
We've only mentioned the USFS and BLM so far, but FWS (US Fish & Wildlife Service), USACE (Army Corps of Engineers), Bureau of Reclamation, State Parks, and State owned lands offer boondocking opportunities. Arizona for example has a permit available for a nominal fee allowing boondocking on State lands.
There are also boondocking opportunities to be found on private lands. Ranches and farms may have a corner of the "back 40" they will allow you to stay for free or small fee. If you find a spot you would like to camp that is on private land, it never hurts to ask. We've had good success in farm country asking permission to camp at nice areas near a river with good access for overnight boondocking...we usually share the space with cows.
We know of no public land locations that allow unlimited length of stays, and while BLM Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVA) permit multiple month stays, some Public Lands have specific length of stay limits of as little as two days. It is your responsibility to learn and follow the rules. Rules are published on official Internet web sites, and are available at public land managers offices.