Q: "Free 'boondocking spots'? What's that?"
A: Boondocking is dry camping, usually for free, on public lands. Mostly in the western USA.
It could be BLM (Bureau of Land Management), state trust land, National Forest land, or other.
The benefits are that it's usually scenic, it's free, and is normally quiet and peaceful.
Understandably, this type of camping attracts hundreds of thousands of campers every year.
Reading about it is fun. But doing it for the first time? Easily intimidating.
(Learn how to boondock without fear.)
These are some of the best boondocking spots for beginners that I could think of.
They are places I would steer a newbie to go to for various reasons. (It's smart to do a dry first in a campground to test power and water conservation skills.)
How were these chosen? The spots had to have these attributes:
- Ease of parking/arriving
- Large number/type of spaces available
- Nearby attractions
- Nearby RV (and other) amenities
- Some kind of cellular service available
- No problems with ground clearance
- No need for four wheel drive
- Accommodate any size RV
- Overall good/easy experience
- Quiet and peaceful (but this is never guaranteed)
There are lots of other good options, but I decided to start with 5 best boondocking spots for beginners, fairly spread out around the West, for you to choose from.
Top 5 Beginner Boondocking Spots
You guys, I've been there and done that with boondocking. I boondocked as a solo female RVer FULL-TIME for almost 6 years. This means moving every two weeks or less, on average.
Therefore, boondocking is like second nature to me now. Easy-peasy!
But there are quite a few things to learn. And there's no better way to learn than hands-on.
So, it's best to start out in places that have a lot to offer, and where you can easily fetch something you forgot, or to even jump into a nearby campground if necessary.
That said, these are 5 great places I have personally been to. They feel safe to recommend to anyone who has never boondocked and wants to try it but is scaaaaarred.
These places will be easy and non-threatening for total newbies.
Down below my best boondocking spots for beginners, included are a few tips on what you need to have in order to boondock successfully.
Here we go!
#1. Hi Jolly Camping Area in Quartzsite, Arizona
- Elevation: 820'
- GPS: 33.7095, -114.2158
- Challenges: Rain is rare. If it DOES rain a lot, watch the washes in the area.
- Best Time To Visit: Late fall through early spring
Hi Jolly camping area is located just north of the tiny town of Quartzsite in southern Arizona.
It's located about halfway in between Joshua Tree NP and Phoenix. There's not much to the place, and I don't particularly like it. But it WAS my very first boondocking experience!
However, 'Q', as insiders call it, is a VERY easy place to boondock. No, it's not the prettiest/most scenic spot by any means.
But there will be plenty of other RVers around you boondocking. This may give you a feeling of security.
But it's sort of a rite-of-passage place. If you go in January, you can hit the big Quartzsite RV show.
The town is pretty much made for RVers. There are multiple areas to camp and the terrain is open, flat, and hard almost anywhere you want to park.
Space is PLENTIFUL, there is no way you could ever arrive and not find a spot.
So, that eliminates that worry. There are numerous campgrounds around in case you panic and feel the need for one.
In town, look for the 'RV Pit Stop' where you can fill up your water tank, dump your tanks, and fill with propane. They even have a campground.
Attendants guide you where to go depending on what you want.
The place is made for the largest of RVs, so you don't have to worry about your size.
There are plenty of gas stations to choose from as well.
Additionally, there are a few fast food joints, some restaurants, small grocery stores, a laundromat, and plenty of odd used-stuff booths around.
There is also LTVA land (long term visitor area) called La Posa just south of Quartzsite.
This is PAID, not free (though it's pretty cheap for a long-term stay). The paid part gives you access to the dump station, trash cans, bathrooms, and water.
You can stay there for months at a time during the season. It's basically dry camping in an open campground. It's usually crowded.
Using the LTVA isn't recommended unless you want to stay in one spot for more than two weeks.
(In Q, you can stay for only two weeks on BLM land. Then you must move at least 25 miles away.)
But if you're truly trying to boondock for the first time, may as well skip this and hit an actual free area.
You'll need to fend for yourself for the items just mentioned, but again- you can get most of it at the RV Pit Stop in town.
Don't be a fool, you're here to learn, not to have everything handed to you, silly!
It doesn't get any easier than this- the video below from Campendium.com is a 360-degree video of Hi Jolly camping area.
While watching, use your mouse to look to the left or right... you can literally see the place before you go.
You can see this best boondocking spot for beginners provides easy access, hardly any obstacles, no puddles, and wide open space.
#2. Yellow Circle Road in Moab, Utah
- Elevation: 5282'
- GPS: 38.4356, -109.427
- Challenges: Slippery if rain. Stay on lower level.
- Best Time To Visit: Spring and Fall
Yellow Circle Road is a BLM dispersed camping (dispersed camping definition) spot just south of Moab, Utah.
Moab is extremely well-known as a playground for outdoor enthusiasts.
Off-roading abounds here. The red rock beauty here makes it a not-to-miss destination.
You can hit the river, rent a Jeep, check out the numerous dinosaur tracks around the area, or visit Arches National Park. The town offers plenty of restaurants, adventure tours, and shops.
Moab is truly a destination you won't regret visiting.
Yellow Circle Road has a decent entry off of the main north/south road that goes through Moab.
It offers little to no obstacles. It's a little rough in spots, but if you keep it slow, you're fine.
There's an upper area and a lower area. If you're a larger rig, as a newbie and unless you have four wheel drive, you should probably stay down in the lower area.
Spots are not ENDLESS on Yellow Circle, but when we went, there was plenty of room for a BUNCH of us to park (Probably 15 RVs- photo above) before an Xscapers convergence we were attending in Moab.
And we didn't fill the area completely up. Chances are slim that you arrive and a gi-normous group has convened there.
Moab has quite a few boondocking opportunities, so there are plenty of places in town that serve the RVer.
Lion's Park, north of town and next to the river, has free water. I've filled a few water bags there.
It's not advised to fill your entire water tank there. It's only for filling a couple of water jugs at a time.
You can also get potable water and dump at the Maverick gas station just south of town.
Gearheads, a camping store in town has water available IN the store for refilling water jugs.
Right across the street is a grocery store, one of a few in town.
North of town you can also boondock at Willow Springs Trail, Dalton Wells Road, or even Klondike Bluff Road.
Klondike Bluff is where I almost always park. But available spots are not guaranteed.
Keep in mind that Moab is a VERY popular camping area. You could try Klondike, but you also may find zero spots.
It's a long road with small spaces that do not encourage group parking. Part of the area doesn't have good cellular service.
Still, I have my 'secret' spot there that I always go to. Most of the spots mentioned have decent cellular service.
At Yellow Circle Road, it's sort of 'communal camping' with just open areas, so it's not as imposing if you park next to someone in a small spot (a no-no).
It's expected at Yellow Circle Road. Meaning there's usually a place you can park there.
It's a good place for great scenery, almost guaranteed a spot, and ease of entry with a town not too far away! This is what makes it a best boondocking spot for beginners.
#3. County Road 48 in Leadville, Colorado
- Elevation: 9678'
- GPS: 39.2478, -106.359
- Challenges: Treed area- could have solar issues if not careful
- Best Time To Visit: Hot summer months into Fall
First of all, Colorado is a HUGE favorite among RVers and other travelers.
The beauty of those Rocky Mountains is almost unparalleled. So, to find good Boondocking spots in the mountains is a treat!
Leadville is a great place to go mid-summer, as the city's elevation is just over 10,000', so it's cooler than most places in the summer. But it can still get HOT.
It's also a great destination to hit in the fall. The Aspen trees fire off during that time showcasing a glorious display of colors.
The spectacular scenery aside, Leadville's County Road 48 offers a multitude of camping spots that are easy to access.
If you head up the main road (48) you will eventually come to a big open spot on the left (The GPS listed here marks that area).
This is a great starter spot. The openness of the area helped it make this best boondocking spots for beginners list. You can also find good views in this area.
It's sort of a group-like spot, so multiple RVs can park there.
The area is close to town.
There's a dump and water fill ($5 to dump, $2.50 for water) just south of town with easy access right on the main drag. (Access is easier if you are coming from the north.)
Leadville has some restaurants, grocery stores, a laundromat, some bars, and gas stations.
There's a recycle center at 39.2432740, - 106.3079183 which is right next to the Lake County High School and next to their football field.
South of Leadville is Twin Lakes, a stunning day drive if you are into mountains and lakes.
Continue past Twin Lakes on Co-82 and you'll find yourself at Independence Pass.
The drive is incredible. No joke. Be aware you cannot drive that road in anything longer than 35'.
Leadville has a lot of great hiking nearby. It offers free and easy camping with astounding surroundings.
Yeah, it's a pretty incredible beginner (or seasoned RVer) spot.
Zing, zing, zing!
#4. Forest Rd 688 near the Grand Canyon, Arizona
- Elevation: 6594'
- GPS: 35.927, -112.1338
- Challenges: Treed area- could have solar issues if not careful.
- Best Time To Visit: Shoulder season. Grand Canyon gets busy in summer.
So Forest Road 688 is a great jumping point to explore the Grand Canyon National Park.
There are also a few similar camping-permissible roads nearby that will work.
This area is flat and there are a lot of spots along the road, but there are lots of trees, too.
If you rely on solar to recharge your batteries, pick your spot carefully.
Best if you pick up one of the best portable solar panel (or two) to chase the sun with.
Everyone wants to see the Grand Canyon it seems. This is a free place to do so. It's not far at all from the south entrance.
The little town of Tusayan, north of this spot, has a few little stores that should suit most of your needs.
However, I recommend that you should come fully stocked with groceries before heading to this area.
You probably won't find specialty groceries if that's your deal.
You may be able to find a campground that will allow you to dump and fill for a fee if you end up needing it. Or, you can fight the crowds (go early!) and use the dump station inside the park.
But, weather permitting, you shouldn't need four wheel drive, extra clearance, or amazing backup skills in order to enjoy camping here.
There are a lot of spots on this road, but if you can't find a spot, try out the others that are just off hwy 180 such as Forest Road 302 and Forest Road 306.
It's the Grand Canyon! You know you wanna go.
#5. Chosa Campground in Carlsbad, New Mexico
- Elevation: 3707'
- GPS: 32.0885, -104.4321
- Challenges: None
- Best Time To Visit: Any time except mid-summer
Ok, yes I realize that this is just a large open parking area.
Still, it's level, large and open, has cellular, it's free, and it's very close to the awesome Carlsbad Caverns National Park!
These points won a spot on the best boondocking spots for beginners list.
Chosa Campground is very close to Carlsbad which has everything one could need including a Walmart.
There's even a free dump station in town at a park.
The big deal here is Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Otherwise, I wouldn't have put this in this list.
Regardless, it's a wide-open parking lot for RVs with no lined spaces. No worries about backing up or backing in.
So, if you want the security of close-by amenities and something big and memorable to do, hit the caverns and try out 'boondocking' for the first time.
There almost surely will be others parked there, so you will also have that feeling of security among others.
That's pretty much it for this spot!
I haven't found many boondocking spots in New Mexico that had good cellular service.
I know you may not need or want it, but I sure do. You should have it here.
And if you're a first time boondocker, you'll probably feel a little more secure having phone access.
Anyhoo, this is BLM land and you can stay for up to 14 days.
However, maybe just use it for a few to get your feet wet. It's not the most scenic spot to stay for that long. (I stayed just one or two nights, just to see the caverns, on my way back east.)
Maybe you can find a few other things to check out around Carlsbad.
There you have it! 5 places I can personally attest to that are doable and easy.
Scenic and likely (hopefully, but you NEVER know) quiet. Easy to maneuver. Close to amenities. Close to attraction(s). Etc.
It's time to get your feet wet!
BUT, if you're still hesitant, no worries! You could also try dry runs using Boondocker's Welcome.
Want to learn more about boondocking? Read our how to get started boondocking guide.
Before You Hit The Road
There are a few things you should know/do before you try to boondock for the first time.
Here's a little list of things to consider.
- Batteries: You MUST closely watch your batteries. Lead-acid batteries should not be depleted below about 50% charge. You must top off your lead-acid batteries every day. You'll either need a generator or an ample solar array to do this. Do a little research on this ahead of time.
- Tanks: RV waste water tank capacity may limit your time at one spot. Simply put, the less water you use, the longer you can stay. Peeing outside can also save room in your black tank. (Not to mention this trick that will save even more black tank space.)
- Generators: Don't use a contractor generator. Nobody wants to be forced to listen to that. If you need a generator, get the quietest generator for RV use. They are not that expensive these days.
- Quiet Time: Most boondockers are not out on public lands to party. They are there to get away, to recreate. Be considerate and keep it down after 9 pm.
- Parking: Unless it's one big open area like Chosa in New Mexico, don't park right next to someone unless that's the only spot left. Use your brain. If everyone is spread out, and spots are small-ish, if a spot is taken, it's taken. Yes, it's 'public land' but still, nobody wants you to roll up on them and invade their personal space. Same with being in public- it's 'public' but you still have your own personal space bubble around others.
- Animals: Do not let your dogs roam free and unattended. Only have them off-leash if you are watching them and they WILL ABSOLUTELY recall when you call them. No-one wants your dogs running up on their business, and especially doing their business on their stuff. Please understand that it's extremely inconsiderate of you (and irresponsible) to allow your dogs to do as they please when other humans are nearby.
- Weather: Always check the weather before you go. Rainy days are not good moving days. (At worst, you could get stuck in the mud.)
- Stay Limits: Obey the stay limits. The more people that disrespect the stay limits, the more places get shut down.
- Food: Never leave food out. It will attract coyotes, bear, raccoons, etc. This is usually bad for the animals. They get aggressive or lose their fear of humans, then they must be put down.
There you have it! If you are a total newbie/beginner RVer wanting to dip your toes into the world of boondocking, you have 5 great picks to choose from.
You can feel comfortable that you won't run into scary issues such as not being able to turn around, or not having cell service, and not being in the middle of nowhere with nobody around for help If needed.
These 5 places will be great for you to get your feet wet. So go on. Get out there. Enjoy yourself and have no fear!
Author: Kelly Beasley
As a seasoned and passionate RVing expert, I have dedicated myself to living the full-time RV life for over 5.5 years, immersing myself in the unique quirks and joys of the boondocking lifestyle and gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience along the way. In December 2020, my business partner and I made the transition to part-time RVing, but in January 2023, we hit the road once again, this time in our trusty vans. My mission is to help others embrace the RVing lifestyle with confidence and excitement, armed with the knowledge and resources needed to make the most of their adventures. I believe that the more you know, the more you can truly appreciate and enjoy the freedom and flexibility of the open road. Join me on this journey and let's make some unforgettable memories.