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Boondocking Etiquette – 4 Guidelines

The holiday season returns to find possibly 1 million full-time RVers on the road. Add to that the seasonal travelers heading for a destination near you. Throw in the mix thousands of brand-new RV owners who do not have a clue about etiquette on the road. Offer some holiday cheer and share these rules with your neighbors.

Want to be Invited Back

If RVers follow common sense rules when hanging out in scenic spots with no supervision, (e.g., city, county and national parks, BLM land, Walmart, your neighbor’s back yard), it wards off the “No Parking Overnight” signs. Included here are the universal agreed upon rules for pleasing everyone and avoiding the dreaded “No RV Parking” sign.

1. Use Existing Roads and Camping Spots.

We all want to enjoy the wilds, but ultimately the goal is to have as little impact as possible and the best way to do that is to stay on designated roads and park in an area that’s clearly been used. In other words, do not drive onto a pristine space smashing vegetation to “create” a spot to camp.

If places (e.g., Quartzsite) are barren and have many previously used spots, feel free to camp just about anywhere. Other fragile and less-used areas are at risk of you permanently damaging the very nature you have come to see.

Park in cleared-out areas, use the existing fire-rings, and check first to make sure the ground is firm enough to carry your weight.

2. Pack It In, Pack It Out.

RVing on public lands is not much different from backpacking. We are transient visitors so whatever we bring to our site, we pack it back out again. Dumping black tanks and leaving trash at our site is an absolute no-no. It is easy enough to use trash bags and typically it is time to move on when the tanks are full anyway. We leave the campsite looking as good (if not better) than when we find it; pick-up any trash. Experienced boondockers carry a little rake to smooth the area out if they rough up too much dirt. If we practice a policy of “leave no trace” we encourage others to do the same and keep the area pristine for everyone who comes after us.

3. Most Public Land has a 14-day Stay Limit.

Most of the public lands around the US have stay limits, typically 14 days within any 28-day period. Once the 14 days are up, most public land managers require you to move at least 25 miles away. There are some notable exceptions.

For example, the BLM-managed LTVA (Long Term Visitor Areas) legally allow boondockers to stay 6 months for a fee. These areas also offer some basic support such as dump and trash. Certain “well-known” boondocking spots, such as The Slabs, is on uncontrolled land and has no stay limit. On balance however, public lands almost always have stay limits.

There are folks who “push the limits” and wait for a ranger to come by and tell them to leave. But many spots exist where no one ever bothers you. On the other hand however, this practice often leads to negative effects. For example, in the past few years the Prescott & Coconino National Forests (around Flagstaff, AZ) have severely limited the camping areas.

The forest service implemented strict rules in large part because people are “squatting” in the forests for long periods. This leads obviously to semi-aggressive ranger encounters. Many of the camping spots once available to boondockers in those forests are now totally gone. Adhering as much as possible to the stay limits help keep these resources open and available for everyone.

4. Keep A Respectful Distance From Your Neighbor.

This is not an official rule anywhere, but it’s considered good basic boondocking etiquette to park a respectful distance from your neighbor. What does “respectful” mean? It really depends on how much space is available and how many rigs are out there. In the wide-open desert a few hundred feet of separation is not at all unusual. When camping at Quartzsite during the big RV show among thousands of RVers, that distance may drop to only 20 feet. (Quartzsite BLM actually has a 15-foot minimum rule). In a dense forest it may just mean choosing the next open site. Most boondockers try to put as much space as they can between them and the next guy; that is just good neighborly manners. The biggest no-no is to park right next to another boondocker (unless invited to do so) especially if there is space to be elsewhere. Most folks are out here to get away, so give them the space to do so.

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