I’m back with another campsite comparisons post! The previous campsite comparison post I wrote discussed the variety of one night stays we had from Florida to Iowa on the first 10 days of our trip. The rest of September, we had much longer stays at boondocking spots across South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. Each location had it’s unique pros and cons but all of them were perfect opportunities to enjoy the areas we stayed in.
What is Boondocking?
Before I dive into the variety of boondocking spots that we stayed at, I figured I’d first talk about what boondocking is in case you aren’t familiar with it!
Boondocking is essentially free RV camping without hookups. Often times the campsites are out in the “boonies” which is where it got its name. You can boondock in places ranging from BLM Land (Bureau of Land Management), National Forests, Walmarts, Cracker Barrels or with designated business or homes through apps like Harvest Hosts or Boondockers Welcome.
Rules & Tips for Boondocking
There are a lot of unwritten rules to boondocking such as pack-in/pack-out, don’t dump grey tanks, don’t leave trash, avoid running generators unnecessarily, don’t be a jerk, etc. But overall we’ve LOVED our boondocking stays way more than any of the paid campgrounds with hookups.
Many of the hardcore boondockers can last a week or two out in the campgrounds without needing to return to civilization. The longest we went at a campsite about 6 days when we finally ran out of water. That being said, we hadn’t been the most conservative at the time!
It is common that people deck out their RVs with solar set ups and portable extra tanks to elongate their stays but that is not mandatory. We learned all the tricks like collecting water in the shower to wash dishes with, charging up devices while we drove around in the truck, only running our generator around breakfast and dinner to charge the batteries and run the microwave/hot pot, etc. There is definitely an art to boondocking, but it can save you INSANE amounts of money if you’re okay with making the life changes to be conservative!
Where to Find Boondocking Spots
The best apps to find boondocking spots are definitely iOverlander and Campendium but I’ve also heard good things about Allstays app! Another important tip is to make sure that you have permission with places like Walmart and Cracker Barrel. Not ALL locations allow overnight camping so make sure to check in with management when you arrive!
Last and final tip: Use your judgement. Don’t get yourself stuck down some dirt road with no way of turning around! Read reviews, look at satellite images, look around, get out and walk if you need to… all of these extra efforts will save you loads of time and energy of getting stuck somewhere!
South Dakota – Badlands National Park
When we started this trip, the Nomad View Dispersed camping outside of the entrance to Badlands National Park was one of the top places on my radar. After seeing photo after photo on my Instagram feed, I was excited to get us there and experience it our selves. The Nomad View area follows a cliffs edge that overlooks the badlands landscape below.
ProTip: Get there early! The best spots get taken early so get there early to get a great view right on the cliff edge. After we got up early, we spent HOURS just sitting outside of our rig and taking in the views. We also were lucky enough to have several wildlife sightings while we were there.
The best part about this dispersed camping area is that it is literally RIGHT outside of the Badlands National Park Pinnacles entrance. Not only is it free but its convenient! The dirt roads are definitely bumpy but if you go slow, you should be fine.
Wyoming – Grand Teton National Park
We came into the Grand Teton National Park area with a vague plan and it ended up being our favorite stay of the whole trip. There are several dispersed campgrounds along Highway 26 and we would have probably been happy with any of them, but we were lucky to find a GREAT spot right at the first one.
Spread Creek Dispersed Campground was down a wicked long wash boarded dirt road and technically there are only 15 sights available out there so it was a bit of a risky drive. We continued back into the woods and got an open spot that we didn’t love so we hopped on the dirt bike real quick and drove out farther to check out what was open. There was a large spot next to a big Class A, so we made friends with the owners and backed Roo right in!
The initial plan was to stay only about 2 nights in this campsite but we ended up staying 5 nights total! The views of the Tetons at both sunrise and sunset were unreal and we had several really cool animal encounters while we were there.
The campground location was once again super convenient to the entrance of the National Park and it was completely FREE. We struggled a bit here though because we still had our old batteries and the nights got very cold and killed our batteries every night. It was definitely a learning experience for us but we fell in love with the campsite and the boondocking experience!
Idaho – Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is a MASSIVE park and there aren’t a ton of nearby boondocking spots but the ones we ended up at were worth the drive. Our friends that we had met at Spread Creek in Wyoming recommended Henry Lake BLM to us so that was our first destination.
This BLM land was located down a winding dirt road through a cow pasture and right on the side of the lake. We decided to drop the camper and drive down in our truck first to make sure that there was an open campsite and that we could tow Roo up and down. It didn’t help that we arrived in the dark! Waking up to the sunrise on the lake though made setting up in the dark and dodging cow patties totally worth it. The location was super quiet other than a few other campers and a couple fisherman but the views were fantastic.
We would have stayed at Henry Lake the entire time but there was a rough storm rolling through overnight on our last night so we decided to hook up and relocate to Bootjack Dispersed Campground. Bootjack is a really well known boondocking area outside of Yellowstone but it differed in a few ways from Spread Creek. Spread Creek was designated campsites with a limit on how long you can stay versus bootjack was basically a free for all. You could basically pull up and make a campsite out of any open space that you found.
We found it a bit tough to tell sometimes whether spots were campsites or cut through roads so we found a nice one with a fire pit and called it our home for a night! This was also located right on a system of off-roading trails so Kyle had a blast taking the dirt bike out while I hung back and got some work done!
Montana – Outside of Missoula
We stayed at standard campgrounds with hookups during our time at Glacier National Park but once that week was over, we spent a week in Missoula trying to catch up on some life admin tasks that we had been putting off. Most of the week was split between nights at the Walmart, Cracker Barrel, and the local RV dealer, but we decieded to break up the week and head back out to the forest for one night.
Our mini-adventure took us to Muchwater Recreation Area in Plains, Montana. This little dispersed campground was similar to Spread Creek in that it had very clear, designated spots that were available on a first-come first-serve basis. We found a wide open spot right on the river across from an active train track which may bother some, but Kyle’s a train nerd and loved every minute.
This little campground was rather quiet and we didn’t have any interactions with other people while we were there. Each campsite had fire rings & picnic tables and the campground had pit toilets, which not many have as an option.
We chose this area because it was close to a bunch of riding trails in Lolo National Forest. That kept us amused for a day before heading back to the city. We personally like to find boondocking spots near riding trails but this may not be a priority for most people!
The downside of this spot was that it was COMPLETELY dead of cell service. Neither T-Mobile or Verizon worked there which is not ideal to stay in for extended periods of time especially while we’re actively working and planning our trip. But for one night, it was nice to disconnect and get away.
If you have the ability to go off the grid for a few days, the perks of boondocking far outweigh the challenges. Wide open spaces in beautiful locations with few people around is the best kind of camping…. nevermind the money savings. We highly recommend any of the above locations listed if you find yourself traveling to these areas.
Have you been to any of these spots? Are there others nearby that you would recommend too? Leave them in the comments below! Interested in planning a road trip of your own but don’t know where to start? Reach out to me and let InMotion Adventures help you plan your dream trip! Until next time…
Stay Wild and Adventure On!
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