I recently visited a Washington State Park and was greeted with a sign in the window of the closed attendant’s booth that said: “There Are No Utility Sites Available.”
Now, through the years, I have traveled miles to a campground hoping to find a campsite only to be discouraged when I encountered the “Campground Full” sign posted at the entrance. But would an RVer drive miles to reach a first-come, first-serve campground just to turn around and head elsewhere because there are no utility sites available?
For me, I am happy to find a spot, any spot, available when I pull into a campground these days. After talking with others, and reading online posts and surveys, I learned that I’m in the minority when it comes to utilities not being a necessity, especially electricity, as some surveys reveal nearly 75% of RVers feel they must have an electrical hookup.
Yes, even I, a dyed in the wool boondocker, would prefer an electric site, especially in cold or very hot weather, but I would never head down the road if one were not available.
That is why I am writing this blog entry to encourage you to become a better dry camper and avoid the disappointment you must experience when arriving at a campground and discovering there are no utility sites available. Trust me, most any RV will operate a night or two without hookups in moderate weather conditions.
By becoming a better dry camper, you have much more flexibility on where you can camp. With flexibility comes freedom, allowing you to pretty much go where you want when you want. Isn’t that what RVing was meant to be? Surveys show that thousands of designated (non-utility) campsites remain vacant every night, even in the busiest season, due to RVers perceived need of utilities.
On top of the thousands of non-utility campsites that remain vacant, tens of thousands of other potential sites (dispersed camping locations, boat launches, city parks, points of interest, fairgrounds, and other legal places to camp) remain underutilized due to the fact they require RVers to dry camp.
I have shared with you the “why” part of becoming a better dry camper, but for the “how” part, you can search online, especially through my older blog posts where I have shared how to determine your power needs, conserve water, how to recharge your batteries, find potable water, and other useful dry camping skills.
How about you? Will you accept a a non-hookup campsite when you arrive without reservations at a campground or RV park, or will you try your luck elsewhere in the hopes of finding a campsite with utilities? Please share why (or why not) in the comment section below.
See also: Boondocking Checklist: 10 Essential Items Needed For Off-Grid Camping
Dave Helgeson’s many roles in the RV industry started before he even had a driver’s license. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership before the term “RV” had been coined, and Dave played a pivotal role in nearly every position of an RV dealership. He and his wife Cheri launched their own RV dealership in the Pacific Northwest. The duo also spent 29 years overseeing regional RV shows. Dave has also served as President of a local chapter of the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), worked on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college, and served as a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. Dave’s reputation earned him the title of “The foremost expert on boondocking,” bestowed by RV industry icon, the late Gary Bunzer (The RV Doctor). When he’s not out boondocking, you’ll find Dave in the spotlight at RV shows across the country, giving seminars about all things RVing. He and Cheri currently roam in their fifth travel trailer, with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications to his own unit.
I only need utilities if it is hot and I need the a/c. Otherwise I’m fine without hookups. I can go usually ten days on 40 gallons of fresh water.
I became a full timer in December after sell my home. I never thought about boon-docking. after spending some time with experienced RVers I’m hooked. I stated with running my generator to charge my electronics.
I went out and purchased 2 lithium batteries and charge then with an 80W solar suitcase. It allows me to charge and run my CPAP.
I’m on BLM land and love it. The people I’ve met are great and not as ckicky as what I’ve found in RV Parks.
I’ll still stay in parks when necessary but will keep boondocking as much as I can. At least till it gets hot and humid later on.
Christy B. says
We dry camp must of the time. Utilities are nice for extended stays or extreme weather situations. It is more economical to dry camp too! We go to get away from large amounts of people which is hard to do with hookups essential.
John C. says
Of course I’d stay. The first thing I did was change the small 12 volt battery to two large deep cycle batteries, giving us days of electricity. I also the changed the ceiling to a high flow (like fantastic), giving us more air flow at a low speed and current draw. Run propane for the frig and turn unnecessary lights off. I also changed/or made sure all lights were LED. Do not use the 120 volt appliances. Watching water use sink, toilet, and bathroom (a sponge bath is just fine for a few days if you wash and rinse correctly) can add days to a trip. I carry a small gen that works fine to charge the batteries, but for just a few nights, you shouldn’t need to charge, especially if the weather is not too cold or hot. If you need to run the heater, just minimize and put on a sweater or heavier shirt. I am an advocate for a shakedown run trip either close to home or even in the driveway (ensure you imagine you’re camping and your house is off limits).
I’ve been camping for over 60 year by tent, PU camper, tent, tarp cargo conversation trailer, and later tag-alongs in the 20 ft range.
Have fun and enjoy the trip and camp!
Tim Lowe says
we hate RV parks, except to do laundry, dump tanks, add water, etc. I would PAY BLM, etc to reserve a dispersed camping site!!!!
Christie Abbott says
We prefer dry camping most of the time. Haven’t had much luck with BLM sites, though, mainly due to wet weather and muddy roads with a good chance of getting stuck. However, when on a 2 week adventure, it’s nice to at least have a level gravel site with hook-ups every few days. But would we pass up a site just because of no hook-ups? Absolutely not!!!
If I have a choice I take the boondocking camping over the campground… why..
1.st…. if you figure that it cost you 40 bux a night you will spend at least $300 a week camping. Now while you do get elect, water etc… we find that even though we do get into a campground with services we still navy shower and behave the same in resources as if we were boondocking
2nd. W have found that boondocking is much quieter …most of the time… and more frendly campers… not to mention the money you save… for that I can open the window to let the fresh air blow through (ocean air is so great… but then again the smell of pine trees is also) … As to cold weather… well we have propane tanks, heater, blankets and warm cloths… which then allow you to sit around the campfire sipping on coffee etc… and getting outdoors… where as the campground.. what ya got .. a pool and TV… yikes…
3rd…. the views… no where else can you wake up in the morning and feel mother nature smile’n at you… and of course the wild life coming to see who is in their domain… grin…
Etc..etc..etc… So many more reasons other than disappointment reserve camping… where most arrive… set up the RV.. take a look around the thing and then promptly head inside to watch the tv or computer…only to be seen when they are leaving…
Nope I like the outdoors.. that is why we camp…and staying in a glamping campground is not what I like to do…unless its for work…etc…
Recently checked into a state park where the water was unexpectedly shut off. Fortunately we always travel with about 2/3 of a FW tank. We got along quite well for four days. Had electricity though for lights and heat saving the need to run the genny. The stay was a good reminder to be prepared and conservation.
tom mason says
We prefer boon docking so lack of elec. is not a problem. The only thing I need power for are the micro and AC which my generator can take care of. TV and everything else is 12 volt.
jeff conlee says
If the sites were free it would depend on the weather and how long I intended to stay. Two to four days would be doable without any major problems. There are so many variables to consider but it would not scare me away if there was no other immediate option.
We boondock a lot more than we used to. Auto-Gen made it a lot easier!
Frank Fish says
As a confirmed “Last Minute” site guy, whether it’s Wally Docking in the Class A or a No Hookups home for the baby TT, I am always ready to boondock it.
Jonathan Schacher says
We ordered our 4 season camper with boondocking in mind – bigger tanks, additional house battery, generator, solar charger, and propane appliances – so not having utilities is of no concern. Just requires a little pre-planning such as filling up the fresh water before setting up.
Brad Ridenour says
Hi Dave, I interned under Pastor Ken Helgeson at Grace Lutheran on hilltop in Sioux Falls SD., 1972. Are you by chance related?? BTW, I am an avid RV’er, and love boondocking when I get a chance.
Janie Blunk says
I like both. If we’re driving to a specific place and we get tired we stay over at a rest stop, pilot, or Walmart. We stayed at a pilot for 3 nights and loved it. Just crank up the gen when we need 120 volt.
Our TVs are 120. Is there a way to convert them to 12. Anybody have any suggestions?
Dave Helgeson says
Brad, not that I am aware of. Interesting side note is that my grandfather was a pastor in Minneapolis.
Back in the day (’70’s) my folks had a 12v tv probably like 10″ screen! Look up DC TVs
taz z says
I can boondock for 14 days without running out of water or full gray and black tank space. Where I boondock the most is out in the middle of nowhere in Northern Ontario on crown land. Water is easy to replace. There is plenty of it in the lake that I’m fishing. That is where the drinking water comes from at the pricey flyin fishing camps
Dave, thank you for the great article. We are going to spend the summer in the western part of the US and would like to boondock at least part of that time. My challenge is finding boondocking spots that won’t damage my rig and/or truck. Can you help?
Dave Helgeson says
Don – You can use Google earth satellite view and street view to get a good idea of what the road into the boondocks looks like and if it is something you are comfortable with. I seldom pull down a road more than a few hundred yards off the asphalt. Do a online search using my name, “RV”, “Boondocking” and “Google Earth” and you should find multiple blogs and videos where I explain how to determine these things.
Dave Helgeson says
Don, check out my recent blog and the two that will follow it. https://rvlife.com/back-roads-google-earth/
Dave, thank you so much for the reply. I’ll check out your information. Thanks again.
Teri Cline says
Yes I will dry camp if needed. As long as I have a tank of gas in my MH my generator will power my Class A rig and with my switch in batteries I have more than doubled my time to run on batteries alone. So long as I have water in my tanks, the digs. Cat znd I are fine.
Ll Lemons says
Last fall in Hershey, PA, we stayed at the dry camp set up as part of the Largest RV Show in America rather than drive 30 miles further to a campground that had hook-ups (or stay at a nearby cg that charged more than twice what we paid.) It was only one nite, and we got to set up earlier in the day and relax. Were even able to visit the nearby Troeg Brewery and enjoy a good meal and cold brew for dinner.
Dry camping is what I do 95% of the time. I learned how to conserve what usage.
My electrical needs are minimal and have a total of 156 AH via 2 x LiFePO4 batteries. I run most items direct from 12 VDC eliminating the inefficiency of using a large inverter. I have a small 300W inverter used to charge my ebike and a couple of items that need to use AC voltage.
I rarely use my built-in RV generator and use 300W of solar panels. 200W are portable and can be positioned as the sun moves across the sky. In addition to the generator and solar, these Lithium batteries can be recharged quickly by idling my RV’s engine.
There are various apps that help me find potable water and dump stations, many of which are free.
My Class B RV gets me into camp spots in very scenic locations. As an example, I’m now at the KOFA National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona … beautiful place.
For entertainment, I use my phone and laptop to access YouTube. I also have many movies saved on my laptop to viewing during inclement weather days.
I have no requirement to stay at a formal campground to be placed in sardine canned sites, noisy neighbours, noisy kids, barking dogs, etc.
Billy Norton says
How do you locate places to Boondocks?
Bob Ritchie says
I will accept most any site that is open. We boon dock every chance we get. We have solar and lots of tank capacity and don’t travel with full waste tanks. We do make sure we always have a few days water & propane on board.
The quietness of a dry camp is the best part of any trip. The days slow down and the nights are brighter.
The only time I NEED hookups is to run AC if it’s above 75 degrees for my dogs.
Danno in Nebr says
I like boondocking if it’s not hot or below freezing out. I have a restored ’91 Hitchhiker Snowbird fifth wheel. We camp out while riding ATV trails. I’d much rather boondock than be in a crowded camp ground. My camper has an 80 gallon fresh water tank which is plenty for three or four people to take a shower everyday for three for four days. I charge the two RV batteries up daily with my camper plugged into my generator and keep power use in the camper down to a minimum. I can also use my ram diesel truck idling to charge the batteries with everything off in the truck. The truck can easily charge 30-40 amps an hour and the RV inverter/charger should do 30-40 amps an hour hooked up to a generator. I run a cpap all night and carry a spare deep cycle battery for that i case I need it. All of the camper lighting inside has been changed to LED lamps. After 3 or 4 days we go into a camp ground, fill the water tank and drain the waste tanks and stay for one night. Then back out to the boonies.
Norma Peters says
We are working on getting solar power installed so we can boondock. I need full time oxygen to sleep and if I’m walking so we have to have electric most of the time. We love the privacy of camping at the Army Corp of Engineers Campgrounds, State Parks and National Parks vs the side by side parking lots of the RV Resorts. Also since I am disabled I get the federal half price discounts at those parks. We have gone camping at some non electric campgrounds but for short trips and I have to bring lots of the very large oxygen bottles to hold me for overnight when I sleep. Right now most of our camping is from Georgia to the Ozarks in Arkansas where we are getting our property ready to build our retirement home on and we have electric on the property now so I only have to bring enough large bottles for 1 Walmart overnight on the way there and the way back home. We will be camping full time there while we build our house. Then it’s off on trips for 2 to 3 months at a time with our 4 dogs. We rarely stay in resorts because needing oxygen to swim I simply cannot do it so no need for a resort with a pool. Once we get the solar set up we will boondock often so we can go on really long trips without a lot of expense. When on long trips right now we usually bring 7 large oxygen bottles and my oxygen concentrator that I can use overnight when we have electric and with it I can refill the smaller bottles that I can use for long walks. I put them in a backback and although I can only walk slowly and have to rest a lot we can still go on trails. Luckily my boyfriend does not mind that I have to walk slowly. He’s just happy I’m alive and can walk.
stratos 175 says
Solar has made it so much easier to dry camp or boondock whatever you want to call it. If I lived west of the Mississippi I would invest in a good solar setup but living in the SE not a whole lot of options for that so, but do agree if don;t need ac would be able to figure it out for several days I’m sure.
All my camping is done in the forest, that’s what I bought my RV for, and always dry camping and hopefully no other RVers within eye shot.
Call me antisocial if you must, but I extremely enjoy my peace and quiet and relaxation.
Mardi Welo says
Can one dry camp at public boat launches??? Does it require a permit? I love boondock, as long as it is cool enough to sleep. No one launches a boat in the dark, but I am afraid to be asleep and then have the authorities banging on my wall because I’m not allowed to park there.
We prefer the state camp grounds and most do not have have utility hookups but many have generator hours. I agree, when it’s hot and humid I prefer and electric site for the AC but with the generator and solar we can survive without hookups.
Walt Craig says
We’ve joined a group that promotes staying at farms, wineries, small museums, etc. We’ve stay at several, you’re expected to say just one night, to visit the facility and perhaps make a purchase. Never been to one that had hookups. The places are always private, quiet, and often we’re the only RV’s. To enjoy this kind of camping requires knowing how to dry camp. As the author said, almost any RV is capable of one or two nights of dry camping. Cold is less of a problem than needing a/c but then we only go to these places when it’s reasonable to get a good night’s sleep with a/c. Knowing you can opens a lot of options.
Boondocking is pretty easy, just think it through. A couple of Honda Generators, inverters, upgrade your batteries, add some solar, grab some butane burners, propane griddle and grill, fill up the water and propane tanks and off you go. You can also grab a Firestick and the hotspot on your phone for an occasional movie. Stop Glamping and start camping – much more peaceful and no tight spots with nosey neighbors.
We have found that some of the prettiest campsites are the ones with no utilities. That’s one reason we chose a shorter (25′) TT as many of these campgrounds can’t accommodate longer RV’s. It’s important to be mindful of using a generator to recharge your batteries as to the impact on those in tents that want a quieter camping experience.
Jim Shepherd says
Used my Class C 21 nights between June and October last year with only one night in a park with only power and water hookups(they had a separate dump site I used on the way out). 4 nights were spent at friends with just electric (and wifi). The rest of the time I was boondocking with great locations by the Salmon River above Riggins, on a mountaintop east of Logan, UT, on the Sheldon National Wildlife area, and several other BLM and USFS dispersed sites. Have 200 Ahr of batteries, a dual voltage tv that also serves as a computer monitor for a 12 volt computer. I replaced the stock solar controller with a commercial one that I have used on communication sites because it does not cause radio interference. I also use ham radio in the rig. Boondocking is the way to go!!!
David and Judy Geisser says
We just had solar panels installed on our roof with a lithium battery and an inverter. We are in heaven! We were initially worried about whether we had enough power for inclement weather but we are totally good. (I hate the portable generator but we have one for backup only). We prefer the glorious quiet of dry camping with the free power.
Michael Orlin says
I prefer dry camping due to the privacy. Boondocking tends to be more private.
I’m set up with 325w 210ah solar and an on board generator that is rarely used. I use a 2.2kw portable gen when needed. It will run my ac unit due to rv softstart that I installed.
I usually load water at campground if available. If not, I have a 12v filtered pump and garden hose and load from river or stream with a little bleach. The pump if needed, is a spare for the one in service. Outdoor shower and all is good.
I have met some fine campers boondocking. They tend to be a little more adventurous.
I have a 30ft class c and usually pull a trailer with two or three of my adventure motorcycles.
Happy Camping yall!!
No matter what kind of RV I have owned, I pretty much use it as a glorified tent!! Fridge/freezer & potty with my comfy bed!! If we are at an RV park, I utilize the shower house! If boondocking-out camping, I forgo a shower for a few days like when tent camping using lake, river,&/or wipes!! AWE to be outside!!
Mark Williams says
We prefer to camp in the National Forest or COE campgrounds we have class a and don’t mind a week with no hookups
That to us is camping
I look forward to testing my skills after I take delivery on my new Teardrop; has a 30 gallon water tank, and I got a solar kit for it, plus I have a Honda whisper quiet generator that should fit up front with extra storage from the extended hitch. I’m excited!
Michael Brown says
Outrageous campground fees pay for the solar system pretty fast. 900 watts, lithium, and no generator needed.
Vanessa Simmons says
I just traveled across country and couldn’t find campgrounds that had no hookup sites! One had on their website they had 5 dry camping sites. When I called I told the lady I wanted a dry camping site and she took my information then told me it was $33.xx including tax. I said “for a dry campsite? I don’t want hookup”. To which she replied, “Do you have a tent? Those are the ones with no hookup but you can’t put an RV there.” Campgrounds need to do a) a better job on their websites of describing their services and b) better educate their employees. It has been my experience that most employees are also RVers so I can’t believe she didn’t know what “dry camping” was.
I don’t want to be dry camping in the pristine wilderness and have to listen to someone’s generator. You are spoiling it for others. Rude and thoughtless to contaminate the wilderness with those noises. Please stay away from me. If you have to watch TV or movies stay home and do it. That isn’t camping. Yes, we have a solar system and 2 Honda generators which we don’t use but carry for an emergency only. To make it even easier our trailer is only 17 feet long and totally self contained.
Love your articles but the Google Ads cover content and there’s no way to get rid of the box, even if the ad closes.
Michael Rath says
I mostly avoid RV parks because I prefer few or no close RV neighbors. I am not anti-social but I love seeking out remote boondocking areas.
Having said that I may enter a small RV park once or twice a month to get fresh water, dump, and charge my batteries only because I like to shower and I avoid showering due to the need to conserve water. I use baby wipes to wipe my stinkier body parts but other than that I try to stay as self-sufficient as possible. Plus boondocking is cheap!
We have only stayed in RV parks three times that I can remember in our 15 years of RVing, and two of those were shakeout trips of new to us RVs. If we want utilities, we’ll stay in a state park that has them. Otherwise, we’re fine without them. We just added a catalytic heater that doesn’t require any battery power, and we have two lithium batteries (soon to be four) plus a portable power pack, which allows us to watch a DVD if we choose. We also have an Onan 7000 generator if we need to charge batteries. No solar as yet but perhaps soon.
Richard Hubert says
I agree with Dave. It is very puzzling to me why so many RVers seem to think they need hookups every nite, when most RVs are built to be self-sufficient for at least a few nites.
Yes – smaller RVs will have smaller water tanks, and these will limit how many nites of living off grid (boondocking) they can do. As far as electrical – with even some minor enhancements and monitoring many can live off their batteries just fine.
In our 38′ Class A we have large tanks, solar on the roof, and 400ah of Lithium batteries which enable us to easily go 2 weeks without hookups – we just did that in Quartzsite, AZ!
And as mentioned – being fully self-contained opens up so many other places to spend the nite – Walmarts, rest areas, BLM lands, National Forest CGs, and even many National Park CGs – as most have a number of no hookup sites.
I prefer the CGs without hook ups. People are noisy and dirty. Sadly, the non hook up CGs become covered in toilet paper and human excrement. Then there are the generators….. Obnoxious and invasive to other campers. Sometimes I wonder why people leave home at all or don’t just live in a house?
Timothy M Patton says
While I have not dry camped yet I am preparing to. I just installed solar power and a 24 volt 4800 ah battery. I retired a month ago and I’m looking for places in Ohio to boondock. I do have a generator but if I decide I don’t need it I think I’ll sell it. I guess my plan is to test out boondocking to improve my confidence before I head out to other states. My hobby is Astrophotography and I really need dark open sky.
JGrenier, CPP says
I can dry camp, no problem. It’s just nice to have a toilet and shower around. But that’s not a problem either. I tote a generator with me when I go camping and that gives me the power I need to run the A/C if it’s hot. My A-Liner popup camper has 2 bottles of propane. So heat and stove aren’t an issue. I also have a prortable potty with a privacy tent that can be used for both the potty and the Shower unit that is built into the outside of the A-Liner.
So, Dry Camping? No problem. Oh, and it has the off-road package too. So I don’t need to be in a paved parking lot or space.
I’m good to go. 🙂