Hitting the open road — RVing full or part time provides plenty of fun and adventure. Too much adventure, however, can cause undue stress. One thing that reduces the discomfort of uncertainty is making a plan and having the flexibility to modify it as needed. Conducting a sufficient amount of research to determine places to fuel, fill your water tank, and park your RV overnight while on your trip allows you to maintain a timetable and reach your destination on schedule.
Whether you research your route and options before heading out or you prefer to play it a bit more spontaneously, checking out appropriate websites and apps to choose from RV park, government land, and boondocking options is a great idea. It enables you to enjoy the adventures you want without suffering the stress of accidents, wrong turns, and unexpected occurrences.
Investigate Your Options
If you are planning your trip ahead of time, it is advisable to consider all your various needs. If you intend to take your time as you travel and spend an evening or two visiting a few locations, visiting different commercial parks or even free government run campgrounds is a relaxing option. If you merely need a place to catch a few hours of rest before resuming your drive, boondocking is more cost-efficient.
Commercial or Privately Owned Campgrounds
With billboard advertisements, typical easy access, and well-marked entrances, private and commercial campgrounds are likely the most popular option. Most offer a variety of amenities and provide a “one-stop shop” where you can buy propane, fill you water tank, and dump waste. Many also offer facilities, so you can catch up on your laundry before you move on. RV parks allow you to enjoy a no-hassle, relaxing evening at a higher cost. They are often a bit crowded and usually have fairly strict rules, so “know before you go”.
Government-run city, county, state, and national parks are usually a little more out of the way. Their cost usually depends on the location and provided amenities. Some are as developed as a camping park; others are nothing more than an established pad on which to park your RV. Many parks are in national forests or other scenic areas that require an annual park pass and may restrict visits to no more than 15 days.
Dry Camping aka Boondocking
Many public lands, such as government parks, allow campers to stay on undeveloped campsites. Primitive roads often lead to these spots and the “rules of the road” basically state that visitors stay off the road, away from any water, and leave no trace. Other popular places to boondock include the parking lots of truck stops, rest areas, and stores like Wal-Mart and Cabellas.
Contact the administrators of any public lands you plan to visit to determine the specific regulations and ask the manager of any store you would like to overnight to ensure it is allowed there.
Check Out Popular Websites
Fortunately, there are several great websites available to help you research your options before you head for the open road. If you know your ultimate destination, you can plot your trip to include timely stops to accommodate all of your needs, such as fueling and rest stops. Here are a few of the most popular ones.
Produced by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, this large online database provides information about all commercial campgrounds and RV Parks in the United States.
It allows campers to select their specific wants and needs from a list of common options, as well as compare campgrounds along their route. Use this site as a tool to help plan your trip with the provided ideas and useful hints.
Known as the first 50-percent discount camping club, Passport America covers nearly 2000 campgrounds within North America.
Although members receive regularly updated printed editions to the club’s campground directory, anyone can access the information on its website. By choosing a location, you can view information for all of the RV parks in that area, such as number of sites, power, dump, pet restrictions, etc. You can also see which campgrounds offer the Passport America discount to club members.
Reserve America assists private campground owners in promoting their parks online. It also features a large catalogue of state and federal parks with campsites, cabins, and lodges available.
After choosing a location, you can peruse the area alphabetically or narrow your search to federal, state, or private parks. As one of the largest providers of reservations in the U.S., the site then allows you to reserve your site based on your specific needs and the dates during which you plan to camp. This is a great service for those who plan ahead.
Listing the parks in each state, this site also rates them by facility, cleanliness, and friendliness. It provides information on rates, the utilities available, offered amenities, and the personal reviews from previous campers. Although it is a comprehensive resource for campgrounds that have been reviewed, it is also a work in progress; therefore, many parks have no information at this time.
This free website allows you to browse over 20,000 RV parks and provides as much information as the most complete database. You can narrow your search to focus on the aspects that are most important to you, such as location, view, accessibility, or amenities. Besides the commonly found information, the site provides user reviews, tips, impressions of the parks, and photos. Campers are encouraged to add to the site to keep the experience up to date.
Check Out Public Land Websites
When you seek adventure with a view, public land options may be your best bet.
These websites are great for finding low cost and even free campgrounds in state and national parks, as well as other public or government protected lands.
Use the U.S. National Forest Campground Guide Website to locate a beautiful, inexpensive area to camp in your motorhome, a tent, or even in your automobile.
Click the tab titled "National Forests & Campgrounds" to view a slew of photos and visitor reviews, as well as a variety of types of information about national forests, grasslands, prairies, developed campgrounds, and dispersed camping (boondocking) areas to find a great overnight spot.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages and cares for over 245 million acres—mostly found within Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
With an abundance of cultural, historical, and natural resources, these lands have been set aside for recreational use, as well as for other purposes. These resources can help you find areas of government land on which to boondock. Merely click the link titled “Access Public Lands Through Recreational Guides” to view national monuments, scenic river locations, and historic trails, among others.
This site provides access to information about the rates, features, and popular activities of each state park. View photos and videos of various facilities, and then read the related articles to learn camping tricks. You can also obtain maps of the facilities and campground trails, as well as directions to each park. State parks are typically inexpensive, so they restrict visits to no more than 2-weeks to ensure there is room for all who desire the experience.
Get the most “bang for your buck” by choosing from inexpensive parks that range from free to 15-dollars a night. On this website, you can select a state to find out how many options are available within your budget. Each listing details the rates, location, and basic accommodations, such as activities, laundry facilities, and Internet options to help you decide.
This database, created by one man with input from users, lists secluded sites found a short distance from developed campgrounds. Since some “developed” sites only provide a pit toilet and a fire ring, by boondocking, you aren’t missing much. Instead, enter your GPS coordinates and you can find a flat, perfectly legal spot to camp in your favorite public lands overnight. You can also edit listings or add to the database, as long as the locations are absolutely free and accessible from the road by a regular vehicle.
Unfortunately, most websites fail to address the basic needs of campers while they’re on the road. Often, searching from a tablet or a smart phone while on a back road with limited coverage, it’s helpful to have the information available offline. Thankfully, there are several applications that make this process much easier. In fact, they are practically essential when making decisions on the go.
Whether you are naturally spontaneous or you just opt to make an unscheduled stop for the night, having these at your fingertips can help you find a host of facilities in order to camp, dump, fill your RV’s water tank, fuel up, or “ask to park” for the night.
This app features more than 22,000 commercial campgrounds like KOAs, state and national parks, federal forests, military and BLM land, as well as boondocking spots.
Most listings provide information regarding amenities and available utilities, as well as phone numbers, written directions, and links to Google and Apple map directions. AllStays points out truck stops that provide water and dumping stations, places to buy propane, overnight parking locations like Wal-Mart, Cabellas, Cracker Barrel, and rest stops, RV centers and repair shops, as well as places to buy supplies like Camping World and Dick’s Sporting Goods. The directory can be adjusted to focus on the services you are looking for.
For information on difficult to find boondocking locations and free campgrounds, check out the Free Campsites app.
Along with plenty of user reviews and photos, visitors use a map-based search engine to find free and inexpensive places to camp, such as public lands and county or state parks. Visitors can also add to the database and share information on new locations.
This app provides an up-to-date guide to the many state parks throughout the nation. With GPS technology, it works well for new campers and ones with more experience.
After using the “Parks Nearest Me” feature to find easy overnight locations, the Geographic Information System (GIS) and Points of Interest (POI) features help you maximize your visit. The app has a built in compass and latitude/longitude positioning. It also assists you by locating trails, keeping you aware of weather conditions, alerting you to current park events, and helping you keep track of your companions or alert them to your location if you get lost. You can even use it to record trails for future reference.
Affiliated with RVParking.com, this app — available through iTunes — helps you find RV Parks across the U.S.
It provides detailed information, such as number of sites, power, propane, and Wi-Fi, etc. for more than 20,000 parks. You can obtain the phone numbers, address, and directions from your location to nearby parks. Find user reviews and photos, as well as add your own.
As you can see, finding a place to park your motorhome for the night doesn’t have to be difficult. By checking out a few of the popular websites for commercial campgrounds and public lands, you can plan your trip accordingly. Furthermore, downloading an app or two makes decisions on the road a breeze.
Personally, I don’t know what we would do without our AllStays app, but I definitely plan to check the BLM and free campgrounds before hitting the road again. If you found this information helpful, please share on a social media site, such as Facebook, so your friends and family can benefit from it, as well. Happy camping!