We arrived in Bend on Saturday afternoon and immediately drove to a boondocking spot in the national forest that we had scoped out on Google maps. It was basically just a dirt road with a few pull-offs and some turn around spots in the middle of the forest. It wasn’t bad — but it wasn’t great either. The forest was typical of what you find out here in the high desert on the eastern side of Oregon. Widely spaced pine trees and an undergrowth of sage brush and dry, dusty earth. So dusty that after walking around just a little bit our shoes were covered with a fine, brown dust. We easily found a spot on the edge of the woods in one of the turn around spots.
We purposely parked where there was a high concentration of pine needles hoping that would prevent us from tracking too much dust inside. Even though it was a a perfectly fine spot that met all of our requirements — only a few miles outside of town, good cell service, quiet, not in an RV park with neighbors a few feet way — we couldn’t shake the feeling that this was not THE spot for us.
We’ve come to regard boondocking as a way to find the best, most amazing spot where no one else is, that just happens to be free as a bonus. If the spot is just so-so, then we might as well be paying to stay at an RV park. Because even though we have gotten pretty good at it, boondocking is still extra work. There’s the constant search for water and a place to dispose the trash, not to mention the management of waste tanks. While all these things are not too difficult, if the place is just so-so then in my opinion it’s not worth it.
Since we weren’t in love with the spot, we decided to spend some time on Sunday looking around for another spot. A reader and fellow traveler mentioned the other day on Facebook that they couldn’t find a boondocking spot during their recent trip to Bend. So in the interest of helping out a fellow RVer I thought I would give a few tips on how we find our boondocking spots.
There are a couple of semi-helpful websites out there that list free camping sites. Free Campsites.net, Free Campgrounds.com, Campgrounds of the USA, and Boondocking.org are all sites that list free and cheap camping around the US. We use these sites as reference only since they tend to be difficult to navigate and somewhat unreliable. Often the information is out of date or downright incorrect, especially in regard to GPS coordinates. If we do find a spot on one of these sites then we always try to verify it by using one of the other methods below.
One of the best ways to find a good boondocking spot is by reading the travel blogs of others who also enjoy boondocking. Some people don’t publish their exact location for a variety of reasons, but usually if you contact that person they are more than willing to share their “secret” spot with you. Other bloggers love to spread the boondocking love around and willingly publish their exact location along with coordinates and photos. My three favorite blogs who share their boondocking locations are Wheeling It, Aluminarium, and Van-Tramp.
*By the way, we share all of our location info on our Where page. The list under the big map has a google map icon that takes you to our location, or if you click on any point on the map the same icon will pop up.
A simple Google search for the place name + dispersed camping or boondocking. The results usually come back with multiple posts on RV and camping forums that you can then sort through for usable info. For example, a search of Bend dispersed camping resulted in a a Mtn. biking forum that discussed camping in the very spot where we are now.
If you are looking to camp in a national forest, a visit to the forest service office in the area where you want to stay can be very helpful. The rangers will let you know the rules (always a 14-day limit in one spot, sometimes specific roads where you can and cannot camp), as well as suggestions for known sites. This is also a great place to pick up forest maps.
The Bureau of Land Management has a website that is horrible to navigate, but if you can figure it out contains some useful information about dispersed camping. The website will also point you in the direction of local offices where you will find more specific info about the area you want to camp.
We tend to be a very online slanted household. For the most part we only use electronic maps and books. Partly because we live in a very small home with not much extra space, and partly because we can! I mean how cool is it that we can access such a wealth of information with only a few taps of the fingers? Technology is a huge part of our life style, but since not everyone is as enthusiastic about the online world as we are, I thought I would mention a few “old-fashioned” methods for finding boondocking spots.
We recently acquired a book called Don Wright’s Free Guide to Camping. The title is a bit misleading since it actually contains a mix of free and cheap camping, but the information is very complete and the organization of the book very easy to follow. Benchmark Maps are the go-to map for anyone who wants detailed information about public land in a paper map form. Each atlas covers one state and you can currently purchase maps for all of the western states. We don’t have any of these maps, mainly because I am not sure where we would store them, but I know of several other travelers who swear by them.
This is the number one resource we use, often in conjunction with several of these other methods. Especially if we are going to take the airstream with us to a potential boondocking spot. Then it becomes imperative to check out the area using satellite view and make sure there is a place where we can turn around. Even in an area where there is no street view, you can usually zoom in far enough to get a good overview of the area. Here is the satellite view of where we are. The green arrow is us.
Is this the right spot for us?
Finally, I have to mention one last factor that makes or breaks any boondocking spot for us. Cell coverage. Since we need to be online for work, a potential boondocking spot is only as good as the cell signal that it receives. Luckily we have found an extremely helpful app that is essential to all of our travel plans. Coverage? is app developed by some fellow travelers who wisely recognized the need for a simple method to determine cell coverage. Armed with this knowledge we always know in advance what kind of cell service we can expect wherever we may end up.
Soooo….putting all of this good use, here is the new spot that we found.
What makes this spot better than the last? Well, first off there’s the view. From our front door we have a beautiful panorama of Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top Mtn. & South Sisters Mtn. off in the distance.
Not to mention the awesome sunset and sunrise scenes.
There’s also the fact that we are only a few miles from town, have an excellent speedy Verizon connection, and are right in the middle of a huge network of mtn biking trails. Perfect since this last weekend we finally got ourselves some bikes! Oh, and instead of that horrible dust at the other spot, we have a more gravely surface outside our front door. Plus we are surrounded by blooming Sage Brush bushes.
So to sum it all up, finding that perfect boondocking spot is not always easy. Sometimes it takes research, and then more research, and then maybe some looking around, and then maybe spending the night at a not so perfect spot, or a Walmart, while you go and look around some more. In the end though, when you find that awesome spot where everything is just perfect and you can’t imagine ever leaving (well, at least until your two week limit is up) all that effort is totally worth it.
Update June 2014
We have had several reports that the boondocking spot mentioned above in Bend Oregon is now closed off due to forest rehabilitation as part of the West Bend Project.