Can You Boondock in a National Park?

Couple boondocking in a National Park.

One of the best ways to explore national parks is by staying there to camp. Imagine walking outside your door at night to see a sky full of stars. Or having your morning coffee while some of the park’s wildlife wanders by. It’s a dream destination. So can you boondock in a national park? Keep reading to find out. 

What Is Boondocking? 

Boondocking is RVing without services or amenities. In other words, you don’t have access to water hookups, electricity, sewer, bathhouses, laundry facilities, or other amenities. Dry camping is similar, but you could technically dry camp in a campground or close to amenities. In comparison, boondocking is more off-grid. 

Family Boondocking in a National Park.

Can You Boondock in a National Park? 

Many national parks offer backcountry camping. While the language is different, it’s still boondocking. You’re camping outside of developed areas without services or amenities. 

All national parks require a backcountry permit for overnight use. Fees can range from $10 to $40. Most parks allow up to 14 days of camping. You can find detailed information for each national park on their website or at the visitor’s center.

Can National Parks Accommodate Big RVs?

Even though you can technically boondock in many national parks, there’s a catch. A national park’s backcountry camping is usually for hikers who carry tents in for camping, not RVs or vehicles of any kind. But some national parks allow off-road vehicles in the backcountry. 

For example, a few national parks that allow vehicles in the backcountry are Canyonlands National Park, Big Bend National Park, and Death Valley National Park. Each park has its own set of rules for backcountry driving. Make sure you know what they are and what’s permitted.

Also, keep in mind the sheer volume of people at national parks. These parks saw 237 million visitors in 2020, even with closures and restrictions. This data shows that you need to do your research and possibly make a reservation if you want to get a backcountry permit.

Two RVs Boondocking beside a lake.

Boondocking Just Outside National Park Limits

Since boondocking with an RV inside a national park isn’t always feasible, you can sometimes find other options nearby. Particularly in the southwest, you can often find Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land to park on for free. The maximum number of nights you can stay on BLM land is typically 14 days.

Joshua Tree National Park has some great camping spots right outside the south entrance on BLM land. The Grand Canyon also has a few areas for boondocking. There are spots near the entrance to the park and places closer to Flagstaff. 

How to Find Free RV Camping Near National Parks

With a bit of research, you can find free RV camping near some national parks. Campendium is a website and app you can use to locate spots to boondock. In addition, the reviews from other RVers are beneficial for navigating your way around the area. 

Woman tending to her fire at a National Park.

Alternative: National Park Campgrounds

If boondocking isn’t your thing or there are no options near the national park you’re visiting, check out campgrounds as an alternative. Many national parks have campgrounds that can accommodate RVs. You can find them on the park’s website.

There are things to keep in mind if you go the campground route. Each national park has its own guidelines and reservation policies. Some have reservable campgrounds, while others are first-come, first-served. Also, many campsites can only fit an RV 35 feet long or shorter. If the campground you’re interested in is reservation only, book far in advance. National park campgrounds fill up as soon as the booking window opens.

RVing to see this country’s beautiful national parks is worth the effort. The more you plan, the better your experience will be. With RVing on the rise and national parks more popular than ever, finding a campsite can be tricky. Boondocking could relieve the stress on overbooked campgrounds. Have you ever boondocked in a national park?

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