Five tips to finding free overnight camping

Disclaimer: Boondocking, or the art of finding free places to park an RV without hookups, can be addictive. You have been warned!

When we bought our RV, we had dreams of being parked in the wilderness with no one around and waking to spectacular sunrises with no other sound but singing birds and the coffee brewing. After a couple of years and many months on the road, we realized this dream was possible. We got hooked on the boondocking lifestyle. Some may call it “Off the grid”, “Dry camping”, “Dispersed Camping” or “Wild Camping” but the idea is the same…it is about heading out there in the wild and having fun camping… for free.

There is something liberating about finding a place to park for the night or even for a few days for free, especially if you find a spot like this!

So the question is how do we find these places? Travelers like to share their stories and if we are lucky, some will disclose their secret locations with us only if we promise not to tell anyone! Who wants to return to their favorite location only to find it is full of fellow RVers? Maybe we won’t be that lucky so where can we get that precious information?

Where can we find free overnight parking?

To us, the real question is: Where can we park safely overnight for free? Safety is the number one issue for Joanne and I. Although we feel relatively safe in a Wal-Mart parking lot (convenient but this is the last resort choice) we would not feel comfortable parking on a city street or in a city park without feeling safe about it. We would be on the lookout for either a police or security presence or other RVs parked there as well. Otherwise, we would choose another location.

We use a few tools to help us with our quest.

Harvest Hosts has been a very useful resource for us. This is a membership-based service where you can stay overnight (for one night) at host locations such as wineries, farms, and museums. You must call ahead to make arrangements (and arrive during business hours) and it is normal etiquette to thank the host by making a purchase at their place of business. There are hundreds of hosts scattered in the US and Canada and you are likely to find one on your itinerary. We have made wonderful discoveries this way. Furthermore, we have always felt safe at every place we stayed.

Nice and quiet at a southern Arizona winery.


A little fun under the stars at the same winery location.


We love staying at Harvest Host wineries. This time we are in Fredericksburg, Texas.


Boondockerswelcome is another membership-based service, but this time you are staying on a fellow RVer’s property. In this case, a little more planning is required because you must contact the potential host through a secure messaging system, which sends an email to the potential host. We have found that it is best to contact hosts a few days or even a week ahead of time to get a response. Many hosts are travelers like us and may not have access to emails. This has been more difficult to manage because we are often the type to decide on a destination as we go. But once we got a positive response back, it has always been a memorable experience. We enjoy visiting cities and like to be parked near the action, and this has been an excellent option, assuming there were hosts in the area. You may consider leaving a small token gift to your host, especially if a full hookup was offered. Have a look at the “resources” tab on the website for other very useful links. The next tip happens to be on that resources page.

Frugal-RV-Travel is a sister site to the “boondockerswelcome” website. We have saved hundreds of dollars in camping costs by using their guides to boondocking locations. If you are traveling to Arizona, Southern Utah, Southern Texas, New Mexico, or California (2 guides), you will find (very) detailed directions to some spectacular locations such as this:

Free and low-cost campgrounds is a guidebook to free or under $12 campgrounds. Although we have had less success with this guide, we often use it as a reference and it has provided us with directions to nice free sites. We have found some of the information in our 2014 edition to be out of date. Some GPS coordinates took us down a long dirt road at a private residence, not at all what we expected, or in another case, the coordinates were for the middle of a lake! Also, some campsites were closed for business. Now we cross-reference the information from the guide with Allstays, an indispensable camping app for mobile devices. If you do not have this application, get it now.

The guide took us to this abandoned campground converted to a dispersed camping site and managed by the state of Arizona.


Bureau of Land Management also known as BLMs manage public land mostly in the western US states. There are some campgrounds managed by the BLM that are fee based ($10-$15 usually) but there are many dispersed camping sites that are free of cost. Those can be discovered by visiting a BLM office, the BLM website, and some visitor centers offer information. In addition, the “Allstays” app can display BLM sites, and other online sources too. In many cases you will need a permit to stay at a dispersed campsite, which is available at BLM offices. The permit is free, but you will need to list names of the people in your party, vehicle information, the area where you will be parking and the length of your stay.

Some other useful apps like Campendium and Ultimate Campgrounds are regularly updated with free locations. Another useful resource is the community-driven

Camping on public land near Natural Bridges National Monument.


Other places where to boondock

When in a bind, we sometimes have to resort to parking on asphalt, most often at a store or other business that usually allows for this practice. Make sure you ask for permission because some cities have bylaws that restrict overnight parking. By calling the non-emergency police line at the local town, you will know whether it is legal or not. You may even get some tips on where to park legally and safely for the night.

This time we’re at a New Mexico winery


Here are few of the spots popular with travelers (again – if in doubt, ask for permission):

Have you ever gone camping in the wild? This is what we love to do and it gets better if you also have friends with you. For us, it is the ultimate thing in camping not only because of the money we save, but because it fulfills the inner explorers in both of us.

Do you have other ways to discover boondocking sites? Let us know in the comments below.

Taking a stroll at an Ontario winery where we parked overnight

Top Campgrounds & RV Parks in the Western United States

We are excited to introduce the very first Leisure List – The Top Campgrounds in the Western United States, submitted by our very own LTV owners. A special thanks for everyone who submitted these listings! Don’t miss our listings of the top campgrounds and RV parks in the Northeastern United StatesMidwestern United StatesSouthern United States, and Canada.

Did we miss your favourite spot? It’s not too late to share it with the LTV community. Use the form found at the link below.

(Note: The opinions expressed below are of those of the authors, and not necessarily of Leisure Travel Vans.)

Submit New Campgrounds To This List

Cover Photo: Dana Curtis

Migrating South as Winter Yumans

While enjoying an all vegetable travel-friendly recipe

Two years ago, we joined other RVers and migrated to Yuma, Arizona, for the winter months when the average temperature high is 24° Celsius or 75° Fahrenheit.

yuma_quartermaster_depot_wagondsWe settled into the Shangri-La RV Resort, one of over 60 RV resorts in the area. With swimming pool and spa, exercise room, laundry room, shuffleboard, horseshoes, putting greens, pet walk areas, cable TV, wireless internet, and recreation hall for social events, the resort became our community. There were grocery stores, post office, restaurants, and golf courses nearby.

In addition to the warm, dry weather, and the proximity to the margaritas, music, and shopping in Mexico, there was lots to do in downtown Yuma. We stepped into Arizona’s history by discovering the Yuma Quartermaster Depot that supplied forts in five states, by mule train. We walked the walls, felt the isolation, saw the guns and personal items of the men and women who had been incarcerated in the Yuma Territorial Prison, known in its day as the “Country Club on the Colorado.” At City Hall, we stood under an airplane that in 1949 flew 1,124 hours, non-stop, fueled by people traveling in a convertible at 80 miles per hour beneath the plane. At the Historic Coronado Motor Hotel, in the unit designated as the Casa de la Coronado Museum we reminisced over the artifacts of the early days of family motoring and staying overnight in motels across North America.


yuma_date_farmshakesdsYuma’s location provides never-ending opportunity for outdoor activities. There are bike and walking trails along the banks of the Colorado River where Burrowing Owls, hummingbirds and numerous endangered and threatened species are sighted. We finally photographed an elusive Roadrunner after several humorous episodes of trying to follow him through the desert dust. We spent quiet afternoons at the beach along the river. Dams on the area’s water system have created limitless backwater channels and lakes for world-class fishing. For a fee, we drove the swirling Algodones Dunes of the Sonoran Desert in a Hummer, not at the wheel but belted, white-knuckled, into our seats. We joined other RVers in their four-wheelers to explore nearby mountains and after a date farm tour we enjoyed date shakes, the perfect cool down on a hot winter day.

yuma_lutes_casino_bobdsOur restaurant experience in Yuma was eclectic. At La Fonda Restaurant & Corn Tortilla Factory we not only indulged in homemade tortillas and tamales but thick tortilla soup served with tortilla strips, avocado, cheese, and sour cream. A breakfast, at a table nestled in an oasis under trees and vines at The Garden Café, was Sonoran Scramble and Oatmeal Pancakes. Lutes Casino is a fun place with piano playing, clinking glasses, and a room full of memorabilia. Bob, the owner, introduced us to his signature dish, a cheese burger hot dog combination. At the Farmhouse, the kale lemonade was fresh, sweet, yet slightly tart. The Brussels sprouts, tiny lamb chops, and scallops were seared on the grill. The Yuma Landing Restaurant and Lounge sits on the spot where the first airplane, rented from the Wright brothers, landed in Yuma in 1911.


Ninety percent of leafy vegetables produced in the United States in the winter months are grown in Yuma. We learned that the laser leveled fields of the Colorado River valley generate two million pounds of bagged lettuce and salad mix every day. In January, February, and early March, the Yuma Visitors Bureau celebrates the area’s fresh-from-the-fields bounty by providing tours. On the Savor Yuma tour we dined on a progressive dinner, enjoying each course at a different restaurant.


The Field to Feast tour took us directly to the food source, the farmer’s field, where after our group pulled, cut, and dug broccoli, cauliflower, and parsnips, the vegetables were taken away and prepared for our lunch.

In the spring, as Yuma’s comfortable winter temperatures began to rise into the 30s, Celsius, and 80s, Fahrenheit, we and thousands of other Winter Yumans, started our engines and headed north.

This refreshing, all vegetable recipe reminds us of Yuma, Arizona, the ultimate vegetable patch.



(Makes 2 to 4 servings)

Thinly slice the zucchini using a vegetable peeler. Trim the ends then run the peeler down the length of the zucchini until reaching the seeds. Rotate the zucchini and slice the ribbons until only the seeds remain. Discard the seeds.

Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and garlic. Stir and cook until the garlic has softened but not browned. Remove the garlic slices from the oil.

Add the zucchini ribbons, salt, and pepper to the frying pan. Toss and cook 3 to 4 minutes or until the vegetable ribbons are tender but not soft.