In this article, we are recounting our 9 scariest boondocking experiences in our 5 years of full-time RV life. We hope to help you answer the question: “Is boondocking safe?”
Before we start, let’s first explain what boondocking is. Boondocking means RVing without hookups and is also known as dry camping. That means no power, no water, no sewer. Often there are no amenities, it’s frequently free, and usually, you’re not in a traditional campsite. This is because you’re frequently camping in a field, a pull-off, or cleared area. Sometimes this is on public lands, like National Forest or BLM land. Other times might be on friends’ property or other private property that has given permission for RVers to park there.
People ask us all the time if we feel safe boondocking. Over our years of full-time RVing, we’ve done a LOT of boondocking, and if it wasn’t safe we really wouldn’t be doing it. That said, there are better and worse ways to boondock, and you may find yourself in some uncomfortable situations.
Here are our 9 scariest boondocking experiences:
Wind is our least favorite RV weather because it’s dangerous on the road and extremely unpleasant to camp in, as awnings flap and the RV will actually rock a bit in high winds. One particular time we were boondocking on some friends’ property on top of a hill in Virginia. A wind storm kicked up and was pushing gusts of 60 – 80 miles per hour broadside to our RV.
The first thing most RVers do in these situations is pull in the slides, which we did. But, the wind was so strong and persistent that we got really nervous. When we went out to check the RV we found it was pressing its jacks into the ground and leaning over!
Concerned that it could blow us over, we braved the howling wind and quickly hooked up the truck and pointed the RV into the wind. With the slides in, the added stability of the truck, and the aerodynamic design of the RV for the highway, we were fine after that.
We had a beautiful forested site in the Beaver Head Deer Lodge National Forest. One night, we opened the door to let the dogs outside. Instead of going out, they started to snarl and growl, which they rarely do!
As we raised the flashlight into the pitch black night, we saw the reflection of a bunch of eyes staring back at us and the dogs lept out the door. Freaking out, we ran after them just to find that a herd of cows had surrounded the RV and the dogs had scattered them. It was silly, really, but plenty to get the adrenaline flowing.
Lesson Learned: Boondocking on National Forest or BLM land can often mean camping on open range. As a result, expect to occasionally experience some bovine neighbors!
While settling into a gorgeous lakeside boondocking spot along the Hungry Horse Reservoir, we noticed that we had a very weird neighbor.
A couple was living in a shabby, homemade houseboat that sat on the shore of the lake. As night fell, we started to hear loud metal bangings coming from the houseboat – they sounded like gunshots! The sounds echoed through the valley, along with a ton of screaming and shouting. This went on for hours, and since we were all alone and out of cell service, it really freaked us out. We locked up and did our best to sleep.
In the morning, Tom went to see what the houseboat was all about. He spoke with the couple, and learned that their homemade 55 gallon drums that floated the boat expanded and contracted with the temperature. Each night, the temperature dropped and caused the metal to pop and bang. The couple also apologized that they had a fight the previous night, and that we ”may have heard it.”
It was a very awkward encounter, but we ended up staying a few more days regardless without further issue.
Our 6th scariest boondocking experienced happed while RVing in New Zealand. New Zealand allows boondocking in much of the country, where it is know as “freedom camping”. We were camping among a few other campers at a carpark that allowed overnight parking. Tom was in the shower and I was just hanging out, when suddenly a loud revving of an engine and squealing of tires startled me!
There were some drunk yahoos doing doughnuts around the RVs and screaming profanities at us campers! This was at the start of the Covid pandemic and they shouted about “you campers, bringing the virus here.”
We felt very vulnerable, with just our thin walls of the rental RV between us and these people. Just as we were about to call the police, they fortunately peeled out and took off.
The rest of the night passed peacefully and we didn’t experience any other negative boondocking incidents in New Zealand.
During our Go North travels, we boondocked a lot in Canada and Alaska. One memorable spot was the most remote location along the Canol Road in the Yukon, hundreds of miles from the nearest help. As we started falling asleep, we heard scratching and clunking sounds coming from under the RV.
We went outside to see what it was about, and found not one, but TWO porcupines under the truck, chewing on everything!
We coerced them out after what seemed like hours, but they kept coming back to the chew on the truck. Finally, we had to leave in the middle of the night to get away from them. Bad went to worse when we found out they had damaged the truck.
Our 4th scariest boondocking experience occurred in Idaho Falls, Idaho in 2016. We camped overnight with some friends at a local park that allowed boondocking. In the daylight, it was a beautiful spot right along the Snake River. Kyle and Olivia of Drivin’ and Vibin’ pulled in, and it was the first time we met them. We had fun hanging out into the evening.
As night fell, though, we realized that we were camped right in the middle of the local drug-dealing area. Cars would come and stop right next to us, and sat there for hours running, flashing their lights in strange patterns. Other cars would come and park next to them.
We couldn’t see exactly what was going on in the darkness, but we were texting and keeping an eye out between the 3 RVs to make sure everyone was okay!
One time, we decided to experience Slab City, California. It’s basically a hippy/homeless/self-proclaimed “free,” ungoverned, off-grid, desert-dwelling community in Southern California. We had heard both good and bad things about this place, but we (Tom really) decided to give it a shot.
We parked and settled into one of the RV parking areas. Junk art and old military ruins fill the city. There is lots of garbage around, and it had kind of a freaky, lawless vibe…Caitlin was not really enjoying it.
Especially as night fell.
Out of nowhere, it seemed like we were deposited into a war-torn nation. Gunfire erupted in the distance, tracer rounds flew through the air up into the nearby mountains, and helicopter gunships fired into the desert. Fighter jets were dropping bombs just to the west of us!
We got online and found out that this place was literally located on the fenceline of the Chocolate Mountain Gunnery Range, and they were practicing night operations.
It was terrifying to listen to and the dogs were totally freaked out. We made it through the night, but the blasting persisted through the next day. While it was kind of interesting watching the operations in daylight, the unexpected gunfire and bombs shaking the RV got old pretty quick and we decided to move on.
In the fall of 2017, we were driving down the Oregon Coast. It was dumping rain, so we decided to stop at a boondocking spot on the ocean in Coos Bay. It was another hour of slow, windy, rainy driving until the next stop, and we were whooped.
We found the spot and settled in, although it wasn’t ideal. There was just…something…that didn’t feel right. We left everything hooked up so we could easily hit the road in the morning. The wind, rain, and waves crashing persisted, creating a roar of noise outside. Unbeknownst to us, this noise hid the crime committed that night!
By morning the wind and rain had cleared. But when we opened our back window, we saw that our bikes had been stolen right off the RV when we were sleeping. The thieves cut the cabe and removed the bikes from the rack without waking us.
We went asking around and learned that we were in a really bad part of town — like, murders-happened-here bad — and as we started walking around we found lots of homeless camps in the area.
This was one of the worst experiences we’ve ever had on the road and taught us to trust our gut. If we pull into a place that doesn’t feel right, we find somewhere else to stay – even if that place costs more.
Read more about the incident and how to prevent in the blog post.
The worst and scariest boondocking experience we ever had happened while boondocking in Florida. We were looking for a free place to stay and had a place offered to us. It was a friend of an acquaintance, someone we didn’t really know. At the time, though, free was good enough for us.
When we arrived we realized that the yard was completely fenced in and had a locking gate. He came out to open the gate to let us in. Against our better judgment, and not wanting to be rude, we pulled in and he locked the gate behind us. Not cool.
Our host was a man of few words, and didn’t give off warm and welcoming vibes. Quite the opposite, really. His home was a compound of smaller outbuildings, semi-trailers, and random stacks of lumber and supplies. He told us where to park, and warned us about his guard dogs. He said quite plainly that “his dogs eat other dogs”…without any note of sarcasm.
We were feeling more than a bit uncomfortable at this point, and I was asking if we could leave. The answer presented itself, however, when as we tried turning around in the little fenced yard the fifth wheel sank into deep sand and we got stuck!
Fortunately, the owner helped us get out with his truck, and at that point we felt obligated to stay. We managed to avoid the attack dogs during the night, but in the morning when we were about to leave, Tom suddenly disappeared.
I started to panic, and my imagination ran wild with scenarios of us getting abducted and worse, locked in here with no way out. I finally worked up the nerve to go look for him in the maze of outbuildings and sighed relief when I heard his voice calmly speaking through an open doorway.
Lesson Learned: Don’t ever park in strangers’ yards where you’re locked in.
Now, you’ve heard our scariest boondocking stories. And even though they were scary, we ended up safe. We weren’t in any real danger in most of them – the threat was just very big in our minds.
There are many things you can do to relieve these fears and make yourself prepared for scary situations while RVing. Being observant of your environment, trusting your instincts, and having the proper tools and equipment on hand can go a long way to keep you safe.
Our scariest boondocking experiences have taught us many things. Six of the nine experiences happened in our first 2 years on the road, and have made us more confident and more competent travelers.
Is boondocking safe? Yes! In fact, we are so comfortable boondocking that, despite these experiences, it is still our favorite way to camp.
In summary, here are 4 tips we’ve learned over the years to help with safe boondocking:
By following this advice, and learning from our stories, we hope you’ll experience safe and enjoyable boondocking in your travels!
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