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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Camping on Uncle Sam's BLM lands

Courtesy wikipedia.org -- public domain
RVers out West have a real treasure: Over an eighth of the total U.S. land mass is managed by Uncle Sam's Bureau of Land Management. An eight! And that eighth of the country (almost 250 million acres) all lies all within 12 western states. That's a lot of government managed land – and it's a great place to RV – oftentimes free of charge.

We often hear from folks 'back East' who want to know how they can come out and RV on BLM land. Here are some pointers to help you.

Where can I camp on BLM Land? In many areas the agency has "developed" campgrounds; many of these charge a fee. Don't expect these to be on a par with state campgrounds, or even National Park campgrounds. Often they just provide a site, maybe a picnic table, and a fire ring. A few do have water supplies.

For boondockers, the appeal of BLM land camping is in what the agency terms, "dispersed areas." These undeveloped areas are the ones that don't cost you anything to use, and take you away from the crowds.

What rules govern dispersed camping? Typically speaking, your stay in a dispersed area is limited to 14-days in a 28-day period. After your 14 days are up, you'll need to move along – outside of a 25-mile radius (although some regions extend this farther). Those 14-days aren't necessarily in a straight stretch: You might stay a week in one area, leave, return, and stay another week. Your 28-day "count" begins the first day of camping.

When you pick your camp site, in most areas you'll need to stay within 300 feet of a developed road. Another "distance" rule regards water: You aren't allowed to stay within 100 feet of a natural water source. We say "natural" when we refer to something like a lake or stream. However, in some areas the agency has developed man-made water sources for the benefit of wild life. In those cases you might be asked to stay a great deal farther away – in Utah, for example, you'll need to stay at least 900 feet away so as not to discourage critters from coming in for a drink.

Campfires? Sure, provided they're not otherwise prohibited by say, a burn ban. Of course, you need to tend your fire, keep it contained, and definitely put it out when you leave. Some BLM jurisdictions require a campfire permit, but these are free of charge.

How do you know what sort of rules apply to distances, campfire permits, and the "camp outside this radius" rules? The easiest thing to do is hit the Internet. Want to camp on BLM land in Nevada? Enter "Camping BLM Nevada" and you'll get a big start on what you're looking for.

What about useful camping services? In dispersed areas, the only "services" you'll find are places to camp. If you packed it in, you pack it out – that includes garbage and all forms of waste water, black and gray. Cellular signals can be "iffy" in some areas – so plan ahead.

How can I find BLM lands to camp on? We've included a map that shows which states have BLM lands. From there you can do a similar Internet search as we outlined earlier. You can purchase BLM "paper maps" at relatively low cost; in many instances you can locate the same information on the agency's web sites. Another great resource for locating BLM lands are Delorme State Atlases. These books show boundaries for BLM and other government lands.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Why some RVers don't boondock -- and what might help

In the middle of a 3,500 mile road trip, we've had to sit back and reflect on where we stayed in our rig, and how. Let's see, we spent a few nights "pavement parking," in Walmart and other similar retailer lots. A three-night stint at a state park – without hookups. Some wonderful nights in the shadow of one of California's high mountains with plenty of space to our nearest neighbor – again, no hookups. And while we've been "stationary" for a few weeks at a friend's place, we do have a single utility – electricity.

Yes, we've spent a lot of time boondocking. Having done it for years, it's almost unimaginable to think of any other way to go. Yes, once a year we have a convention we attend in San Diego. We don't take the rig down into the big city, but stay at a campground a few miles out of town. There we have water and electrical, and yes, we've heard some mighty nasty fights by the next-door-neighbor.

So why would you NOT boondock? Here are some reasons some RVers choose not to.

"When I had my 4x4 truck camper I boondocked almost 100% of the time. One time I had a wheel drop into a hole filled with leaves and straw – luckily the 4x4 pulled right out. Now that I have a Class B Van, not so much. I worry that I'll get stuck somewhere (without cell service) and won't be able to get the van unstuck. If I dropped into that hole in it, there is no way I could get it out."

Can surely understand the concern there. The older we get, the more we sense our own vulnerabilities. When we're in an area where things feel a little ticklish, we check cell signal on the phone. If it looks like we may wind up in an area where things could get dicey, if there's no signal, we just move along.

"We currently only have limited time to take a vacation away from work and normally have a specific destination in mind where we go to meet friends or family. We need to be at our ultimate destination and back in that limited amount of time (typically one week). To make sure things go smoothly, we always carefully plan out our trip beforehand and make reservations at RV parks along the way.

"About the closest we've come to boondocking is dry camping at a beautiful BLM campground in central Montana. While staying at RV parks now we enjoy our trips, but we're definitely looking forward to boondocking someday once we've retired (hopefully in a couple of years) and have the time to slow down and explore good spots. We've already outfitted our travel trailer with a robust solar system, inverter, larger batteries, low current lighting, and regularly practice power and water saving techniques."

Boondocking doesn't mean you have to go way off the beaten track. As this couple observes, there are plenty of campgrounds that are on the map, but still not the pricey, full hookup campgrounds that so many seem to favor. In our travels, we've found that many National Forests have access roads within easy reach of freeways. We scuttle off the freeway and do "dispersed" camping. Of course, with time constraints, that can be a bit "iffy," because sometimes there just aren't suitable places to stay. Doing a bit of Internet research before you hit the road may help you fine great boondocking spots along your fast-paced route.

"So far we've never stayed in a campground, but we've only boondocked once in the woods. We tend to dry camp in marinas and by beaches on the west coast where there are walking paths, pretty views and sometimes restaurants and pubs. We've paid $10 a couple of times to spend a night, but that's about it. A truck and camper is pretty easy."

Sounds like a lot of boondocking to us!

"We want to boondock but I think the concern is safety. We have a Class-C with a Jeep Wrangler toad. We are very happy camping and now want to travel and not be around crazy party animals or kids screaming and RV parks where people are next to you like the local mall parking lot. Any ideas on how to get past the safety issue? I do not like carrying a gun but do not have a problem with wasp spray or other such items...or am I just being paranoid?"

Most seasoned boondockers agree, your greatest safety "weapon" while boondocking is being conscious of your surroundings and listening to that little inner voice. If it feels hinky, pack it up and move along. From our personal experience, we've boondocked for years and in a wide range coast-to-coast. We have never had a serious incident, and it's a rare day when we've felt "spooked." When we have, we've simply found another place to stay.

"My wife and I are green boondockers for sure. (Newbies at 57 years old.) In fact, I think the main reason RVers do not boondock is because they do not know how.

"I bought a few books about boondocking, as well as [researched Internet boondocking websites] to learn the ins and outs of boondocking. Now, we boondock all over the Western United States, and totally love it.

"I use my 'used to be RV park campground fee money' for gasoline now, and we can camp 10 times more, and see more country since we are not paying inflated prices at the crowded RV parks."

Now there's a boondocking success story! Don't let the 'lack of education' cause you stay forever in crowded RV parks. Read up, ask questions on Internet RV forums, and get your feet wet. You'll never regret it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Visit Connecticut State Forests for free boondock camping when the leaves start to turn

The New England states are famous for their spectacular fall colors, and Connecticut is not lacking when it comes to vibrant autumn foliage.

Like the tourism promotion folks love to shout, "When it comes to autumn, Connecticut is much more than seemingly limitless shades of reds, oranges and yellows waving in the trees and wafting to the ground - though visitors will definitely find that throughout the state."

RVers all want to know: Where can I park the RV to appreciate all this beauty? Here's a tip--try the state forests. One of these is Pachaug, Connecticut's largest state forest, rolling with forests over 24,000 acres. If the name's a bit different, consider that it's a native term meaning, "bend or turn in the river."

Pachaug is an area rich with history. Indians of the Narragansett, Pequot, and Mohegan tribes in habited this area in great number. During the last half of the seventeenth century, the Narragansetts and Pequots were defeated by the combined force of the Colonists and the Mohegans, when in 1700, a six mile square tract was granted to the Indian War Veterans. Eventually, the central portion of this land grant became "Volunteer's Town," incorporated as Voluntown in 1721.

Old cellar holes and miles of stone fence winding through the woods give evidence that the entire forest was once farmed or pastured. Abundant water encouraged the establishment of a mill industry as early as 1711. Nearly every brook has several old mill sites and dams. Homestead farming and small industry succumbed to advancing modern technology; the forest reclaims its land.

Fall is one of the finest times to visit the forest. Call the forest folks at 860-376-4075 for more information.

Additional information from Bob Difley, in response to a request from a reader in the Comments section:

Dispersed camping (boondocking) opportunities are far fewer in the East than in the West, where most of the national forests now have maps of legal dispersed camping areas. Not only do these maps not exist for the national forests of Connecticut, but there are no National Forests in Connecticut, making boondocking even more difficult. 

The rules are always subject to change, but at this writing, dispersed camping in Connecticut State Forests is only referred to as Backpack Camping and the available online information does not provide enough information to determine whether these sites have vehicle access or are walk-in only. They do not refer either to where RV dispersed camping is available; therefore, it is necessary to contact them by phone, both for where RV dispersed camping is legal and what are the current guidelines/rules. 

You can contact the Pachaug State Forest online at the CT DOE camping areas website (scroll down to State Forest Camping Areas) for info. on Pachaug State Forest.


And the blog post was about booondock camping in Connecticut, which is far more difficult than in some other New England states, such as MA, VT, ME, and NH, where leaf peeping is also popular.

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