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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Google Earth - The Boondockers Campsite Directory

In the last post I shared how Google Earth can be used to find boondock sites.

Let’s explore further:     


First off, if you don’t already have Google Earth installed on your computer, you need to do so. You can download it for free here.

Once you have found a boondocking site using the method I previously described, there is much more useful information to be obtained about your campsite and access from Google Earth.

Open Google Earth on your computer or other enabled device and follow along:

- By holding your cursor over a boondocking site, the coordinates for that location will be displayed at the bottom center of the screen. These can then be entered into any GPS navigational system.

- Just to the right of the coordinates you will find the elevation. This can be useful in determining climate of the area (High elevations, cool. Low elevations, warm). By dragging your cursor along the road to your new found campsite you can determine if you need to travel uphill or downhill along with the amount of elevation (steepness) you will need to gain or lose to get there.

- At the top right of the screen you will find a compass rose for orientation.

- At the bottom left corner of the screen you will find a scale. This can be used to provide the approximate distance to your campsite from the main road, as well as give you an idea of the size of the campsite.

- Just below the scale you will find the “Imagery Date”. This provides the date the picture was taken. Obviously, things on the ground can change with the passage of time. The newer the image, the more likely you will find the campsite as pictured.

- By using sun and shade angles and the time of year the picture was taken you can pretty well determine when and where the sun will shine on your campsite and position your RV accordingly.

- Is there a closed gate on the road to your campsite? 1) Can you see a gate in the picture? Look for a line across the road or more likely the shadow it casts. 2) Can you see other vehicles traveling the road or RVs camped along side it? 3) Do dirt / gravel roads appear well traveled / graded?  If so, it is most likely an open public road. Does a well traveled road suddenly appear less traveled? This is a sign of a gate, deep ditch or other obstruction / restriction in the road impeding vehicle traffic.

This entry is just a primer to get you started and possibly raised more questions than answers. Check back often for more useful Google Earth tips or submit your questions using the comment feature provided.

Below are just a few of the campsites I have located using Google Earth.

N 38 35.526   W 111 50.944    Just off Hwy 24 on the Way to Capital Reef National Park

Just Off I -80 Near Lovelock, NV       N 40 36.400  W118 18.315

Near Ruins of Tumco, CA     N 32 52.866  W 114 50.029


  1. good articles, Dave - I use the same methods for searching, plus my prized copy of the out-of-print 'Roads & Recreation' maps for my Garmin GPS ...

    1. Quite often I transfer the information onto a copied page of the corresponding gazetteer especially when the map shows several routes.

  2. Thanks for the information Dave! I too use Google Earth to check out campsites before I reserve on state or national parks. It gives me a good idea of the backing room and size of the parking apron as well as what position my rig will be in it and what view i'll have from that site from my main large windows. Great tool!

  3. How might I know whether I have to get BLM or forest service permission to use a site I might find. Perhaps It is on private property. If it is not posted is it fair game?

    1. Great question! First thing to remember is the land is owned by you, the public, you don't need to ask permission to camp there. You just need to follow the rules set by the administrators who are the BLM and Forest Service. Both the Forest Service and BLM allow you to camp for up to 14 consecutive days unless the area is posted otherwise. Complete "dispersed camping" rules can be found on the agencies website that administrates the land. Gazetteers and other types of maps will show you what lands are public and which are private. You will need to ask permission to camp on private land.