Boondocking Rules, Etiquette & Just Plain Common Decency

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Updated September 16, 2019
Boondocking in Colorado

Okay friends, let’s talk.

If you’ve been around here any length of time you know our preferred method of camping is boondocking on public lands.

In fact, we love it so much we even made an in-depth video course to teach others how to do it!

But today we're actually here to vent. That's right, these fun-loving, congenial Tiny Shiny Homies are fed up. And if you know us, it take a lot to do that.

  • Maybe it was the huge rig that parked so close we couldn't even fit our truck in front of our trailer.
  • Maybe it was 10th pile of dog poo we stepped in.
  • Maybe it was 20th bag of trash we had to pick up from the last site to even be able to use it.
  • Maybe it was that contractor style generator blaring all hours of the day and night.

Whatever it was, something snapped. And before I knew it, my fingers were furiously typing these words.

The short version of this rather long rant? Be kind, courteous, respectful, and grateful for the opportunity to camp for free in these beautiful, remote areas. It truly is a privilege. Same goes for overnighting in a business' parking lot.

The long version? Well, let's get into the nitty gritty of boondocking etiquette, rules and just plain common decency, shall we?

In Parking Lots

Get permission first

It's amazing that many Wal-Marts, Cabelas, and Cracker Barrels allow RV's to stay in their parking lots overnight. But you have to call ahead and get permission first. Don't rely on apps or hearsay on the internet, either. Pick up that phone and (gasp!) talk to a real person. Sometimes it's not even that the business doesn't want you there - many cities are passing ordinances against this, and you might get a knock at your door from the local police at 2am asking you to leave. Always clear your stay with the store manager first!

One night only

This should be obvious, but unfortunately it’s not. These businesses are allowing you to stop over on your way to your next destination. Do not set up camp here! Don’t pull out your camp chairs and grills. It's not a tailgate party, people! Leave those for football season. Arrive late and leave early. Don't take up their valuable parking spaces for their customers.

Buy something

These are businesses, and you staying in their parking lot costs them money. It’s common courtesy to go in and buy something while you're there. Make it worth their while. Let them know you appreciate that they are offering their parking lot to travelers for the night by spending some cash at their store and even saying thank you!

No dumping

Don't dump gray or black water in someone's parking lot! This should also be obvious, but we’ve seen people washing their dishes outside of their RV and leaving their leftover noodles on the ground. I'm serious. Like, what the heck? Treat their space like you would your own, and leave it better than you found it.

Keep it down

Seriously folks. It’s one night. There should be no need to pull out your noisy generators in a parking lot with other travelers who are tired from their drive and just want to get some sleep. Often the area set aside for RV's is small and everyone is close to each other so keep it quiet and be respectful.

On Slides and Stabilizers

There's a common refrain out there that you should never put your stabilizers down, disconnect your tow vehicle, or extend your slides while in a parking lot. While we get what they're saying, it's not always realistic. We have 6 people in a vintage trailer. We have to put stabilizers down for the safety of our frame. Many newer RV's with slides aren't even usable when they're in. And sometimes you genuinely need to run an errand to somewhere else in town. Use common sense, and try to stay on the down low!

On Public Lands

Boondocking on BLM

Obey stay limits

Listen, these beautiful lands are not being set aside so that you can camp for free in the same spot for months or years at a time.

Most BLM and National Forest land have a 14 day limit for good reason. Imagine how difficult it would be to find a boondocking spot if everyone setup shop for 2 months in the best spots?

We’ve seen our fair share of RV’s that are obviously setup for the long haul with dog pens, multiple vehicles, tables, chairs, and even decks! We know homelessness is real problem in some areas of the country, but as with any neighborhood, those kind of campers make the area less desirable and less safe.

Pay attention to the stay limit and obey it, please! Otherwise these beautiful locations may get shut down.

Leave some space

Give people their space! This is what prompted us to even write this post.

True story: We recently set up for a week in a beautiful location outside of Yellowstone National Park, but just hours later a big rig comes in and parks right in front of our trailer. I mean, I could understand if it was one night and there was no where else to park, but there was a ton of room for them to back up a hundred yards or so. And they stayed there all week! It was annoying to say the least, especially since our ‘bedroom’ is right in the front of the trailer.

We could barely park our truck in front of the Airstream!

Leave some room between you and other campers. The whole point of boondocking is to get out of cramped campgrounds and enjoy nature. We can't do that when you park right outside our front door.

Park only in designated sites

I shouldn’t need to say this, but we’ve seen it so here goes. This is not your land! You do not get to decide where a new campsite should be.

Only use designated or dispersed sites. They are often marked by a big area of bare land and a fire pit or fire ring. Do not cut down plants, trees, or grass to make a new site. I don’t care how perfect your view would be. This is not your decision to make.

Say it with me….BE RESPECTFUL!!

Turn out the lights

Please, for the love of God, do not leave your outside lights on all night.

If you’re on public land, people are out here for the scenery, the night sky, and the solitude. It’s hard to fall asleep with your bright lights shining in our windows all night. If you're not using them outside, please just turn them off. Especially in the designated dark sky parts of this country.

Side rant - leave them off in campgrounds, too! For all the same reasons!

Drive slow!

Yes, it’s public land, but that doesn’t mean that you get to fly down these dusty roads like a crazy person. Slow down! Kids could be outside playing, dogs could be running around, and you’re throwing your dust in our living rooms. Slow it down, man!

Quiet hours

Okay, so there are no set quiet hours when you’re boondocking in the middle of public lands, but the theme of this post is…. BE RESPECTFUL.

If there are other campers around they don’t want to hear your explicit music blaring all day and night. This goes for generators, too. Pretend like you’re in a campground and run it during the day.

Leave no trace

Again…obvious, right? Unfortunately…not to some people.

I will never understand why people leave their trash, break bottles on rocks, and treat our public lands like a waste facility. As much as we love bagging up your bullet casings, please just pick up after yourself!

We’re constantly picking up other peoples trash, and you should, too. Help us clean up this beautiful land so that others can enjoy it after you.

Even better, make sure you're not leaving anything there to begin with.

Say hello!

This one is for us, because we’re introverts :)

If you’re in close proximity to other campers enjoying the same land, just say hi when walking by. You've already got one thing in common, and people out here are usually super kind and help look out for each other.

Say hi, introduce yourself, and you may have just made a new friend you’d like to meet again on down the road.

Clean up after pets

Ugh, how many times have we stepped in your dog’s poo? Too many! Please, please, please - clean up after your pets.

I’m not saying you need to go out in a field of cactus or overgrown grass and clean it up, but right there in the campsite should be cleaned for the next people to enjoy!

Put out your fires!

Really? Do I even need to say this? People…. PUT OUT YOUR FIRES! Like, LOTS of water and make sure it’s completely out. Wildfires are a huge problem in some areas of the country. Keep an eye out for burn bans, and don't be the one that takes out an entire section of the forest because you were lazy.

End Rant

Whew, thanks for sticking with us through that. We feel so much better :)

If we sound frustrated, it's only because we care so much about these amazing locations.

We want these areas to be available for others to enjoy for years to come - so respect the land, respect the rules, and respect others out here enjoying the land, too.

High fives to all you doing your best to make these areas better for others. We appreciate you!


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Ashley Longnecker

About the Author

Ashley Longnecker is the fiercely independent tattooed and dreaded half of Tiny Shiny Home. She's a woodworker, photographer and maker of delicious baked goods. She loathes schedules and makes every day an adventure.

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Posted September 16, 2019

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