Boondocking: Safest Way to RV Amid Virus Outbreak

Photo courtesy of Kris Cassidy of KrisCaptures Photography

Americans have cabin fever and are looking for safe ways to vacation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet many are leery of using public transportation now that restrictions are starting to lift. Why fly and stay at a hotel and risk exposure when you can safely travel and vacation within the comfortable confines of an recreational vehicle? It appears Americans are asking that question in record numbers. Sales at RV dealerships around the country are spiking as are reservations for RV rentals, and rightly so. An RV has everything you need to safely travel and vacation with most featuring a bed, kitchen, bathroom, and dining area. Some RV owners, who are already getting out, are rightly calling their rigs “mobile quarantine units.”

Where will Americans be vacationing now that restrictions are starting to lift? Most are headed or will soon be heading to nearby state or national parks. Popular national parks like the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, Joshua Tree, and the Grand Canyon are now open, while other national parks like Arches, Canyonlands, and Rocky Mountain will be opening soon. With the exception of states hard-hit by the virus, like New York, California, and New Jersey, state parks are starting to open-up as well.

While it’s good to see state and national parks opening their doors, the majority of park campgrounds remain closed, unfortunately, with Badlands and Joshua Tree being the most notable exceptions. This is often mandated by the county and state where the facility is located, but some places aren’t willing to risk exposure and are keeping their doors shut. Fortunately, this is changing in many states and locations as temperatures warm up, but some park campgrounds look like they might be shuttered throughout the summer.

“This year has been a challenge,” explained Steve Savage of Tennessee who owns both a fifth wheel and a Northstar Laredo truck camper. “Our original plan was to visit the state park in Anastasia, Florida, while we waited for it to warm up out West. We really like the Old Town there. Then Florida closed the state parks and cancelled our reservation. Our next intended stop was 10 days at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to check on a fifth wheel we keep there, before heading West on May 15th. Then the state closed that and the campground cancelled our reservation. We are now treading water, trying to decide what’s next. We were going to wander until mid-July and then head to see family in Minnesota for a wedding, but that is now up in the air. We’re still up in the air about heading West. We find it more challenging to get away from everyone here in the Tennessee.”

Bob Trader of Florida, who vacations in a Lance 855s camper, has similar concerns. “The last four years, I have focused my travel on a few national park trips per year and either camping in the parks or just outside. Usually the parks are busy but manageable, but I think this year the parks are going to have a tough time transitioning and balancing crowds, which may lead to openings and then closings or restrictions that make a trip hard to plan. This year my trip frequency and travel distances will not be impacted, but I will be seeking out lesser known locations that still offer the views I crave while still offering opportunities to relax and hike. It’s great to have an RV that allows me to be flexible when making plans and doesn’t limit my choices.”

With so many campground closures and the need to socially distance amid the outbreak, RV owners may have to resort to doing something they haven’t done yet—boondock on public land. Unlike campgrounds and RV parks, boondocking on public land doesn’t require reservations. Better yet, public land is almost always open, is mostly free, and can often be enjoyed in total solitude. Indeed, there is no better way to socially distance from others than to boondock in a modified RV outfitted with solar power and a large 12 volt battery bank. The real trick this summer may be finding places that aren’t already occupied by others. Social media channels like Instagram are making such places harder to find as owners announce their locations for all to see. As a result, owners will likely have to travel farther on obscure 4×4 dirt roads to find them, solidifying the value of the truck camper as the best boondocking RV even more.

The key to staying healthy during the pandemic, of course, is to limit interaction with strangers and apply common sense. The coronavirus spreads best in public places indoors through coughing, sneezing and just plain talking, which is why wearing a mask is often recommended and in some states and cities even mandated. For those who are getting away this summer, this means trips to the grocery store might be your riskiest activity. The trick will be to limit this indoor activity as much as possible, while paying particular attention to social distancing and wearing a mask. Short jaunts of only a week or two in your home state or in places nearby might just be the best way to limit contact with others this summer.

Kirk Harris, a retired firefighter who lives in an Arctic Fox 811 truck camper full-time, is planning on doing just that. “Sometimes the best place to camp and explore is in your own backyard, or in my case, in my home state. I’ve been wanting to camp and explore places in the great state of Nevada that I’ve never been to before. Like many other western states, Nevada has a plethora of public land with dispersed camping and scenic areas to enjoy. There’s no time like the now to get out and enjoy your own ‘backyard.'”

Boondocking on state trust land along the Hoh River in Washington state.

Judy Tilley of Bellingham, Washington, who owns a solar-powered Hallmark Ute camper outfitted with lithium batteries, is planning to boondock as well, but has some concerns with public contact as well. “What we will do this fall is debatable depending on government edicts. We were planning on going to Idaho, Northern Utah, Nevada, Wyoming and Montana to rockhound, hike, and explore for six to seven weeks. We were in Montana and Wyoming last fall for seven weeks and want to return. The places we visit are remote and we usually disperse camp. The only problem would be getting groceries and fuel and one stop to dump our black tank and refill our fresh water tank. If we stopped at larger towns for groceries and smaller ones for fuel, it may work. We will of course, bring sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer, and our own toilet paper.”

Many RV owners, however, are content to just wait things out if that is what is needed to stay safe. The virus is particularly lethal to the elderly who have pre-existing health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease, and to those who have compromised immune systems. Indeed, according to the CDC, eight out of 10 deaths reported in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years old and older with pre-existing health conditions. Development on a vaccine is looking promising, but won’t be ready until January 2021 at the earliest.

“We have no desire to be among the throngs of releasees unless the health data is secure and verified,” explained Neil Mullen, who vacations in a Travel Lite 840 truck camper. “We have no problems kicking back and waiting till next spring if we have to. If it’s safe to camp in the fall, we do have local national forests with campgrounds and waterfalls roughly an hour away so weekday trips of three to four days may be in our future. Here in north Georgia, there is very little public land with almost no opportunity to get away ‘in the boonies.'”

While some RV owners are being cautious, others are already boondocking in states that have had little impact from the pandemic. “Since the craziness kicked in, we have been back in South Dakota boondocking on public lands and at a state park,” explained Dave Barker of South Dakota who lives in a Northstar camper with his wife Cheryl. “We full-time in a truck camper so we are glad we are South Dakota residents since our Governor used common sense with the virus. We would like to have stayed a little longer in warmer country—we ended up getting quite a bit of snow in April—but thought it better to camp where our license plate matched the state we were in.”

Unfortunately, public land where you can boondock for free isn’t as plentiful east of the Mississippi as it is west of it, but creative options do exist for those who are willing to spend a little time to investigate them. These options include, but are not limited to, organizations like the Boondockers Welcome group and Harvest Hosts farms. Of course, privately-owned RV parks and RV resorts remain a viable option as well, but these are a total crap shoot. Most offer very little spacing between units, can be noisy, offer very little privacy, and can be outrageously expensive. Some RV parks and resorts even prohibit truck campers, unfortunately. Yet an RV park or resort can serve a useful purpose if you need to dump your holding tanks, take on potable water, or need to do a load of laundry. The biggest challenge this summer might be finding one with a vacancy near popular destinations.

“Our kids are scattered all over the country, so our plans are to make our way visiting grand kids. Thankfully, most live in beautiful rural areas of the country, Oregon, Idaho, and on the east coast. This allows us to visit a lot of areas in between. We prefer to boondock on BLM land and in national forests, but it is a little more difficult in the eastern half of the country, but that’s where we use a lot of Harvest Hosts. We had a farm before we retired and started full-timing so we enjoy staying at Harvest Hosts farms. You see the “real America” when you travel the back roads. We aren’t around many people since we love boondocking, and with a little common sense, we aren’t letting the craziness take over our lives,” Barker said.

Valley of the Gods

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About Mello Mike 485 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a Jeep and truck camper enthusiast, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. He currently drives a 2013 Ram 3500 4x4 pickup truck with a 2016 Northstar Laredo solar powered truck camper mounted on top. He enjoys football, music, hiking, travel, photography, and fishing. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, worked in project management until 2017, and now runs this website full-time. He also does some consulting and RV inspections on the side.

6 Comments

  1. But if you’re not safe Howard, and have the covid virus, that means you could go out and spread it to other people’s mothers. We certainly wouldn’t appreciate that. You need to be a little considerate of others.

  2. Actually, we have a Hallmark Ute Camper.

    We may travel throughout our own state this summer for a week at a time. We know some great places to hide out.

    Safe travels everyone.

  3. From the National Weather Service …. “According to the NWS Storm Data, over the last 30 years (1989-2018) the U.S. has averaged 43 reported lightning fatalities per year.” So if the odds increased by 3x, then yes I would continue to go out and live my life.

    Comparing car accident death data is not without question considering the majority of those were cause by people making poor life choices (drinking, ignorance, stupidity, etc.) Granted there are innocent people killed in the process but the numbers are reduced. Seeing over 100,000 deaths in basically 3 months (of basically innocent people) is significant. Politics has nothing to do with this. Freedom of choice means people can choose to stay localized without feeling the government had anything to do with it. Staying put for several months just isn’t such a terrible thing for us. We had to cancel many travel plans this year but it’s not the end of the world !

  4. If your chances of being struck by lightning increased by 3x, would you stay home because your overall risk profile had changed? Over the last few yrs, on average about 40k people die from motor vehicle accidents. Should we stay home for either of these reasons or venture out anyway because life is worth living?

  5. I am in the high risk age group, but I am amazed at how afraid everyone is and how they want the government to tell them when things are safe. I have been a motorcycle rider,snow skier, scuba diver, hiker/backpacker for a long time and don’t want the government to be my mom and tell me what’s safe!

    • Amen to that Howard ! Enjoy your activities and life with common sense on your terms, not the government’s contradictory and irrational makeshift policies.

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