Dave Helgeson’s knowledge about RVing earned him the title of “The foremost expert on boondocking,” bestowed by RV industry icon, the late Gary Bunzer (The RV Doctor). He and his wife Cheri owned an RV dealership in the Pacific Northwest and spent 29 years overseeing regional RV shows. Dave has also served as advisor to many industry trade organizations. When he’s not out boondocking, you’ll find Dave in the spotlight at RV shows across the country, giving seminars about all things RVing. He and Cheri currently own their fifth travel trailer, with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications to his own unit.
There are two problems with free camping apps RVers need to be aware of when looking for free boondocking spots.
The Downside of Free Camping Apps for Boondocking
My wife and I prefer free campsites, especially boondocking. I have noticed two recurring problems with all the apps for free camping sites as they have become more popular.
1. Everybody knows about the free campsites
The “Hundredth Monkey Effect,” is the first big problem with free camping apps. The Hundredth Monkey Effect dictates how quickly new information is spread until everyone knows. In other words, once the hundredth monkey knows where the bananas are located, all the monkeys know.
“Suddenly, overnight, every monkey on the island took it as the norm. It is what is now described as the point at which ‘critical mass’ had been reached … the tipping point for all other monkeys to follow suit.”The 100th monkey effect
Those that reply often provide a list of their favorite free camping apps. Many share “7 Free Camping Apps Everyone Like to Use” by bloggers Jason & Rae Miller. My emphasis is added on “Everyone.”
When my wife and I first started boondocking 15 or so years ago there were no apps. We found free camping sites (still do) in advance by:
- Determining where public land is located that permits dispersed camping (aka boondocking).
- Then use Google Earth satellite view to “pinpoint” the campsites within the boundaries of those public lands.
Bottom line, we found free campsites ourselves.
Now, the hundredth money effect spreads information via the top free camping apps. Every RVer quickly learns where the “known” free camping spots are located. They do it with literally a push of a button, no research required. RVers can use a free campsites app to effortlessly direct them to a site.
Free camping apps lead dozens of RVers to the same exact spot.
Free camping apps also lead to overcrowding. And most campers don’t know there are likely many more free camping options nearby that aren’t listed.
As an example, there is a free camping listing south of Beatty, Nevada known as Bombo’s Pond on many free camping apps. When my wife and I last drove by the ponds, just off Hwy 95, there were at least two dozen RVs crammed into the area. Literally just up the highway a half mile on the opposite side of the road is BLM land where you can also camp for free. This spot was empty. It isn’t listed on any of the free camping apps.
Keep the hundredth monkey in mind when using free camping apps. There is likely a much better free camping spot in the vicinity, rather than the exact spot listed.
2. Free camping apps are incomplete and inaccurate
I touched on the incomplete part of free camping apps in my Bombo’s Pond example above. Here’s an even bigger idea on how incomplete and inaccurate these apps are. I will use a recent RV trip of my own to illustrate.
This past summer I wanted to explore a historic mining district in North Central Washington. The area known as the Ruby Mining District lays southwest of the town of Conconully. To get an idea of what free camping options existed in the area I looked at several of the free camping apps. One or two showed one spot. The other apps showed no options.
The one free camping site listed was a sno-park used by snowmobilers in the winter.
There were no reviews for the site. A quick online outdoors apps search revealed it was located on private property. Sno-parks are typically located on public forest service land. They’re usually fair game for free camping. This one is obviously leased just for winter use.
When we passed by this spot during our visit a “No Camping” sign confirmed the inaccurate listing on the free camping app. I suspect whoever listed it just assumed it was okay to camp for free like many other sno-parks in the state.
I eliminated the sno-park. It only took me about fifteen minutes of online research to find four unlisted free boondocking sites. I also found two other potential sites on my own using Google Earth.
Upon arrival we had our choice of the four boondocking spots. No other RVers showed up during our weeklong stay. Our stay was during prime camping season as confirmed by the packed campgrounds we passed on our way to the free spaces. Had they been listed on free camping apps, I am sure there would have been
monkeys other RVers there.
All the best free camping apps provide some useful information.
RVers just need to be aware of the shortcomings. A little extra research goes a long way towards finding free campsites that work best for you.
How to Find Free Campsites (and Paid Campgrounds, Too)
Don’t let your search for free campsites end in frustration. The RV LIFE Campground Reviews app shares the best, most current information about free campsites and paid campgrounds too.