As of this writing it’s been 93 days since Sash and I last spent an evening in an RV Park. As full time RVers, we’ve made a commitment to not stay in them, and instead stay for free on BLM lands, National Forest lands, or other free, public areas. That is, if we can help it.
The skyrocketing popularity of camping and RVing has of course led a booming business for RV Parks. But it has also changed the dynamics of RV Parks too…
RV Parks Are Now Catering to Wealthier Clientele
Whereas the common practice had been to offer deep discounts for people who stay month-to-month, RV parks are ditching monthly rates and limiting people to staying no more than three or four weeks.
There are now so many six-figure income earners buying RVs that they’re choosing to stay in high priced RV Parks for the luxury, conveniences, and quiet. Because there’s enough of them to go around, RV Parks feel they can afford to eliminate the monthly rate, limit guests to staying no more than a few weeks, and remodel their parks to make them appealing to big-budget vacationers.
Right now, there is a shortage of available RV parks due to sudden popularity of RVing and the fact that it takes years to get a new RV Park approved and built. Moreover, RV Park owners are not building new parks for low-income families. They’re building them for deep-pocket travelers willing to spend big bucks.
This makes it very difficult for RVers on smaller budgets to find a place to stay.
RV Parks Are Switching Over to Membership Programs
Membership parks like Thousand Trails, Outdoor World, Encore, and others, have long been around. But there are dozens more springing up and existing RV Parks are looking to join them. This is because RVers with disposable incomes are willing to pay for them. RV parks get paid even if you never stay in their park because the membership fees are distributed among them.
While membership parks still allow non-members to stay, the rates for non-members are much more expensive. Moreover, non-members who stay at these parks are often given high-pressure sales tactics to buy a membership.
Snow Bird RV Parks Are Taking Over
The thing with snow bird parks is that most are now requiring you to book for an entire season (October to April). If you want to instead stay for just a month, or just a couple of weeks, they’ll ask you to call back after the season has started because they want to keep their sites available for season-long guests.
Because Sash and I are full time RVers, we tend to stay in the snow bird areas of Arizona and Southern California during the colder months. It’s next to impossible to find RV Park sites there in that time, unless you book for an entire season and do so in advance.
Lower Priced RV Parks Are Becoming Difficult to Get Into
Lower and middle income RVers are left competing for ever shrinking supply of affordable RV park sites.
Sash and I always try to stay somewhere for a week to two weeks. This is because it would cost a lot of money to tow a 28 foot trailer with a 3/4 ton pickup truck every day, and because we don’t want to spend a month in one place (we prefer to keep moving and see America). Moreover, we still have day jobs. We work inside our RV doing website design and social media for other businesses. So, on days we’re towing our trailer, we don’t have time to work. Hence, we need to stay put somewhere long enough to catch up with assignments, but not too long that we’re missing out on work and travel.
That means it’s super-tough to find affordable RV park sites with availability for a week or two. Most parks get booked up months in advance, sometimes a full year depending on how popular the location is. We simply don’t want to plan our stays that long in advance. We’re full time RVers, not people who RV only once or twice a year. We need the ability to change our plans when a client has a job for us. We need spontaneity. That makes staying in RV Parks next to impossible.
Increased Demand Equates to Increased Prices
Sash and I have noticed price hikes just in the past 18 months that we’ve owned our trailer. Where prices used to run between $35.00 to $45.00 a night, they’re now charging $45.00 to $55.00 a night. And there are enough RVers willing to pay these prices.
RV Parks Implement Strict Rules to Filter Out Clientele
Just go to an RV Park located on an Indian Casino, and you’ll understand. Casino’s want to attract big spenders. And big spenders want classy amenities. It’s much more common to see RV Parks implement rules designed to filter out the riff-raff. Most of these parks are starting to limit RV types to late model Class A motorhomes less than 10 years old (think million dollar rigs). They restrict dogs to small breeds under 20 pounds. We’ve seen rules where you can’t put out patio furniture, you can’t wash your rig (you have to hire a detailer instead), you can’t do repairs, you can’t have a campfire, and you have to pay extra to invite family or friends over.
And this is not just Indian Casino RV Parks.
Most RV Parks everywhere are recognizing they no longer have to cater to low and middle income residents. There are now plenty of six-figure income earners willing to pay higher prices for snobby digs.
RV Park Sites Are Getting Crowded
Older RV Parks are tearing out green space, dog runs, playgrounds, and cramming in more sites. An RV Park that once had 60 sites, now has 75 sites without having to dig up their existing sewer and electrical. This translates into an RV park with more people and fewer amenities.
It also translates into having to wait longer to use the laundry machines, or not being able to sign on to the park Wi-Fi, or having to share the park’s Jacuzzi with more families.
RV Parks Have Lost the Campground Feel
Back in the 1950s and 60s, RV Parks used to locate themselves outside of city limits and operate as privately run campgrounds. They filled their park with trees, offered hiking trails, horseback riding, and even fishing ponds. But as suburbs continued to sprawl outward and surround these parks with schools and shopping centers, the sound of howling coyotes were replaced by freeway noise, and starry skies were washed out by city lights.
Today, RV Parks have ditched the campground concept and are either remodeling themselves for deep pocket travelers, or are removing amenities and cramming in more sites. They paved over dirt roads and gravel pads with asphalt and concrete. They’ve dug up some of the trees and hiking trails. It’s common to find RV Parks with their own bar and restaurant now. Many RV Parks no longer allow campfires.
Sash and I want to hear those coyotes howling at night. We want to stare up in the sky and find the Little Dipper. We want to burn wood and roast weenies. We want to take our dog hiking and photograph flowers or collect strange looking rocks.
RV Parks Offer Few Options on How to Position Your Rig
When we’re boondocking, I always park our trailer so that it’s awning is facing the sun. This way, the awning will cast a shade over the trailer and help keep it cool. You don’t get this option at an RV Park.
You can, however, book far in advance to get the ideal site with shade trees and an awesome view. But again, it doesn’t work for Sash and I to book months in advance because our plans are always changing. Moreover, we’ve discovered that the best sites in an RV Park are booked years in advance, simply because they are the best sites.
We’ve been to RV Parks where it’s very difficult to back in a trailer because of how tight the spaces and roadways are.
The last few reviews of Cabela’s in Lone Tree, Colorado posted on FreeCampSites.net seemed to reflect the same sentiment across the greater Denver metro area, that RVing in the Mile High City is not welcome…
Though they have no problem with overnight parking, the city council of money grubbing politicians do not allow overnight parking anywhere. The guy at the store side we could overnight, but at our own risk. He said the city would probably come by and ask us to leave, or ticket us.
A news article posted by Denver’s ABC Affiliate on August 9, 2017, details the City of Longmont’s efforts to kick out RVers camping on city streets…
Rental prices in Boulder county are out of control,” which led Dustin to live in his 23-foot Winnebago. The lifestyle comes with the ability to drive wherever he wants. The problem, he said, is where to park.
Several other news articles reported RV Parks and mobile home parks getting bought out, or condemned by local officials in order to clear the way for construction of apartment buildings and condominiums. The reason? Colorado is booming with people moving into the state.
There is now a trend to build up, not out. RV Parks, mobile home parks, even campgrounds, take up a lot of land in which people sprawl out horizontally. Meanwhile, apartments and condominiums can pack in more people on smaller chunks of land by stacking them vertically.
Why are they coming to Colorado?
In 2014, the state legalized recreational marijuana, becoming the first state to do so. In just the first year of Colorado’s post-legalization era, the state attracted 100,986 new residents, representing a 1.9% overall increase in population from the previous year, and earned the distinction as the second-fastest growing state in the Union (North Dakota took #1). But it’s not all about ganja. The greater Denver metropolitan area has seen a huge influx of tech companies seeking relief from California’s heavy taxes and regulations. The rise in personal incomes across the Rocky Mountain State is causing developers to court local officials into condemning properties for redevelopment.
The brother of Sash’s friend agreed to let us park our RV on his property about 20 miles northeast of Denver, CO for a couple of weeks. Otherwise, there would have been no other place for us to park our RV.
When Sash and I pulled our 28 foot toy hauler from Utah’s Starvation Reservoir to Denver, we were still unsure of where to park it. We only knew we needed to stay here for about two weeks in order to see our friends, visit with my mother and brother, and get some repair work done on Sash’s motorcycle. The good news is that a friend of Sash’s has a brother who owns a lot of land just east of Brighton, which lies about 20 miles north-east of Denver. We could stay there for three or four weeks if need be. That sounded like a welcome relief to us but we were uncertain if we would be able to get usable Verizon 4G coverage there. We need it to do our website design and marketing work.
As it turned out, we were able to get “OK” coverage, and made it workable with our WeBoost signal booster.
However, after spending an afternoon looking at every campground, public and private, in the area, they all showed no available spaces across a week or more. The best they could do is give you a space for one night, then move to another space for another night, and so on. In order to find a place to single place to stay for a week or more in the greater Denver area, you’d have to look for space about 50 to 100 miles away in places like Greeley, Colorado Springs, or Limon.
Complicating matters, Sash and I made a commitment to park our RV for free, and not pay park or campground fees. We look for federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers, etc.
Van Dwellers aren’t helping the situation any.
So many people are now living in their vans and small class A or C recreational vehicles by parking them on streets. They do so because apartment rent and real estate prices have become so high in the Denver area that it’s the only recourse they have. It’s not that they’re unemployed, they actually do have jobs. And they’re not minimum-wage jobs, they are salaried positions. It’s that the cost of living has skyrocketed so high that their jobs have become inadequate.
Van Dwellers are now taking up spaces in the same federal lands that Sash and I typically stay in. We pull into dispersed campgrounds and always find the beater vans or the 1970s era Minnie Winnies. We know who they are because by the next morning they have packed up and left, but by evening they return. These are not digital nomads who travel across the country in the way Sash and I do, these are people who hold down jobs in nearby cities and commute back and forth.
The increase of van dwellers is also causing land owners to put up fences and gates on federal lands. They may own private property adjacent to BLM or National Forest lands, and will put up barriers on dirt access roads leading to campgrounds, all just to keep van dwellers out. It’s not legal for them to do this, yet they do it because van dwellers and full time RVers typically just turn around and not complain.
But my opinion is that van dwelling is a reasonable and totally acceptable lifestyle that makes sense in our mobile and transitory world. We need more dispersed camping areas on federal lands. We need better cellphone coverage in these areas so that RVers and van dwellers can work without adding to the gridlock. Places like Slab City, located in the Southern California desert, where RVers and van dwellers live permanently and self-govern, is a great model of how a libertarian lifestyle can thrive on otherwise unwanted chunk of land.
The good news is that I only come to Denver once every two years to visit my mother and brother, so now that my stay is here done, we can leave the area. On the other hand, I’m sure the RV parking situation is only going to be worse the next time I come here. And it’s not just Denver that’s experiencing this, but other large cities too.
There is a view area (view point) located along US-40 in Utah, overlooking Starvation Reservoir. The view area lies just on the east side of the bridge that crosses the reservoir. On the other side of the highway is an RV Park (Camperworld).
The view area is sparsely visited, even by local law enforcement and UDOT workers. The primary reason why more people don’t stop here is because there are no restroom facilities and no trash bins. The only amenities are covered picnic tables.
For that reason, it makes for a great place park your RV overnight. And considering how so few people stop here, you could probably get away with boondocking here for a week. The RV Park across the highway charges $35.00 a night, on the other hand.
If you do plan to stay here for more than one night, consider instead staying at Rabbit Gulch Campground, a dispersed camping area run by the State of Utah that sits on a peninsula directly across the water from the view area. The entrance to Rabbit Gulch lies just on the west side of the bridge. Look for it on Google Maps Satellite View.
Otherwise, the view area gets pretty windy. There is no lighting here at night, so expect pitch black evenings. Traffic noise from the US-40 is audible, but you could easily tune it out.
As far as Walmarts go for overnight RV parking, the location at 949 W Grasslands Drive in American Fork, UT is not really that ideal, yet seems to be rather friendly towards letting you stay for more than a day.
We pulled into the shopping center where this Walmart is located and found it very busy with cars. There are more buildings here than what Google Maps Satellite View had shown us. In fact, the traffic getting off the I-15 freeway and to the shopping center was very busy as well. If you’re pulling a long rig, just be patient and you’ll get there.
There is a RV parking lot up front, at the south-west corner of the traffic circle (behind the IHOP). Most RVers park here. We did not, however. We parked along the west side of the parking lot, near the Deseret Bookstore.
We arrived on a Friday, June 8, at about 2:00pm, and found the parking lot pretty packed with both cars and RVs. It took most of my skills to maneuver our pickup truck and trailer around the cars and tight turns to get into a strip of empty parking spaces. Once we got settled in, we stayed there for 2 nights and didn’t leave until 10:30am Sunday, June 10. No one bothered us the entire time.
But it’s not like we didn’t buy anything. We shopped at Walmart twice and ate at one of the restaurants in the shopping center.
Temperatures got fairly warm here, getting up into the high 80s and low 90s, enough for us to run our generator so that we could power the air conditioner. And again, no one from Walmart or the shopping center seemed to care. But, if you were stay for several days, or a week, I’m sure someone will say something.
Some rest areas are busy, some are not. Juniper Rest Area along I-84 in southern Idaho is pretty busy.
Connecting Salt Lake City, UT with Boise, ID, the rest area is largely frequented by trucks and RVs, not so much passenger vehicles. Try to get here before sundown if you want to find some open truck/RV spaces.
Juniper Rest Area doesn’t offer much aside from restrooms, trash cans, picnic tables and vending machines. There are some short trails that meander through Juniper trees. But other than that, it’s your basic rest area.
Idaho allows you to stay at a rest area for no longer than 8 hours along interstates, and up to 16 hours on other highways. They do not allow overnight sleeping or camping. However, when Sash and I stayed there, we stayed for 18 hours and no one bothered us.
For the most part, Juniper Rest Area is clean and well kept. When we stayed there overnight, the winds blew fairly strong.
Shoshone Falls Road is a plot of land on the north side of the Snake River, north of Twin Falls, ID. It rests on the eastern side of the intersection with US-93.
When entering this area, there is actually a BLM sign with the name, “Snake River Rim Recreation Area”, but I’ve not been able to cross-reference this name on any official BLM materials.
The BLM technically governs the land north of Shoshone Falls Road all the way up to I-84, while land on the south side is part of Idaho’s “endowment lands” system, effectively state public land. While the BLM areas are limited to 14-day maximum stay, it’s not clear to me what the maximum is on the state side. We never saw any state or federal officials policing this area in the three-days, two-nights we were here.
Otherwise, you are free to camp here, ride your dirt bikes, hike, fly your drones, and even target shoot.
Shoshone Falls Road is paved, but the area is criss-crossed with dirt roads. However most of these roads require 4-wheel drive. They are heavily rocky and bumpy, rutted and pitted. Only trailers and motorhomes with high ground clearance can make it across to the best camping sites.
For the rest of us, there’s a turn-out at the end of Shoshone Falls Road, as it descends into a residential area at Shoshone Falls itself. Do not drive your RV down into the residential area, because there is no turn-around there.
Sash and I camped for two nights on the turn-around spot itself. Our trailer sits too low to the ground to pass over the dirt roads here.
As the evening comes along, expect to find locals driving into this area to view Shoshone Falls. Early morning walks will reveal coyotes and badgers scurrying about.
Shoshone Falls is a very short hike from this area. Across the Snake River from this area, you can also see the ramp that Evel Knieval used in his failed attempt to jump the canyon.
Sawtooth National Recreation Area is a dream-come-true for Spring-time RV boondockers. Late April to early May is when the landscape comes alive with green foliage and spring blooms, while the Big Wood River fills up with snow melt from nearby mountaintops.
There are dozens of forest roads that make up the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, but perhaps the best camping spots can be found along Forest Road 146, which branches of Highway 75, about ten miles north of Ketchum, ID. The headquarters and visitor center for Sawtooth NRA is located right at the intersection. Once you go beyond the headquarters, it’s all dirt road from there.
The road itself is hard packed, but can be quite bumpy and rocky. There are also numerous potholes, and if it’s been raining, you’ll find a fair amount of soft mud too. But yet, it’s still passable by street-legal vehicles, and one can still tow fifth wheels and bumper-pulls all the way up the end of the road. The very end of Forest Road 146 is a trail head with a loop for a trailer turn-around (it’s a tight turn-around though).
There are areas along Forest Road 146 that get very rocky and bumpy, and other areas that fill with water. All in all, it’s still passable by pickup truck and trailer. I was able to pull our 28 foot toy hauler with our 2 wheel-drive pickup about 3 miles up the road to a very picturesque camping spot.
There is a 16-day limit on stays here, and it’s totally free to camp. There is a dump station just up from the headquarters with fresh potable water. The dump station calls for a $5.00 fee, and it’s one of those “honor system” set ups, so please be kind and throw an Abe Lincoln into the slot.
Where we camped we still got Verizon 4G coverage, though very weak at 1 bar. Our WeBoost with the trucker antenna was able to turn that into 2 bars and make it usable for our voice and data needs. That signal, however, will become unusable when a storm rolls in over Ketchum, which is where the closest Verizon tower is located.
Spring time temperatures within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area remains fairly cool, rarely cresting the 80 degree F mark. During our 15-day stay there, the hottest it got was 74 degrees. Most of the time the highs were around 68 to 72. The lows typically remained about 45 degrees F. A couple of nights it got down to 36 to 38 degrees. It also rained quite a bit while we were there.
Even though technically you are required to purchase a wood gathering permit at the headquarters, there is so much dead wood laying on the ground I’m sure the forest rangers don’t mind folks collecting it for burning. Just make sure you have a metal fire ring, because this area has been hit with many fires over the past several years.
There are a few established campgrounds along Forest Road 146 including Murdock Campground, Caribou Campground, and an unnamed campground about 500 feet north of where we camped. Both Murdock and Caribou are fee-based camps, while the latter is free. These campgrounds cannot handle pickup trucks with long trailers. They are best suited for small trailers (under 20 feet) with small tow vehicles. They will handle Class A, B, and C motorhomes, but not likely anything over 30 feet.
However, there are plenty of campsites all up and down this road, some large enough 40+ foot fifthwheels and pickups.
You will definitely want to arrive here as early as possible before the weekend because these campsites fill up fast. And if it’s a holiday weekend, these sites fill up by Thursday night.
The town of Ketchum offers plenty of dining, grocery, and activities. The only propane tank refill is at a Shell station in Hailey, or the Phillips 66 in Bellevue. Note that there is also a free dump station in Hailey, located next to the Shell station, but there are signs posted that the water is not for drinking. But, you’re better off using the dump station by the Sawtooth NRA headquarters; it’s a lot less busy.
FYI: our camp spot was located at: 43.825174, -114.423140
There are not many places to boondock for free in the greater Boise, Idaho area. In fact, I couldn’t find any that offered free boondocking, relative safety and quiet, and usable Verizon 4G coverage. But I did find this place.
Located in Meridian, along a dead end street (corner of N. Vicenza Way & W. Milano Dr), behind a Walmart, is a place where very few people go, and where no one seems to care about you staying there. We stayed here for 7 nights and was never approached by parking or law enforcement. In fact, there were a few tucks that parked overnight here too.
This place is in the middle of a suburb, in a predominantly Mormon neighborhood.
During the day, there were occasional cars that drove down Vicenza Way but paid no attention to us.
In fact, we often rolled out our awning and left our doors and windows open, and still no one bothered us. Eventually, I unhooked the trailer so that we could drive our pickup truck around town to make appointments and go out dining. Again, no one seemed to care about our trailer being there for a full week. We often ran our generator to keep the air conditioner running.
The Walmart being within walking distance made it really convenient to get supplies. In fact, their shopping carts don’t lock when you push them outside of their parking lot. As a result, we could fill up a cart with supplies, push it out to our trailer, and then return the cart.
Verizon 4G came in excellent (5/5 bars).
If parking here, I recommend parking on the east side of the Vicenza Way, so that you don’t block access to the dirt road. There are about 1 to 2 cars a day that attempt using this dirt road. Make sure you only park at the very end of Vicenza Way, right up again the dead end barrier. The rest of Vicenza Way has a bike lane and it’s illegal to block that lane.
The only nearby sewer dump station is at the Meridian Waste Water Plant, located along Ten Mile Rd, about a half-mile away. They actually have set aside a dump just for RV use, however they do not offer potable water.
Of all the rest areas we’ve stayed at in Oregon, Baker Valley Rest Area is the most quiet. For whatever reason, the 25 spaces set aside for trucks and RVs largely remained empty (except for us) the entire night we stayed here.
The lot is not level. It slopes down towards the southwest. Your head will be lower than your feet when sleeping here (unless you’re bold enough to park in the opposite direction).
Otherwise, the only amenities are restrooms, vending machines, trash bins. There’s a kiosk detailing the stories and events that took place along the Oregon Trail during the westward migration of the 1800s.
Verizon 4G signal comes in excellent here.
Like with all rest areas in Oregon, you get a maximum 12 hour stay, though we’ve always stayed 16 to 20 hours at these rest areas and have never approached by officials.
Threemile Canyon Park is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, located at Exit 151 along I-84, about 12 miles west of Boardman, Oregon.
It is incorrectly named “Quesna County Park” on Google Maps.
You can park your RV here for 14 consecutive nights, all for free. The only amenities is a pit toilet, a boat ramp, and that’s about it. I didn’t even spot a garbage dumpster.
The closest sewer dump station is at the Boardman Marina RV Park, about 12 miles to the east. There’s a free RV dump station (with clean, drinking water) 66 miles to the east, at Arrowhead Travel Plaza, just east of Pendleton, OR, if you plan to head that way.
However, the other campers were respectful during our 7 night stay here. We didn’t hear any loud noises at night or during the day. When we stayed here, there several other RVers here, and at one point, there wasn’t an available campspot. There are no designated campsites here, you just park it where you can fit it.
A couple of campers had their generators going most of the day, and even into the night. Noise from the interstate was minimal. Meanwhile, Verizon 4G signal came in strong (5/5 bars).
There is an Indian treaty fishing camp located behind a chain-link fence. Only members of Columbia River indian tribes are allowed in. Do not go in!
A park ranger from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers patrols every few days.
The biggest downside to staying at Threemile Canyon Park is there are tons of gnat flying about. Just as the afternoon sun makes it way down, the gnats come out in droves. Swarms of them are all over. Keep your doors shut at all times. It gets so bad, you just can’t handle sitting outside to watch the sunset. The winds can also blow pretty heavy, which is great for blowing the gnats away, however it still doesn’t make for sitting outside any pleasant.
The only store is a Love’s Travel Center located about five mile east on I-84.