A&A Intro to RV Boondocking & Navigating Weather
Updated: Jan 13, 2020
End of Week #10
North Shore Campground, Fort Thompson SD > Buffalo Gap Grasslands Overlook, Wall SD > Grandma’s House, Wall/Scenic SD
Miles traveled since last week’s post = 210
Welcome to August! It’s been another one of those weeks where we have done so much, that it feels like an eternity has passed. We have traveled 2 more places since my last post and dealt with extreme weather, anxious emotions, and cabin leaks. Now we are embracing life on the farm through the middle of month, hunkered down literally in my Grandma & Grandpa’s front yard, and just across the driveway from my Aunt, Uncle and Cousins.
From my desk I can see a distant view of the Badlands, reaching up into the clouds from the skyline. From my Grandma’s deck we get a 180 view of the rolling hills of the farmland, oftentimes dotted with black and brown cow specs, grazing throughout. In the mornings we are awoken by the chirps, the moos and the sounds of the farm life. In the evenings we are lulled to sleep by the chants of the birds and African doves.
This week wasn’t always this easy though, as we had our first two stops in South Dakota also be our first experiences with RV boondocking. What a learning experience you guys!
Parked in Grandma’s front yard in the Badlands!
Off the grid. Off course. Dry camping. Dispersed camping. No hookups. Wild camping. However you want to describe it, it all means the same. Consider it very primitive – camping without any water, sewer, or electrical hookups. Boondocking sites in their most wild form are free of charge, and totally engulfed in nature. To most, this can be an ultimate way to go full time and a perfect reason to decide to own and travel in an RV.
The term boondocking is very popular in the camping and RVing communities, and the definition of the term is even in our users manual for our rig!
Typically boondocking involves staying in undeveloped areas, but in my experience so far the views are always totally worth it. There are so many other places in the USA I look so forward to getting to boondock in – the opportunities are endless. This is also a great way for us to cut down on costs, (& on crowds) as staying in regular campgrounds can get spendy real fast!
Where to go
Primarily, the places we plan to seek out boondocking in are found from BLM Land (Bureau of Land Management) & National Forests, offering a lot of different primitive camping opportunities throughout the country. It is handy to look ahead of time at websites and apps that give you great places to go. Some of our favorites are:
Park Advisor Android App
National Parks Android App
When utilizing the National Forests and other free public land you have to be cautious of your rig size, condition of the roads traveled, all rules and regulations, and the type of wildlife you may encounter in that area.
Of all of the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt!
Other places offering free boondocking:
Walmart parking lots (But you must check into this state by state as some have decided to no longer offer this. Some have ruined it for the rest of us!)
Truck stops & wayside rests
Cabela’s (Some even have areas where you can dump your black tank or fill up on water too!)
Some hotels and motels
How to do so safely
Trust your gut! Adam and I have a rule, if one person feels off about ANYTHING when we are staying somewhere, we pack up and leave. Doesn’t matter who feels off, and what they feel off about, we have to respect that and move on. If we have reserves about a place we talk through it and also form a safety action plan in case anything were to go wrong.
Before picking a spot we do some light research online and look at any reviews or comments that others have made. We look into the city and nearby places to be sure of our neighborhood. We also have a safety action plan in case something were to happen, and maybe even have the phone number handle for local police in case we would need it!
How to prepare
The biggest thing is to ensure you have enough of what you need for an overnight stay. This means checking water supplies, making sure you either have bottled water or have filled up your water reserve tank in your RV to allow you enough water to live off of. You have to consider that this water would be used for drinking, washing, toileting, showering, your pets, etc. We stocked up on bottled water, filled water jugs we own and also filled our water reserve tank at a nearby paid campground for a $5 fee. It takes time to experiment with the right water amount for you and get a better understanding of how much you use per day. If we don’t have enough water the first things that get sacrificed are showers and dishwashing!
We also check to be sure we have enough charge on anything electrical that we might need. (Preparing electrical needs for boondocking will become a lot easier for us once we invest in solar panels!) Luckily for us, our RV has a battery on it with extended life that helps power all the lights in our rig. The downside is that it doesn’t power the outlets, so we are not able to charge our cell phones, laptops, or anything else. Instead, we have to prep those charges ahead of time, or get an additional charge by use of generator or the charger plug in we have in our van.
Propane becomes another necessity in the wild camping lifestyle as this powers our refrigerator/freezer and is used for our indoor/outdoor stovetops.
Lastly, we have to check into our black tank – AKA our poop tank. It’s important to make sure you go into your boondocking experience with an empty tank, or enough room to add to it for however long you plan to be off the grid. We emptied our black tank at the same spot we filled up our water reserve, and it cost us $10 to dump. If you fill your water reserve, then you are good to go, but going number 2 in your toilet without any added water can create all kinds of problems when you would go to empty it next. It’s best to either fill up the toilet with your own supply of water or try to find a hole in the ground toilet or other place to do your business.
Also keep in mind not to park too close to neighbors, make sure you can turn around to leave, don’t leave any trash behind, and keep the area cleaner than it was when you got there!
Additional Items to Benefit Boondocking
The most beneficial tool to have in your boondocking tool shed is definitely a generator. We got ours off of Amazon a few months ago and have used it a few times, both to test it out and while boondocking to power up all of our electronics for charging. Our generator just takes premium fuel and we can run it for extended periods of time, especially during the day when the temperatures soar and the AC becomes necessary. We have also used the generator to just charge electronic devices outside of the RV, by hooking up a power strip to it. You have to pay attention to how much you are loading onto your generator as you can short it out or blow a fuse. (And be cautious of your neighbors and the noise the generator makes!) Ours becomes quite overworked when we are trying to charge everything AND run the AC so we have to pick and choose priorities at that point.
Other helpful things to have include solar panels, a stockpile of food supplies, and firewood! We hope to invest in solar technology in the near future, and figure out the best way that it can benefit us long term. Our rig has a spot to hook up the panels but at the current time it would only power our battery and therefore our lights – which means it still wouldn’t help charge our electronics.
Boondocking in South Dakota
North Shore Recreational Area – Fort Thompson
We found this location on the Park Advisor app, and read a lot of great reviews about being on the Missouri River. It’s a beautiful area of South Dakota, where the flat farmland of the East starts to turn into the rolling hills of the West. This site was completely free and had designated RV concrete pads to park on. One thing we failed to notice while doing our research though, was that this was also on an Indian Reservation.
If I were to rate the overall safety of this location, I would not give it a complete 10 stars, but I wouldn’t say I was unsafe either. A few things were sketchy and made us feel uneasy, as cars would drive in and out of this location ALL NIGHT long, oftentimes going like 60 mph in the area. The first night there were also a lot of party sounds at 3 AM that gave us some concern. In total, there were 3 other motorhomes around the corner, and a large family of some sort camping a few spots away from us.
I probably wouldn’t go back to this location again, but it was a good first experience to get us acclimated to the life of boondocking. We encountered a small storm the morning we wanted to leave, but other than that we thrived on the low amount of water and no showers. There was a dumpster on the land that we were able to toss our trash in, and if people wanted there were fire pits, picnic tables and a hole in the ground toilet.
Buffalo Gap Grasslands Overlook – North of Badlands National Park
We found this location on the free camping website, and read over 50 reviews from other people that ranted and raved about this being a must stop location for RV’s. Adam also pulled up a video a guy took of the area, and that actually gave me a lot of hesitations as it was a very windy and appeared to be on a cliff ledge. I was thinking how in the world are we going to get there and is it going to be safe???
After paging through all the reviews again, and really believing in my heart that it was a must see destination, we decided to pursue it. The road to get there was sort of hard to find, off of a county highway, but we followed the instructions we found on the website exactly. The road was full of mud in some places but we traveled down it and started to see big rigs scattered all to the right and left, appearing to be on in a field, which was really disguised as a ledge into the Badlands!
Unsure of which direction to go and how much room we would have, we went to the right and followed the road all the way down. It was the end of the road, and there were a few other rigs scattered about. The choice was either to be in the front ledge, or the back side ledge – after a big debate we went with the back side as the view was better and it seemed safter. (This becomes divine intervention later on!)
The location was WONDERFUL – truly beautiful. Completely primitive with no designated spots, hookups, garbages or anything, but there were so many people here. We went for a walk and could see rigs scattered across the horizon for over a mile. The views were breathtaking everywhere you looked. Adam even chatted with a family that was in a rig a bit larger than ours and had just started their full time journey with the kids a WEEK ago.
It’s really too bad our time here got cut short, as we planned to stay for 2 nights and only stayed for 1 night. Which brings me to my next topic ….
Severe Weather in an RV
In the past week we have encountered TWO severe weather nightmare storms in our RV. South Dakota has been a weather challenge for us so far, and really tested our ability to problem solve, stay calm, and be safe.
During our first night at Buffalo Gap boondocking, I awoke at about 1:45 AM and heard strong winds hitting and rocking our camper. I still had about 50% battery on my phone and pulled up the radar and saw a huge mass of storms coming our way from the northwest. It wasn’t supposed to storm while we were here – I checked hundreds of times while we were planning! Adam woke up too, we were wide awake and unable to take our eyes off the radar.
The storm got closer and kept developing and getting stronger. My dad woke up and texted us that they were getting weather alerts for 70 MPH wind and hail coming our way. … Our trailer is not designed to withstand that kind of weather, and 70 MPH can really be the end threshold for something of that capacity.
Read more about our storm experience on my Instagram post, here!
I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you I was absolutely terrified. We tracked the storm until just after 5:00 AM. Two rounds came at us, and one extremely severe cell broke off at the last second and went south of us – saving us! The cell that did hit us battered sideways rain at us, and shook us to our core. We were afraid the back window where the wind was hitting was going to burst through. Before things got too extreme, Adam went outside to move our van in front of the backend of our trailer, to try to block some of the wind – we were on the edge of a cliff right out our front door!
It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever encountered, but it also prepared me for what could be. The worst part about it all is that the next night when we got to my Grandma’s on nearly any sleep, completely exhausted and dirty – we went through it AGAIN. This time we had the houses to help block things but the wind and the rain came sideways again, rattling and shaking like crazy. We got over 5 and 3/4 inches of rain in a few hours and our AC unit started to leak from the ceiling. It’s all a learning experience for us and one we will grow from, but being someone who has been deathly afraid of storms since birth makes it a little bit more of a challenge for me to overcome.
Things we have learned to do to be safe in the future:
Pull in our slideouts to make the RV more wind resistant
If necessary, move ourselves and cats into the van
Caulk the top of the AC to prevent further leaks
If necessary, put the van in front of the trailer to block wind
Continue to do our best to track weather and storm cells on radar and make educated decisions on where to go
Hopefully South Dakota will give us a bit of a break now for awhile, but regardless it’s been a state of many lessons in just a matter of a few days. We will continue to learn and grow from this experience in every way we can!
South Dakota Tourism and all things to do out here! After a full week exploring the Badlands, the Hills and everything else, I will break down for you all there is to do.
Coming soon: Conquering fears while traveling, what it’s been like traveling with 2 feisty Bengal cats, traveling on a budget, money, finances, and more!
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