Southwest camping for 85 cents a day!

By Bob Difley

Craggy Wash, near Lake Havasu City.
Craggy Wash, near Lake Havasu City.

Wintering in the Southwestern deserts offers some of the most frugal camping and boondocking opportunities available to RVers in the nation. If you want to really get away from it all, the camping is free.

What makes it possible is (1) the abundance of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the desert areas, and (2) the privately owned land outside of congested cities is cheap by comparison with other parts of the country, which enabled entrepreneurs to build campgrounds with a much lower investment, which translates to lower campground fees.

But the most economical way to camp is boondocking in the open desert outside of the BLM’s Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVA), which are cheap enough with rates of $180 for the entire season (about 85 cents a day) or $40 for two weeks. You won’t find rates like that for campgrounds anywhere — even though they are primitive with no hook-ups. But in the open desert, the cost is $0 (zero). Learn more in this informative video about camping on public lands by Dave Helgeson.

You can camp anywhere on BLM land unless expressly prohibited by signs, fencing, or by the new Travel Management Rules that are beginning to become more prevalent. But even with those minuscule restrictions, there are still millions of acres open to free boondocking.

There is one other rule (other than the obvious ones of not dumping sewage, trash, or old TV sets and not shooting endangered wildlife like desert tortoises) and that is that you cannot stay in any one place for longer than 14 days out of every 28. After 14 days you must move at least 25 miles away. You can return, though, after another 14 days.

That is no problem if you are spending the winter exploring the desert, but if you find a place you like and want to stay, do what RVing boondockers do in Lake Havasu City. If you are staying in Craggy Wash, just north of the airport at the north end of town, after 14 days you move down to Standard Wash on the south end of town.

The only costs you will incur with your free boondocking campsite will be the gas you use to drive back and forth to the nearest town for supplies, eating out, or for entertainment, and the cost to drive to a campground or other facility where you can dump your holding tanks and refill your water tank. But a portable holding tank and a couple water containers can extend your staying power beyond your built-in tanks.

You can find Bob Difley’s RVing e-books on Amazon Kindle.



6 Thoughts to “Southwest camping for 85 cents a day!”

  1. Russ DeMaris


    In the Desert Southwest, at this time of year scorpions and rattlesnakes are generally asleep. Along about April is when these fellows wake up and start moving around. Then it’s a matter of keeping your eyes (and ears) open, and not putting your hands where you can’t see.

    A friend of ours was stung by a scorpion that crawled up her pant leg — that was late in the season. Burned like mad, fortunately nothing worse than that for an outcome. As to rattlesnakes, one fellow in Quartzsite got bit and had to be hospitalized. But in his case, he wasn’t out on the desert when he was bitten, he had just stepped into a local grocery store — and apparently a rattlesnake decided the inside of the store was a great place to hang out and BANGO — he got nailed.

  2. Bill Pead

    How about snakes and scorpions—are these a big issue?

    And does anyone have any suggestions as to how to deal with such critters?

    1. Jerry

      Leave them alone, and they will usually leave you alone. I spent several years in the US Army at Fort Bliss, much of the time out in the desert, we saw plenty of snakes in the day, and scorpines at night, never got stung or bite, simply left them alone. Those who did, were messing with them, trying to be brave and pick them up and such.

  3. Tommy Molnar

    Not knowing how large your “blue tank” is, I would assume you just store it in your pickup (if you have a trailer) and dump it with your on-board tank next time you do the ‘dump’.

  4. Mike Roberts

    When you’re desert boondocking, and using a portable holding tank, where do you dump it? I can’t see towing my blue tank out to the main road and then find a dump station within a reasonable distance.

    1. Jerry

      Most folk I know who boon dock, know the capacity of their tanks, they use them in such a manner that it takes a long time to fill, such as “it it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” and navy showers. Then find a place that has a dump station when the need arises. Never knew anyone who used a blue tank for boon-docking. They are nice in campgrounds when you need to dump but don’t wish to tear down, fill the blue tank and slowly tow it to the station. I don’t own one, we have been living in the desert now for our second winter, however we are in a nice small RV park in a small village about a half hours drive to everywhere.

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