What Is RV Dry Camping, and Why Do You Need to Know?

Updated on January 26, 2019
TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

I have traveled extensively throughout the US for many years and enjoy helping people to make the most of their RV vacations.

In case you’ve never heard of recreational vehicle dry camping, it’s a good idea to learn a few things about it just in case you may one day find yourself in a situation where you need to do it!

Many people assume that those who travel in RVs do so for the nice comforts they provide, but there are thousands of owners who prefer to go “hard core” when they use their coaches by using this form of travel.

Dry camping is a way of staying in a RV without hooking up to utilities.
Dry camping is a way of staying in a RV without hooking up to utilities. | Source

What Is Dry Camping?

Dry camping is a way of using a recreational vehicle without hooking up to utilities. While it is somewhat less comfortable, it also costs less because, given the right circumstances, it means people can travel and/or stay in their units for very little money. Camping this way also allows people to stay in rustic areas they could not visit otherwise (such as you see in the attached video).

There are Corps of Engineer lands all over the US that have minimal or no facilities available, and the feds allow people to camp on many of them for free. If you want to find out where they are, there are books you can purchase (such as the one shown here) that will give you detailed information about locations, limitations, permits and other things you will want to know.

I keep this one on hand "just in case" because knowing where these places are gives my husband and myself another option for vacationing. Some do this for very short periods of time, but others actually live full time this way using a method that is called living off the grid. Is Off Grid RV Living the Best Choice for You explains how they do it, but it certainly is not a lifestyle to which everybody can adapt.

Camping with the Corps of Engineers (7th Ed): The Complete Guide to Campgrounds Owned and Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Camping with the Corps of Engineers (7th Ed): The Complete Guide to Campgrounds Owned and Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
I like this particular camping guide because it is very user friendly and loaded with great information that will save you tons of money.

Other Places Where People Dry Camp

It is very common for people who do not want to pay overly expensive camping fees or who find themselves in areas where campgrounds are not available to temporarily stay in

  • Wal-mart parking lots,
  • truck stops,
  • Interstate rest areas and
  • certain National Park Service facilities.

Safe Places Where You Can Camp or Park Your RV for Free discusses a number of other places where travelers can also dry camp.

In fact, an entire culture of people who call themselves “nomads” has sprung up in recent years that is based mostly on the idea of not having to pay to camp.

Many people RV in rest areas overnight where doing so is permitted.
Many people RV in rest areas overnight where doing so is permitted. | Source

How It All Works

Most recreational vehicles are “self-contained.”

What this means is that, on varying levels, recreational vehicle owners can use the utilities and tanks in their coaches to live without having to hook their coaches up in camping facilities.

They can also cook and heat with propane, and if they have generators, can create their own electricity.

Thus, someone who pulls into a truck stop for the night and has the right equipment can have all the comforts of home.

  • If they’re lucky, they can also dump and fill their tanks.
  • If not, there are thousands of rest areas around the country that provide these services for free.

Thus, a savvy dry camper can live fairly well for very long periods of time without having to pay for rent, utilities, or other fees simply by knowing where to replenish his basics.

Most people prefer to stay in campgrounds because they are safer and more comfortable.
Most people prefer to stay in campgrounds because they are safer and more comfortable. | Source

Why, Then, Do People Pay to Camp?

Most of those who dry camp or live off the grid on a regular basis love to be with nature, are healthy, younger and don’t have much money. Some do it as an act of defiance against having to pay government fees or even do so to hide from the tax man.

They are willing to make uncomfortable sacrifices to do this, but the great majority of RV owners are not, nor do they need to do so.

Most RV travelers like the safety and security of staying in civilized surroundings where they can have every comfort in addition to great amenities such as

  • exercise rooms,
  • Jacuzzis,
  • swimming pools and
  • organized social activities

and are more than willing to pay to have these things because campgrounds generally cost a great deal less than hotels and offer much more flexibility and freedom.

Furthermore, if they choose to live full time in their travel units, they can do so easily and become part of a community of people just like themselves.

Almost Everybody Dry Camps

Having said that, I will add that sooner or later, just about everybody who vacations in an RV will dry camp either to save money or for convenience.

Sometimes they even do it because they become disgusted with the type of price gouging practiced by some RV Parks or because of a lack of conveniently located facilities.

  1. Friends drove into Custer, SD a few years back and tried to negotiate prices for a camping spot for two couples for three days. The park manager refused to budge on his overly inflated price, so my friends left, found a national park nearby where they could dry camp for free.
  2. One night, during the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico, my husband and I could not find an available camping spot. We spent the night in the local Wal-mart parking lot and moved on the next day.

What campground owners fail to realize is that recreational vehicles are on wheels. As such, their owners can easily drive them to another place when they see that parks are asking more than their spots are worth.

It’s great, as an owner, to know that you always have this option.

The Big Irony

The irony of these situations is that, unbeknownst to many people, there are a good number of full hookup campsites available in many areas that charge absolutely nothing to camp.

People can only stay in them for limited amounts of time, but most are extremely nice places and are safe to visit as well.

The Choice Is Yours

This entire discussion is an example of the type of flexibility people have when they vacation in recreational vehicles.

Nothing is written in stone, so people can travel freely and, for the most part, know that in just about all situations, they can use the option to dry camp as a back up plan in the event of problems.

Do you think you'd like to try dry camping?

See results

© 2016 Sondra Rochelle


Submit a Comment
  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile imageAUTHOR

    Sondra Rochelle 

    4 years ago from USA

    Hi Karen: Glad you liked it and hope you get to follow your dream some day.

  • Karen Hellier profile image

    Karen Hellier 

    4 years ago from Georgia

    It is my dream to someday buy a small RV and travel around the country. I am happy to know dry camping is available and someday when I am ready I will buy a book like the one you have shown here. I think I would probably use a mixture of dry camping and campground camping though. Love this article, thanks for sharing this information.


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