You Want Me to Park Where?

Since converting Wanda from a plumbing service vehicle to a camper, we’ve tried to utilize her as often as possible. 


In South Carolina we are doing the Ultimate Outside Challenge which involves visiting all 47 State Parks.  In doing so, we are usually using campgrounds within the park.  But on our trip west we knew we wouldn’t be in campgrounds all the time.  That becomes difficult to manage, expensive, and then restricts our freedom by tying us to particular dates in certain places.  That’s when we knew we would use dispersed camping as often as possible.


Dispersed camping is NOT sleeping in our niece’s cul-de-sac in Kentucky or a Cracker Barrel outside Kansas City.  It’s not even using a church parking lot in Rapid City, SD.  (Yeah, we did all those.) Dispersed camping is finding your own little parking spot on undeveloped land such as US Forestry or Bureau Land Management land.  It typically involves going off-road on dirt or gravel roads.  We don’t have much of that east of the Mississippi but out west it’s a different story.


It takes some research using various applications (iOverlander, Dyrt, HipCamp, etc.) and word of mouth to find where other people have stayed.  Carefully reading their reviews is important.  Finally, it pays to check it out on Google Maps satellite view.  You can identify potential problems like railroad tracks and you can often see other vans and RVs in the satellite imagery confirming it is a valid spot.


One day the Yellowstone campground we wanted was full by the time we reached it so we had to go farther.  We had a couple leads on nice spots which required a trip down a dusty, washboard road.  Nothing was available but our martinis were well shaken.  We contemplated boondocking in a resort parking lot but then decided to try some forest land just down the road.  We had to cross a small stream and travel a rough road.  All the items in Wanda were swinging like I imagine they did in the pioneer’s Conestoga wagons!  Eventually we found a spot and I decided to ignore the gun shots we heard in a distance.  It was a great choice as we had trees, pit toilets, and decent neighbors with the exception of the abandoned looking tent and a lawn chair with a 20 lb rock sitting in it. (The next morning there was a tiny red car with the hood open.)


Our absolute favorite experience on this trip (so far?) was finding a place outside of Badlands National Park near Wall, South Dakota.  As we left the park, we saw the gravel road and a line of RVs already parked on a ridge.  We needed to go into town for gas and, once we got there, toyed with the idea of just finding a place to park in town.  But it was so busy; and so noisy.  We went back out into the country, found the gravel road and headed up to the ridge.


My first tip is to attempt this in daylight.  Cresting hilltops blindly, while dodging crusted wheel ruts, is bad enough in the daytime; I can’t imagine doing that AND parking in the dark.


In this case, we passed up a couple decent spots thinking we would find something better.  But the farther we went, we realized we would be too close to other campers.  We turned around and settled for a fairly level spot on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Badlands.  (Second tip: take the first spot you are satisfied with.  Third tip: have some device to help level your vehicle—I carry a couple 2x8 scrap boards that have done the trick.)


Jenni has an aversion to things like heights, cliffs, and other life-ending hazards.  But she agreed to this spot.  It was 30-40 yards from a family in a tent and less than that to the drop off but it was perfect for us. 


We had adult beverages as we sat and watched the shadows stretch longer across the valley.  We were serenaded by distant bovine mooing.  At dusk the coyotes howling reminded us we were in nature for sure.  The next morning our coffee never tasted so good as we watched the sunrise spread on the horizon.  The cows were already hard at work.


When you disperse camp, you may not be alone but you will be part of a community that is serious about what they do and love it.


It just takes a little risk.

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