Best Off-Roading Areas in Southern California for Boondocking

The best off-roading areas in Southern California for any van or RV nomads to go boondocking in are:

  • Imperial Sand Dunes  
  • Ocotillo Wells SVRA
  • Dumont Dunes
  • Oceano Dunes SVRA
  • Hungry Valley State Park SVRA
  • Johnson Valley
  • Jawbone Canyon and Dove Springs OHV

What is Boondocking?

Boondocking is camping in an area without traditional campground amenities of water, electricity, and sewer. Most boondocking is done on public lands, off-the-grid, and away from towns and cities. The best boondocking sites are free, but a few off-roading areas mentioned in this article require a special off-roading pass and a small fee.

California State Park Off-Roading Pass

California requires an Off-Highway Motor Vehicle (OHV) Vehicle Day Use Pass when operating vehicles in any State-operated Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (SVRA) areas.  The pass is valid for five days or 12 months from purchase.

The pass (photocopies not accepted) must be presented at the entrance station and displayed on the rearview mirror or vehicle dashboard when visiting SVRA state parks.

See SoCal Park Passes for more information

Off-Roading Area Criteria:

There are only two criteria for being excellent off-roading areas to boondock. The first criteria are that it must be located in an off-roading area with plenty of access to trails, dunes, rocky terrain, or hills.

The second criteria must be easily assessable to both vans and RVs.  Anyone in a van or RV can easily access these off-roading areas and drive to an appropriate boondocking campsite.

Imperial Sand Dunes (Glamis)

The Imperial Sand Dunes, or Glamis, is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  Glamis offers van and RV nomads an excellent opportunity to go off-roading and explore these fantastic dunes.

Most of the off-roading action occurs in the recreation area south of Highway 78 and is open to all recreational vehicles.

Limited areas around the dunes require vehicles to travel on designated routes. Information and maps for all these areas are available at the ranger stations.

You might have seen these dunes in scenes in Star Wars. The dunes represent the location of Jabba’s sail barge set.   

A permit is required from October thru April to visit and stay at the dunes.  Permits are $50 per week if purchased at the visitor center. Season permits are also available for $150.

See: Imperial Sand Dunes

Ocotillo Wells SVRA

Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreational Area (SVRA) is a great place for any van or RV nomad looking to boondock and be surrounded by off-road vehicles. There are over 85,000 acres of desert terrain to ride and explore here.

In addition to the SVRA, large tracts of BLM land are open for boondocking and off-highway vehicles.

There are many camping options throughout Ocotillo Wells SVRA to include Quarry, Main Street, and Holmes Camp. All campsites are first-come, first-serve.

Each campsite has a table, fire ring, and a few have shade ramadas. There are pit toilets scattered throughout the campgrounds, but the only trash bins are located at the visitor center. You can camp up to 30 days. There is no dumping station or water.

Pay showers are available on Ranger Station Road, on Main Street, and in Homes Camp. Two quarters ($0.50) provide 2 minutes of hot water.

No permit is required to camp, but you will need an Off-Highway Motor Vehicle (OHV) Vehicle Day Use Pass if you ride in the SVRA.

For more information on obtaining the OHV Pass see: SoCal Park Passes

See: Ocotillo Wells SVRA

Dumont Dunes

Dumont Dunes is well worth the long drive to get there for any van or RV nomad into off-roading and riding dunes. The scenery and wildlife are spectacular.  

The dunes are an Off-Highway Vehicle Area (OHVA) managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  The area encompasses 7,620 acres of public land located about 40 miles north of Baker, CA.

The dunes are bordered by steep volcanic hills, the Amargosa River, and are easily recognized. The elevation here varies from 700 feet, at the river, to 1200 feet at the top of Competition Hill, the tallest of the dunes. 

Camping is permitted anywhere within Dumont Dunes open area but is limited to a maximum of 14 consecutive days.

There is a BLM fee to use and camp at the dunes.  A season pass (Oct. 1 -Sept. 30) is $90 and $120 with holidays, or a weekly pass is $30 non-holiday and $40 with holidays. Seven-day permits are available from the onsite attendant.

See: Dumont Dunes

Oceano Dunes SVRA

Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreational Area (SVRA) is probably one of the most desirable boondocking locations in all Southern California for van and RV nomads. Oceano Dunes is the only state park that allows you to camp directly on the beach in your van or RV.

The Dunes is located 3 miles south of Pismo Beach and is one of California’s most expansive coastal dunes.

Camping is $10 a night and is allowed south of Post 2.  There are vault toilets, water delivery, and holding-tank pump-out services available.

Campsite reservation information can be obtained by calling 1-800-444-7275. Campsites are available by reservation year-round and can be made from 10 days to six months in advance. Campsite reservations are highly recommended and can be made up to 6 months in advance. 

You will need an Off-Highway Motor Vehicle (OHV) Vehicle Day Use Pass if you ride in the SVRA. For more information on obtaining the pass, visit: SoCal Park Passes

Visit: Oceana Dune Nature Preserve

Hungry Valley SVRA

Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) has over 4000 open acres to explore. The area is the third-largest unit of California State Park’s Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division.

Located a short drive north of Los Angeles in the Tejon Pass, Hungry Valley SVRA offers more than 130 miles of scenic trails for motorcycles, All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), mountain bikes, and hiking.

Nine semi-developed campgrounds offer 200 campsites located throughout the SVRA. The campgrounds provide shade ramadas, picnic tables, fire rings, vault restrooms, and trash bins. Beware that there is no water available in the park so bring your own.

The main campgrounds are Smith Forks, Aliklik, and Sterling Canyon. There is a $10 camping fee per night and a $5 entrance fee.

You will need an Off-Highway Motor Vehicle (OHV) Vehicle Day Use Pass if you ride in the SVRA. For more information on obtaining the pass, visit: SoCal Park Passes

See: Hungry Valley SVRA

Johnson Valley OHVA

Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area (OHVA) is the vastest off-roading area on the list for van and RV nomads. It encompasses 96,000 acres and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The valley borders the United States Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center.

The southeast portion of the riding area offers many rocky hills known to the rock crawler worldwide as the “Hammers.” This area is for experts and has gained off-roaders’ attention in recent years.  

The north portion of the riding area offers a riding experience for novice and intermediate riders with some small dune. This is the perfect place to practice your off-roading skills.

The annual off-road rally called; The King of Hammers is held here annually. The rally draws the best on off-road racing and rock climbing. The rally is open to the public and attracts thousands of spectators.

Johnson Valley provides a vast area for boondocking up to 14 days. Means Dry Lakebed and Soggy Dry Lake are the most popular areas to camp, but the camping options are endless.  

See: Johnson Valley OHV Area

Jawbone Canyon and Dove Springs OHV

Jawbone Canyon and Dove Springs Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) areas are located right next to each other and are great for off-roading, exploring, and boondocking. They are easy to get to, offer amazing scenery, have great wildlife, and a huge off-roading community. There is a visitor center at the entrance to Jawbone Canyon, which has restrooms, picnic tables and can answer any questions you might have. 

Both areas are on BLM land and allow 14 days of boondocking. 

Conclusion

Southern California offers some fantastic off-roading areas for van and RV nomads to boondock. These areas range from dunes on the beach to rocky terrain in the middle of the Mojave Desert. If you want to go riding or sit back and relax, these off-roading areas will not disappoint you.  

References and Other Adventures: 

Hiking

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