Top 5 Boondocking Locations in Southern California

What are the top 5 boondocking locations in SoCal for van and RV lifers?

The top 5 boondocking locations are:

  1. Anza Borrego Desert
  2. Joshua Tree
  3. Big River BLM
  4. Keysville Special Recreation Management Area
  5. Carrizo Plain National Monument

What is Boondocking:

Boondocking is camping for free 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.

What are the Criteria:

There are only two criteria for being an excellent boondocking spot. The first criteria is that it must be located in a unique area with superb surroundings and plenty of activities. The second criteria is that it must be easily assessable to both vans and RVs.  Anyone in a van or RV can easily access the five boondocking areas listed below.

Top 5 Places Explained

The places below represent the top five best places to boondock in Southern California.

1.  Anza Borrego Desert

The Anza Borrego Desert is in the Imperial Valley by the Salton Sea. The main attraction is the Anza Borrego State Park and Borrego Springs, which offers plenty of adventure from hiking, rock climbing, and exploring. This area is trendy for boondockers during the late spring to the early fall time frame when the weather is pleasant.

The most popular boondocking location in the Anza Borrego Desert is Clear Lake. Clear Lake is a massive dry lake located about 25 minutes east of Borrego Springs accessed by Rockhouse Trail Road off State Route 22. There are multiple small boondocking campgrounds off State Route 22 in this area.

Another popular area to boondock is Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreational Area, an off-road recreational area located about 30 minutes south of Borrego Springs. It is popular with ATV and dirt bike riders, but the camping is free, and it has restrooms.  

There are multiple free camping areas within the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. My favorite free campground is Baker Valley, located off State Route 2. While this is my favorite, there are multiple free little campgrounds spread out among the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, especially along State Route 2. Just be on the lookout for the signs along the road; they can be small and hard to read.

List of Boondocking campgrounds in the Anza-Borrego Desert Start Park.

  • Blair Valley: Off County Road S2 and a mile east of Shelter Valley. Has pit toilets. 
  • Slot Canyon:  Popular for hikers going to the slot canyon 
  • Peg Leg Road: BLM land outside the park.
  • Carrizo Valley: BLM land outside the park along with County Road S2. 
  • Scissors Crossing:  Located at the intersection with County Road S2 and State Highway 78. There is a parking lot for hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

2. Joshua Tree

The Joshua Tree area is a fantastic place to explore and go boondocking. It is home to Joshua Tree National Park, which offers countless activities ranging from hiking, rock climbing, exploring, and wildlife viewing. The majority of boondocking opportunities in Joshua tree will be found south and north of the park.

My favorite boondocking location around Joshua Tree is located south of Joshua Tree National Park southern entrance. This area between the south entrance and the I-15 freeway offers countless boondocking opportunities. What is great about this area is that you are only a 10-minute drive from the park. There are no amenities, but cell reception is available.

The majority of boondocking around Joshua Tree National Park is located north of the park. There is boondocking within the Cleghorn Lakes and Sheephole Valley Wilderness areas. Both areas offer countless opportunities to boondock. Just make sure you are careful on the dirt roads; some can get rocky or muddy after rains.

3. Big River BLM

Big River BLM land is in the Whipple Mountain Wilderness area north of Highway 62 by Big River and the Colorado River. It is a great place to explore the surrounding mountain, hike, and watch the wildlife. The Colorado River Valley and surrounding mountain views are fantastic during sunset. It has easy access to the Colorado River (2-miles Away), Parker Arizona, and Lake Havasu. There is nothing here in terms of amenities except wide open spaces and people seeking desert solitude.

Directions: From the Colorado River, drive west on Hwy 62 for 4.5 miles to a BLM road on your right (north). It is about .3 miles from the turnoff to Big River.

4. Keysville Special Recreation Management Area

The Keysville Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) is located by Kernville. This area is in the mountains on the Kern River and is excellent for hiking, mountain biking, river rafting, fishing, kayaking, camping, and just exploring. It consists of approximately 7,000 acres of BLM-managed land contiguous to the US Forest Service Sequoia National Forest.

The Keysville SRMA includes both dispersed and developed campgrounds, including raft launch sites, picnic tables, and fire rings. There are also vault toilets and information kiosks throughout the area. Some campsites are easily accessible by vans and RV while others are not.

Located next to Keysville SRMA is Lake Isabella, where you can camp on the water. There is a section of BLM land for dispersed camping on the dams east side.  Look for the signs that say leaving fee area for the Auxzilary dam campsites.  You can also camp at the Auxzilary dam campground but need a recreation pass or pay the $10.

5. Carrizo Plain National Monument

Carrizo Plain National Monument is in the California Central Valley and offers any van or RV lifer the opportunity to explore, hike, and view wildlife. Over 200,000 acres of disperse and primitive camping are available, so you will not have a problem finding the perfect camp spot.  This national monument is also home to Soda Lake, a shallow alkali endorheic salt flat.

There are two BLM campgrounds and plenty of dispersed camping. Vans and small RVs can fit into the campsites but be careful that the roads are dirt and can get muddy after the rains. Below are a few details on these camping options.

  • KCL Campground:  There are 12 campsites at KCL. The campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The campground has a vault toilet but no water or electricity. Make sure to check if having a fire is permitted. 
  • Selby Campground: There are 13 campsites, and each has a fire pit and picnic table.  There is no water, electricity, or garbage pickup.  The campground also has little shade.
  • Dispersed Camping:  There are thousands of acres of land where dispersed camping is permitted. Van, RV, and horse camping are allowed in the backcountry areas.  The dispersed camping sites offer plenty of privacy, seclusion, and beautiful scenery. Make sure you practice Leave No Trace so everyone can enjoy these areas. 


These five areas represent the best places to boondock in Southern California. Each one offers a unique experience to any van or RV lifer looking to venture into the backcountry. They all have one significant thing in common, they are all free and meet the criteria of being unique and easy to access.

Links and References:
Bert Manning

Borrego Springs

Any van or RV trip to the Anza Borrego State Park isn’t complete without a stopover in Borrego Springs. The town has multiple resorts, hotels, spas, RV parks and is home to the Borrego Palms Campground. Borrego Springs is a great location to base yourself in a while exploring all the attractions of the park and surrounding areas.

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National Park
Bert Manning

Joshua Tree National Park

Besides a visit to the beach, a visit to Joshua Tree National Park is a must for any van or RV nomad exploring Southern California. The park offers excellent adventures to include camping, climbing, hiking, horseback riding, stargazing, and great geologic features that add to the wonder of this vast wilderness.

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