I wanted to describe what tools and methods I use to find boondocking places. There are many options.
The most critical item to remember IMHO:
Relying on apps, websites, phones, and computers is very useful and convenient. You can identify spots from satellite views or gps coordinates shared by others. You can save these on various apps. All of this works well if you have cellular or internet service or if you store everything offline on your device. Ensure that your method for saving locations can be recalled with no service.
First, let me list resources I'm using.
Apps I find useful
iOverlander - Seem to have a good database of true boondocking locations - good crowdsourced data.
Sekr - good community. Nice interface.
Freeroam - Good source for NF campsites.
Gaia - Many different map layer options, but a little bit of learning curve. I like tagging points from the webpage on a computer and then downloading them to the app. You get offline maps with good detail.
Google Maps - Mainly use to get satellite views of locations and search for dispersed spots.
Avenza Maps - I use this to download the NF MVUM maps and as well as other free maps. These are copies of paper maps. They will locate your location on the map when using GPS on your phone.
Websites I find useful
Boondocking and Free Camping USA on FB
Other apps that are helpful (but used less)
The Dyrt - I subscribed but regret it. So I'm referencing it but it's not my favorite.
USFS and BLM Campgrounds
There are tons of apps and websites. I would find the core ones that work for you and learn to use them. You don't need every app. If you have too many things available to you, you'll get analysis paralysis while on the trail.
So how do I do things?
I start by determining what areas are within my driving range for the trip. Then you need to evaluate the weather and conditions for the time of year. You need to consider things like precipitation type, road conditions, elevation, etc.
I usually start by looking for user contributed sites on iOverlander. Even if there is just one spot, there may be 10 more that people didn't tag. People tend to contribute their reviews as well. You can look for other recommendations on Dyrt, Sekr, and Freeroam. Once I have some general areas, I'll check them out via Satellite on Google Maps. I try to assess my driving capabilities with how things look on Satellite (this is very imperfect but it is a data point). I'll locate these areas on Gaia and include contours to understand if roads/area are hilly or flat.
If I find a site or general location, mark it on Gaia. Make sure the waypoint is stored on your phone and ensure you have downloaded that areas map for offline viewing.
Next, do you have a paper map version of these locations? If going to a national forest, you can always check-in at the local ranger station. The Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) shows legal roads, seasonal and wildlife closures, and is used by law enforcement and Forest staff to enforce which roads are legally open to vehicles. The MVUM was created to allow appropriate access for wheeled motor vehicles while protecting forest resources from damage caused by unmanaged motorized use.
I carry the following:
- Corps of Engineers Camping: Directory of 942 Camping Areas in 35 States
- National Forest Camping
- Free Van Camping on BLM Public Lands: Discover 935 Bureau of Land Management Camping Areas at 658 Locations in 12 Western States
There are others. Good to have reference material handy in paper form.