Places To Visit, Campgrounds And Boondocking In Bighorn National Forest

A couple of entries ago we visited Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. In this installment, we will look at many more points of interest an adventurous RVer will want to visit while in the vicinity of the Medicine Wheel.

First off are two nearby waterfalls of considerable size. The first you will encounter is Porcupine Falls. The falls features a 200-foot thundering vertical drop into a pool at the base. The falls can only be viewed from the base requiring a short but relatively steep hike.

Bighorn National Forest
Porcupine Falls. All photos by author (Dave Helgeson)

The small opening in the cliff-face, about a third of the way up to the right of the falls, is the remnant of a tunnel that used to power a mining operation.

Once you have explored Porcupine Falls, continue north down the road to Bucking Mule Falls.

Many consider Bucking Mule Falls the most impressive waterfall in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. The listed height of the falls varies depending on the source—some claim 300 feet, others say it’s up to a 600-foot drop.

Realistically, the falls are comparable in height to Porcupine Falls. The hike to the falls viewpoint is considerably longer than Porcupine Falls, but not as steep as the falls can be viewed from the top rather than the base.

Bighorn National Forest
The author at Bald Mountain City Site

While the Bighorn Mountains were never a major source of precious metals, some mining did take place in the Bighorns providing some historic places to explore.

Mixed among the beautiful places to boondock in the mountains you will find the remains of Bald Mountain City, the Fortunatus Mill, and a gold sluicing operation.

Bighorn National Forest
The site of the old Fortunatus Mill

Here is a short description of the mining activity that occurred:

“Discoveries of fine-grained gold north of Bald Mountain were made in 1890. ‘Gold Fever’ brought many prospectors to the area over the next 10 years. In 1892, the Fortunatus Mining and Milling Company purchased a group of claims on the head of the Little Big Horn River and Porcupine Creek.

The excitement led to the establishment of Bald Mountain City, the most extensive attempt at a settlement in the Big Horn Mountains. Near Bald Mountain City are the remains of the old Fortunatus Mill. The gold rush ended by 1900 because yields were not enough to pay for the effort of panning.”

In addition to the waterfall and historical stops, be sure to keep a lookout for wildlife as you explore, as the area is a mecca for moose, deer, and other animals.

Bighorn National Forest
A moose we spotted
How to get there
  • The trailhead for Porcupine Falls is just off Forest Service Road 14 at N44° 51.465 W107° 54.770  — Click here for trail details.
  • The trailhead for Bucking Mule Falls is just off Forest Service Road 14 at N44° 53.049 W107° 54.345 — Click here for trail details.
  • A sign marking the remains of the Fortunatus Mill can be found along Forest Service Road 13 at N44° 49.394 W107° 49.917
  • A sign marking the remains of Bald Mountain City can be found along Forest Service Road 123 at N44° 48.393 W107° 47.537

Those wishing to explore the remains of the sluicing operation will find them a short hike off of Forest Service Road 15 at N44° 49.811 W107°44.301

Bighorn National Forest
Boondocking in the area

Developed campgrounds in the area include Porcupine Campground and Bald Mountain Campground. You can also choose one of the many boondocking sites along the roads mentioned above.

Lots of exploring options from one camp, just another great adventure in RVing!

See also: Don’t Miss This Historic Site In The Bighorn Mountains



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What Is Boondocking? – How to Find It and Get Good At Doing It!

What is boondocking? Well, we’re here to share all about it!

If you love RV living and exploring the USA, boondocking will get you deeper into those rich experiences you desire. It will introduce you to new areas (where the tourists don’t go). And, best of all, it will be kind to your wallet!

 

What is Boondocking?

Boondocking has a ton of definitions. Almost every RVer defines it uniquely. Boondocking, also referred to as dry camping, free camping, overnight parking and freedom camping, is pretty much camping for free with no hook ups.

While you can sometimes “boondock” at Walmart, Cracker Barrel, Interstate rest stops and truck stops, today we’re focusing on boondocking on public lands.

Aside from being free – our definition also mentions camping “without hook ups”. That means no water connection, no electrical connection and no sewer connection.

Here’s a picture of what boondocking looks like:

cropped-img_19641.jpg

How To Find Boondocking Spots

It’s pretty easy to find boondocking sites in the USA. Our favorite resource is Campendium. Once you visit their website, just type in the location where you want to camp and click search. You’ll see a ton of options. Narrow your search to “free” in the price menu and then you’ll see all the boondocking locations!

You can also find great boondocking sites on Free Campsites. Again, just enter the location you want to visit, click search, and SHAZAM, you’ll see all the free campsites!

We also use Allstays to find free camping sometimes. But, if you’re a newbie, just stick to the two above until you get your bearings.

Things To Prepare You For Boondocking

To boondock for more than one day, you’ll need to do a little preparation: make sure your water tanks are full, know the limits of your holding tanks and have a game plan for your power needs.

71j2Ien-FWL._SL1170_A generator is the easiest path to instant availability for high power. We have a Honda 2200 (linked in the previous sentence). It’s an amazing, high quality unit that has stood the test of time. However, you can get the same power generator for half the price if you’re budget conscious. 

You can also use solar power. It requires more money and more battery space. If you’re a tech nerd you may want to research it. But, if you’re a total boondocking newbie, a generator is probably your best bet to get you started. You can always upgrade to solar in the future and your generator will still come in handy on cloudy days.

Boondocking Etiquette 

Sure, the list for boondocking etiquette could go on forever…but, we’re just going to cover a few basics.

First, don’t camp too close to the next guy. Fifty yards is a good rule of thumb, but really it all depends on the location. Sometimes you have to park close to your neighbor (like at this free camping spot near Zion National Park). If space allows however, keep your distance!

Second, keep your pets on a leash or under voice control. Your dog may be the nicest pup around, but if he runs over to a neighbors leashed dog, you never know what will happen. For the safety of your pup and everyone else – make sure you have control of it! AND, always pick up dog poop!

Lastly, leave the spot cleaner than when you arrived! Simple and important. Boondocking sites across the USA get shut down every year because of trash.

Boondocking Resources

We publish lists of our favorite boondocking sites every year! You can find all of those below:

Top 10 Boondocking Site of 2017

Top 10 Boondocking Site of 2016

Must Have Camping Gear

 

 

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How We Made A Private Dog Run While Boondocking

As you know, my preferred campsite is in the boondocks on public property. My wife and I enjoy the solitude, scenery, and convenience. The price is right, too.

Another advantage of camping in the boondocks is that your dog typically does not need to be leashed, as there are seldom leash laws in the boonies (dispersed camping in national monuments is one of the few exceptions). We recently discovered one more positive feature of boondocking with a dog.

boondocking
Photos by author, Dave Helgeson

We were traveling with our dog-owning friends and were looking for a spot to boondock along a road that bordered fenced National Forest land.

Spying a gate in the fence, we stopped to investigate. Sure enough, there was a campfire ring on the forest service land not far from the gate indicating that this was an “approved” dispersed camping location. (The dispersed camping rules for many forest service districts and BLM lands request that campers use a site that has been used before, as evidenced by an existing fire ring.)

So if there is an existing fire ring, you can pretty much be assured that boondocking is okay. Click here to see an example of dispersed camping guidelines. Keep in mind the example is for the Fishlake National Forest, but varies per forest, so always check the guidelines for the area you wish to visit.

boondocking

The unwritten rule for gates on public land in the west (especially where grazing rights are issued) is to leave gates how you found them. If open, leave them opened; if closed, close them behind you.

After opening the gate, pulling the trailers through and closing it behind us, we soon had our camp set up. We quickly realized we had our own private dog park, with the closed gate and fence prohibiting our friend’s dog from wandering back onto the nearby road. How sweet is that!

boondocking

Having a free fenced campsite for the dog—just another adventure in RVing!

See also: The Good and the Bad of Full-Time RVing with Pets



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Pros And Cons Of Boondocking, And Boondocking Etiquette

Boondocking, also known as dry camping, dispersed camping, or wild camping, is the art of staying in the wilderness without hookups or designated campsites.

For RVers looking for tranquility, isolation, and a way to reconnect with nature, it is an ideal experience. Boondocking has its difficulties, but if you arrive prepared, you can have the time of your life.

boondocking
Get away from crowded campgrounds. Photo from Pixabay

Where to camp

Boondocking is legal in many national parks and wildlife refuges, from the Grand Canyon to the bayous of Louisiana. Travelers are allowed to drive through government-designated “dispersed camping areas” and park their vehicles on a first-come, first-served basis. However, you are still required to clean up after yourself and be respectful of the environment.

How to short-term camp without hookups

One of the main aspects of boondocking that scares away travelers is the idea of camping without water, sewer, or electrical hookups. When you’re staying in the middle of nowhere, there isn’t a lot of flexibility, but if you’re planning a short-term trip (2-4 days), you shouldn’t have many problems.

Start your trip with a full fresh water tank and empty sewer tanks, and make sure you have enough fuel to last your trip. Stock up on propane and charge your RV battery. If you monitor your water and energy usage, your trip will be a breeze.

How to long-term camp without hookups

If you’re feeling extra ambitious and want to boondock for weeks on end, you need to be more prepared. During long stays without access to dump stations, your gray and black water tanks can become too full. Gray water, though illegal to dump all at once, can be thinly distributed and sprinkled around the camp; just be sure to use eco-friendly biodegradable soaps for showering and dishes.

Under no circumstances can black water be disposed of without a dump station. To prevent your tank from filling up during your stay, you may want to invest in a sewer tote. However unpleasant it may sound, it can give you extra storage when your tank is full. Full-time boondockers may want to switch to a composting toilet, eliminating the black water problem altogether.

As far as electricity, you should consider how often you think you’ll be boondocking. It may be worth investing in a portable solar panel. If solar is not an option for you financially, you can run off of your battery.

Be mindful of your power usage, and choose activities such as hiking or journaling to entertain yourself rather than watching TV. Use LED lights in your RV to conserve electricity. It can be helpful to carry a generator, though you won’t want to disturb the peace by running it all the time. If necessary, you can use it to charge your battery.

Monitor your water usage as well. Take shorter showers and wipe off dishes before rinsing them. You may want to buy jugs of water or purchase a water distiller to avoid emptying your tank. You can also minimize trash by eating fresh food instead of packaged meals.

boondock
Boondocking in Oklahoma. Photo by Bethany/Flickr

Boondocking etiquette

Nothing ruins what should be a fun camping trip like obnoxious neighbors. Even when you’re parking your RV in a wide open space, there may be other campers nearby.

When choosing a boondocking spot, keep a respectful distance from other campsites. Respect everyone’s privacy and keep the noise level down. People go boondocking to enjoy the tranquility of nature—don’t ruin it for them.

Most importantly, clean up after yourself! Not only can littering result in fines, but it harms the environment. Never dispose of sewer waste without a dump station.

Should you boondock?

Pros:

  • Boondocking gives you more space with less people
  • There is often less noise, especially if you camp far from civilization
  • Boondocking allows you to connect with nature more easily
  • It gives you a break from cell phones and social media
  • It provides more privacy than designated campsites
  • You never know what you will find
  • Boondocking areas are usually free of cost

Cons:

  • It is possible to become stranded if you run out of fuel
  • Electricity can fail, and there is no nearby help
  • There are no recreational facilities (pools, golf courses, etc.)
  • The lack of hookups make boondocking less convenient
  • Dispersed camping areas sometimes limit stays to 14 days
boondocking
Is boondocking right for you? Photo from Pixabay

Boondocking has its obstacles, but it also has great advantages. Consider what you appreciate about camping and decide if boondocking is right for you.

See also: Why We Would Rather Boondock Than Stay In A Park



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