A cool boondocking spot in Southern UT

A super-cool boondocking spot in Southern UT

In my last post I introduced you our very “general” planning process. It generated some excellent comments and discussion (always fun). In this post I’m going to delve a little deeper and tell you how I get into the nitty-gritty of actually mapping routes and finding campsites. I’ll include a few key links today, but since this series is running waaay longer than I expected I’ll also be doing a dedicated (final) post with nothing but resource links. So, here it goes..

1/ Setting Your “Pace”

As I mentioned in the last post we usually start our process by deciding where we’d like to spend summer and where we’d like to spend winter. That kind of creates the “boundaries” of our travel for the year. Since we try not to move too much or too fast the first thing I like to figure out is how long it will take me to get between these two stops. This determines our pace of travel and ensures we both feel comfortable with it.

A quick Google check of FL to WA shows 3,400 miles. Would I want to do that in 3 months?

A quick Google map of FL to WA shows 3,400 miles. Would I want to do that in 3 months? Depends!

I like to target average 150 mile travel days with a min. of 5-7 days at each stop (some will be less, some will be more). If our summer destination is around 1,800 miles from our winter destination (I usually do a quick plot on Google Maps first) that means we can plan a leisurely 3 months (12 stops x 150 miles) to get there. See how it works? Your final travel won’t be nearly this precise, but doing this super simple calculation will give you a general feel for the scope of what you’re planning, how long you can spend in a given spot or state (before moving on) and allow some gas budgeting too.

In 2011 we ended up spending 2 months in New Mexico thanks to it's mix of low and high lands

In 2011 we ended up spending almost 3 months in New Mexico thanks to it’s mix of low and high lands

If you want to travel twice that distance (say, you’re trying to get from S.CA to Alaska) you’ll either need to ramp up your schedule or take longer to get there (remember #1 from my last post -> check that weather to make sure you’ll like when you get there!). Alternatively if budget is an issue, you can always shorten your winter/summer target and plan for smaller drives and longer stays. Many states (e.g. AZ, CO, UT, NM, CA etc.) have a mix of both low-lying land and high (>8000 ft) mountains allowing you (if you so wish) to spend several seasons in one state in good weather comfort.

2/ Mapping A Route

Once I have a general pace & route I'll look at each state to make sure I like the timeframe we'll be there. This all looks good!

Once I have a general pace & route I’ll look at each state to make sure I like the weather & timeframe we’ll be there before going into more detail.

Once I feel comfortable with our “pace” I will start looking at specific routes. I love (love, love) looking at mapping routes and will often spend hours pouring over paper maps (yes, real honest-to-goodness paper maps…by FAR the best option for this kind of thing IMHO) and planning interesting possibilities. I’ll start out with a very general route (say, which states we’re going to pass through), then I’ll look at weather (remember rule #1) to make sure I like the time-frame we’ll be there. Once both of those look good I’ll delve down into more detail for each state on a month-ahead basis. Sometimes I’ll have definite “must sees” along the way (e.g. a specific National Park), but other times I’ll simply look for interesting “green” bits on the map and plonk that into the mix. Since we only really book-out summers this works out pretty well.

The 395 is a by-way that has some spectacular mountain passes

Hwy 395  in CA/OR is a by-way that has some spectacular mountain passes & awesome scenery. You just can’t drive it too early (or too late) in the year.

Another little wrinkle in our planning is that we do like (as much as possible) to stay off the big interstates and explore some of the smaller roads. Given that we’re “beast-size” that often means a little extra work just to make sure we don’t hit any low bridges or go on roads that are too windy/dangerous or go over mountain passes before they’re open. I have a few different resources (in my next post) that I use to check these things. If I’m still not sure I’ll jump on the RV forums for extra feedback.

And of course, I always have a few back-up ideas. Outside of summer bookings I keep it fairly loose with a few back-up alternatives in case weather or events change.

3/ Deciding Where To Stop/Camp

We found Antelope Island State Park in UT by looking at uscampgrounds.info. It just looked so darn interesting out there on the lake...and it was!

We found Antelope Island State Park in UT from uscampgrounds.info. It just looked so darn interesting out there on the lake…and it was!

Once my general route is planned I will start looking for camping spots along the way. My absolute preference and what we rely on 90% of our time is public campgrounds (COE, BLM, National Forest, State Park etc.). My #1 resource for this is uscampgrounds.info and it’s the site (and app) I use most of the time. I’ll look along my route, sticking to ~150 mile driving days (some will be more, some much less) and see what crops up on the map. If a site looks interesting I’ll investigate more (go to the website, check rvparkreviews etc.) to see if it fits our preferences and size. Sometimes I’ll have 2-3 options on a trip just in case one of them doesn’t work out (say, the campground is full or we don’t like the look of it).

Look at all the yellow BLM land on my Benchmark Map! There's gotta be good boondocking here!

Look at all the yellow BLM land on my AZ Benchmark Map! There’s gotta be good boondocking here!

If my handy paper map shows a nearby large forest or BLM area I’ll also look for boondocking spots. This takes a little more effort especially for our size, but it can really make for some super sweet camping. I’ll use a mix of freecampsites.net (the best free camping site out there), ranger info (getting a map & details from a local ranger’s office) and Google satellite to check out these spots. Of these three items, getting first-hand info from the ranger (or word-of-mouth from another boondocker) is often the surest deal. If I’m still not sure I may plan to stay nearby (in a campground) and check out the area before taking in “the beast”.

If my searches show up *nothing* that I like on the route I may decide to either change the route, overnight at a Walmart (find a “Freebie”) or do a few longer drives to get to a better spot. If really pressed I might even {{gasp}} stay at a private campground, but such things are rarely spoken of :)

Related Posts:
Free Overnight RV Parking = Finding “Freebies”
Finding Cheap & Natural Campgrounds
Back To Boondocking Basics -> 8 Steps To Get You Into The Wilds

4/ Internet?

We don’t worry too much about losing a few days of internet, but for some folks it’s a critical part of their travels. If you’re on a cellphone carrier like us there are great apps such as Coverage? which can help you predict if you’ll be in a dead-zone. For those using satellite simply finding a site with open line-of-sight to the southern sky will usually do the trick. Also having a few campsite back-ups is always a good idea in case one spot doesn’t work out. If internet is super-critical this item may move up in importance on your planning list and could even be the deciding factor for which route you take to begin with.

Related Post:
Internet Connectivity On The Road -> Our New Rockin’ No Contract 4G Upgrade!

5/ Gas, Dumping & Water

The beast finds her spot in a trucker bay

The beast likes filling up in trucker bays

When dry-camping (which we do a lot) one of the questions that always comes up is how do we find a place to dump and take on water. We typically last 2-3 weeks on our tanks so I only worry about this a few weeks ahead (when we actually need it). Typically I’ll just look at my handy dandy sanidumps.com app and pick a spot. Many truck stops have dumps and most private RV parks will allow you to dump for a small fee.

Filling up gas is the same way. Most of the time we’ll consult our Next Exit Guide and stop at the next truck stop, or find a local gas station with wide lanes. Google maps is often helpful here and can give you a “street view” of the station to see if it looks accessible.

We’ve never had an issue finding either type of spot so these are always the last (easy) questions on our list.

Related Posts:
Back To Boondocking Basics -> 8 Steps To Get You Into The Wilds
Fillin’ Her Up Like a Trucker

6/ Stay Flexible!

"The Beast" goes into the shop

“The Beast” goes into the shop

No matter how much you plan, one of the sure things about RVing is that “stuff” happens. Maybe you break down somewhere and need a major repair? Maybe you need to be somewhere for a family emergency? Maybe you get sick? We had the year our slide broke which forced us to abandon all summer plans and high-tail it to Oregon. Or, another time when Paul had to go home on a family emergency. And yet another where personal issues kept us in San Diego for 5 months. So although I’ve spoken a lot about these “rules” there’s also been many times we’ve broken them because of unexpected events. In those cases the key is simply to stay loose and go with the flow. Don’t be too upset if your best-laid plans fail. You never know what might happen or what other gems you might discover in the process. ‘Tis life on the road and it is always changing.

A Planning Example: Our 2013 Winter->Summer Travel

A quick plot of our winter->summer route on Google maps showed us we had ~1400 miles to travel in 3 months. A good pace! We never follow the direct route, but it gave us a starting point for our plans

A quick plot of our winter->summer route on Google maps showed us we had ~1400 miles to travel in 3 months. A good pace! We never follow the direct route, but it gave us a starting point for our plans

Our final winter->summer drive for 2013. We didn't hit all of the spots I planned. No real bookings until June gave us a ton of flexibility.

Our final winter->summer drive for 2013. We liked southern UT so much we stayed longer there. No real bookings until June gave us a ton of flexibility.

Wind whips up the clouds behind "the beast"

Boondocking in Southern UT

We spent most of this past winter boondocking around Arizona and I started our summer->winter travel plans sometime in Feb/Mar. My first course of action was to decide where we wanted to be by June (the first month I typically do bookings) and we both decided the southern WA coast was the target. A first-order Google map of those two points revealed ~1,400 miles of travel over 3 months…a very nice, relaxed pace and all of it during good “weather” times for the states we wanted to see. Next course of action was which way we wanted to go -> Arizona/Nevada/Oregon?  or Arizona/Utah/Oregon? Once that was fixed we delved into more detail for each leg, looking ~a month ahead of time. My final planning was to look at each state in detail and pick out the exact roads and a selection of spots we might want to stay. Our final routing gave us a month (no reservations, mostly boondocking) in Utah, followed by a rather quicker drive (no reservations) through Idaho to relax another 3 weeks (very partial reservations) in the Columbia River Gorge before we hit the coast (fully booked) for summer. In total we drove 1,582 miles with 11 stops, averaging just under 150 miles per leg. Initially I had more stops planned, but we enjoyed some areas so much (e.g. southern Utah) we ended up staying there longer, doing some super-short drives (30 miles) and taking on a few longer-than-usual drives later in the plan to make up for it. A well-planned, relaxed trip with excellent weather the whole way. Good stuff.

I have not even looked at our summer->winter plans yet. Since I know we won’t book much (if at all) I’ll probably start dealing with that one in September.

PHEW! And there I was thinking this would be a short blog post? I’ve still got a whole bunch of resource links to share with you (including a blog friend of mine who wrote a super-detailed post on finding boondocking sites in National Forests) so that will be the topic of my next (and final) chapter of this series.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the product links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. That said, I only ever recommend products or services I personally use and love! Wheelingit is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

65 Responses to Planning RV Travels Part II -> Selecting Pace, Map Routing & Campsites

  1. Janet says:

    Thank you!!! Awesome post…..so much great information. Definitely have to bookmark this one for future reference.

  2. Brian says:

    We follow a fairly similar process, which is kind of a connect-the-dots exercise. We’ll pick a destination (say Glacier National Park) to hit by the end of the summer time and then see how many cool places we can find to stop between where we are and where we want to end up.

    I put together a simple spreadsheet where I can plug in the number of days we want to spend at each destination and it calculates the dates for me. That way it’s easy to know when we can expect to be certain places. That not only keeps me from planning too many stops (or too few) but also allows me to tell folks who might want to meet up with us where we’ll be and when.

    • libertatemamo says:

      I LOVE the spreadsheet idea! Very nice extra touch. I usually figure dates by hand, but using a speadsheet is so much neater.
      Nina

  3. Ralph says:

    I’m really enjoying this series of… Planning RV Travels. Thanks so much for passing along the info you’ve acquired in your fulltime travels. It sure gives me (and many others) a headstart if we decide to head out for a few months…. or a few years. Lookin’ forward to Part III.

  4. Marcia GB says:

    These posts are so helpful. We’ve taken 3 cross country trips to meet up with family from the West Coast, etc. in the past few years. We’ve always had time constraints so planning has had to be somewhat precise. It has meant long days on the road. Once, a fire detour in NM/CO caused us to end up driving 700 miles in one extremely long day! That was horrible and something I don’t wish to repeat ever again. So we are waiting now until we have no obligations at home and we’ll take every bit of your experience to heart in planning our next sojourn. Thanks for your guidance!

    • libertatemamo says:

      Those long drives will kill you!! I think we drove 450 miles in a day (once) and vowed never to do it again. Of course if you’re part-timing sometimes that’s just part of the package.
      Nina

  5. Nan and John says:

    Nina, your help is so greatly appreciated! We are heading N. in CA. from Yosimite and swinging west to the coast after we clear Ft. Brag. Then Oregon Coast. After going over to Bend, we start the slow trek back to Indiana for check ups with physicians. AND then….back southwest. Your method is going to make this so much more relaxing.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Sounds like you have an excellent trip planned. The Oregon coast will be super-nice right up until ~mid-October. After that point you start getting into wet season. Late fall will be nice just about everywhere. Happy travels to ya!
      Nina

  6. Else ireland says:

    Thanks Nina for all the info you share. I just love getting your emails. As I do not have the gift for writing, and photography, like you, I often share your emils with friend, perticular when you arrived in Bandon. Could not have said it that well myself. Giving thanks, Else.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Hey neighbor! So lovely to have finally “met” you in person. Did you know there’s another Dane hosting here this month too? Just met her yesterday. We have Scandinavian hosting month going on here!
      Nina

  7. mjgilles says:

    I’m a bit curious and maybe off subject, but has the beast ever displayed a check engine light?
    Thanks

    • libertatemamo says:

      Nope. We had a light come on once on the panel, but turned out it was an “auto-regeneration cycle of the diesel particulate filter” light. Just a regular part of what our engine does to clean itself.
      NIna

  8. Steve says:

    Sounds like you are defiantly into the philosophy of “Its the journey not the destination”.

    Another good resource for finding great campsites is:
    http://www.ultimatecampgrounds.com/uc/index.php/2012-10-03-01-10-22

    • libertatemamo says:

      Sure do…and the more we travel the more we feel that way. Thanks for the tip on the link. I’ve tried that one before, but it doesn’t have an iPad app or free POI (pay only). So ended up going back to my old uscampgrounds.info staple. Still, it looks like that site growing in size and getting better and better, so it’ll likely become a strong contender at some point.
      Nina

  9. Susan Johnson says:

    Great information on your blog !!! Thanks.

  10. Larry says:

    I’m absolutely loving this series as we are planning our first big trip in the new RV. I began reading full time RVer blogs just for this type info and really appreciate getting it, including all of the links.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Cool! Happy it’s helpful. Many more links coming in the next post…
      Nina

    • Caryl Marie Clark Kirk says:

      WOW….isn’t that the truth…all of these bloggers [and ESPECIALLY NINA] are keeping our dream alive while we figure it all out!! We have a disabled daughter and her husband that live with us…still trying to figure that one out!! Awww such are the joys of this life.

  11. retiredinmexico says:

    Dear Nina,

    As a newbie to full time RVing (as in my RV is my ONLY home), your info and advice is so very useful! I’m headed next week from NJ to Ft Huachuca, AZ to spend the winter (I’m retired Army), and your info will come in very handy! I especially like the websites for free camping!

    I love your blog!

    Mark Wise

    • libertatemamo says:

      Excellent! And congrats on being full-time! As a retired Military you’ll also be able to take advantage of the many lovely military-only campgrounds out there. uscampgrounds.info lists them all, so you’ll be able to access those spots from there too.
      Nina

  12. Charlotte says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!! Just started full timing and planning for winter/summer travel has overwhelmed me with where and how to start. I forged ahead with where we want to be when, good weather being our guide. This blog and last has helped so much. We newbies really appreciate info from successful full timers out there having fun. Thanks!

    • libertatemamo says:

      Happy the post can provide some useful tips. The first time planning is always overwhelming. After a while you’ll get more comfortable doing it and will find your “groove”.
      Nina

  13. Carol Wegner says:

    We stopped by to see you mid July, only to find we were too late and the lighthouse was closed. My husband took advantage of the picturesque setting to do some shooting, check out his shot of the light house here: http://www.vsonoma.com/photo-portfolios/oregon/index.html
    I always look forward to your finding a post from you in my in-box. Thank you for sharing your journey!

  14. These are great tips! Thank you! We are not full timers and travel in a fifth wheel but we usually make one or two long trips from the east coast each year. We usually have time constraints so we have to travel farther each day but we try to stop after around 250 miles and stay two nights whenever we can. I start by plugging our destination in to Streets and Trips and then play around with the route so we can avoid cities or go to specific places we want to see along the way. We are currently nearing the end of our trip of a lifetime to Alaska which took almost a year and a half of planning. When we started out the only reservations we made were for Teklanika River Campground in Denali Park. The rest of the time we play it by ear and our route through Alaska has changed as we have gone along. We have had to make reservations a few days ahead for popular places such as the Kenai Peninsula and Valdez but other than that we have had no problems finding a spot. I’m surprised you haven’t taken the journey to Alaska yet. You must add it to your To Do list!!!

    Beth at wanderingdawgs.com

    • libertatemamo says:

      Microsoft S&T is one of my fav software programs for this kind of thing. It’s one of the resource links I’m going to add in my next post.

      Alaska is on our “list” at some point. We went backpacking there many years ago so we’ve had a lot of time in the wilderness out there, but it would be fun to take “the beast”. It’s a loooong drive though, so that’s probably the main reason we haven’t done it yet.

      Nina

  15. Anne H says:

    Due to a snafu in my planning, I ended up on the OR coast, on a weekend, in August, with no reservation! 200 miles of ‘no sites’ (except RV parking lots) until I arrived at Winchester Bay – I remembered your suggestion. Unfortunately, it’s Dunefest – the only spot available was between two HUGE motorhomes. I was ready to take it when the camp host pointed me to the overflow area – grassy, mostly empty and water on three sides. What a gem of a site!

    Thanks for these posts – I’m learning a lot about planning more extended trips.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Wow…you definitely hit the “high season” for just about everything on the coast. Glad you were able to find a spot! I do like to book out summer for exactly this reason…usually June->Aug or so, depending on where we end up. The coast is particularly popular.
      Nina

  16. Papa and Lala says:

    I love reading your travels to my bride of 50 years as she enjoys cooking during our evening dinner time. We too are traveling up the Oregon Coast from Apple Valley, CA starting the end of August. This has been very helpful. Maybe we will see you on the road.
    Papa and Lala

    • libertatemamo says:

      Oh cool! Well, stop by the lighthouse if you make it up here. We always like to say “hi” to blog readers.
      Nina

  17. I just love learning new things.. thanks for adding to our arsenal of routing resources. Even after 7 years on the road, there’s always new techniques to try out.

    (And many thanks for the Coverage? shout out!)

    • libertatemamo says:

      I’m pretty amazed I could give ya any new tips given all your (vast) RV experience, but it’s always fun to share. Like you said, I learn something new everyday.
      Nina

  18. Gayle H says:

    It’s all so easy now to travel long distances with all the tech compared to when I travelled in the 80s and 90s.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Now that is SO TRUE! I met an old-time RVer down in New Mexico in 2011 who travelled the “old” way. He didn’t even have any hard maps! He just followed the road wherever he liked and stopped whenever the mood swept him. Give the mass of “planning tools” that I use these days I found that pretty amazing, but for this guy it was just the way he’d always RV’d. Just goes to show…there is no *one* way to do it!
      Nina

  19. I’m using the Flake-out method of travel planning. I get up, I start Spud, and I go somewhere. I can’t fully recommend it, but it’s blowing the cobwebs out of my right-brain!

  20. Just started following a couple of weeks ago. Thought today’s planning segment was great. Thanks for the info and have a great week Rick & Bandit

  21. Else ireland says:

    Yes I told Liz about you, and your awesome blogs. We must have a Scandinavian gathering. Let us know when you are up to a chat by the fire pit. Else.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Yes, yes, yes! We’re good to go just about anytime this coming week. We’re going to the volunteer pot-luck on Tuesday…see you there?
      Nina

  22. Tamara R says:

    OK, two key takeaways that were like “duhs” when I read them (both this and your prior post) – Look for the green spaces, and use paper maps.

    Brilliant. Some of our best hikes, surprise, have been in ‘green spaces’ state parks. And paper maps. Oh course! Why hadn’t I thought of that? I’ve been going crazy beginning the process of plotting out next summer’s RV trip through six states plus portions of Canada, and the paper maps spread out in unison will solve everything.

    Our mileage comfort zone is about 200 miles, plus ‘push days’ the day we leave home, and the day we head back. Our daily pace comfort zone is to have one four to five hour activity, usually a hike, but sometimes sightseeing. Before and after that we are content to hang in or outside of our trailer.

    Thank you again for sharing your process. Looking forward to the next few installments. :-)

    • libertatemamo says:

      You know the “duhs” only became “duhs” after we’d spent at least a year on the road :) It was definitely a learning process for us.
      Your trip through the northern route sounds fantastic. We may do something similar at some point if we decide to hit the NE.
      Nina

  23. cindieb says:

    Right now we are only part-timers…and new at that!! The info is greatly appreciated and helpful. We are getting ready to go up the East Coast this month, but once I retire (28 months!) we have given much thought to travelling several months at a time, heading west! I am hanging on to this info, it’s awesome! Love your pictures too!

  24. Bob Wells says:

    Nina, outstanding info! Very very helpful.

    Thanks so much!
    Bob

    • libertatemamo says:

      Thanks Bob! I put a link to your excellent post (Finding Campsites) in my resource section just published today. You just wrote it so well!
      Nina

  25. Great information. Hector and I used this process to map out our route from Florida to eastern Canada this summer, also using a spreadsheet, and it worked really well. I like your resource recommendations, sometimes I’ll try to use a website for a particular place and get discouraged when I don’t find anything, but knowing you’ve had consistent luck with these is very helpful. And, yes, we do stay in private parks. I use RV reviews extensively, and we try to book in advance, usually requesting corner and/or larger sites. We use Google Earth to check out the specific sites. We’ve actually had people tell us at registration “you’ve got the best campsite in the campground” multiple times. So planning in advance has made a difference. And we’re having a blast. Brenda

    • libertatemamo says:

      Using Google Earth/Satellite is a great little trick. We use it extensively for finding boondocking sites, but haven’t really used it too much for campsites. That’s a nice tip.
      Nina

  26. Erin says:

    Excellent resource … and thanks for sharing. I do the route planning based on discussions we have. This year we had to throw those plans out the window and do something considerably different … staying flexible is key.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Ah yes…the “plans out the window” scenario. I sure know how that goes. Hope you get back in the groove soon.
      Nina

  27. Kenny G says:

    Great resource and information. You definitely know what you write about and what it takes to have a successful and productive trip. Another site with great travel info is http://www.rv123.com/blog/category/rv-destination-blog/ I usually find good reads there.

  28. Ed says:

    Here is the most compressive list of public campgrounds for the Lower 48 you will come across. My “go to” source when trip planning. Over 18,000 campgrounds.
    .
    http://www.ultimatecampgrounds.com/uc/index.php

    Ed
    No financial interest in this site. It’s just a good one worth sharing.

  29. We do 2 and 3and usually have a general plan but I find ourselves limited with some planned side trips just like that one in May where i had to go to the Phil. We planned our trek from AZ to SC based on that side trip. Steve do most of the planning and the routing and use Google to see our route and our park. Sometimes we get lucky and sometimes not with the park we choose.
    The only time we have booked so far in advance is our winter in Florida so we hope we picked a good RV park.

    Thanks for this great resource.

  30. dawnbmoore says:

    I really appreciate your planning posts–you’ve given us so much valuable information! We have family members who have joined Elks lodges so they can use Elks RV parks. I don’t know how much it costs to join & maintain a membership but it looks as if there are lots of Elks lodges with RV parks/parking.

  31. Ronda says:

    If you are traveling on the 5 north in California, Chico has a really cool overnight parking area that totally allows RVs! The parking lot at Calvary Chapel Chico is Huge and also has a water spigot in the rear of the lot. They have no issues with RVers filling their fresh water tank. There is no hookups but very quiet, dark, and who knows you may recieve blessings…Ask for Ronda if you go into worship.

  32. […] Planning RV Travels Part II -> Selecting Pace, Map Routing & Campsites […]

  33. […] Planning RV Travels Part II -> Selecting Pace, Map Routing & Campsites […]

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