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In our recent semi-annual pilgrimage to Big Bend National Park, we had to find out if there’s a way to get away from camping crowds in the park.

What did we learn?

Don’t even try to take your rig out there.
Stay away! It’s dangerous!
You don’t want to try it!

Ha! Hah! That’s a joke. We want to keep these campsites all to ourselves!

But we like you, so we’ll tell you how to camp in the outback in Big Bend.

Back Country Camping for RVs at Big Bend National Park

We learned the scoop about RV-friendly sites in Big Bend’s back country from a kind visitor center employee who seemed oblivious to the usual approach that park rangers gave to us in years past: they discouraged us by saying things like “oh those are bad roads, you don’t want to take your RV there.”

Park rangers discourage RV back country camping in Big Bend for reasons like “protecting aesthetics” and preventing unsightly RVs from disturbing the natural landscape. However, it’s not illegal to take your RV to a select few choice spots, if it fits.

BUT before you head on over, remember that strict backcountry rules do apply: you can’t run generators in the backcountry. If you’re thinking that you can get away with it in remote spots like this, think again: every day the park sends rangers out in search of illegal generator use, off-leash dogs, etc. and if you get caught, you may be banned for life. So if you can’t live without your genny, don’t bother.

General Backcountry Information for RVs

First, be prepared to pay a $20 park entry fee that’s good for 14 days (tip: enter the park on a “free day” like we did, and your entry fee is waived!).

Next, head to a visitor center 24 hours before your intended arrival into the backcountry, since that’s the earliest you can reserve any back country site and you can only reserve at the park. If you arrive during peak season, you’ll be competing with numerous other people for spots, so wake up early and go to the Rio Grande Visitor Center which opens at 8 am, one hour earlier than the main Panther Junction Visitor Center.

Reserving a backcountry campsite costs just $10 for two weeks (which is the entire length of time anyone can stay in the park during one season). What a deal!

The park staff can explain backcountry rules and how to get into the backcountry camping system. It’s complicated; be prepare to move a few times if you go during peak seasons.

RV Campsite Descriptions

On a sunny morning we left the trailer at the Rio Grande Village campground and set off in our Dodge in search of a backcountry campsite with a decent entry road and good turnaround space.

The best RV-friendly back country sites for a rig our size (a 24′ long fifth wheel and a 40′ overall length with the truck) are:

  • Hannold Draw
  • K-Bar
  • Grapevine Hills Road Campsite 1
  • Nugent Mountain / Pine Canyon 1 or 2
  • Croton Spring

Most of these campsites are located on dirt roads that spur off the main park road, Highway 118. Some are closer to the highway than others. Hannold Draw is the only one located on Highway 385, which runs north/south from Persimmon Gap to the Panther Junction Visitor Center.

Download this detailed park map to find
RV-Friendly Campsites in the Big Bend Backcountry

With the exception of Nugent Mountain / Pine Canyon, as long as you have a high-clearance 4-wheel drive pickup and you’re not too concerned about a bouncy ride, access to the campsites is decent. However, any amount of rain can easily wash out access, so do a recon without the RV.

Hannold Draw

This campsite is the only one that can be reserved in advance by calling the park visitor center. It’s meant to hold horse trailers, so equestrians are given preference. Unless you’re bringing Trigger along, you won’t get in during peak times. Otherwise it apparently has great access and lots of space for RVs. We didn’t check it out since it was booked the entire two weeks of our visit.

K-Bar 2

K-Bar has two sites, one is a tiny pull-through site located on a small, bumpy dirt road close to the Panther Junction Visitor Center.

This is a little pull-through and OK for tents, vans or truck campers, while the second RV-friendly site is about 1/4 mile away at the end of the road. It’s a fabulous spot with great views of the park, and with a little maneuvering even a 30′ RV might fit inside. The problem with this one is that because it’s at the end of the road, you’ll see lots of campsite-scoping idiots like us, who are forced to turn around in your tiny camping area. I would only go here during off-peak times.

Grapevine Hills Road Campsite 1

Grapevine Hills is relatively close to the main park road but has the best access for larger RVs, even ones without four wheel drive. It has massive views, and is so big that Sean and Louise fit the Odyssey in there! As a result this location is frequently booked since every RVer who knows about camping in the Big Bend outback wants to get in. Try this one during the off-season.

Nugent Mountain / Pine Canyon 1 or 2

The road to Nugent Mountain starts out good enough and has the best southern views of Big Bend’s mountains, but rapidly deteriorates into severe gully dips and steep hill climbs. Bringing our towable rig here would’ve been a bad idea, but a 4WD van or truck bed camper can definitely do it. This road gets a little busy with off-roaders.

Croton Spring

Out of all campsites, this was our last choice because it’s a dual-site and we knew we’d be sharing this with someone else. While it’s not as large as Grapevine Hills Road, the sites aren’t as close in proximity as you would be if you were crammed into a developed park campground.

But, since it was the only campsite open just a week prior to spring break madness, we nabbed it for nine nights. The nicest part about Croton Springs is that there’s a fantastic, albeit overgrown, trail that takes you in a northern direction through some spectacular scenery.

The access road to Croton Spring is good enough for a RV with four wheel drive, however, the problem is that if it rains, you’re going to be stuck for a while. During our last night it rained, and we knew that if any more water fell, we might get stuck. Later, a park volunteer told us he’s seen that happen; the road is one of the worst in the park when rain happens and everything turns to a slick mud.

Paint Gap

We didn’t explore this campsite, but locals later told us this is RV-friendly for a small rig. If you go there, let us know what you find!

The Pros and Cons of RV Backcountry Camping in Big Bend

The Cons:

No generator use. When we decided to try Big Bend backcountry camping in our RV, we knew that the no-generator rule would be a big issue if the weather turned sour. After all, we earn our living online and our satellite dish sucks up a lot of juice. Without a generator to power us on cloudy days, we knew we’d be hosed.

Well, the weather did turn cloudy, and it did rain. And although we were very tempted to run our generator on cloudy days, or at night, we were Good Sams and just worked less. Doing so is a BIG deal for us: we are work-a-holics, and cutting back on work time was difficult.

However, there’s something about the ear-splitting silence of this country that compelled us to do our part to preserve a precious and rare resource: silence.

We left a few days early, as the weather forecast called for continuous clouds. Still, we’re glad we stuck it out here for five nights, far longer than we thought we’d last without a generator. We had one neighbor for a couple of nights and they were pretty quiet.

The Pros

The silence. Even if you’re not too far from the road, you still feel very isolated in the Big Bend backcountry.

The cost: At less than $1 a day for 14 days straight, camping doesn’t get any cheaper than this in Big Bend country.

The scenery: You’ll get a real sense of the landscape as old-timers saw it. These campsites are primitive and the park does an excellent job at preserving Big Bend’s natural beauty.

Overall, we had the best time ever in this leg of our Big Bend park journey. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the visitor center employee who took the time to familiarize us with the outback camping process.

If you decide to visit any of these locations in your RV, let us know how it goes and what you find.

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OK I’m not embarrassed admit it, tourist traps can be fun.

They’re even better if they have:

  • Cheap cold beer
  • Live loud music
  • Eco-Groovy solar-power

We found all that and more during a NuRVers 4×4 excursion from Quartzsite to the Desert Bar in Parker, Arizona.

The bumpy, twisty, 6-mile long highway-to-hell “road” was quite the ordeal but once we arrived and were greeted by a rockin’ blues band, I knew it was worth the journey.

This little hideaway is only open on weekends during snowbird season (October through April) and you’d better bring cash for that ice cold beer and cocktails.

This ex-mining camp is so charming, like Wall Drug it accurately reflects the entrepreneurial spirit in America.

  • In 1975, a crazy guy buys land in the middle of the desert
  • He envisions a “bar in the desert” even though there’s no power and water must be trucked in
  • In 1985 he opens for business in a structure the size of an outhouse
  • As word got out, he expanded to dig a well, install solar and finally expand to the amazing bi-level bar that you see today.

You can read the entire story on the Desert Bar’s hokey website. For now, take my word for it, our goofy grins say it all: this little place is worth the bumpy drive to get there!

0214_desertbaraz

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It’s always fun to journey back to Northern California’s Humboldt County to see friends but it sure puts a dent in our budget. Not only does it take a lot of extra fuel to visit this remote coastal location but there are limited options for staying there in a decent RV park.

Full-hookup RV parks in Humboldt are expensive and range from $35 to $45 a night. When we were trying to find somewhere affordable to stay in Eureka or Arcata, we first consulted our Passport America Guide, our go-to handbook for cheap RV parks.

Our old standby, Redneck Acres (sorry, Redwood Acres) is now a Passport America and Escapees Member park. Thankfully we could combine both discounts and ended up paying $30 a night, the cheapest RV park rate in the county. Still, that’s pretty steep for a parking spot on a gravel lot with 10 feet between us and the next guy.

The second cheapest option in Eureka is the Samoa Boat Ramp County Park Campground.

At $20 a night we were tempted to stay there, until we looked around. And saw the only hookup was a water spigot.

The scenery just wasn’t that tempting.

And when we saw the spot-on scary Yelp Reviews we got out as fast as possible..

So it was back to Redneck Acres. At $30 a night, it was the best deal in town. Good thing the excellent company of our old friends made up for that crazy rate!

 

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After several awesome reunions with friends and family in Northern California (and too many nights paying for RV park campsites), we’re headed to the SoCal deserts and looking forward to some sunshine and free camping.

The weather report isn’t looking too promising this week as an epic winter storm moves across North America, but we’ll be staying in my parent’s L.A. home until New Year’s so we’re safe for a while. Once we’re back on the move you can bet we’ll be consulting our Frugal Shunpiker’s Guides to Boondocking.

What’s a Shunpike?

shun·pike [shuhn-pahyk] : noun, verb, shun·piked, shun·pik·ing.

  1. noun: a side road taken instead of a turnpike or expressway to avoid tolls or to travel at a leisurely pace. verb (used without object)
  2. verb: to drive on a shunpike.

Frugal Shunpiker Cheap RV Travel GuidesWritten by experts at Frugal-RV-Travel.com, the Frugal Shunpiker’s Guides come in SO handy for us as we roam around the west in search of unforgettable boondocking places to camp.

Here are just a few reasons why we consult these downloadable PDF guides every chance we get:

Frugal Shunpiker’s Guides At A Glance

The Frugal Shunpiker’s Guides will help you find free and cheap places to camp in six regions around the U.S.:

  • RV Boondocking in Southern Texas
  • RV Boondocking in Arizona
  • RV Boondocking in Southern Utah
  • RV Boondocking in New Mexico
  • California Boondocking: The Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Coast
  • California Boondocking: The Desert and Eastern Sierra

The guides are in PDF format, so you can read them offline without any need for an internet connection. This is handy when you’re roaming around without any cell service for miles, as often happens in our off-grid adventures.

Campsite descriptions include important access details in addition to GPS coordinates. You’ll also know ahead of time which areas are safe for rigs like yours and which ones to avoid.

But that’s not all! They also include helpful trip-planning information, fabulous details about dispersed camping, regional restrictions, public lands, park passes, local attractions, fishing, and much more.

Free camping websites are great, but you won’t find this level of personal experience in most free boondocking directories on the web. We especially like how guides provide tips on what to see, where to shop, where to eat, where to find free water, free RV dump stations, propane, laundromats, and more.

Frugal Guides, Frugal Price

If you prefer to camp for free in the most scenic locations, would rather travel around instead of staying in one place, and are looking for affordable adventures and variety in your RV travels, you need these guides.

Each book is just $17 (less than the cost of one night in an RV park!) but you can also:

  • Buy any three e-books for US$39.00 (You save $12.00)
  • Buy any four e-books for US$49.00 (You save $19.00)
  • Buy any five e-books for US$59.00 (You save $26.00)
  • Or buy all six e-books for US$69.00 (You save $33.00)

With your purchase you will receive, free of charge, the 23-page Frugal Shunpiker’s Guide: Basic Boondocking. This handy 23-page guide includes tons of tips about how to live off the grid and make the most of your home on wheels.

If you’re as frugal as we are, you’re probably wondering if these boondocking guides are worth it. Well, the authors are frugal too, so they have a 100 percent money-back, no questions asked guarantee if you don’t think the books are worthwhile and saving you money.

Chances are, you’ll agree that that the Frugal Shunpiker’s Guides are indispensable for your off-the-beaten-path camping adventures!

Get yours here!

 

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Last week after wrapping up our annual Vickers Ranch workamping gig, we decided to play tourist and visit a part of rural Colorado that we’ve heard a lot about. Known as the North Fork Valley, this region is ground zero for Western Colorado’s small leftie contingent and a blossoming orchard and winery industry.

The main towns which comprise the North Fork Valley are Crawford, Hotchkiss and Paonia. We approached from the south along State Highway 92 (part of the West Elk Loop), a twisty and hairy adventure that meanders alongside the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a hole in the ground more stunning than the Grand Canyon.

Highway 92 is the best way to enter the Valley but have a barf bag ready; the drop-offs are breathtaking and with no guard rails and few pull-outs, we weren’t able to take any photos.

Highway92

For the first time in months, we had no plans or places to be and zero commitments whatsoever. It was heaven!

We arrived in the tiny cow town of Crawford to find that Verizon cell service is non-existent, which meant we couldn’t look up any places to stay. As I was just about to come unglued because my phone wasn’t working, I decided to have a face to face interaction with the owner of the general store to ask if she knew of any local RV parks.

Turns out, she told me more than my smart phone ever could. She sent us to a new RV park in Hotchkiss, “Farm and Ranch Camp.” Perfect, we thought!

It was rustic and right up our alley. The name was also entirely appropriate; with RV sites set within the actual ranch itself, we were in the middle of the irrigation action. See the water shooting out into left field behind our rig?

We spent the next two days soaking up the last blast of summer heat and playing tourist. First we toured Hotchkiss, which has a few wineries and lots of local produce, but it’s a little rough around the edges as we discovered in a local dive bar, Past-Times.

Paonia lived up to it’s reputation as a culinary destination and hippie haven. We hadn’t seen so many dreadlock-wearing, earthy types since we were in Northern California. It’s easy to see why they flock here. There’s a strong sense of connection to this lush farmland, a very supportive artist community and it’s a relatively cheap place to live if you’re just renting (land prices are another story).

After stopping at a few wineries, we savored a gourmet lunch with all local products in Paonia Town Park.

Even Wyatt got his share of locally-grown delicacies, when a local meat market gave us free elk bones!

Next, we stumbled onto Black Bridge Winery and Orchard Farms, a dog-friendly idyllic destination on the outskirts of town featuring a U-Pick orchard and gardens, tons of local gourmet products and the best wines in the region.

The finale of our visit happened at the end of our day in Paonia, when took the suggestion of a local and ate at the Flying Fork Cafe, which many folks say is the best eatery in the Valley.

We have to agree with the consensus; dining al fresco at this little Italian-style restaurant was comparable to the best big-city dining experiences we’ve had, but without the attitude or the price!

We had a blast and hope to be back someday. It’s been a long time since we did anything so relaxing and touristy. After working 60 hour weeks all summer, it was paradise when we finally got to reap the fruits of our labor!

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