Boondocking basically means camping for free on public lands. For those who do a lot of camping, this is the best option for cutting costs. Boondocking most often takes place in areas that are officially designated as dispersed campgrounds by the BLM, but some of the other governing agencies offer free campings too. Usually the free campsites are located in remote areas that are not heavily trafficked but there are exceptions. There actually are a few BLM dispersed camping areas that are located next to some of the busiest National Parks, which are hardly noticed by mainstream tourists. The BLM camping area on Desert View Drive next to the Grand Canyon National Park is a prime example of a lesser known free camping option that is in a prime location.
On the flip-side, there are a few BLM dispersed camping areas in the Moab Valley next to the very busy Canyonlands Island In The Sky and Arches National Park that are far from being unknown. This is because camping is just about the only accommodation option during the busy spring and summer season. The neighboring National Parks and State Parks offer hundreds of campsites within their own boundaries, but these campsites are usually booked solid for months ahead of time. The same can be said about the motels, RV parks and the glamping resorts in Moab, which are usually booked into the future as well. For those who are just passing through or for the free spirits that make no travel plans, the BLM dispersed camping areas often are the only option for a spur of the moment overnighter.
Mainstream boondockers usually stick with camping in officially designated dispersed camping areas, just because no hassles will be involved in the middle of the night, other than dealing with noise and overcrowding on weekends. BLM dispersed camping areas usually have minimal oversight, so a very diverse range of characters can be found in these campsites and some are party animals that keep the good times rolling on till the midnight hour. The rangers will show up for serious complaints, but as far as it goes, it is up to the individuals to maintain order by acting in a respectful civilized manner. Overall, the boondockers that camp in the free dispersed camping areas are all there for the same reason, which is to eat, sleep and wake early to explore the area, so the mode actually most often is quite peaceful.
In Moab, the Willow Springs Road BLM Dispersed Camping Area definitely does get crowded, but the mode is peaceful. This is because everybody there has one thing in mind and that is to cook a belly full of food then get some rest before tackling the planned outdoor activities the next day, which are practically endless in the Moab region! The Willow Springs Road Dispersed Camping Area definitely is in a picturesque setting. This BLM area has hiking, biking and ATV trails running through the property. The Willow Springs Dinosaur Tracks Area is located here too and Willow Springs Road eventually ends inside Arches National Park.
Willow Springs Trail (BLM Road 378) is located on U.S. Highway 191 almost two miles north of Utah State Road 313. There is signage for Willow Springs Road, but on a map this road may appear as BLM Road 378 or it may be unmarked, depending on the mapping system. Willow Springs Road is a rough dirt road that a higher than average ground clearance passenger car can traverse if they go real slow, but a 4×4 is better suited. Willow Springs Road can turn into deep impassible mud after a heavy rainstorm, so it is best to check the forecasts before opting for this free camping option.
There are several roadside campsites on the way to the two main dispersed camping areas. Basically the rule of thumb is if the ground looks like it has been previously camped on, then it is a campsite. Camping or driving on virgin ground is against the rules, which can result in a steep fine. As far as spacing goes, some sites offer more privacy than others. In fact, because there is such a high volume of people going camping in this region, a visitor should not expect much privacy at all at the Willow Springs Road BLM Area.
In the late afternoon, the Willow Springs Road campsites do fill up fast and by sunset several tents or campers can be jammed into one campsite group pad. Overall, the full time boondockers tend to be some cool people and they often will mention other good free campsites wherever you plan to go, so meeting the neighbors in this place does have its benefits!
The main BLM free camping area on Willow Springs Road does have one pit toilet facility with no running water, so as can be imagined, this is a busy little outhouse. There are fire rings at the campsites, so some good old fashioned outdoor cooking can be done. The exception is when wildfire restrictions are in place, so it is best to check on the conditions before stoking a campfire. Cut firewood is available in Moab for a price, which is a nice convenience.
Overall, my boondocking experience when camping at the Willow Springs Road BLM Dispersed Camping Area was a good one! The plan was to get a good night’s rest after driving down from the mountains of western Colorado, then tour Dead Horse Point State Park and do a few hikes at the Canyonlands Island In The Sky the next day. There was the usual ATV rider party going on till about ten at night, but after the celebratory noise was over, it was easy to hear the crickets chirp. It was windy and a rain storm passed through while setting up camp, so choosing a high spot for the tent ensured a dry comfortable night. After breaking camp after dawn, I was on my way to the Island In The Sky, which is practically right across the highway, so this free camping location certainly enabled getting a head start on the big crowds!
There are a few other free BLM campsites in the Moab Valley and even more options can be found in the neighboring Canyon Rims Recreation Area. There is so much to see and do in this region that it can take several years to experience it all, so boondocking definitely is the way to go if expenses need to be trimmed. Boondocking is also the way to go when all the fee area campsites in this region are booked for several months in advance, which is usually the case in the Moab Valley and the two local National Parks. For this reason, the free camping at the Willow Springs Road BLM Dispersed Camping Area is as good as boondocking gets!
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