5 Boondocking Locations and Free Campsites in Idaho

Enjoy a unique vacation boondocking in Idaho with a Cruise America RV rental! Read our guide to the top boondocking locations and free campsites in Idaho.
boondocking in idaho
Potatoes, potatoes, potatoes, that’s all anyone ever seems to think of when they’re talking about Idaho. But the potato fields actually only make up a tiny portion of the state. Meanwhile, the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness is one of the most scenic and untouched areas in the country and is the largest roadless environment outside of Alaska. Then there’s Lake Pend Oreille up in the panhandle, with 111 miles of spectacular shoreline and some of the best fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Idaho is far more than just potatoes!

What’s the best way to see all of these beautiful lands beyond the potato fields? An RV rental from Cruise America will give you the freedom to travel to every breathtaking corner of the state, and you’ll never need to worry about accommodations, especially if you’re boondocking in Idaho. If you’re ready to embark on such a journey, keep reading to learn more about what you need to get started.


Is Boondocking Legal in Idaho? 

A full 61% of Idaho’s land is considered public, so boondocking is absolutely legal here. Anywhere you can find a suitable large area to pull off the road on public land is considered fair game. One thing to note is that you can only stay on public land for a certain number of days in the Gem State. The Bureau of Land Management areas and National Forests have a fourteen-day maximum stay, while Idaho’s Wildlife Management Areas are typically limited to a ten-day stay within a month-long period. You also can’t park within a mile of a developed campground or trailhead.

If you’re just looking for a place to spend the night before venturing into the wilderness, most of Idaho’s cities do not have a local law prohibiting RVs from camping in private parking lots like Walmart or Cabela’s. If you’re unsure about the legality of a site, it’s always better to ask management or a ranger in the case of public land. 


Your Guide to the Best Boondocking in Idaho

Idaho’s a big place with a wide variety of terrain, so start by thinking about what types of places you’re interested in visiting. Will a kayak be involved? Do you like to stick close to the cities for shopping and cultural events? Do you prefer more amenities or fewer fellow campers? There’s something for everyone in the Gem State if you know where to look. These are just a few of the best options for boondocking in Idaho.


Boondocking Locations in Idaho


Smith Lake

5-Boondocking-Locations-and-Free-Campsites-in-Idaho-1.jpgAll the way up in the northern section of Idaho’s panhandle is the town of Bonner’s Ferry. Three mountain ranges, the Cabinets, Purcells, and Selkirks, encircle the region and provide an abundance of trails for intrepid hikers. 

Smith Lake is a short drive from Bonner’s Ferry and is home to a few boondocking sites with picnic tables and fire rings. There’s also a vault toilet and hand pumps for drinking water, but they’re out of service more often than not, so plan accordingly.

Nearby Activities: The lake is a popular swimming and fishing hole for Bonner’s Ferry residents and the occasional tourist. For more adventurous kayakers, there’s the Kootenay River running through town. 

More Information: Smith Lake 


Pend Oreille Wildlife Management Area

5-Boondocking-Locations-and-Free-Campsites-in-Idaho-3.jpgLocated on the north end of Lake Pend Oreille and only ten miles from the tourist hotspot of Sandpoint, this WMA is one of the best places for boondocking in Idaho. The lake is a popular birdwatching and hunting area as tens of thousands of ducks, geese, and swans pass over it every fall. The lake also has a plentiful supply of Yellow Perch, Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout, and bass.

The WMA’s campgrounds can be found all around the north side of the lake, but most have minimal amenities: toilets, fire rings, and picnic tables can be found at the majority of them, though.

Nearby Activities: The entire WMA is limited to non-motorized use, making for plentiful hiking trails and quiet moments on the lake. A railroad causeway at the south end of the WMA acts as a breaker for large waves on Lake Pend Oreille and makes this one of the best spots for novice kayakers and swimmers.

More Information: Pend Oreille Wildlife Management Area 


Tripod Reservoir

5-Boondocking-Locations-and-Free-Campsites-in-Idaho-4.jpgSitting just off of Highway 55, near the town of Smith’s Ferry, Tripod Reservoir is an ideal boondocking site for those visiting McCall and the Payette River Valley. The reservoir isn’t very large but has plenty of space for swimming and fishing. Campsites at the reservoir have no amenities, so come prepared with plenty of drinking water and an empty blackwater tank. This is primitive camping at its best.

Nearby Activities: The reservoir is a popular picnicking spot and is well-stocked with fish. Nearby McCall is a year-round adventure tourism destination with downhill skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking riding in the winter and hiking, kayaking, and swimming in the summer months. The southern shore of Payette Lake is in downtown McCall, and its beaches are a popular hangout once the weather gets warmer. 

More Information: Tripod Reservoir 


Little Payette Lake

5-Boondocking-Locations-and-Free-Campsites-in-Idaho-2.jpgMcCall is a world-class ski town and one of the most popular spots in Idaho for water sports and beach lounging, which is why you’d never guess that there are boondocking sites just outside the city limits. Little Payette Lake is just four miles east of downtown McCall and has a paved access road and great cell service.

While a hotel room in McCall will easily cost you $100 or more per night, the campground at Little Payette is free. It also has a vault toilet, a boat ramp, and a fair bit of dock space. Expect it to get full on any weekend during the summer. 

Nearby Activities: Little Payette is great for swimming and kayaking, but if you desire something larger, Payette Lake is only a few miles away and is considerably more expansive. Nearby Ponderosa State Park has several miles of hiking trails, which double as snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails once the ground is blanketed in snow.

More Information: Little Payette Lake 


Balanced Rock County Park

5-Boondocking-Locations-and-Free-Campsites-in-Idaho-5.jpgThis gem of a campground is only half an hour outside of Twin Falls, but the landscapes look more like southern Utah than Idaho. Its main attraction is a series of wind-carved rock formations, some of which stand over forty feet tall but balance upon pedestals only a few feet across. 

The park has a picnic area and a free campground. The campsites do not have hookups, but there are toilets and drinking water. 

Nearby Activities: Salmon Falls Creek runs right next to the campground and is popular with kayakers. Paddling upstream from the campground takes you to a beautiful high-walled canyon. There’s also an excellent hiking trail through the rock formations that’s only a mile long and has very little elevation gain.

More Information: Balanced Rock County Park 


5 Tips for RV Boondocking in Idaho

Boondocking doesn’t need to be a challenging experience; it just takes a little more preparation. These are just a few helpful hints for taking your RV into some of the wilder parts of Idaho. 
 
  1. Be prepared to go without your smartphone. Idaho becomes incredibly remote outside the population centers, and there’s a good chance you won’t have service. Print out your maps or download them on an app like MapsMe.
  2. Have a backup campsite. Many of Idaho’s free campsites are first-come, first-serve. Don’t get left out in the cold when one of them is full. 
  3. Plan your dump station stops. You’re much more likely to use your RV’s toilet when boondocking than when staying at developed campgrounds. Know how many days it will take to fill your blackwater tank and where the nearest dump station is.
  4. Know that it always takes longer than your map says it will. With the exception of the Interstate running through Boise, Idaho’s roadways are not built for speed. Curves are tight, and speed limits are slow. Give your itinerary some wiggle room.
  5. Remain “Bear Aware.” Idaho has one of the greatest concentrations of bears in the lower 48. They’re majestic creatures but are best seen from a distance. Don’t leave food or cosmetics outside your RV where it can entice those bears to enter your campsite.


The Perfect RV Rental for Idaho 

Is the Gem State calling your name yet? Are you ready to rent an RV to cruise all over this potato-loving state? If so, Cruise America has just the right vehicle for you. While Cruise America has an excellent selection of RV rentals at locations all over the country, the most important attribute is reliability. Cruise America’s RVs are built with usability in mind, and sales representatives are ready to guide you through the ins and outs of the vehicle. 

To start your adventure, contact Cruise America and let us help you to find the right RV rental for your Idaho boondocking vacation. 

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