Savings by Camping "Primitive"

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Well-known member
Jul 29, 2006
Evansville, IN
I'm considering to buy a new NuWa 5th wheel with boondocking capability (inverter, generator).  Since I've never RV'd before, I have a very general question.  Other than boondocking in parking lots/rest areas where the cost is zero (but the security and scenery is poor), how much can I expect to save by "primitive" camping in the following types of places?

1) campgrounds
2) parks
3) resorts

In other words, I'd like to figure out what the payback period will be to recover the cost of the inverter/generator.  Generally speaking, what daily camping fee reduction can I expect at these places by staying at a "primitive" site rather than a site with electric/water (for instance, from $30/day on average to $15/day on average)?  Of course, I know that amount will vary widely.
Very few campgrounds have boondocking areas so don't count on saving anything that way.  In the west, most boondocking is done on BLM lands and some state parks.  The BLM 14 day areas are free, while the LTVAs (Long Term Visitor Areas) are ~$140 for a full 7 months.

We don't look at the inverter and generator as a way to save money but for the convenience they offer.  The inverter keeps our applicances and computers running while one the road or stopped for break and the generator lets us use the whole motor home when we do boondock.
Primitive sites (where available) are typically about $10/day less than sites with services in the same park. In state parks it may be more like $6/day less.  If you patronize BLM parks, US Forest Service primitive campsites, county parks and such extensively, you can indeed cut way down on your daily average camping costs.  But you can also cut costs dramatically by staying longer periods and getting weekly or monthly rates. Monthly rates in particular are big savers, often 40-50% of the daily rate.

You are unlikely to recover the substantial cost of a generator and a large inverter & battery bank in any reasonable period. Think in terms of years, not  months.  As Ned says, they are a convenience, not a money saver.
All of the national parks campgrounds with no hook-up that we have used charge $14/day ($7/day if over 65 with Golden Eagle card).  State Campgrounds in AZ are about $22/night with water & electric hook-ups.
GaryB said:
. . . how much can I expect to save by "primitive" camping in the following types of places?

Looks like your question has been pretty well answered -- in that I also doubt you will save much by trying to find "primitive" sites in parks and campgrounds. Actually, you would save on the cost of sites where available, but the cost of gas to run your genset would offset any savings otherwise. My biggest shock about 10 years ago when I spent my first day with my new Inverter was the amount of genset time it took to recharge the batteries.

Quartzsite is an interesting study on that subject. I spent about a month on the desert last spring with no hookups. My situation is different than most in that I must work a full day each day and need power to do that. I then spent a month in a QZ RV park with full hookups -- and it cost me less than staying on the desert. At that time, monthly fees in QZ parks were about $125.month plus electric -- and gas was approaching $3.00/gallon. Park power kept my batteries up and I used the Inverter for most of my power needs during the day.

Another factor you don't want to overlook is that most parks that "do" have primitive sites, do "not" allow genset running in those sites.

Those that do make out are the solar users that don't use a lot of power and hardly ever move. You will see them parked in QZ all winter soaking up the sun and enjoying the desert at a minimum cost per month.
Bob makes a god point about some areas not allowing generators or even restricting the times they can be used....quiet hours usually around 10pm to 6 am. I forgot to mention that you will also burn propane for cooking, refrigeration, hot water, heat, etc. So the costs are seasonal as well. If it is cold, you burn more propane...if it is hot, you use your generator more. Also there are dump/water fees. Last year we dry camped in S. Nevada and I recall it was costing aout 150 a month. Running the generator several hours a day..4-6. FYI
If you run the generator 4 hours a day, using, say, 2 gallons of fuel, at $3/gallon, that's $6/day just for electricity.  You still have to drive to empty holding tanks and get fresh water, using still more fuel.  We're in a full hookup park in Bandera, TX, that has a monthly rate of $175, or <$6/day, plus electricity at $.10/kwh, which for us would be about $50/month, or <$2/day.  Total cost here would be <$8/day, comparable to boondocking costs.

Again, a generator and inverter are not to save money but for convenience.
We have a small generator for a TT, so fuel consumption is lower than a MH. We also have a 5th and the amount of fuel used is about the same ( same generator). No such thing as "free."  ;) However, you can stay in beautiful and wonderful remote areas and that is priceless to us. One reason we went from 5th to TT is to get into areas that larger rigs can't :D One way to restrict crowds ;) Another factor is diesel costs...cheaper for a TT than a fifth. So, it really depends on what you prefer Gary. Depending on age, you can get a Golden Eagle Passport ( name is something like that....too young to get it myself), or if younger you can get a Golden Eagle for 65 (?) per year. It will let you into the National Parks for free and in most cases you can then dump for free.....and get water. There are many options to explore. Heck, you may not want to boondock and instead stay in campgrounds...lots of people do that. SO many options and you probablly have to just hit the road and find oout what you like....FYI

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