Where A Casita Can Go

Here’s another question I get asked frequently: “Where can you go in a Casita?” And by that people mean, how capable are they on dirt roads. What you’re using for a tow vehicle matters too of course, but for this post we’re going to focus on the trailer itself.

Part of the answer depends on the type of Casita. The 13 footers are probably a bit more off-road worthy than my 17 footer because being shorter they can make tighter turns and fit in more places. Newer ones also come standard with a high-lift axle where in the days when Cas was built, it was merely an option (and one he doesn’t have) and higher clearance is good for iffy roads.

Iffy road: Exhibit A

But a lot of it has to do with practice and confidence.

For instance after leaving Mojave National Preserve I went boondocking down a BLM road near Kingman, AZ that use to be paved long ago but now is more dirt than pavement and sections of the road are washed out leading to dangerous ravines on either side. The first half-mile or so is easy to get to and that’s where the majority of people choose to camp. The rest, well, one look at it and thought to myself I could probably make it down here if I had to, but if I made a mistake there’d be a lot of damage and I’d need someone to pull me out, so I didn’t.

After a week of being there, a Class A with a toad comes rolling into the boondocking area and they blow past my spot and onto the hard part of the road. Oh no I think, they’re going to have to unhook the toad to back up. They merrily proceeded down the hill on the washed out road without incident and that evening on my daily walk I saw them parked in a spot quite a ways down the road. A few days later they were gone, so they must have made it back out just fine too.

What was the difference between them and me? Confidence in their ability for sure, and possibly practice too.

Iffy road: Exhibit B

Or, maybe they were being reckless.

Sometimes it’s a fine line between confidence and recklessness. Because the Class A made it out and back without a problem, people will look with admiration on their feat and praise their skill. If they’d gone off the road into the wash however, everyone would have shook their head and said they were stupid to try such a thing.

So, how do you learn where that line is between confidence and recklessness? Practice.

True story, before I started RVing I saw SUVs as an expensive showpiece for people who wanted others to think they were rugged and tough. Where I lived in Wisconsin and later South Carolina there were few dirt roads and nowhere to use these types of vehicles as they were intended.

It wasn’t until I started traveling that I realized yes, there actually are roads that need 4-wheel drive. My first time driving down a dirt road in South Dakota my first summer on the road my knuckles were white on the wheel as I went over the little washboard bumps while farmers blew past me in their work trucks.

Eventually, the pavement will cave into this washed out area and the road will become impassable.
Also: There was a LOT of trash dumped in this boondocking area, shame on those people!

I’ve come a long way since then, and it was simply from repeat exposure to dirt roads.

Practice driving dirt roads without your RV first if you can, then as you get more comfortable, start taking your RV down them. Over time you get a feel for what is possible and what is dangerous, and before long you’ll be, if not an expert, at least accomplished enough to get your rig into some pretty sweet spots. Casitas may not be advertised as ‘off-road’ trailers, but they do just fine with some precautions, practice, and a little common sense.

Here are some more tips:

  • Go slow! The biggest mistake I see newbie RVers make on dirt roads is thinking they can go as fast on them as a paved road. That’s where you end up with opened cabinets and broken belongings. On some washboard roads I go less than 5 mph, but I’ve never broken a dish in transit. The only time you want to ignore this advice is if you’re on a sandy road that has loose spots, those you want to keep speed over to avoid sinking in the sand (note: I know people without 4-wheel drive who go down sandy roads, but I don’t chance it – too easy to get stuck).

  • Walk the road first. I say this a lot on boondocking posts. Even if it’s a location you’ve found online that previous campers with bigger rigs have said is fine, be cautious and walk or take just your toad/tow vehicle first. Dirt roads deteriorate over time and one big rainfall can wash a road out.

  • Check the weather. Some dirt roads become impassable when wet, due to washes or road consistency. Avoid iffy roads if there’s rain in the forecast. If it does rain while you’re camping down an iffy road, don’t try driving out until it’s dried off – even if you can make it you’ll leave ruts behind that make it harder for future campers. Don’t camp in low spots.

  • Watch the plumbing. On a Casita, the black and gray tank vales and pipes are exposed and it’s the lowest clearance part of the trailer. Measure how much clearance you have there (it varies not only depending on whether you have the low or high axle, but also on what size tires you have) and watch that left side of your trailer when going over humps and rocks. Fortunately being on the driver’s side, it’s pretty easy for me to keep an eye on it in my mirror when inching over bumpy terrain. With my setup I also need to watch the hitch, because there’s a pretty big distance between the back wheels of my truck and the wheels of the Casita and if I go over a big hump I can drag my hitch post.

Happy camping!

Learn more about boondocking:

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Becky

At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

22 Comments

  1. Sandra on May 15, 2018 at 6:19 pm

    Don’t forget about low branches and narrow passages through brush- what the car doesn’t even notice can wreak havoc on the trailer!



  2. LenSatic on May 8, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    “What was the difference between them and me? Confidence in their ability for sure, and possibly practice too.”

    I’d add preparation, too. I’ve tried to anticipate what troubles we could get ourselves into and carry gear to cover it. We carry a plug-gun for tire repair, an air compressor, and a floor jack rather than a bottle jack. For major ruts, we carry various lengths of 2×6 boards. Even though the Casita has high lift a deep rut can (and will) cause the bumper to drag. We took one too fast once and bent the bumper. We also use the boards for leveling. A 25′ tow strap, two folding shovels (keeps the non-shoveler from critiquing the shovelers lack of progress or technique), CB and GMRS radios and another one that can be used as a scanner and transmit on aircraft frequencies. If you get in really bad trouble, radios broadcast Line of Sight. The best LoS is up and airlines are required to monitor 121.5 which is a distress frequency.

    Happy dusty trails!

    Pat



    • Becky Schade on May 9, 2018 at 12:57 pm

      Thanks for sharing Pat!



  3. Jodee Gravel on May 2, 2018 at 11:49 pm

    So true how we judge skill versus stupidity by the outcome of the venture 🙂 We’ve taken our Jeep down rough roads only to find someone in a low clearance sedan is already there. We’ve learned that most of them are rental cars though! Great pics for telling the story.



    • Becky Schade on May 3, 2018 at 5:08 pm

      Yeah, I’ve seen the same thing out west with people driving rental cars places they shouldn’t really go, hah.



  4. Ernesto Quintero on May 2, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    Becky you don’t mention you can use a bicycle, mountain bike being best choice due to tread and tire width, to survey the trail conditions.



    • Becky Schade on May 2, 2018 at 5:09 pm

      If you own a bike, sure!



  5. jevowell on May 2, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    Don’t forget. Getting stuck every now and then is part of the adventure! 🙂



  6. Emjay on May 2, 2018 at 12:19 pm

    You said it! I only boondock once yearly when my brothers and I all meet south of Tucson and spend a week in a pre-planned dusty off-road spot. The main road into is all dust, all washboard. The side road on which we exit (past a type of ranch gate with a chain and barbed wire fence) is rutted. Sometimes we have to stop and “work road” until we can pass over the ditches. But of all the washboard traveling, I see many denizens of backroads acres rumble over those washboard ripples as if speed would iron them out. Ha. From years of experience elsewhere, all that does is raise enough dust to settle in our own wrinkles and jar the teeth, even in trucks with good springs. Last year, I almost lost my battery even though I was traveling slowly/carefully. Every year, I either lose the cap on that stupid trailer hitch holding the stinky hose or worry that I’m going to bottom out and lose the foot on my hitch. Yeesh. Good thing I have back-up ( a watchful brother in HIS trailer as he hunkers down and follows in my dusty grit. sometimes it pays to be the only girl in an almost all male reunion.)

    Many thanks for your pioneering spirit.



    • Becky Schade on May 2, 2018 at 5:08 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experiences Emjay. Sounds like a fun reunion.



  7. Kathi Foy on May 2, 2018 at 9:38 am

    Thanks for the thoughtful blog. I’m in a van and all of your tips relate to my experience. I need to measure my clearance; sometimes I think I’m higher than I really am and have close calls. Learning to drive on dirt roads in New Mexico helped me learn. My main problem, and Vamos my van has the scars to prove it, is right hand turns.



    • Becky Schade on May 2, 2018 at 5:07 pm

      Glad you found this helpful and relatable Kathi.



  8. Don Redman on May 2, 2018 at 8:46 am

    Great write-up Becky! Awesome pics!



  9. Rob K. on May 2, 2018 at 7:59 am

    The thing I found as a limit to my Casita (16′) are the rivets. I popped many rivets on the gravel roads. Those gravel roads take me to the places I love the best, where no one else wants to go. I traded up to a backroad worthy trailer, a Northwood Nash.
    Don’t get me wrong, the Casita is a nice trailer, but you have to know it’s limits.
    I’ve also heard that the rivets are the Airstream’s weak point too.



    • Becky Schade on May 2, 2018 at 5:04 pm

      I’ve heard stories from other Casita owners who pop rivets frequently on dirt roads too, but I’ve never popped a single one. I’m not sure if this is a speed related issue again or if Cas just has incredibly good rivets. Or maybe the roads I go down just aren’t as rough as the ones you like to go down.



  10. Barney Ward on May 1, 2018 at 11:13 pm

    This is a very excellent article.
    Many of the motorhomes I notice actually have more road clearance than many of the travel trailers. The part that is my biggest worry on my TT is grounding the rear crossing ditches. The skid bars on my Arctic Fox have gouged a few furrows in the last 11 years.



    • Becky Schade on May 2, 2018 at 5:02 pm

      Yeah I’ve gouged a few with my hitch post over the years. If it’s a rocky hump I won’t drive over it if I’m worried about clearance, if it’s dirt I usually go for it and leave my mark behind, hah.



  11. MARILYN DENNISON on May 1, 2018 at 5:15 pm

    When are you planning to get your new rig? Things will truly be interesting due to the configuration. Thanks for taking the time to write your journal.



    • Becky Schade on May 2, 2018 at 5:00 pm

      September as I keep saying. 🙂



  12. Tom Fitch on May 1, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    One other tip for dusty roads: Be aware that even the smallest crack or opening in any part of your rig will result in dust finding it’s way into your vehicle and camper. Especially the camper! Close windows and vents and hope that you didn’t miss any openings when you were caulking.



    • Becky Schade on May 2, 2018 at 4:59 pm

      Casitas have enough small openings that dust gets everywhere no matter what I do, I just accept it as part of the lifestyle!



      • Bill Maier on May 3, 2018 at 5:40 pm

        To go Off the beaten path GO SLOW . Goes for a lot of things in life.



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