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Disperse Camping Guidelines

There are basically two types of camping opportunities available in your national forests: camping in a developed campground and dispersed (a.k.a. primitive) camping. Dispersed camping opportunities are found outside developed campgrounds, in the forest and in the wilderness areas. A primary distinction between the two types of camping are no facilities, such as toilets or treated drinking water, provided to dispersed camping areas but are in developed campgrounds.

Dispersed camping provides outstanding camping opportunities. Long popular with tent and car campers, as well as backpackers and “thru-hikers”, dispersed camping is growing in popularity for “self-contained” campers. Here are some guidelines to help you in planning a dispersed camping adventures whatever your style of camping.

Dispersed campsite in Oglala National Grassland

Dispersed campsite in Oglala National Grassland

Rules and Regulations – Specific rules and regulations vary from national forest to another so check with the forest you are going to enjoy. (Contact information is found at Examples: backpacking campers in Superior National Forest’s wilderness areas may be required to view a “Leave No Trace” video; and, Angeles National Forest imposes seasonal restrictions on camping areas for migrating salamders.

Campsites – Choose your campsite carefully. For privacy, select a secluded camp, screened from roads and other human activity. Two hundred feet separation and dense natural screening is considered an ideal. Also establish a campsite’s size appropriate to your needs and, when through, as well as possible, return the area to its natural condition. Protect the environment by avoiding delicate meadows, streams, and river banks. Check with the National Forest for specifics concerning campsite selection. Some forests require campers obtain a no-fee “permit” while others limit locations to protect endangered flora and fauna.

Fires – FYI – Camp stove, used for cooking, are preferred in most forests. Remember, a small campfire minimizes damage to the ground and conserves firewood. Use only Dead-and-Down wood. Do Not cut trees or branches from standing trees for fuel. They burn poorly and smoke. Leave all plants, shrubs, trees, and standing snags undisturbed to preserve a sense of naturalness. (Remember: Standing snags or down trees are homes for wildlife.) It is also suggested you bring an axe, shovel, and bucket to help manage your campfire.

Pets – If you bring a pet, keep it restrained out of respect for your camping neighbors and wildlife. Unsupervised pets are not encouraged within any National Forests. Unsupervised pets can have a painful experience with wildlife. Don’t forget to pick up after your pet.

Waste Disposal – Dispose of all waste water and fish entails at least 100 feet from any water. Burn food waste or pack it out and remember aluminum foil does not burn. If camping in a recreational vehicle, haul your human waste to a sanitation dump – Do Not dump it in the forest. Other campers should dig a “cat hole”, a 6 to 8 inch deep hole, and bury “deposits” in it.

Trails and Roads – Motorized vehicle should stay on designated roads and trails. Avoid wheel impacts to meadows, streams, and steam banks. Avoid developing new trails or roads. Non-motorized campers should follow the same principles when using trails. Resist the urge to take shortcuts as it destroys vegetation and may cause erosion.

These are a pretty general guidelines but should give a feel for what you need to think about if your want to try this growing type of camping.

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Fred and Suzi Dow