Updated: Mar 1, 2021
Key things to remember and how to be a good steward to dispersed camping
There are extra responsibilities and skills that are necessary for dispersed camping. It is your responsibility to know these before you try this new experience.
Contact the local Forest Service office to see if any restrictions (especially fire restrictions) are in place. This includes finding out if campfires and open stoves are permitted – in much of the West, drought conditions are severe and no flames of any sort are allowed. Ground tents are occasionally not allowed on federal lands or at rest stops (Perfect excuse to buy a rooftop tent. Rooftop Tents | Kennedy Outdoors ). There is also usually a 14-day limit on staying in the same campsite within a 30-day period.
Leave it better than you found it. Pack out everything you brought in, including trash. “LEAVE NO TRACE” is the official guideline. Brush up on your LNT knowledge. (Protect the Outdoors - Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (lnt.org)
Dispersed camping is allowed in a one-mile perimeter away from campgrounds and 100 feet from any stream.
Don’t sleep on the side of the road – it’s usually illegal. To prevent resource damage, keep your campsite within 150 feet from a roadway.
Bring plenty of your own water, or have a way to treat it. Just because you found a campsite near a stream or river with seemingly nothing else around doesn’t mean the water is safe to drink. Always treat the water you get from natural sources so that you don’t have to end your trip early!
Be prepared. Bring a good atlas and/or GPS to help you find your way in/out of the woods (try to arrive early with plenty of daylight to find a campsite for this reason). Check the weather for rain, which can create mud holes that you can’t drive out of.
Use your judgment – if the campsite feels unsafe, move on.
Be bear aware. If you’re in bear country (and we highly recommend finding this out prior to camping there), store food and other scented items in a bear canister or outside of your vehicle overnight. Read more about wildlife safety here.
There are usually no fees for dispersed camping, but not always. If there are fees, it’ll probably be around $5-$10.
Be sure to check for any signs that may prohibit overnight parking.