Sometimes campgrounds can feel more like a parking lot than a wilderness experience. Fortunately, the United States has millions of acres of public lands available for enjoyment and recreation, and the U.S. Forest Service (U.S.F.S.) supports a policy of dispersed camping, which allows visitors to stay for free outside of designated areas.

However, there are a few regulations and tips you should keep in mind before you head out to the woods to set up your tent so you don’t end up without necessary supplies if without running water and other amenities.

If you truly want to find a campsite that’s away from it all, consider dispersed camping, but keep in mind that you’ll be further away from aide (if you need it) and won’t have access to many of the amenities offered by designated camping.

The U.S. Forest Service and Dispersed Camping

The U.S. Forest Service manages 154 national forests and 20 grasslands in 44 states (as well as Puerto Rico) across the United States, and in almost all of these, visitors are welcome to set up their camp outside of designated areas–provided camping is not expressly prohibited.


According to the Forest Service,”All National Forest lands are open to camping otherwise submitted,” which provide certain advantages over the designated campgrounds set up in many national forests including”peace, isolation, and experience.” On the other hand, the Forest Service also advises that there are a couple of downsides to wilderness camping such as fire permit requirements, the necessity to purify or bring water, the chance of flooding, and needing to correctly dispose of human waste whilst at the woods.

Regulations and Recommendations

Forest Service national regulations are supposed to restrain activities which cause harm to both natural resources and amenities, in addition to activities that cause unreasonable hindrance or dangerous conditions for people. Luckily, the principles are fairly simple and easy to follow, so you don’t need to do much to enjoy free camping in the national parks:

Leave No Trace: The Forest Service asks that guests admire the woods and keep them clean for everyone to enjoy by packaging out any crap caused –with the exclusion of individual waste.
Fireworks and Firearms: Rules stipulate which both may only be utilized in light of the U.S.F.S. principles .
Fires: Campfires must be completely extinguished before leaving it, and failing to keep control of your own home is strictly prohibited. Make sure you have a bucket or boat for water nearby if it gets out of hand; eliminate all flammable material from round the campfire to stop its escape.
Firewood: Dead and down substance might be used for fires; alive trees, trees, and plants might not be damaged or cut.
Burn Bans: Fires could be illegal during wake conditions; follow any particular restrictions which were issued or submitted, and make sure you look at the web site for the National Forest you intend to see before light your campfire.
Food Storage: Check bulletin boards to learn more on local regulations concerning storage of food, which might be in effect in some regions. Proper food storage must stop wild animals and toddlers from injury.
Roads and Trails: National Forest Service roads and trails are closed to motorized vehicle use when blocked by a gate, signal, earthen mound, or physical barrier built to limit motorized vehicular travel.
Fees: There are no charges for dispersed camping. But some regions may charge for parking.
Human Waste: Since there are no bathroom facilities, human waste should be buried in a hole dug at least six inches deep.
Flooding: While not common throughout America’s National Forests, flood might happen during the spring as a result of heavy rain or massive quantities of snow melting. Consequently, you shouldn’t camp within 100 feet of any water resources.
Clean Water: To prevent illness, all organic water ought to be processed prior to swallowing, and you need to make certain to bring lots of water if you are using dispersed camping since there’s not any flowing water out of designated camping areas and amenities.
Although this listing of regulations isn’t detailed, it covers the fundamentals of camping outside of designated areas. For a comprehensive list of guidelines and information from the National Park Service, you are able to get more info online or in a U.S.F.S. office.


Prohibited Items and Activities

Even though the U.S.F.S. is generally lenient in regards to enforcing regulations which don’t hurt the environment, there are a couple things that you can’t bring with you or do while at a National Forest. The following items and activities are banned from dispersed camping:

Camping or Keeping a campsite for more than 14 consecutive times in a dispersed or non-fee region with no terminated Forest occupancy for a minimum of 10 times in a 31-day time period
Failing to eliminate most of camping gear or personal possessions when vacating the website
Occupying some Part of the Website for anything Aside from recreation purposes
Camping in violation of posted signs
Camping within 100 ft of the foundation of any the trunk of any stone shield
Cutting, removing, or otherwise damaging any lumber, tree, or any other forest product, such as particular forest products and forest botanical products
If you are able to refrain from breaking one of these rules of dispersed camping, then you are well on your way into a silent escape from all of the noise of civilization at a domestic forest.