Love camping, but hate dealing with all of the crowds? We all enjoy getting away from the city and our daily lives to spend time in nature, but what’s the point if everyone else is there too? Instead of heading to established campsites, consider dispersed or non-traditional camping. With the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to practice social distancing for safety anyways. In addition, many National Parks and campgrounds are closing due to current world conditions. So open up your possibilities to get out of the house and get camping
What is Dispersed Camping?
Dispersed camping, also called rustic camping, primitive camping, or boondocking, is essentially camping outside any developed campgrounds. It is completely free and allows you to camp on National Forest, State Parks, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas. While traditionally, boondocking involves pitching a tent, you can certainly use an RV to drive to a remote, off the grid area to set up camp.
How to Find Great Spots To Camp
If you grow up in an area and enjoy camping then you probably already know a few great spots to set up camp away from the crowds. If you are looking for places you are less familiar with then there are some resources to help guide you. In general, you can camp anywhere in a National Forest unless otherwise posted. The USDA and US Public lands app can help you navigate and identify more specific (and suitable) areas to camp. There are also experienced campers who post great spots online to help others looking for rustic sites.
While most people focus on areas in the middle of nowhere, boondocking can even include areas you might not have thought about before such as Walmart or Cabela’s parking lots, visitor centers, or truck stops. With boondocking, there’s always a place to stay!
What is the Downside to Dispersed Camping?
While the advantages outweigh the negatives, there are still some considerations you should be aware about. First and foremost, dispersed camping doesn’t provide any type of services, including bathrooms, trash removal or water. While car campers may wince at the notion of having to pack out their own trash and going to the bathroom outdoors, most experienced campers don’t mind too much. While most people who enjoy nature love peace and quiet, some campers like to have others around; if being in a more remote area concerns you then this type of camping might not be for you.
Rustic Camping Guidelines
While taking your garbage with you after you leave is key there are a few other guidelines that should be followed when boondocking. Be sure to check specific rules set by state or Federal authorities. For instance, the National Forest only allows dispersed camping in one specific spot for up to 16 days. You should also not camp within 100 feet of a river, creek or lake. And finally, check any fire restrictions before starting a campfire; you don’t want to be the one responsible for starting a forest fire. The Forest Service provides restriction details online or you can visit one of their offices to get more information. Here is a helpful page on the US Forest Service web site for camping. You can also find information on the US Dept of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management web site.
State Land Regulations
Each state will have its own regulations, and I encourage you to look up the rules in your own state before planning your outing. In NY State, the DEC has a page that outlines the rules for camping on their land, and more importantly, what land you can camp on. The DEC page refers to practicing Leave No Trace, which is something good to do no matter where you camp. They also show how they mark designated camping areas, and how far to locate your campsite away from roads, trails, and streams if you are not using a designated area. If you are staying over a certain number of days, or you have over a certain number of people in your party, you may also need a permit. I’ll let you get that right from the DEC page in case their rules change. Lastly, you want to be very careful with any campfires, and pay attention to area regulations and fire hazard conditions when you are camping outside of designated camping areas.
Dispersed camping is a great way to get outdoors without others disturbing your experience. Give it a try and you may never go back to camping at an established site again!