There are some simple rules to follow when dispersed camping. Most of these rules are common sense but, sadly, some people need a gentle reminder.
Leave only your footprints!
This has to be the number one rule of dispersed camping. When Jim and I disperse camp in a national forest or on BLM land, we’re there because we love being outdoors and enjoying nature. Those natural settings will only remain if we all do our part to maintain them. Do no harm! Enjoy the plants, trees and flowers. Don’t remove them or cut down trees for firewood. Usually you’re allowed to gather dead wood for fires. If not, be sure to purchase firewood from a local vendor so you aren’t introducing new diseases to the forest.
Pack out what you pack in!
Dispersed camping sites usually don’t have dumpsters for you to use. That means everything you bring to your campsite you must also take with you when you leave. That means trash. All of it! No exceptions!
Leave the site better than you found it. We seldom find a great dispersed campsite without having to spend some time cleaning it up. Our first step after setting up camp is to pick up all the trash that others left behind. How sad that others don’t obey the rules.
The photo above is not from dispersed campers but it is a dispersed camping site. These people had a wonderful, FREE, wedding on the beach in Texas. They threw blue plastic confetti that will be in the ocean forever. They put all their trash in bags and then left it for the sea birds to tear open. And, to make it even worse, there were dumpsters available for their use. I don’t claim to understand what some people are thinking, but please don’t be like these people.
If burning is allowed, we collect all of our paper trash in a separate bin and burn it in a campfire occasionally. All the rest of our trash is compacted as much as possible and taken into town to dispose of properly.
Another way to cut down on trash is the get rid of as much as possible at the grocery store. While you’re sitting in the parking lot after shopping, transfer as much food as practical into reusable storage containers. Dispose of the extra packaging in the grocery store’s dumpster before you head to your dispersed campsite.
Human waste disposal while dispersed camping.
If you have an RV you most likely have a bathroom and tanks for your black and gray water. Never dump your black tank except at an RV dumpsite. Never on the ground of a dispersed campsite. I feel like I shouldn’t have to mention this but there is always someone who thinks their s—t will magically disappear. It won’t. Occasionally a site will allow you to dump your gray tank but always follow the rules.
If you’re tent camping and don’t have facilities, all human waste should be buried at least 6” deep. Toilet paper should be disposed of with your other trash. Don’t leave it blowing in the wind for me to pick up. Please!
Be respectful of other campers!
Part of the reason we love dispersed camping is because we love being alone. Some dispersed camping areas allow multiple campers. In this case, try to set up camp a respectful distance from others. Don’t invade someone else’s campsite. If there is no alternative, at least ask if they are okay with where you want to park.
Respect “quiet hours”.
Most people who disperse camp but run a generator occasionally. Don’t do it before 8:00 a.m. or after 10:00 p.m. There is no such thing as a quiet generator although some are better than others.
Turn off the music! Don’t make your neighbors listen to your music. Loud voices and music carries a long way when you’re outside. Don’t party with friends later into the night. I go to bed early and so do a lot of other people. Enjoy the sound of the birds and insects. That’s why you’re dispersed camping anyway, right?
Don’t overstay your welcome!
Most national forests or BLM land has 14 day limits on how long you can camp there. Sometimes there are rangers to enforce those rules but often there aren’t. Follow the rules anyway. They are there for a reason. National forests and BLM land is not for homesteading.
Why are there rules for dispersed camping?
These wonderful natural settings, whether forest, prairie or desert, maintain a delicate balance.
Because campers aren’t following the rules, the National Forest Service is closing some public land to camping and they are considering closing more. It’s the only way to preserve these parks when trash and waste piles up. Kyle Brady of Drivin’ & Vibin’ did an interview last summer with Brady Smith, a Public Affairs Officer for the NFS Coconino Office, about these closures. Check out his interview here.
National forests and BLM lands are set aside to preserve the land. They are for everyone to enjoy. They are not just free campsites. Please follow these simple rules for dispersed camping and leave our natural lads as you found them. That way we can all continue to enjoy the beauty of these natural settings and the peacefulness of dispersed camping.