Designated Dispersed Camping – The How, What, Where, When, and Why

New designated dispersed camping policies are slowly being implemented on federal lands that greatly limit the spots and times campers can boondock.

What is Dispersed Camping?

Dispersed camping is a type of camping where campers can camp in either designated areas or in non-designated areas. When camping in designated areas, campers are required to follow the rules and regulations set by the land management agency. When camping in non-designated areas, the general rule is to be 100 feet from any road, trail or water source. Some areas in National Forests are closed to dispersed camping, so check postings carefully and check with the local Ranger District office before you head out into the backcountry.

What is Designated Dispersed Camping?

Designated dispersed camping policies on federal lands are slowly being implemented that greatly limit the spots and times campers can boondock. The word to note is “designated” in dispersed camping. This means that there are specific areas where you are allowed to camp. These designated areas are usually far from developed campgrounds and have no amenities.

Designated dispersed camping seriously affects Boondocking choices. When you are looking for a place to boondock, you will now need to consider whether or not the area is a designated dispersed camping site. This can seriously limit your choices, especially if you are looking for a longer-term boondocking spot.

For now, designated dispersed camping is the exception to the rule. However, as more and more people become aware of dispersed camping, this may change. It is important to be aware of the rules and regulations before you head out to camp.

Implementation of New Dispersed Camping Policies

Designated dispersed camping rules are growing. As more people are aware of dispersed camping, the demand for these sites has increased. This has led to more rules and regulations being put in place in order to protect the land.


Summer Recreation Opportunities: Regional Dispersed Camping Program

Follow these general guidelines to help ensure that your Dispersed Camping experience in your national forest or grassland will be a safe and memorable one:

  1. Dispersed Camping weblinks: Click to go directly to links
  2. Make a realistic plan and stick to it. Always tell someone of your recreation plans.
  3. Please respect private landowners and don’t trespass on private property
  4. Typical Designated Dispersed Camping areas might be car-camping spots or areas where campers have already stayed
  5. Typical Non-Designated Dispersed Camping areas might be areas near trails in the backcountry, such as spots with rock campfire rings already created by prior campers
  6. Generally, overnight camping is NOT allowed at trailheads, picnic areas, day-use parking areas or any other areas that don’t allow overnight parking
  7. When using a dispersed camping area, the general rule is to be a minimum of at least 100-200 feet away from any road, trail or water source
  8. Dispersed campers are only allowed to stay a maximum of 14 days in any 30-day period. After 14 days, you must move your campsite to a new location, usually at least 3 miles away from your original campsite, and you can stay for another 14 days in a new 30-day period. After the second 14 day period is up, you must leave your second campsite and the national forest or grassland. This means that you can camp within one national forest or grassland for a total of 28 days within any 60-day period. Check with the local Ranger District office for further information.
  9. Carry a compass or a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit and know how to use it
  10. Obtain a map of the area you will be camping in and, if possible, obtain trail sheets from the local Ranger District office to help with land navigation. Also, be sure to ask about any seasonal regulations or restrictions that may apply to the area you want to camp in.
  11. Travel responsibly on land by staying on designated trails or areas
  12. Check the weather forecast for your destination. Plan clothing, equipment and supplies accordingly.
  13. All dispersed campers should follow the ideals of Leave No Trace and practice the concept of Pack It In – Pack It Out.

For more detailed guidelines regarding responsible summer recreation on US Forest Service lands, please check out the Tread Lightly! information below:

  1. Responsible Camping Tread Lightly!’s Responsible Recreation Tips brochure:
  2. Tread Lightly! website
  3. PDF file 560 KB
  4. Responsible Recreation – Tread Lightly!’s Responsible Recreation Tips brochure:
  5. Tread Principles website
  6. PDF file 563 KB
  7. Sharing Our Trails – Tread Lightly!’s Responsible Recreation Tips brochure:
  8. Tread Lightly! website
  9. PDF file 938 KB

SOURCE: US Forest Service


Designated Dispersed Camping Rules Are Growing

Some people see this as a bad thing, but it is actually necessary to protect these locations from being overwhelmed and damaged by too many visitors. The key is to balance the need for public access with the need to protect these natural areas.

While it may seem like there are a lot of rules, they are in place to help protect the land. By following the rules, we can help to ensure that these areas remain beautiful for years to come.

How to Find Dispersed Camping Spots

There are a few ways that you can find dispersed camping spots. One way is to use the internet to locate dispersed camping in your area. Another way is to contact the agency who manages the area you are interested in and ask them about campsites. You can also go out on your own and try to discover “unknown” wild campsites. Google Earth and satellite maps are a tremendous help when locating dispersed camping spots.

Leave No Trace When Dispersed Camping

When dispersed camping, it is important to always follow the Leave No Trace principles. This means that we should take care of our trash, dispose of human waste properly, and not damage the natural resources in the area. By following these principles, we can help keep dispersed camping areas clean and beautiful for everyone to enjoy.

Final Thoughts

Designated dispersed camping allows for public access to vast areas that would otherwise be closed off. It is a great way to enjoy the outdoors while minimizing your impact on the environment.

Designated dispersed camping sites have been set aside specifically for this purpose by the government or other land management agencies. This means that you can camp there without worrying about disturbing sensitive ecosystems or damaging fragile archaeological sites.

By following these simple guidelines, we can all help keep dispersed camping areas clean and enjoyable for everyone.

Happy Trails,

SIG DoraKSaparow 1

Dispersed Camping on Public Lands Explained!

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