When it comes to camping time and time again we go through the process of finding the ultimate location for our perfect peaceful retreat. While many options exist out there you quickly start to notice that these can come at a hefty price tag which is almost comparable to staying in hotels, motels or. inns.
But for those wanting to shave the dollars off their camping experience and try something a little more remote there is an option which can offer you all the beauty of the great outdoors without the rising price tag.
What is FREE Camping??
Have you heard of boondocking? What about dispersed camping? Both of these are common names for FREE camping which you might find in a variety of locations. These locations both have a common theme, limited to no additional services.
The exact definition of Dispersed or Boondock style camping is: Camping anywhere in the National Forest or BLM land OUTSIDE of the developed campground areas. This includes open spaces and pullouts.
For those reading this now with a questioning face, this simply means that you have limited access to common campground amenities such as running water, electricity, waste disposal or bathrooms. If this sounds a little daunting, it is much more intimidating sounding than it realy happens to be.
When traveling if you are a prepared person you can easily enjoy one of these locations without even noticing the modern conveniences are not present. This is why these sites are so frequently utilized by those in #vanlife or rvers. These styles of vehicles many times have all the amenities built in so lacking the common services is rarely noticed.
But for those of us who might not be completely ready to go out and buy a vehicle just for travel, these sites are still available to us as well. Rules are in place to allow access to campers of all styles to these locations and you need only follow these rules to be able to use these locations.
How Long Can You Stay For FREE?
Length of time at locations can vary from location to location however typical sites allows up to 16 days of access at a single campsite. This means you can set up your campsite in these areas and use it as a home base for your travels in the area for this extended timeframe before having to move.
When moving on regulation requires you move at least 10 miles from your original location and in some areas you are required to also move into another ranger district. To find the exact rules for the area you are in I suggest visiting the Forest Service or BLM office in the area.
Where Can You NOT Camp?
In some more popular areas, designated sites are allowed. These can be found on online maps available for free to anyone. Additionally, dispersed camping is typically not allowed near picnic areas, trailheads or within one mile of a developed campground. There are a few exceptions on forest service roads which have pullouts.
Some areas also allow camping but only within a certain distance of a route. This simply put allows people to camp but not to further create paths which can destroy the nature around them.
What Do I Do About A Bathroom?
If you are in a rig which has a facility obviously this is going to be a bit easier to deal with. You will not be able to empty your tanks, however you will have a real bathroom.
For those who travel without a rig, you will be responsible for your restroom. You are allowed to use the great outdoors, natures original toilet, but if you do so you must stay over 200 feet away from any natural water source or trail and also must use the cathole system... aka dig a hole at least 6 to 8 inches deep and bury your waste.
This does not include your paper waste which you need to pack out.
What Do I Do In Bear Country?
In bear country if you are carrying in food, you will be responsible for your own safety system. If you choose to hang your food, you will want to do so over 10 feet high and using a tree which is somewhat away from where you will be sleeping. This provides a distance for safety and potential warning if a bear should come to camp.
Another option is a bear safe container. Many national parks have these available as do sporting goods stores. The benefit to using one from a national park is that you can rent them versus buying, so if this isn't going to be something you do regularly you do not have an unnecessary piece of equipment laying around at home. You will want to put anything which have a scent to it in these including food, perfumes or even lotions and shampoos. Anything sweet smelling can attract a bear, remember that!!
Can I Have A Campfire?
The simple answer is, YES! Although you will want to make sure you are obeying the rules for fires in the area as well as the warnings. Always check in advance with the nearest ranger office if there are any fire restrictions implemented at the time of your visit.
If you do choose to have a fire make sure you use a fire ring, when possible one that is already in place. Clear all waste, if any was left in the ring and make sure you fully extinguish all fires before going to sleep for the night or leaving your campsite.
Any Other Things I Need To Know?
YES!! Pack in and pack out!! Always!!
What this means is if you visit a location you should leave a location and no one should know you were even there. You should always take everything you bring in out and never leave remnants of your stay. No trash and no containers!!
While all of these things seem a little overwhelming at first, if you give them a shot you will quickly find that many of these principals are common sense things you probably do anyway when camping. FREE camping is something which is a privilege so make sure you honor the rules and keep it an option for all of us for years and years to come!!