Issue 39 has been released! Read online or download your own high definition copy with a Premium Membership.



MTW

Illegal Camping

Recommended Posts

MTW

Let's talk about something surely all of us have done, but may be a bit taboo: illegal camping.

After I was grown I realized my dad's favorite camp site to take me to was not technically legal. Now that I am looking into segmenting and thru hiking I am seeing more and more constraints about places I can and cannot camp.  What I really want to know is your experience with camping in no camp zones, how it normally goes when caught, and how common it is to be caught. Is this fairly normal to do, or am I the )*&&*%&^$?

Max

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
balzaccom

There are two ways to do this.  One is "stealth" camping where you simply camp on private or public property where there are no facilities or overt permissions to camp. Don't get caught.

The second is to intentionally camp where it is expressly prohibited, including close to water or a trail, in areas that have been closed for habitat restoration, wildlife protection,safety, etc.  On our last trip in Oregon, we hiked by a couple of older guys who were camped directly on a spot that had a clear marker that said "No Camping.". They were idiots.

Don't be those guys.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Aaron

My suggestion would be to choose a destination that's compatible with what you're looking for. As an example, I often hike with a dog, and personally I like to choose my own campsites each night rather than stay in designated or reserved sites on a schedule. As a result of one or the other you don't find me in the National Parks very often and instead I tend to look for wilderness areas where dogs are allowed on the trails / in the backcountry and camping requirements fit my style a little better. 

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Mark

I think Aaron hit the nail on the head.

There is PLENTY of public land in the US (although I would of course like to see more, and more designated as wilderness) and you can certainly find an area that accommodates your style, pace, interest, etc. rather than trying to bend or break the rules somewhere else. Out West it is very easy to find places with very little restrictions, for better or worse, and those places (BLM land, wilderness) might be where you want to look. And chances are, at least in wilderness areas, that if there is a rule or restriction (no campfires, area closed to camping) it is actually there for a good reason and not an arbitrary bureaucratic decision.

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Game Warden

Let me give you some perspective from a law enforcement officer: 

1. If you are camping illegally and practicing LNT ethics, I might give you a warning and tell you to be elsewhere come the next day. 

2. If you are camping illegally and practicing LNT ethics, but disregarded my posted sign that said NO CAMPING, it will cost you about $200. There's a reason that sign is there. And you'll have to break camp in the middle of the night.

3. If you are camping illegally and not practicing LNT ethics--booze, bonfires, litter, cutting down trees, etc, you are going to make a hefty contribution to my state's wildlife management fund.

Wilderness, such as it is nowadays, needs to be protected.

Edited by Game Warden
  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ppine

I grew up in the East and often found myself in places that were not entirely legal.  It became a problem so I moved to the West.  I have been in Nevada for the last 30 years which suits me fine.  Over 87% of the land in the State is public and allows camping.  I have a million acres of BLM outside my back fence with wild horses on it.  I have never been happier. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
redhtbassplyr

My experience and opinion on illegal camping differs depending on the scenario. Like others have said I do regularly find A wilderness area or National Forest area that you can camp at without any fees and is legal. It's not that hard to find places. I do abide by fire bans when doing this.

COOL: Once I had a Backcountry Permit not issued because the staff said it would be too cold. ( basically lazy and didn't want liability ), so we told them we would go "dayhiking" instead and camped there anyways well equipped for the "cold" 30's haha and we were well aware of the weather ahead of time. It was pathetic, the staff had no idea how to describe the trail (14 mi loop) because all were out of shape and never went back there.

Time of day restrictions should not always be ignored due to safety, but don't tell me I can't camp there and won't give me a permit because it's too close to nightfall and I can't get back there in time on a non-technical trail. This was when it was 3pm and the trail was only 3 miles and sunset was at 6pm or 7pm can't remember but either way sorry but I'll be done by 4pm so we went anyways.

I've also done some island camping that was "illegal" only because people trash it and make campfire rings and if a fire catches then there is no equipment/boats/helicopters for containing the fire and the whole island is in jeopardy. When I do this I actually destroy any campfire rings I find and scatter the rocks and I don't make a fire of any kind. I also leave no trace and pick up a handful or two of litter and pack it out. 

NOT COOL: If an area is closed for vegetation regrowth, wildlife protected habitat( ie sea turtle nesting, bird nesting area) or erosion control then don't be that guy that camps there just because you can get away with it. Respect and be a protector of wildlife and nature. If we abuse or ignore these warnings that site and/or wildlife may be affected adversely. If everyone thinks "I'm just one person, I won't damage anything" then it snowballs into a problem. 

If lakes/ rivers/ streams have restrictions on them like camping at least 100-200 ft away from water then abide by them. People overcrowd these scenic locations to the degree that erosion happens and wildlife finds new water sources if people are always crowding them. Plus, predators like bears or even just potentially dangerous animals like Elk frequent these areas and you'd rather have some distance anyways if one shows up. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dogwood

As a prolific(serial) Thru hiker(LD hiker), Triple Crowner(almost 2X TCer), ABC, DEF, ...XYZ Trails and route backpacker with over 35K trail miles in N America alone ,  with a modicum of planning and awareness there are few times I would have ever truly needed to illegally camp with a premeditated awareness. Personally,  I don't and don't advise anyone else go on any hike with an attitude of "what can I get away with by not being caught."   I gather most times intentional illegal camping is done out of a desire for utmost convenience and because lack of knowledge. It's the side of Hike Your Own Hike(HYOH) - the side of being responsible for one's hike and hiking behavior  and conscientiousness of a larger whole - NOT BEING SELF ABSORBED - that is virtually always ignored by those spouting  HYOH. 

There is little justifiable reasonable cause for illegal camping on any if not all the TC and XYZ trails and those trail's segments in the U.S. 

I have camped or taken shelter illegally due to serendipitous injury, medical issues, and for safety(lightning, flash floods, mountainous white outs).   When I have knowingly illegally, or legally stealth camped,  it was always under the strictest LNT and awareness  of the larger environment guidelines. What happens if others beyond legal authorities become aware  that you're illegally camping it snowballs into further problems within  the hiking and outdoor communities as well as others it impacts(ranchers, farmers, Land MNGers, private land owners, conservationists, environmentalists, Historians, scientists, watershed utilizers, lumber companies, mining operations, MBers, paddlers, ATVers, hunters, fisherman, etc). 

Personally, I strongly advocate for personal responsibility,  and when that breaks down, policing our own community, the hiking and backpacking communities. I gather if we do that there will be fewer legal interventions and policing  from above.   It's not uncommon for myself to question and point out to those camping, hiking, and backpacking they are involved in illegal camping or inform those considering behaving this way the criminality involved. In essence we all become  our brothers keeper beholden to each other. I hold myself to the same hiking ethics.            

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ppine

When I was young I ended up on some private property a few times.  I broke a few rules.  Not cool. So I moved. 

In the West there is no excuse to camp on private land, or break the rules about where to camp.  There is plenty of room for everyone. 

Finding some places away from people takes skill, like map reading and scouting.  I have all kinds of secret spots all over the place in many states.  You won't find me talking about them in trip reports.  If you find it necessary to camp in illegal places or stealth camp you probably should move. 

Edited by ppine

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Game Warden

About a week ago I found two tents pitched right where the AT crosses a stream--illegal two different ways in my state. I woke them up and asked them to break camp and move to a better location about a hundred yards away. It was about 1:00 AM. I could have fined them as well. There were several good legal sites with a few hundred yards.

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now