Dispersed Camping on the Deschutes & Ochoco National Forests

Many people enjoy the solitude and primitive experience of camping away from developed campgrounds and other campers. Dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground. Dispersed camping means there are no toilets, no picnic tables, no trash cans, no treated water, and no fire grates. If you are dispersed camping in the winter, recognize that the Forest Service does not plow or maintain Forest Roads in the winter, so plan your trip accordingly.
Typically, dispersed camping is NOT allowed in the vicinity of developed recreation areas such as campgrounds, boat ramps, picnic areas or trailheads. There are extra responsibilities and skills that are necessary for dispersed camping. It's your responsibility to know these before you try this new experience.

Picking a Campsite

If you are going to an area where others have camped before, pick a site that's been used before. Plants, soil and wildlife are impacted by new campsites, so using existing ones will minimize your impact on the forest. If there is no existing campsite, then follow these Leave No Trace guidelines:

  • Camp on bare soil if possible, to avoid damaging or killing plants and grass.
  • Do NOT camp within 200 feet of any water source, plants near water are especially fragile.
  • Don't camp in the middle of a clearing or meadow. Make your campsite less visible so that other visitors will see a "wild" setting.
  • Don't try to level or dig trenches in the ground at your campsite. Select a campsite with good natural drainage.

Visit the Leave No Trace website for more information.


Many wildfires are caused by human activity, typically escaped campfires from dispersed campers. Campfires are allowed when you are dispersed camping UNLESS there are fire restrictions in effect due to high fire danger conditions. It is YOUR responsibility to know if fire restrictions are in effect before you go camping.

Campfire Tips:

  • Use camp stoves to help conserve ground cover resources. The animals, insects and micro-organisms in the soil need downed, rotting wood to survive.
  • Select a site that is not in a meadow or clearing, that is not next to a tree with low, overhanging branches, that is AT LEAST 200 feet from any water source to protect fragile vegetation.
  • Use existing fire rings if they exist. Minimize the scarring of new rocks, soil and plants by using existing fire rings.
  • Build your fire on a fire pan. An old trash can placed on three rocks allows for a fire at camp without scarring the ground or rocks. When the ashes are COLD and DEAD OUT, the ashes can simply be scattered outside of the campsite.
  • Clear an area of combustible material six feet away from a campfire to reduce the chance of it spreading into a wildfire.
  • If you don't bring your own firewood, collect only dead and downed wood that is on the ground. You should not cut branches off of live trees. If a popular camping area does not have dead and downed wood, bring your own firewood or use a camp stove.
  • You should have a bucket, shovel, and axe available to control or extinguish escaped fire.
  • BEFORE YOU LEAVE YOUR CAMPFIRE, MAKE SURE IT IS DEAD OUT. You should be able to put your whole hand into the ashes without being burned and it should be cool to the touch.

Protect Water Quality

Water gets contaminated by visitors who don't take care of their human waste or their garbage and food properly.

  • Human Waste - Dispersed camping means no bathrooms and no outhouses. That means extra care has to be taken in disposing of human waste.
    • To dispose of feces, dig a hole 6 inches deep and AT LEAST 200 FEET AWAY FROM ANY WATER SOURCE (creeks, wetlands, springs, or lakes).
    • When you're done, fill the hole with the dirt you dug up and take your toilet paper with you to dispose of in a proper waste container.
    • Never defecate or leave toilet paper on top of the ground, it could easily get into the local water source and contaminate it.
    • Empty built-in or portable toilets at sanitary dump stations.
  • Waste Water and Washing
    • Wash your body, dishes, etc., and dispose of waste water AT LEAST 200 FEET AWAY FROM ANY WATER SOURCE.
    • Do not use ANY soap directly in a water source.
    • Use biodegradable soap.

Treating Your Water

We used to be able to take a cup and drink directly out of a sparkling creek, a rushing waterfall or a clear, deep lake. There is NO safe water source anymore. With an increasing population and high visitor use on our National Forests, water sources have been contaminated with invisible, micro-organisms that can make people very ill and even kill them in some cases. Giardia is a common contamination that has been spread to many water sources through improper care of human waste and wild animals. It will cause diarrhea, cramping, and other physical problems.

The only way to ensure that water from an undeveloped source is safe is to treat it. Drinking water should be heated until it comes to a rolling boil, or treated using purification tablets or a water filter. Water from faucets in developed recreation areas are periodically tested and are safe to use without treating.

Camp Waste

If you “PACK IT IN”, always "PACK IT OUT"! Please leave your campsite cleaner than you found it. Pack out ALL your garbage, including aluminum foil, cans, toilet paper, cigarette butts and plastic products.

Have Fun!

If you follow the tips above, you can have a safe, low impact, primitive camping experience. Thank you for helping care for YOUR National Forest!