Dispersed Camping Guidelines

  • There are no fees or permit required for dispersed camping in small groups. Group size is limited to no more than 10 people in a designated Wilderness. Groups of over 75 people who wish to use the forest, need to obtain a special use permit at the nearest District Office.
  • Camping stay is limited to 21 consecutive days.
  • Please place your campsite at least 200 feet from any stream or other water source.
  • Keep a Pack-In Pack-Out camp. No amenities are provided, such as water, restrooms or trash cans.
  • Follow Leave No Trace guidelines.
  • Contact the local District Office to see if any restrictions, especially fire restrictions, are in place.
  • Use a good map to ensure you are not on private land.
  • Be Bear Aware. There are bears in the National Forest, so camp accordingly.

Where Can I Disperse Camp?

The best way to find out what areas are open to dispersed camping is to contact the nearest District Office to the area you wish to visit. Dispersed camping is not allowed in the vicinity of developed recreation areas such as campgrounds, picnic areas, or trailheads. Many people drive out on Forest Service roads and look for a clearing or a spot with a view. Do not drive on meadows to access your camping site. Drive on existing roads to prevent resource damage. Dispersed camping is allowed in a one-mile perimeter away from campgrounds and 200 feet from any stream. To prevent resource damage please keep your campsite within 150 feet from a roadway.

How to Pick a Campsite

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

  • Camp on bare soil if possible, to avoid damage or killing plants and grass.
  • Do NOT camp within 200 feet of any water source, plants near water are especially fragile.
  • Do not camp in the middle of a clearing or meadow; try to make your campsite less visible so that other visitors will see a "wild" setting
  • Do not try to level or dig trenches in the ground at your campsite. Pick a tent site that is already level with good drainage.

Can I have a campfire?

Please use existing sites and fire rings. Wood permits are not needed to collect small amounts of wood for your campfire. If you plan to transport wood back to your home for personal use, pick up a permit at the nearest District Office.

The National Forest has wildfires each year. Many of these 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. You can learn about any fire restrictions by contacting the nearest District Office.

Tips for Safe, Low Impact Campfires

Use existing fire rings if they exist. Minimize the scarring of new rocks, soil, and plants by using existing fire rings.

Select a site that is not in a meadow or clearing, that is not next to a tree with low overhanging branches, and that is at least 200 feet from any water source to protect fragile vegetation.

Clean an area and make a ring of rocks about two feet in diameter.

Collect only dead wood that is on the ground. You should not cut branches off live trees and you should not bring firewood with you.  The emerald ash borer is an invasive species often transported inside firewood.  Help us stop the spread of the emerald ash borer by leaving firewood at home.

Before you leave your campfire make sure is it completely out. You should be able to put your whole hand into the ashes without being burned, it should be cool to the touch. Stir the ashes to make sure all embers have cooled. This is very important! Many forest fires are caused by abandoned campfires that were not completely out.

Water and Toiletting

Water gets contaminated by visitors who do not take care of their human waste or their garbage and food properly.

Going to the Bathroom in the Woods

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 six (6) inches deep at least 200 feet away from any water source. When you are 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.

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. These are no longer safe water sources. With increasing population and visitation to 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 through improper toileting and wild animals to many water sources. It will cause diarrhea, cramping, and other physical problems.

The only way to ensure that water from any undeveloped source is safe is to treat it. That means heating it until it comes to a rolling boil, using water purification tablets or a water purification filter. Water from faucets in developed recreation areas has been tested and treated and is safe to use without treating.

Have Fun!

If you follow these tips you can save a safe, low impact, primitive camping experience. Thank you for helping care for YOUR National Forest.