Dispersed Camping on the Mark Twain National Forest

Many people enjoy the solitude and peaceful experience of camping away from large groups of people. Dispersed camping is the term used for free camping anywhere in the National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground. Dispersed camping means there are no toilets, no structures, no trash cans, no treated water, and no fire grates. There are extra responsibilities required for this type of camp. It's a must to educate yourself before you try it, but we hope the adventure of dispersed camping in the Mark Twain National Forest calls to you!

Picking a Campsite

If you are going to an area where others have camped, pick a site that's been used before. If there is no existing campsite, then follow these Leave No Trace guidelines:

  1. Camp on bare soil if possible, to avoid damaging or killing plants and grass.
  2. Camp 100 feet away from any water source - plants near water and water sources are fragile.
  3. Camp 100 feet away from any administrative site (Trails, Recreational Areas and/or Building).


Many wildfires are caused by human activity, including escaped fires from dispersed campers. Campfires are allowed UNLESS there are fire restrictions in effect-know before you go!

  1. Use camp stoves when possible
  2. Use existing fire rings if they exist; NEVER LEAVE A FIRE UNATTENDED.  
  3. When ashes are COLD and DEAD OUT, scatter outside of the campsite before you leave.
  4. If you don't bring wood, collect only dead/downed wood. Please never cut any live trees.

Protect Water Quality

  1. Water gets contaminated by those who don't take care of waste, garbage or food properly.
  2. Human Waste – There are no bathrooms, so, to dispose of feces, you dig a hole 6 inches deep and AT LEAST 100 FEET AWAY FROM ANY WATER SOURCE; when you're done, fill the hole with the dirt and pack out toilet paper or wipes. Please don’t leave waste or toilet paper on top of the ground for people or animals to find.
  3. Wash your body, and items AT LEAST 100 FT FROM ANY WATER SOURCE; remember soap can’t touch water sources, and only use biodegradable products.

Treating Your Water

  1. The only way to ensure that water from a natural source is safe, is to treat it.
  2. Drinking water should be heated until it comes to a rolling boil, or treated- using purification tablets or a water filter.

Camp Waste

  1. 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.

Leave No Trace (https://lnt.org/why/7-principles/) website for more information.


Have Fun!