Frequently Asked Questions
You can generally camp anywhere on National Forests, unless the area is posted otherwise. If you need your vehicle to camp, there may be some restrictions on where you can go. You may not drive or camp where you will cause resource damage, such as making vehicle ruts off roadways or damaging trees or streams. We recommend that you camp at least 150 feet from all lakes and streams. The distance you may pull your vehicle off an established roadway will vary, depending on the travel management policies of each forest. Generally, you may not drive more than 300 feet off a roadway to park, but this distance may be less in some areas. Please contact the local office near where you want to go and be sure to inquire about current fire restrictions.
Many campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. You would contact Recreation.gov for any Forest Service campground reservation. Call the toll-free number 1-877-444-6777, or visit the website at Recreation.gov for prices and availability. You need to make reservations at least five days in advance. It is possible to reserve individual sites 240 days in advance and group sites 360 days in advance.
For those who prefer solitude and privacy, dispersed or backcountry camping may be allowed within the forest boundary. Contact the local Forest office for restrictions such as fire restrictions that may apply.
You should contact the Forest Service office in the area you plan to camp for current information. Many campgrounds on California's National Forests may be reserved for your convenience. Recreation.gov, a one-stop reservation service for the US Forest Service outdoor recreation facilities and activities, provides a list of reservable campgrounds, locations and amenities available. You may reserve a campsite online, or call the toll-free number at 1-877-444-6777.
Forest Service lodging sources include unique Cabin and Lookout Tower rentals. To find out if a forest has a rental cabin or lookout, contact the local Forest office.
In many Wilderness Areas, developed campgrounds, picnic areas and day use areas, dogs are required to be on a leash. Most other areas of within the National Forests do not require your dog to be on a leash, but they should be under your control at all times. We recommend that you keep your dog on a leash when you are around other forest users, other dogs, or are in bear country. Some Wilderness Areas do not allow dogs, so be sure to contact the local Forest office.
Dogs are NOT allowed to chase game animals.
Horses are allowed anywhere on National Forests unless posted otherwise. You do not have to ride your horse only on established trails and roads; you can ride anywhere. You may take horses into Wilderness areas; however, certain trails and trailheads may not be well-suited to horse use. Please do not tie horses to trees for long periods; use hobbles or high-lines instead. Avoid wet, muddy trails to minimize damage from horse hoofs.
Horses are NOT allowed in developed campgrounds, unless they are specifically established for equestrian use.
In most areas of National Forest, you need to stay on roads and trails that are open to motorized travel. You may not take your ATV behind a closed gate, or travel OFF the road or trail (cross-country), unless the area is specifically designated for that use. Motorized vehicles are not allowed in any Wilderness Area. You should contact the local Forest office for more details and maps to help you learn where you may ride. Motor Vehicle Use Maps available at this MVUM maps link.
Hunting seasons, bag limits, and licenses are handled by each state's game and fish agency. In California, that is the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. For information, visit their website at www.wildlife.ca.gov/Licensing/Hunting or call (916) 928-5805.
A special-use authorization is a legal document such as a permit, lease, or easement, which allows occupancy, use, rights, or privileges of National Forest system land. The authorization is granted for a specific use of the land for a specific period of time. The Forest Service maintains a website on special use implementation at www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r5/passes-permits/?cid=stelprdb5348753.
Some forests have “incidental use” guidelines and do not require a permit for some small quantities of some products. Other forests require a permit to remove any minerals or wood products from the National Forest. To obtain one of these permits, check with your nearest National Forest Service office.
A Wilderness Visitor's Permit is required for overnight visits in designated wilderness areas. Some popular Wilderness Areas also require a permit for day use. Only one permit is required for trips which are continuous and pass through more than one Wilderness. One permit is required per trip per group. Your permit doubles as a campfire permit while in the Wilderness. You may obtain a wilderness permit at the local Ranger station or the Supervisor's Office. For some popular Wilderness Areas permits are limited and reservations are required. It's a good idea to call for current conditions.
If you have an emergency on the National Forest, the best thing to do is call 911 and they will dispatch the nearest help.
A closure is a restriction upon certain activities or public use of a defined area on the Forest. For example, closures might be implemented to help prevent human-caused fires, protect human life, or protect property. Vehicles may be restricted on certain roads when they are wet. The purpose of this type of closure would be to prevent damage to the road itself and subsequent damage to soils or streams from water or mud draining off the damaged road. To find out about closures, contact the local forest office. On the forest website you can also click on alerts/notices and then forest orders
FIRE RESTRICTIONS are issued by the Forest Supervisor or Regional Forester after coordinating with District Rangers and Fire Management Officers on local conditions. Conditions that could warrant the issuance of fire restrictions include but are not limited to: high temperatures, low humidities, low fuel moistures within forest fuels, and an increase in the number of fire starts.
When in effect, fire restrictions mean campfires, stove fires and smoking are not permitted in the restricted area. Charcoal, wood and coal stoves outside of dwellings are classified as campfires. Campfires do not include any cooking or heating device using kerosene or gasoline. Smoking is permitted in designated forest camp and picnic grounds or while traveling in a vehicle provided an ash tray is used.
Permits authorizing campfires may be issued by designated Forest Officers when local conditions are favorable and/or in some Forest Service developed camp or picnic grounds. It is advised to call ahead to each local district office as restrictions may vary on the forest.
To become a wildland firefighter, you must be between the 18 and 35 years old and pass a physical fitness test. Firefighters sometimes earn time and a half or "hazard duty" pay.
Most forests hire a fair number of employees on a seasonal basis (generally from May to September). Almost without exception, regardless of the type of work seasonal employees are hired to do, everyone receives basic firefighter training. During seasons where there are a lot of fires, people who have had basic fire training are called upon to help organized fire crews. If you do an outstanding job, regardless of what function you are in, you will be noticed and your chances of getting a "fire job" next season will be greatly increased.
For more information on fire jobs, please visit www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r5/fire-aviation/management/?cid=stelprdb5341420
For other fire related questions see the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) FAQ Website at www.nifc.gov/faqs.
Use fire resistant building material. The roof and exterior of homes should be constructed of non-combustible or fire resistant materials such as fire resistant roofing materials, tile, slate, sheet iron, aluminum, brick, or stone. Wood siding, cedar shakes, exterior wood paneling, and other highly combustible materials should be treated with fire retardant chemicals.
If a fire does occur near a home in the wildlands, homeowners have the responsibility to create a "defensible space" so that firefighters may safely protect their homes. Examples of defensible space are: cleaning roof surfaces and gutters regularly to avoid accumulation of flammable materials, or Removing portions of any tree extending within 10 feet of the flue opening of any stove or chimney, maintaining a fuel break around all structures, etc.
For other fire related questions see the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) FAQ Website at www.nifc.gov/faqs.
For information on wildfire forecasts, as well as lots of other information on wildfires, please visit the National Interagency Coordination Center website at www.nifc.gov/nicc/.
The Forest Service no longer gives away free trees. We recommend you check with CAL FIRE for more information/grants, etc.
If you sell a product or service, please see the Contracting section of our website.
Contact the contact the local forest and ask to speak to the Fire Prevention Officer. Smokey Bear can only be used in Fire Prevention programs.
The general answer is yes, but you cannot fly everywhere nor all the time. One easy way to remember the rules are do not fly over wildfires, wildlife, or wilderness. Please read for more details and please share this important information!
Drones or UAS are considered to be both “motorized equipment” and “mechanical transport” and, as such, they cannot take off from, land in, or be operated from congressionally designated Wilderness Areas.
Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations. Fly your UAS at least 5 miles from an airport or backcountry airstrip. Drones or UAS are not permitted to fly in areas that have Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) in place, such as wildfires. Search the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Web site for current TFRs at http://tfr.faa.gov/tfr2/list.html.
Do not fly over or near wildlife as this can create stress that may cause significant harm and even death. Intentional disturbance of animals during breeding, nesting, rearing of young, or other critical life history functions is not allowed unless approved as research or management.
Keep your UAS or drone away from populated and noise-sensitive areas, such as campgrounds, trailheads, and visitor centers. Keep your UAS within your visual line of sight at all times. Take lessons and learn to operate your UAS safely. Lastly, please obey all privacy laws.
For more information, please visit: www.fs.usda.gov/visit/know-before-you-go/recreational-drone-tips
The Forest Service does not remove trees or other debris from private individual’s properties. To learn more about resources that might be available for this, we recommend that you contact the public works department in your city or county or the Natural Resource Conservation Service. If you have cabin lease on Forest Service property, please contact the closest Forest office for any concerns.
It depends. Are you investigating a contaminated site like an underground mine, or a burned special use permitted structure? Are you doing this as a research project or for commercial purposes? Are you sampling for a private client or for a regulatory agency? The answers will determine what type of authorization they need either a special use permit or a simpler authorization and access letter. Contact the closest Forest Service office.
First you must check for current fire restrictions for the area in which you are planning to visit to see if a campfire, charcoal fire or gas stove/appliance is allowed. Contact the closest Forest Service office.
In California, Campfire Permits are required for the use of campfires, charcoal fires or portable gas stoves outside of designated recreation sites, when allowed. These are free and are available at all Forest Service, BLM, or CAL FIRE offices, or visit the online campfire permit (printer required).
There are a few different kinds of recreation permits
- National Recreation Pass: National passes cover entrance fees found at federal recreation area such as National Parks and wildlife refuges. They also cover the use of facilities and services at many day use sites on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands. These do not cover campground reservations nor wilderness permit reservations. More information on National Recreation Passes.
- Adventure Pass: forest visitors parked in standard amenity recreation fee sites in the four southern California national forests must display a valid National Recreation or Adventure pass. This includes sites on the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino National Forests. These do not cover campground reservations nor wilderness permit reservations. More information on Adventure Passes
Some work is time-sensitive, prioritized and done immediately. Other efforts are ongoing and done over time. This work is done in collaboration with a diverse set of partners, including those from the state, counties, tribes, conservation groups, private companies, local communities, and landowners
In the immediate aftermath of a wildfire:
While many wildfires cause little damage to the land and pose few threats to fish, wildlife and people downstream, some fires create situations that require special efforts to prevent further problems after the fire. Loss of vegetation exposes soil to erosion; runoff may increase and cause flooding, sediments may move downstream and damage houses or fill reservoirs and put endangered species and community water supplies at risk. The Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) program addresses these situations on Forest Service lands with the goal of guarding the safety of Forest visitors and employees and protecting Federal property, water quality, and critical natural or cultural resources from further damage after the fire is out. Information collected by the Forest Service BAER teams is shared with other Federal, State, and local emergency response agencies so they can provide assistance to communities and private landowners who may also be affected by potential post-fire damage. More information on BAER.
Ongoing / Over time the Forest Service develops restorations plans to:
- Remove hazard trees (dead/burned trees that pose danger on the landscape)
- Replant trees (to provide erosion control and habitat for wildlife)
- Restore/repair recreational facilities (campgrounds, bridges, roads, trails)
Since National Forest System land is generally located in unincorporated areas of a county, not in a city or town that has a police department, our law enforcement agents generally work with the county sheriff’s office on local criminal matters. We recommend contacting your local Sheriff’s Department to start any claim.
Visit the Region 5 jobs website to learn more about career opportunities, benefits, hiring events, and resources to help with the application process.
- Contact cvb.uscourts.gov or (800) 827-2982
- For Adventure Pass Notices of Required Fee, please call (909) 382-2623
The U.S. Forest Service has regulations (Code of Federal Regulations or CFRs) that relate to firearms and their use on National Forest System lands. Some are:
36 CFR § 261.10 - The following are prohibited:
(d) Discharging a firearm or any other implement capable of taking human life, causing injury, or damaging property as follows:
(1) In or within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site or occupied area.
(2) Across or on a National Forest System Road or a body of water adjacent thereto, or in any manner or place whereby any person or property is exposed to injury or damage as a result in such discharge.
(3) Into or within any cave.
36 CFR 261.9(a) - Damaging any natural feature or property of the United States (includes trees).
36 CFR 261.5(b) - Firing any tracer bullet or incendiary ammunition.
36 CFR § 261.58 - When provided by an order, the following are prohibited: (m) Discharging a firearm, air rifle, or gas gun. (Certain or all parts of the forest may be closed by special order to shooting. Most often in California this is due to fire restrictions).
State laws do apply to National Forest System lands. A few select California state firearms laws are listed below. (CAPC = California Penal Code). For complete information, please visit https://oag.ca.gov/firearms
CAPC 25400: Concealed Carry. It is illegal for any person to carry a handgun concealed upon his or her person or concealed in a vehicle without a license issued pursuant to CAPC 26150. A firearm locked in a motor vehicle’s trunk or in a locked container carried in the vehicle other than in the utility or glove compartment is not considered concealed within the meaning of the CAPC 25400; neither is a firearm carried within a locked container directly to or from a motor vehicle for any lawful purpose (CAPC 25610). The prohibition from carrying a concealed handgun does not apply to licensed hunters or fishermen while engaged in hunting or fishing, or while going to or returning from the hunting expedition (CAPC 25640). Notwithstanding this exception for hunters or fishermen, these individuals may not carry, or transport loaded firearms when going to or from the expedition. The unloaded firearms should be transported in the trunk of the vehicle or in a locked container other than the utility or glove compartment (CAPC 25610).
CAPC 25850: Open carry of a loaded firearm in public. It is illegal to carry a loaded firearm on one’s person or in a vehicle while in any public place, on any public street, or in any place where it is unlawful to discharge a firearm. (Note: does not apply to any person while hunting in an area where possession and hunting is otherwise lawful or while practice shooting at target ranges (CAPC 26005, 26040). Section 26055; nothing in Section 25850 shall prevent any person from having a loaded weapon, if it is otherwise lawful, at the person’s place of residence, including any temporary residence or campsite.
CAPC 26350: Open carry of an unloaded handgun in public. It is generally illegal for any person to carry upon his or her person or in a vehicle, an exposed and unloaded handgun while in or on: A public place or public street in an incorporated city or city and county; or a public street in a prohibited area of an unincorporated city or city and county. Section 26388 states: section 26350 does not apply to, or affect, the open carrying of an unloaded handgun on publicly owned land, if the possession and use of a handgun is specifically permitted by the managing agency of the land and the person carrying that handgun is in lawful possession of that handgun.
CAPC 30500‐30530: Assault Weapons. These penal code sections define the regulations that govern the possession, manufacture, and use of assault weapons. These regulations and prohibitions apply on National Forest lands.
CAPC 417(2): Every person who, except in self-defense, in the presence of any other person, draws or exhibits any firearm, whether loaded or unloaded, in a rude, angry, or threatening manner, or who in any manner, unlawfully uses a firearm in any fight or quarrel is punishable as follows:
- If the violation occurs in a public place and the firearm is a pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person, by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than three months and not more than one year, by a fine not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.
- In all cases other than that set forth in subparagraph (A), a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than three months.