Camping Rules and Ethics

Where Can I Go To Camp on the Bighorn National Forest?

Developed Campgrounds

Whether you’re driving a motor home, pulling a trailer, or looking for a place to pitch a tent, one of the forest campgrounds will have a spot just right for you.  A concessionaire operates most campgrounds for the Bighorn National Forest.  Most facilities have drinking water, garbage cans and dumpsters, toilets, fire grates, and tables.  Fees are deposited at campground entrances.  These fees offset operation costs.  Regulations are posted in each campground.  Persons may camp within developed campgrounds, and rental facilities within the Forest for a period of not more than 14 days within any period of 28 days year-round. The 14-day limit of stay may be used continuously or sporadically for a total of 14 days during the 28-day period.  Campers must relocate to another campground or dispersed site at least five road miles away after the 14th day of occupation. Once the 14-day limit of stay has been reached in a given site, use shall not occur again until 14 days have lapsed from the last day of use.  Pets are welcome, but must be on a leash, and under physical control at all times.  Horse camping is allowed at Hunter Campground, across from Battle Park Trailhead, Bucking Mule Falls Trailhead and Elgin Park Trailhead as well as in dispersed camping areas, but not in the rest of the campgrounds.

All wildlife attractants such as pet food, trash, dishes with food residue, human food and more, must be stored in a manner that wildlife cannot access it.  Examples of proper storage are within in an approved bear canister, closed vehicle, trailer, building, or facility constructed of solid, non-pliable material that, when secured, has no openings, hinges, lids, or coverings that would allow a bear to gain entry by breaking, bending, tearing, biting, or pulling with its claws (any windows must be closed). Horse or livestock trailers may not have any openings greater than 10 inches in two dimensions and must have any food, refuse, or animal carcasses stored more than three feet from any opening. Regular coolers are not considered bear-proof and should not be left outside unattended. Attractants may also be hung where they are 10-15’ from ground and 4’ from side supports. It is not legal to cut green trees to build meat poles of other structures to hang items. Please visit the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Certified Bear-Resistant Products website for a list of approved containers,

Most campgrounds fill on a first-come, first-served basis.  Plan to arrive by early afternoon to secure a site.  Campsites may be difficult to find on weekends.  Many of the campgrounds have sites available for reservation, either by calling 1-877-444-6777, or visiting the reservation site online at during the “open season”. Reservations are not available after the end of season, usually around Labor Day.

Depending on the weather, some campgrounds begin to open in mid-May, with most open by Memorial Day.  Shortly after Labor Day, some campgrounds are closed and gated.  In others, services are curtailed, some facilities are closed, water systems turned off, and visitors are asked to pack out their own trash.  There are no fees for camping in the campgrounds once services are stopped.

Dispersed Camping

Camping outside of developed campgrounds is permitted throughout much of the Forest.  You are allowed to drive up to 300 feet off of an open road to set up camp, providing it will not result in damage to the land, is in an area that is not signed otherwise, or if restrictions are in place prohibiting that use.  Horse camping is allowed throughout the Forest, except in developed campgrounds (except for Hunter Campground, across from Battle Park Trailhead, Bucking Mule Falls Trailhead and Elgin Park Trailhead).  Please pay special attention to the following regulations; they allow everyone an equal chance to enjoy the National Forest:

Overnight camping is prohibited at the following sites and areas 

  • Roadside areas within ¼ mile of both sides of Forest System Road (FSR) 21 from its junction with Highway 16 to its boundary at Tie Hack Reservoir.
  • Lakeside area within 300 feet of the shoreline (high water mark) of the Tie Hack Reservoir.
  • The area between Highway 16 and the end of Forest System Road (FSR) 470.  Off road travel is not permitted.
  • Roadside areas within ¼ mile of both sides of Forest System Road (FSR) 19 in its entirety from the junction of Highway 16 and the Rock Creek Road (FSR 396) from the junction of FSR 19 to the junction with Soldier Park Road (FSR 394). Please watch for signing.
  • Camping is prohibited within ¼ mile on both sides of Forest System Road (FSR) 26 (Big Goose) from Highway 14 to Sawmill Divide (just east of the junction with FSR 250), FSR 125 (mid-section, Little Horn Meadows), FSR 16 (Black Mountain) from the junction with FSR 223 to the Junction with FSR 26, and FSR 137 (Porcupine Creek)).  Watch for signing.
  • Camping is prohibited within ½ mile on each side of Highways 14, and 14A.
  • No person, group, or organization shall camp at, use, store equipment at, or otherwise occupy any single location for a period of not more than 14 days within any period of 28 days. The 14-day limit of stay may be used either through a number of separate visits or through 14 days of continuous occupation during the 28-day period. After the 14th day of occupation, campers must relocate to another site at least five road miles from the previous location. Once the 14-day limit of stay has been reached in a given site, use shall not occur again until 14 days have lapsed from the last day of use.

Some additional Regulations and common courtesies: 

  • Parking/Camping is not allowed in front of closed (gated or barricaded) roads.  Please leave enough room for administrative vehicles to pass through the gate or barricade for emergencies or administrative access at all times.
  • Dispose of all garbage, including paper, cans, bottles, sewage, waste water or material, and rubbish either by removal from the area, or by depositing it into a receptacle or at places provided for such purposes.
  • Do not abandon any personal property on the Forest.  This means items such as grills, buckets, utensils, etc. must be packed out with you.
  • Do not leave a fire burning unattended at any time.
  • Prohibits construction, placement, or maintenance of any kind of road, trail, structure, fence, enclosure, communication equipment, or other improvement on National Forest System land or facility without a special-use authorization, contract, or approved operating plan. 
  • Prohibits discharge of a firearm within 150 yards of a residence, building or campsite, developed recreation area or occupied area, or across or on a Forest System Road or body of water, or in any manner or place where any person or property is exposed to injury or damage as a result of such discharge.  In simple terms, this means don’t shoot within an area 150 yards of campgrounds or campsites, across a lake or creek, across, or while on a road.  
  • All motor vehicles must remain on designated, open routes.  Designated roads will have a number at the beginning of the road.  Motorized trails will have a route number and will be posted as to what uses are allowed.
  • Fire Rings – Use existing fire rings when possible.  If you burn trash, please remove all unburned pieces, aluminum, glass, etc., and pack it home with you.  Always make sure that your fire is “Dead Out” and Cold before you leave.
  • Toilet Etiquette – When nature calls, please ensure that you are at least 200 feet from water.  Many people use the “cat” method, dig a hole 6-8” deep and cover when finished.  Bury toilet paper or burn it back at your campfire. Solid human waste must be packed out and off the forest in some areas in the Cloud Peak Wilderness and the West Tensleep Corridor. 
  • Be a courteous camper – noise from motorized vehicles and generators, loud music and voices carry a long way.  Please show respect for your camping neighbors.
  • Tread Lightly – Limit driving to and from your campsite, particularly if the ground is wet and muddy.  If you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, use the 4-wheel drive mode to help eliminate spinning back tires.
  • Know the regulations for the area in which you are camping.  Visitor Maps are available at any Forest Service Office, Visitor Centers, and local lodges.
  • Maintain and leave a clean campsite – Odors attract bears!!  Never leave food or garbage unattended.  Do not leave food, dirty dishes, empty food containers, or cooking pans and utensils out, or stored in a tent.  Place these items in a closed vehicle, or hang them from a tree when camping in the back country.  Black bear sightings are becoming more common on this Forest.  Your welfare, and the bear’s depend on the ability and willingness of humans to follow these simple safety rules.

For emergencies, help may be available at  Burgess Ranger Station, Porcupine Ranger Station, Shell Falls Visitor Center or Shell Ranger Station on the north end of the Forest, and  Hunter Ranger Station on the south end of the Forest, and at any Forest Service Office, located in Sheridan, Buffalo, and Greybull.  Please note that the Visitor Center is usually closed after Labor Day.