What is Dispersed Camping & Where Can You Do It? (2022)

dispersed camping
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    Our lives have become so rushed that many people find the only way to enjoy a rest break is to seek the peacefulness, fresh air and open skies of nature. However, with ever-increasing numbers of people heading to developed campgrounds, chances are such breaks will take you from one overcrowded life to another.

    How much do you know about dispersed camping?

    Dispersed camping is the perfect answer to get away from it all. However, make sure you understand what it is — or rather, what it is not. Don’t expect luxuries or being welcomed by a camp host. Dispersed camping happens outside of any developed campground. There are no bookings to be made — you choose a remote spot and give yourself over to nature. Dispersed camping is all about not encountering any other campers while you’re there.

    Where can you pitch your tent for a dispersed camping experience?

    Some say nothing offered for free can be worthwhile. Not true — almost all National Forests, Wildlife Management Area and Bureau of Land Management Districts offer free camping outside of their traditional camping sites. There are few rules and even fewer amenities. If you do the necessary legwork, you could discover campsites that are like unique gems. Talk to the ranger of the area to learn where the best spots hide.

    What amenities can you expect on a dispersed camping site?

    Whether you plan camping in a tent or parking your RV at your chosen dispersed camping spot, be prepared to find no toilets, ablution blocks, or outdoor showers because you will not have running water and electricity. There will be no food storage facilities, and when you pack, keep in mind that you won’t have access to groceries or other stores. Some spots have fire pits and tables but do not expect it.

    Be careful not to trespass on private property. You can check areas available for dispersed camping on this interactive website provided by the U.S. Forest Service, showing maps of all the national forests.

    What are the ground rules for dispersed camping?

    The rules for free campers could vary, but a few ground rules apply overall.

    • Never set up your dispersed campsite closer than 200 feet from natural water sources.
    • If available, use established camps and existing fire rings.
    • Do not stay for longer than 14 days.

    Understand that fees payable at campsites are used to pay for maintenance, rubbish removal and other services. Thus, it is up to free campers to minimize their impact on nature. That includes destroying your fire ring, removing your trash and bury or take away your temporary bathroom.

    Do you know the LNT policy?

    The Leave no Trace policy includes the following guidelines:

    • Anything you packed in to go camping must be packed out and taken with you when you depart.
    • Only travel and set up camp on rock, dry grasses, gravel and other durable surfaces.
    • Dig 6 to 8 inch deep holes for human waste, not closer than 200 feet from natural water sources.
    • Do not damage, destroy or remove any natural objects or plants from the campsite.
    • Ensure fires are small and burn to ash before scattering the ashes.

    Bottom Line

    I bet once you’ve experienced dispersed camping you’ll be hooked. A friendly warning — Do not lose sight of the dangers posed by bears, cougars and mountain lions.  

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    Riley Draper

    Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.