Is there anything worse than a camping trip that's spoiled by full campgrounds and noisy rude neighbors? For the last 15 years. dispersed camping has solved that problem for me and my family. I remember the trip that was the final straw. Angry neighbors shouting, wild ones riding their ATV's and then pointing at us when the ranger showed up. (We had our own but we trailered them to approved areas to ride.) We had had it, we resolved to not pay money to have our week of relaxation spoiled. (Yes we camp for a week at a time, or at least until we decide we've been satisfied) On our next trip we loaded up the truck and trailer and decided to hit the forest roads and camp for free. Free for the pocketbook, free from the nuisances, and free to relax.
What Is "Dispersed Camping"?
Dispersed camping, also known as "Boondocking" is the practice of camping outside of designated campgrounds, typically in publicly owned National Forests. In most cases there is no fee for dispersed camping, however some areas do require a small fee to be paid. Dispersed campsites also do not come with the amenities that are found in most campgrounds (toilets, showers, water spigots, waste/garbage bins etc). Dispersed camping is usually not permitted near developed campgrounds, picnic areas or within 100 or 200 feet of lakes, rivers or streams.
What are the benefits of dispersed camping?
As I briefly mentioned the start of this article, dispersed camping sets you free from several of the not so uncommon annoyances we find in campgrounds and parks. Noisy neighbors are very very rare. You are no longer dropping your hard earned cash in order to spend a some away from the luxuries of life. Of course there is also the adventure of it, it's like a treasure hunt for your own slice of peaceful nature. You never know what you might find. Personally this is a major bonus for me, I love loading up the car (van, truck whatever) and turning down a random forest road just to see what I'll find. It's about the closest thing you can get to a light weight's weekend safari. You may even get the chance to see some wildlife that may otherwise steer clear of campgrounds! I've woken up to families of deer just feet away! And all of this (typically) is free. You're not paying to have a weekend spoiled by the people you are trying to take a break from by going out in the woods in the first place!
What are the disadvantages? The glaring disadvantage of this style of camping (for a lot of people), is the lack of facilities. No showers, no out house bathrooms and no garbage bins. These are the things that make or break it for a lot of folks. Some will love it others will hate it. For me, growing up with dispersed camping I loved it, it felt like more of an adventure. My sister on the other hand, it was the nail in the coffin. She wants nothing to do with camping at all anymore. A lot of these things can be remedied if you are bringing an RV or tent trailer of some sort, but those things greatly limit the places you can go and what forest roads are acceptable to travel. The last thing you want is to get stuck on a rough road, and having to back your way down it with a trailer or large RV. If you don't want to use an RV. there are ways around these set backs, I've camped with showers, and bathroom areas, even a kitchen with an oven! And all outside of campgrounds and far away from any established facilities. (I'll go into specific details in future posts)
Where can I dispersed camp?
Generally speaking, its okay to dispersed camp on public national forest land and BLM land (Bureau of Land Management). Some areas have specific campsites that you are required to stay at. But most of the places I've camped (Oregon) you can find a spot usually on the side of or at the end of a forest road, and there will be pretty obvious spots where you can set up camp. That said, don't just camp on a road where you will be blocking any traffic that may come by, and don't actually leave the road and start driving on raw forest land, it is very damaging and can land you with a hefty fine should you be caught. The best way to learn about an area where you would like to camp, is to call or stop by the ranger station that is in charge of that forest. They will be able to tell you where you can or cannot camp, if that area requires a fee to be paid, if fires are allowed, and they can provide you with advice and tips on nice areas to go visit. When in doubt call the experts, don't let yourself be surprised by a scolding from a ranger or official or worse a fee for violating the rules of your area.
Camp in peace, and maintain it!
Being away from the busy campgrounds does usually help you escape the noise and drama of disrespectful camp guests, but not always. And not always will a dispersed camp neighbor be an audible pest. In fact they are probably out there away from the campgrounds for the same reason you are. To get away! So it is important to realize that if you happen to stumble across a fellow camper, or set up camp near them that your noise could be an annoyance for them as well. For that reason I would suggest not using large old noisy power generators, playing music really loud, target shooting or other things that your neighbor would not appreciate. If you are sure you are alone, maybe you can be more flexible on such things, but maybe a quiet generator is a good investment period, and of course if you are a target shooter, clean up your mess and as always leave no trace.
Dispersed camping is one of my favorite ways to enjoy the outdoors. I highly encourage anyone who loves camping and the outdoors to try it at least once, and that's what this website is all about. Follow along to learn more and share in my adventures!