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Your 101 Guide to Dispersed Camping

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Your 101 Guide to Dispersed Camping

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Last summer, RVs and RVs arrived en masse in the Californian city of Mammoth Lakes on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were looking outside. But since campsites are either closed or fully booked, many of these budding campers have chosen to pitch their tents or park their tents outside of designated campsites, a growing trend known as scattered camping. The problem was, they didn’t always know where to camp legally.

“People went out and parked everywhere,” says Lara Kaylor, communications director for Mammoth Lakes Tourism. “Many of them were campers for the first time and didn’t necessarily know what to do. We saw a lot of rubbish, as well as human and animal waste. It was troubling to the community. “

In the US, you can camp overnight on any public property managed by the Land Management Office (BLM) as well as some US Forest Service properties, if permitted. But it is not always easy to find these places. Scattered camping is more common and popular in the western United States, although there are public lands that are allowed on the east coast as well.

Mammoth has received complaints about noise, litter, toilet paper and dog poop, and the risk of wildfire from campfires. Last winter, a coalition of people from federal and land administration agencies, non-profit organizations and tourism departments formed the Eastern Sierra Dispersed Camping Collaborative, with the aim of helping people camp on public land responsible. They added porta-potties and dumpsters near popular campsites, put together and Online map with legal campsites, and worked on better signage, volunteer cleanup opportunities, and stronger fire enforcement. The efforts seem to be helping.

“We haven’t had that many complaints this summer,” says Kaylor. “These are public lands and anyone can explore them, but we must do so responsibly. It’s not a lecture. It’s about preserving these beautiful rooms and not polluting the environment. “

There are many joys of sleeping outside of a designated campsite: Solitude, silence, wild beauty. It’s also easier to find last minute campsite availability when you’re not dealing with a reservation system at a campsite in a state or national park. But these remote locations don’t offer the amenities of a proper campsite like water, toilets, picnic tables, bear boxes, or dumpsters. If you want to try scattered camping, here’s what you need to know.

Do your research

The fees, regulations, infrastructure and conditions of scattered camping areas vary widely. So check your local jurisdiction before pitching a tent on a dirt road. The BLM usually allows camping for 10 to 14 days in one place. State and national parks tend to have much stricter rules when it comes to dispersed camping, so inquire beforehand.

“Call the visitor center, check online to see if you need permits, if there is any kind of infrastructure in your area, or if you are completely dispersed. Nobody cares about you out there, ”says Kaylor.

Know what you are looking for

Find out what your needs are before deciding on a place to camp. You might want to camp near a body of water – a lake or a stream – or maybe you need lots of trees for shade. You might want to be near a starting point for hiking or biking, or you might need cellular service to get work done or be within range.

“Sometimes I want to be off-grid, sometimes I want to be able to work,” says Dani Reyes-Acosta, an athlete, strategist, and storyteller who camps on public land for months each year. “When you know your goals – your leisure goals, your work or connectivity goals, and your basic human needs like water or a bathroom – it’s easier to find the right place.”

Find a place to camp

Now comes the hard part: finding a place that suits what you’re looking for. Sites like Campendium, the Dyrt, Free campsites, and iOverlander Creating maps of scattered campsites. Apps like Gaia GPS can provide topographic maps to get you there. (Gaia GPS is owned by the same parent company as Outside, and Gaia GPS Premium is now all in one Outside + membership.)

“Camping should be accessible to everyone. These spots shouldn’t be a secret, ”says Dyrt co-founder Kevin Long, who is in the middle of a year-long van camping trip. “Anyone can add a campsite or a scattered place and share it with everyone.”

Make sure to download these maps in advance in case you lose cellular service. Some of them allow you to overlay your GPS location on the map to make sure you are still in a legal zone. As a rule of thumb, camp at least 60 meters from any water source and a similar distance from roads or trails.

Once you start driving down this dirt road, be patient as you look for a good location. “I’ve made finding scattered campsites a part of the fun,” says Long. “It can take a while to drive around and find a seat, so remember that the journey begins the moment you get in the car.”

Leave the land untouched

When camping anywhere, but especially in scattered camping Areas On public land it is important to understand the principles of. to be followed Don’t leave any traces. That means disposing of all waste properly, respecting plants and wildlife, following campfire regulations and minimizing the impact.

“When we camp out and about, we accept our place as stewards of the land,” says Reyes-Acosta. “It’s less about moving away from other people and more about getting in touch with the experience of nature. The best way to do this is to take responsibility. “

Not sure what to do with human waste? Consider a Storage toilet or Pack bags. (For more information, see Outside‘s guide to poop almost anywhere.) The same goes for yours Dog poop: pick up and unpack.

Find out if you can make a campfire before lighting a match. Due to the risk of forest fires, many public countries have strict restrictions on campfires during the dry summer months. If you can start a fire, make sure you follow the guidelines How to properly put out your campfire. Better still, just skip the fire and use Solar lights or lanterns instead.

“I’ve found that I can have an equivalent or better experience without fire,” says Reyes-Acosta. “You can see the stars better, and there is something about being under this big night sky, looking up and remembering why we are here and what we do with our friends in these beautiful natural spaces.”

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