With all the hullabaloo another thread has engendered, I thought I’d toss out some information on random camping – aka dispersed camping – based on years of experience in North America. Random camping differs from stealth camping in one major way – there is no stealth. It is done openly and without any grey area of legality. Rather than hiding, you can set up camp at 4:00 in the afternoon, read in the shade, splash in the creek, and sleep in if it is chilly or if you just want to.
2004 Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho
Random camping is camping on public lands that are open to the public but do not have any recreational or campground improvements – roughing it, so to speak. The advantages are many. In a day when campgrounds look and sound like parking lots, random camping allows the bicycle tourer to have a peaceful and quiet evening and night after a day of riding. Random camping allows you to experience the natural world in a manner that is often precluded in developed campgrounds. And random camping is free.
2005 Hoback River, Wyoming
Public lands in the United States and Canada are largely concentrated in the West and the North, but they do exist in other regions, as well. In the United States there are federal lands which generally permit free random camping - and state lands which generally do not. In Canada, crown lands are also both federal and provincial; however, almost all of the federal lands are in the territories while public lands in the provinces are administered provincially.
Public Lands in the United States
Here is a list of the main American agencies and lands:
1. United States Forest Service (USFS)
2. Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
3. National Park Service (NPS)
4. Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec)
5. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
Many people bike touring are unaware that they can camp legally on most USFS lands for free. Usually you have to be ½ mile away from a developed site. Also, some restrictions apply around resort areas because of overuse. These are the best places for random camping because USFS lands have streams, trees, and all the accoutrements. USFS maps are the best way to identify these lands. Since there are no services, you need to have sufficient water, water filters are now very small and lightweight. You also need a small plastic trowel for human waste. But in exchange for a minimum of effort you often receive a magical place to spend the night.
2006 Greys River, Wyoming
Here’s an example from the Bridger-Teton National Forest outside of Jackson, Wyoming. The green is forest land. The yellow is Grand Teton National Park. The brown is the National Elk Refuge. (Don’t even think about camping there.)
Even so, you can (1) stop in Moose for supplies and a drink on the deck at Dornan’s, (2) soak at Kelly Warm Springs to get the kinks out, then (3) set up camp in the foothills of Shadow Mountain with a full view of the Tetons.
2006 Teton Range near Kelly, Wyoming
BLM land is less inviting. It was what was left over that nobody wanted – at least nobody wanted it until they found oil, gold, uranium, etc. BLM land is usually found in dry basins and badlands. Water sources are rare; however, the solitude is incredible. Nowhere can you find such a profound silence that a single cricket fills the air with its music.
2005 Railroad Valley, Nevada
Here’s an example of BLM lands around Bridgeport, California east of the Sierras. The orange-brown is BLM land. The green is USFS land. The white is private land.
In this case you can (1) stop for what you need in town, (2) head out to the Travertine Hot Springs for a soak, then (3) go about a mile away to get a quiet spot to camp since hot springs can attract a rowdy crowd – with a full view of the Sierras.
2005 Sierras near Bridgeport, California
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