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Old 07-30-09, 02:16 AM   #1
deeg_quest
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Long Ride to Find No Camping Spot?

My son and I are just starting to get into touring this year and we started with a couple of local overnight tours to practice and confirm we had the right equipment.
We completed one short trip to a local state park without a problem. So on our next trip I decided to go a little further, about 33 miles. Not wanting to get to the park and find they were full, I called ahead and got the indication that there was still space but they did not accept reservations.
When we arrived I quickly spotted the "Camp Full" sign. I confirmed with the park ranger they were full and nothing was available. But there was no way we were riding home especially since my son was tired of riding and we just came down a 1.5 mile hill so steep we hit 40mph. So I asked a few probing questions like "is there any other camping options" and then kind of stood there with a "what are we going to do look". She then said something like "well since you are on bikes maybe you can find an open camp spot". That's all the invitation I needed and I quickly said OK and we continued into the park. Fortunately it was a very large forested park and we found a fairly secluded spot in the official day use area where we ended up "stealth camping" without a problem. It turned out to be a great spot without any neighbors at all. We even had a deer visit us in the morning.
I felt a little bad about not getting official permission, but I didn't want to risk asking permission and getting rejected because they park rangers were obligated to follow the camp rules.

Anybody else have other stories about trouble finding a spot to camp after a long ride?

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Old 07-30-09, 02:53 AM   #2
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It looks like a fantastic spot to camp, and a positive experience with your son to remember for a long time.

During my travels in Asia, I have only ever stealth camped or stayed in flea bag guest houses. It can be very difficult knowing what is on the road ahead in terms of places to stay and places to re-supply - particularly in rural and semi-rural area.

On a longer tour in less populated areas, I would recommend looking for accommodation a couple of hours before dark. If it's dark at 6pm, start looking around 4pm. If you find something right away and the price/location is good, have an early night. If not, keep going; you'll have a buffer without leaving it until it's almost dark.
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Old 07-30-09, 07:32 AM   #3
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Congrats on the ingenuity you exercised on dealing with this situation. Makes you a "professional" tourer.

You're right about not putting ranger/authorities on the spot by asking needless questions to which the rules will require them to answer "no", even tho they really want to say "yes." Common sense and a "feeling" for the situation is the best guide for dealing with iffy issues.

My friend and I stealthed in a large, nice state park in Florida that had no 'official' camping sites, rather than having to pay $100 for a room in the lodge. We had paid an entry fee. Sometimes you just gotta work around rules that make no sense for a touring cyclist.
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Old 07-30-09, 08:24 AM   #4
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I've found the rangers to be willing to bend the official rules a bit. A few years ago I arrived at the park at which I had planned to camp only to find it closed for a major construction project and signs suggested an alternate only a few miles up the road. Upon arriving there they said they were full. I did pretty much what the OP did - asked for suggestions on what to do. First the ranger started listing other possible parks, but quickly realized that none were feasible given the time of day and reasonable biking speed. So then he volunteered that one of the camping loops was closed for maintenance but I might find a spot there - which I did.

Earlier this summer I was heading south on the Calif. coast when I got to a small town in the afternoon and saw another cycle tourist talking to a CHP officer. That cyclist was headed north and was asking about possible camping spots. Unfortunately the next two campgrounds were closed because of the effects of last year's fires and it would require a pretty long ride to get to the next open one. I was waiting for the CHP to leave so I could give him some advice about reasonable unofficial places to camp when the officer himself suggested just finding a spot off the road to pitch his tent and mentioned a couple likely options.
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Old 07-30-09, 08:26 AM   #5
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If you are at a full campground, chances are very high that someone in the campground will be willing to share with you.

So ride past the camp-full sign with a smile and wave at the ranger, and look for someone who isn't using much of the site and is hanging around outside. Ask if you can split the site and the cost with them.

I usually do NOT tell a sad story of how screwed I'll be if I can't find a spot / they don't share, because you want to leave them a polite way to refuse your request. There's a fine art to asking for help on bike tour, and it's really easy to manipulate people to get what you want, but it doesn't really feel good and it's not really fair to the benefactor/vicitm.
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Old 07-30-09, 12:15 PM   #6
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If you are at a full campground, chances are very high that someone in the campground will be willing to share with you.
Did exactly that last year at a full campground. Worked out just fine. I looked around for a guy camping by himself, figuring he'd be more willing to share than a couple or family with kids. Just luck for sure to find another solo camper. Turned out to be a very interesting experience and he would not accept any payment.

I've also stealthed just outside parks and then paid a day use fee, $3, for use of their facilities.
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Old 07-31-09, 07:13 AM   #7
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some state have provisions that state parks cannot turn away hikers or bikers from campgrounds that are full, requiring the park rangers to find accommodation. this is recognition that human propelled travellers may not be able to travel to the next camp before dark.

quite sensible really, I've had to speak up once or twice on this and been granted a spot in a common area.
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Old 07-31-09, 07:38 AM   #8
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some state have provisions that state parks cannot turn away hikers or bikers from campgrounds that are full, requiring the park rangers to find accommodation. this is recognition that human propelled travellers may not be able to travel to the next camp before dark.

quite sensible really, I've had to speak up once or twice on this and been granted a spot in a common area.
Bekologist, your post just made my day!
I just got off the phone with the Minnesota DNR State Parks and was told the rangers will put you up regardless if the park is full. I did not know this, and it sure would have come in handy a few times.
Thanks!
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Old 07-31-09, 07:55 AM   #9
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Bekologist, your post just made my day!
I just got off the phone with the Minnesota DNR State Parks and was told the rangers will put you up regardless if the park is full. I did not know this, and it sure would have come in handy a few times.
Thanks!
That is the case a lot of places and it should be.
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Old 07-31-09, 08:54 AM   #10
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This is also the case in wisconsin; the DNR has confirmed it with me - come to think of it we should make a nice list about these laws - very useful!
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Old 07-31-09, 09:07 AM   #11
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This is also the case in wisconsin; the DNR has confirmed it with me - come to think of it we should make a nice list about these laws - very useful!
Maybe start a new thread and get it made into a sticky?
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Old 07-31-09, 11:52 AM   #12
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On tour improvisaton is common. Last year son and I finally got to Lockport on the Erie Canal at 11pm and set up on a grassy area of a factory.

The same thing happened four days later and pitched our tent alongside of a canal parking lot. There are times we have no choice but to simply make do.

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Old 07-31-09, 02:42 PM   #13
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If you're just getting into touring, you need to check this site out:

http://www.biketoledo.net

Tons of good stuff for relative newcomers.
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Old 07-31-09, 07:00 PM   #14
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We've had a lot of experiences where park wardens find a spot for us somewhere if they are full - but it isn't always that way. One night we couldn't find a spot and had pulled back off the road to hide - but a ranger saw us heading back. He got downright nasty! I don't even remember what we ended up doing that night, but we found something somewhere!
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Old 07-31-09, 11:31 PM   #15
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Sometimes you can just sneak in and find some friendly folks in a campsite that are willing to share space. Tent campers are usually more friendly than RV campers and older folks are more friendly than young. Remember that with cutbacks many campgrounds are not staffed after 5pm or so.
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Old 07-31-09, 11:57 PM   #16
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I had this happen last month, sort of.

I left Kent Island that morning and reached my destination of Trappe, MD, late afternoon. I discovered several things about Trappe:

- it's a very pretty town;
- they only have one diner, which closes at 4 PM. I arrived at 4:15.
- the town has two parks, neither of which had running water.
- the nature center I'd arranged to camp in turned out to be not as described to me. There was no water, and instead of having the gate unlocked I was told I could "throw my bike over the gate."

I began to panic, but then remembered staehpj1's advice about knocking on the doors of churches. Before I got that far I met someone who could help me. I wound up camping in the backyard of one of the town's councilmen.

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Old 08-01-09, 05:36 AM   #17
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Last fall I decided to do an over nighter to a state park about 35 miles from my home. There had been a big weather front move through the day before and the forcast was for very good camping weather that night. I arrived at the campground just before dark only to discover that a small tornado had hit the night before! There where trees down, limbs hanging and the gates where closed. The ranger was was doing cleanup as I started asking about alternatives he suggested the campgrouns on the other side of the lake! This would have been no problem in a car, but I guess I did whine a little about the time of day and fact that it would take me 2 more hours to ride there in the dark. He made a few calls, asked how early I would be leaving and offered me a day use area a mile or so down the road. At least it had a bathroom and running water!
I have also stayed on church grounds and hide outs when fate made that option nessary.

I also like the rule some places have about having to put up hikers and cyclist, even if the grounds are full. Most solo cyclist and hikers use so little space it should be no problem to put them up.

Unless it's a weekend, I have camped in many campgrounds that have almost no one in them, especially the ones that seperate the RV campers from the tent campers.
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Old 08-01-09, 05:54 AM   #18
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My unfortunate place to camp story happened when in college.

I decided to cycle from Boston to tip of Cape Cod and take the ferry back to town. Total distance is ~135 miles and there was a youth hostel in Orleans at about the 100 mile mark. It was a hot day so I left very early to get in some cycling while it was cool. Other than the heat, cycling went well enough that I found myself at the hostel a little after 1pm. I waited briefly under the trees but hostel had a sign that it didn't open until 5pm and it was hot enough that I decided "what the heck, hot enough that I'll ride to P-town" at tip of Cape Cod.

Once I got to P-town, there were big signs saying "no camping on the beach, $50 fine". So I looked at my little tourist map and found two campgrounds. I hadn't planned on camping so only had my sleep sack for the hostel. When I went to the first campground to check in, one question they asked was "do you have a tent?" I answered truthfully and they told me I wouldn't be able to camp.

So I circled around to the second campground. Fortunately they didn't ask about my non-existent tent. I picked a site from the map way off on edges of the campground. I walked my bike in and parked it to go walk through town until almost dark so nobody would notice my lack of a tent. As I settled into my thin sleep sack, I discovered this site was off not far from a swamp and there were lots of mosquitoes. I got bitten through the thin material. Unfortunately didn't get very good sleep since I noticed mosquitoes much of the night.

I was up about 4:30am as it got light and couldn't sleep much any more, so got stuff back on the bike and decided to cycle to north side of the Cape. What did I find there? Half a dozen people sleeping on the beach! Not only would I have saved my $15 camp fee [*] but I suspect it would have been more comfortable as well.

That camp fee was fairly important since I had to keep enough $ for the ferry back and for some reason the ATM in town wasn't working. So I was rationing my $ by buying just bananas or other inexpensive things.

So in this case it wasn't that I didn't go far enough to find place to camp, but instead that I rode too far by passing up a perfectly good hostel to continue on and then tried to camp in an official campground.
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Old 08-02-09, 08:13 AM   #19
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>If you are at a full campground, chances are very high that someone in the campground will be willing to share with you.

Ew. Not so much the sharing a spot, but staying in a full campground in the first place... Oh well, horses for courses.
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Old 08-02-09, 06:53 PM   #20
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Navajo permits $5, Backcountry permits free to fee, and ranger stations are the best resources for bicyclists ask them.

I only rest
Is there any place to rest?
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Old 08-02-09, 07:41 PM   #21
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Thanks for all the input and information in your replies. Good to see I was on the right track and now I have some additional ideas for the future.
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