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Old 11-20-09, 04:15 AM   #1
univegator
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camping wild the US

Pitching a tent in the US?

I wonder what experience you have with "free-camping" in the US. Are there any states that is especially suitble for this and even more important are there any where its really not a good idea? How does asking for permission work? In Europe for example where I'm from, you can generally ask and count on finding a place to sleep in somebodys lawn in the west (holland, belgium, great britan etc) but in the east forget about it. But in the east you freecamp pretty much anywhere without being botherd on the other hand. How does the U.S work?

We are loosly looking into crossing the states on bike and we freecamp almost always so any information on it would be great. Heard something about "goverment owned land" where its legal in CERTAIN states. Its sounds like a mess to me, how are you supposed to know who owns what?

We do obide by the "free-campers-code" and do never leave trash or camp where something is planted etc. We justl dont want to be shot for trespassing or something =) We camp in forests when we can but usually its next to cornfields etc. Will that piss an american farmer off? I really dont want to step on anybodys toes here. At the same time, I dont want to pay 20+ dollars for a campground every night.

All the best

Chris
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Old 11-20-09, 07:28 AM   #2
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I stealth camp, look for public forest land or woods. Go way off road, no fires, no litter, no noise. Also never camp land posted as no trespassing.When I get an hour or so from wanting to stop I go down a small paved road, then find a 2 track road off that. Sometimes takes a while but saves lots of money and you get a quiet nights sleep.Leave early.National forest land it's legal, national park never try it without a permit.
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Old 11-20-09, 10:57 AM   #3
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Much like Europe, practices do vary in the U.S., loosely depending on location. Looking at decent maps, you'll find vast areas, particularly in the western U.S., that are public lands. Areas defined as National Forests, or administered by the Bureau of Land Management, are pretty much camp anywhere desintations. State and national parks are generally far more rule-bound, permitting camping either in designated campgrounds or pretty much anywhere in mapped "Wilderness Areas." However, wilderness areas are closed to all vehicles, including bicycles.

Couple of options: in much of the country, asking a police officer where camping is permitted will produce an offer of camping at the town park. Pools and showers are sometimes available. Fairgrounds are another good option. Check out the warmshowers organization on the Web. Members open up their homes and yards to travelers.

We have free camped, selecting areas that are not fenced or posted "No Trespassing," and never had a problem. It's a big country. You'll certainly find places to sleep when you need to. And never underestimate the kindness of strangers.
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Old 11-20-09, 11:51 AM   #4
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Great information already posted.

Generally, empty western states like Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Montana are easy to free camp in. Much of the land is BLM or Forest Service. You can legally camp on most of it. Camping isn't allowed where posted. That's generally in the most popular areas and around campgrounds (where you are supposed to stay in the campground). It is difficult to figure out exactly what land is government owned and legal to camp on. To do so properly, you need detailed government maps. Few people really do this. If you're in Nevada, you can pretty much assume that any land that isn't obviously private is government land that you can sleep on. The problem is that there are countless tiny pieces of private land that are unmarked and interspersed amongst public land. The only way to find them is with a good map. I don't worry about it, and just pitch my tent. There are very, very few rangers around.

There are also vast parts of America with little to no public land. To generalize, free, legal camping is very difficult to find in the midwest and eastern states, but also much of California. Some people choose to "stealth camp", which is generally illegal. But the idea is that you hopefully don't get caught. In many places, it's difficult to stealth camp.
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Old 11-20-09, 11:56 AM   #5
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Some farmers are nice. Some farmers are not. Many small town people will find it a great novelty that a foreigner is riding a bike through their area. One thing to consider, farms in much of america are huge and corporate owned. There often are no trees to camp in. You may of some success in farming areas camping in plain sight in small town public parks. It's often allowed.

In general, I think that the farther away you are from a city, the nicer people are.

One hugely untapped idea: The US has a HUGE immigrant latino population, even in rural america. I wonder if recent immigrants would be more open to being kind to strangers.
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Old 11-20-09, 12:24 PM   #6
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I have posted detailed information many times.
Here -
http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...hlight=camping
And here -
Well, I was going to add a detailed description of each type of public land agency,
but the new website has mucked up the search and/or archive.
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Old 11-20-09, 01:02 PM   #7
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Much of the Western U.S. is public land; National Park Service, Forest Service, or Bureau of Land Management (BLM). As noted above, you can legally camp anywhere on Forest Service land unless it is otherwise posted. The same goes for BLM land. You can sometimes camp on National Park Service land outside of an established campground but it varies between the different parks and monuments. In some of the National Monuments here in Arizona, it is illegal to even walk off the established roads because of they don't want the public to disturb sensitive prehistoric ruins.
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Old 11-20-09, 04:21 PM   #8
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There are also vast parts of America with little to no public land. To generalize, free, legal camping is very difficult to find in the midwest and eastern states, but also much of California. Some people choose to "stealth camp", which is generally illegal. But the idea is that you hopefully don't get caught. In many places, it's difficult to stealth camp.
There are plenty of places to free camp in the midwest. I am not sure about the eastern states, because I have never tried. What makes you think stealth camping is illegal? Stealth camping is not illegal.
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Old 11-20-09, 08:51 PM   #9
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With your experience, and some ingenuity, I doubt you'd have much problem finding places to free camp in the US. The rule of thumb is the same here as there: be as inconspicuous as possible, and leave no trace. As English speaking 'foreigners,' Brits I assume, I dare say your reception here may be more generous than for natives, people more willing to go out of their way a bit to help.

One tactic I've used to avoid camping fees at public parks, and still avail myself of needed services, is to just free camp somewhere nearby, and buy a day pass, usually $5 or less.

Small town city parks are often hospitable. I check them out to get a 'feel' for their potential, especially for concealment. Adventure Cycling Association maps are great for this sort of information, as well as much, much more. Highly recommended for non-natives crossing the US on a bicycle.

Www.warmshowers.org can be a great way to meet people and be hosted overnight, with either a tent spot or warm bed. Plenty of advance warning suggested.
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Old 11-20-09, 09:42 PM   #10
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Buy or visit your on tour library and look for a Gazetteer.
A map book with all the colors (public lands). Look for a Trespass sign (may be faded) no matter where you are.

Visit a Ranger station and you will get ooodles of "dispersed camping". Take a picture of the map for latter.

Some of our Motto's.
"Pack it in pack out"
"No Open flames"
And near the Mexico border
"Stranger Danger"

I am leaving for a wild week Nice and sunny! 70s
Southeast Arizona.
http://www.bikely.com/maps/bike-path/t-day-final
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Old 11-21-09, 12:30 AM   #11
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There are plenty of places to free camp in the midwest. I am not sure about the eastern states, because I have never tried. What makes you think stealth camping is illegal? Stealth camping is not illegal.
Stealth camping is not illegal. It is trespassing on private land, or camping in a no camping zone which is illegal. I generally stealth camp in order to sleep in a place that I'm not supposed to sleep. Therefore, it is often illegal.

What types of legal, free, public land camping is abundant in the midwest?
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Old 11-21-09, 08:20 AM   #12
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Many thanks for the awesome replies. I must admit that I've been somewhat nervous about free camping the U.S and I still am to some extent but the information really helps. Free-camping is such an important part of biketouring that it would be hard to do it without (for me).

I have checked warmshowers before actually but I gave it no further thought due to the fact that I've been a fairly active couchsurfer and to get a place with this organisation takes so much time. It is a great concept, but when I tour I tend never to use it. Internet-cafes are often far in between and to keep up with all the rejections and dates here and there is too much for me =)
Any thought on that, perhaps warmshowers is a bit less complicated?

On a totally unrelated topic, whats your best chance of riding "with the wind" in the U.S. Is there any windpatterns to be recognized? I remember talking to somebody who I think (I could have been the opposite) rode from Seattle to San Diego and had tailwind all the way. He claimed to have planned it this way. Could have been tailwind San Diego-Seattle. I am just very curious to if there is any well know bits that has a pretty consistant wind-pattern?

Thanks again everyone, I cannot wait to get over there and start biking.
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Old 11-21-09, 09:04 AM   #13
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Winds on the Calif coast favor the north-south route pretty consistently. They can be very strong, 40+ mph.

IMO and experience, winds are more likely to be favorable if crossing the country west to east, especially in the mid west and west. OTOH, many prefer a east to west crossing to avoid the morning sun, as most riding seems to take place before late afternoon. There is a safety element in this, the rising sun blinding motorist. East to west also saves the best part for last from a scenery perspective.
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Old 11-21-09, 09:40 AM   #14
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Everything pertaining to stealth camping have pretty much been covered. I, too, recommend it as the perfect companion to bike touring. Why? Because it is so easy, relatively safe and it fits into the unpredictable nature of traveling by bike. With my wife and 10 year old son I recently completed a 44 day tour from Washington State to Utah, and stealth camped for over 35 nights, with no issues.

Plan to carry generous amounts of water in the western states, and possibly even a water filter. A green tent is a plus. Bathe in creeks and rivers, poop in holes and pack out the TP. We also have a super light 14w solar panel so we can hang out in the woods and mountains instead of a gas station or other grid-connected place while phone and camera charges.

Like you I find the Couch Surfing/Warm Showers deal too much trouble with the need for frequent online sessions and other scheduling. Have often intended to use these services, but never have!!
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Old 11-21-09, 12:50 PM   #15
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Stealth camping is not illegal. It is trespassing on private land, or camping in a no camping zone which is illegal. I generally stealth camp in order to sleep in a place that I'm not supposed to sleep. Therefore, it is often illegal.

What types of legal, free, public land camping is abundant in the midwest?
Well, I don't break the laws. But there are a lot of unused and unimproved land in the Midwest. Every state except Wisconsin allows travelers to be on this type of land, so it is not illegal. I don't know a lot of "public" land, but there is a lot of private land and it is not illegal.
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Old 11-21-09, 12:56 PM   #16
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Many country church yards are excellent places to stealth camp. If you are gone early, nobody knows you were there. If there is a Rectory, permissoin is almost always granted, frequently with water, shower, toilet, permission.
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Old 11-22-09, 08:20 AM   #17
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On a totally unrelated topic, whats your best chance of riding "with the wind" in the U.S. Is there any windpatterns to be recognized?
It depends on the exact route and time of year. For the Trans America Route you will have more tailwinds in the parts of the country where it matters most going E-W.



That said, there are so many factors to consider that might over ride this one. For example starting early in the season you are likely to miss the heat and humidity in the east and the cold and snow in the west going E-W, but the later you start the more it tends to favor W-E.

There is the factor of whether you want the sun in your eyes in the morning or evening. Then there is whether you want the toughest climbs out of the way early or want to wait until you are road hardened. BTW, the worst of the climbing is in Virginia it also has the highest total elevation change of any state on the TA. The climbs are much shorter than in the west but also much steeper. The the west you will typically climb for many miles at 5-8% and in the east for a couple miles at 15-20% over and over. I found the latter to be much harder.

Some of that is quite specific to the TA (the wind stuff especially) and other routes will vary, but much of it applies to any coast to coast route.
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Old 11-22-09, 11:04 AM   #18
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I"ll just throw this out there. I grew up on a farm in Western Nebraska and if someone asked us we would have let them. Another good place to try would be an empty pasture. If they have a lot of cattle they will have several pastures to rotate their stock through, most with a windmill to pump fresh ground water (at least ours did). l
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Old 11-22-09, 03:07 PM   #19
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While stealth camping is fun and worthwhile, you don't have to find a rough patch of woods in order to camp. On my tour this summer I always found small town parks and churches in the country as good places to set up a tent. Most of the time no one was around, so I didn't ask, but no one noticed anything and I left without a trace.

You should try to ask if you can stay in a church lawn or town park, but if you can't you wont be in any big trouble. Small town and country people can be very nice and they'll most likely be too curious about you as a traveling cyclist than they are worried about you camping for a night.
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Old 11-22-09, 04:10 PM   #20
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While stealth camping is fun and worthwhile, you don't have to find a rough patch of woods in order to camp. On my tour this summer I always found small town parks and churches in the country as good places to set up a tent. Most of the time no one was around, so I didn't ask, but no one noticed anything and I left without a trace.

You should try to ask if you can stay in a church lawn or town park, but if you can't you wont be in any big trouble. Small town and country people can be very nice and they'll most likely be too curious about you as a traveling cyclist than they are worried about you camping for a night.
+1

Rural churches often have a parsonage next door, least in the South, where permission can be asked. Otherwise, should be no problem if you avoid Wed/Sun nights. There is often an outside water spigot.
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Old 11-22-09, 04:44 PM   #21
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While stealth camping is fun and worthwhile, you don't have to find a rough patch of woods in order to camp. On my tour this summer I always found small town parks and churches in the country as good places to set up a tent. Most of the time no one was around, so I didn't ask, but no one noticed anything and I left without a trace.

You should try to ask if you can stay in a church lawn or town park, but if you can't you wont be in any big trouble. Small town and country people can be very nice and they'll most likely be too curious about you as a traveling cyclist than they are worried about you camping for a night.
I have often camped in churchyards or town parks in the rural US. Asking the local police usually gives a lead. More often on my last tour I asked someone at the convenience store or general store. In that case I didn't request permission, I just asked if I was likely to be bothered. Wait staff, clerks, librarians, police, firemen, and just folks I met all have been of assistance.

If you will be traveling on an Adventure Cycling route many places to stay for free will be listed on the maps, or at least they are on the Trans America maps. Several times we stayed indoors in churches on the TA.

The town parks are usually my first option in the more rural portion of the US. They range from a grassy lot with a gazebo or pavilion, to a facility with athletic fields, restrooms, showers, and a pool.

I consider stealth camping as a last resort and generally don't need too.

I suspect that you will have more trouble finding places to camp in the East than the rest of the country, but while I am from the east coast I have only toured here as a portion of the Trans America and stayed with family and friends most of the time here. So I don't have much experience here.
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