What is dispersed camping and how to find it?

Dispersed camping is a type of camping that is done outside of designated campgrounds. It is often referred to as “backcountry camping” or “wilderness camping” because it allows campers to experience the natural environment in a more remote and secluded setting.

One of the main advantages of dispersed camping is that it is usually free or much less expensive than camping in a designated campground. It also allows campers to have a more authentic outdoor experience, as they are not surrounded by the amenities and conveniences of a developed campground.

How to find dispersed camping areas

To find dispersed camping areas, the first step is to research the area where you plan to camp. National forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands are often good places to start, as these types of public lands often have designated areas for dispersed camping. Some national parks also allow dispersed camping, although it may be more restricted in these areas.

When researching potential dispersed camping areas, it’s important to keep in mind the type of terrain and weather conditions that you might encounter. Some dispersed camping areas may be more suitable for experienced campers or those with certain types of outdoor equipment, such as four-wheel drive vehicles or high-clearance vehicles.

Once you’ve identified a potential dispersed camping area, the next step is to contact the land management agency that oversees the area to learn more about the specific rules and regulations for dispersed camping in that area. These rules may include restrictions on where you can camp, how long you can stay, and whether or not you need a permit.

It’s also a good idea to check with the land management agency to find out about any potential hazards or safety concerns in the area. For example, there may be areas that are prone to flash flooding, wildfires, or other natural disasters.

When you arrive at your dispersed camping area, the first thing you should do is to find a suitable campsite. This will typically involve driving or hiking into the area and looking for a flat, open spot that is at least 200 feet away from any water sources, such as streams or rivers. It’s also important to avoid camping in areas with sensitive vegetation or wildlife habitat.

Photo of dispersed camping sites
Choose a campsite that’s suitable for you

Once you’ve found a suitable campsite, the next step is to set up your camp. This will typically involve pitching a tent, building a fire pit, and making sure that all of your gear is properly stored and organized. When setting up your camp, it’s important to follow the “leave no trace” principles, which involve leaving the area as you found it and minimizing your impact on the natural environment.

Safety tips when dispersed camping

In addition to the “leave no trace” principles, there are also some general safety tips that you should keep in mind when dispersed camping. These include:

  • Letting someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. This is especially important if you are camping in a remote area where it may be difficult for others to find you if something goes wrong.
  • Bringing enough food, water, and supplies to last the duration of your trip. This may include items such as a first aid kit, a map and compass, and a flashlight or headlamp.
  • Being prepared for changing weather conditions. This may involve bringing extra layers of clothing, a waterproof shelter, and other gear that can help you stay warm and dry in case of inclement weather.
  • Being cautious with fire. This may involve only building fires in designated fire pits, keeping fires small and manageable, and making sure that they are completely extinguished before you leave your campsite.

Where to use the bathroom when disperse camping?

When disperse camping, you can use a bathroom or toilet facility at a nearby campground or rest area, if available. If there are no nearby facilities, you can dig a “cat hole” to use as a toilet.

Old wooden latrine in a dispersed camping area.
Old latrine in dispersed camping area

To do this, find a spot at least 200 feet away from any water source, dig a hole 6-8 inches deep, and use it as a toilet. When you are finished, cover the hole with soil and pack out any toilet paper or other waste. It is important to follow Leave No Trace principles when camping in order to protect the environment.

Overall, dispersed camping can be a rewarding and enjoyable way to experience the natural environment. By doing your research, following the rules and regulations, and taking the necessary precautions, you can have an enjoyable camping experience.

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