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  1. Default Out West: A few questions

    Hey there everyone. A few buddies and I are leaving Chicago and driving out to Yellowstone and then the Grand Cayon.

    The only thing is we're planning on stopping anywhere that interests us on our journey, and this is where my question arises.

    While we are on the road, let's say we're driving through a really desolate area, in Wyoming or one of the Dakotas. Is it there any trouble with pulling off the road and driving a bit off road and just stopping and camping out?

    Also, if we come across a forest, or mountains and we just want to hike and turns out the hike is great and we want to camp out on our trail. The trail is not associated with a national park and we leave the car on the side of the road, is this possible.

    Pretty much, I just want to know if impulsive and spontaneous camping is against the law, or if the repercussions for doing so are not so nice.

    I hope I got my question across alright. Thanks for your answers in advance!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default trespassing

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    Let me ask you a question, how would you like it if someone was driving on your street, decided it was a nice place, and so they set up a tent on your back lawn?

    Essentially, this is what you are proposing to do. All land in the US is owned by someone, even in what you might perceive to be a desolate area. There are areas within national forest and other public lands where camping is allowed, but you need to make sure you are in those areas before you set up shop. Any other course of action would basically be trespassing, and you'd be at risk of being prosecuted as such.
    Last edited by Midwest Michael; 08-25-2008 at 04:19 PM. Reason: spellin

  3. #3

    Default Public lands

    Hello Viajero,

    What MM says is certainly accurate, and particularly for the Dakotas and much of eastern WY, to cite the two states you yourself mentioned as possible locales for spontaneous camping/hiking. What is not mentioned is that the great majority of land in the mountain west, and much of intermountain valleys, is public land.

    The great, great majority of public land in the West is administered by either the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the National Forest Service (NF). It's rather easier to tell where the NF lands are since they're primarily watershed mountain ranges and ridges, forested to one degree or another, and fairly well signed. In my experience, it's far more difficult to tell when you're on BLM lands, as these lands might occupy alternating sections of expansive valley floors and not be heavily marked with signage.

    That said, the NF lands are by and large open to camping at whatever place a person wants to set up camp, so long as it's not specifically barred at such place due to environmental, congestion, or other issues. Besides that, the NFs offer hundreds and hundreds of campgrounds, some primitive, some fairly well developed. Aside from the campgrounds, several NF units offer fully furnished cabin rentals. These are, for the most part, NOT high luxury cabins, but are instead small structures originally used by NF work crews in the days when their weekly duties in the forest were too far from town to justify a horseback ride back to town each day. The NF work crew cabins I've stayed in were furnished with a campstove, camp plates and cookware, utensils, and bunks. Each had an outhouse and a well pump. The last time I rented one in Montana, it cost $15/night.

    What I suggest to you is to spend a few hours reviewing National Forest websites along your intended path. With that path taking you to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, you'll be surrounded by National Forests the entire time. Perhaps it'd be a good idea to consider looking around the BLM websites, too, for information on camping on BLM lands. Oh, and if your Road Trip will involve a small group all in one vehicle, by all means get a Season's Pass at the first Federal facility you come to, or go online to get one. The Pass will get your carload (up to 4 people, perhaps?) into each National Park and National Monument which charges a daily access fee. It's not good for campground fees and the like, but the basic admission charge is covered.

    Once you have those generalities figured out, have a close look at a high-quality highway atlas. The better volumes offer surprising detail on where the National Forest areas are, and some even show campground symbols. You will likely find you can route yourselves to remain close to NFs and their entire array of developed campgrounds, hiking trails, and "camp wherever you want to" areas. For greater levels of detail, look herein for where to by RoadTrip Books such as DeLorme or Benchmark guidebooks, normally sold on a state-by-state basis. I would hazard a guess that $100-120 worth of atlases, NF maps purchased, and a general campground guidebook like Woodall's would have your crew fully equipped for spontanaeity AND having a clue what you'll find when you decide to sally forth to that range of mountains over yonder.

    Enjoy the planning and the trip. Remember what I always say about spontaneous activities: I love them, so long as they're planned well in advance.....


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Another Safety Concern

    What most people don't realize about the west is that we operate under 'open range' laws. It is not up to the ranchers to fence in their livestock, it's up to you to fence them out. Should a herd decide to trample through your campsite in the middle of the night, you could find yourself seriously injured and liable for scaring an ounce of flesh of one of the steers. Also, the west is such a crazy patchwork quilt of public and private land that unless you have a very large scale ownership map and an accurate GPS you will never know whose land you're on. There are more than enough national and state forests and parks with cheap to free camping that just trusting to you 'luck' and the kindness of strangers is just not a very worthwhile idea.


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