Camping in the United States brings lots of fun in a plethora of campsites some of which are accessible with permits and others with no reservation at all. The campgrounds have a range of owners which include Bureau of Land Management, National parks, National Forests, Local Parks, and private owners. Each of these may have their requirements on how to get a camping permit.
Note that there are different types of permits. You may need a camping permit, a parking permit, and a campfire permit. The requirements of these permits depend on the type of lands you plan to camp at.
Applying for a permit shouldn’t be a daunting task at all when given abundant online resources. There is no need to visit the campground to make bookings because recreation.gov provides ample information on how to find campsites and book for a permit.
If you feel that camping with a permit is cumbersome, you may opt for no-reservation campgrounds where you do not need a camping permit at all.
There are plenty of these campgrounds; however, many of them have no camping facilities such as water sources, clean toilets or designated fireplaces.
In a quest to make your camping adventures an absolute breeze, we’ve compiled this guide on how to get a camping permit in the United States. The guide highlights the rules and link to relevant websites where you can get more information.
We wrap it with information on how to camp without a permit.
How to Get a Camping Permit Easily in the US 2018?
As aforementioned, the United States’ campgrounds are under assorted management agencies. In a privately owned land, state parks, and local parks, you should expect permits to access their sites. These permits are a couple with fees on a day to day basis. Among others, it can be pricey in a private land.
Oftentimes, the regulated and monitored campgrounds come standard with a plethora of camping facilities to make your adventures even more interesting.
The choice is yours that which land fulfills your ideal outdoor adventure before you learn how to get a camping permit for a specific campsite.
How to get started…
Well, first find the best place that is characterized by exotic landscapes, picturesque mountains, beautiful lakes and many more amenities. Basically, one can consider two camping types in the United States, viz. recreational camping and wilderness camping.
Recreational camping is for those who want to indulge in the comfort of their homes. That can include bringing your electronics.
On the other hand, a wilderness camping, also primitive camping, involves just camping in proximity to the natural environment. National parks, private land, and local parks accommodate such camping adventures and supplement them with laundry facilities, showers, toilets and convenience stores – all at a fee.
But, most campsites for primitive camping do not have facilities.
Visitors need to familiarize themselves with the rules governing each campground. Most of the rules are printed at the back of the permit. They are also highlighted in details on websites.
Getting the Camping Permit
By using the recreational.gov website, you can access as many camping grounds as possible in all the states. The website serves as the one-stop resource center for your camping needs in the United States.
It has the map where you can locate the favorite campgrounds and then book accordingly. Its user interface is easy to navigate.
Not only will you be able to book, but also explore the amenities or activities offered at your chosen location. Please familiarize yourself with cancellation and permit fees as highlighted in permit rules.
Alternatively, if you know the exact camping land, you can visit the specific website of the national park or private land to make bookings online. Phone and email bookings are prohibited in many of these national parks.
Without the reliance on the recreation.gov website, you may still be able to locate the national parks, local parks, and privately-owned land. This could be through the maps sold at modest prices in outdoor supplies stores. I
f you haven’t analyzed maps before, you may struggle at first, but it shouldn’t take you that long.
Get to understand the map and see how the national parks, national forests and state parks are arranged. Then pick a specific place. Surely Google can help locate the website where you can make direct bookings.
Nonetheless, the aforementioned one-stop resource center remains unparalleled to help you about how to get a camping permit in the US.
As much as national forests are free to explore, you may still need permits if you camp more than a day. It depends from one land to the other. The sigh of relief is that you do not have to spend so much money per night.
How Many Days is a Camping Permit Valid?
At most, a camping permit is valid for 14 consecutive nights. You have to vacate by noon on your last. Avoid being kicked out if you exceed these days because these reserved campgrounds are in high demands in busy seasons. But you can extend your stay by communicating with the management and then pay extra.
Note that these permits are not transferable and can only be used on the specific dates of reservation.
It is advisable to book for permits at least 30 days prior to the start of your camping. Depending on the location chosen, you may be charged from $5 per site per night with a reservation fee of $10. Take note of cancellation fees and refund policies.
A group may be charged double the price of an individual.
Usually, if the number of your camping companions exceeds 7, it will be regarded as a group and different rules may apply. There should be at least one responsible person for the group, especially if the group is composed of minors less than 18 years of age.
Other parks may not accept group campers depending on the availability of their facilities or any other reason that warrants the exception.
Also worth noting is that an email confirmation is not the permit. Print the permit two days before embarking on your journey. Otherwise, you will have to collect it in person.
Do not mistake the campfire permit for a camping permit. Not all parks allow campfires, and, again, not all seasons are good for campfires. If deemed treacherous, campfires may be prohibited, especially in drought seasons. The national park or state park management can restrict the use of fires without prior notice.
Visitors are encouraged to bring their portable camp stoves. The stove can come in handy if you are faced with wet weather where woods have soaked in rain. However, make sure the stove does not expose the natural environment to fire sparks as this is the major concern of restricting fires.
If you are given a campfire permit, you still have to adhere by special instructions per the designated areas. Usually, you are not allowed to make fire anywhere other than the designed fire rings that can contain the fire.
Moreover, you are not allowed to burn trash but the dead wood that can be purchased or collected in the nearby forest. You will not be allowed to take the wood home. Just make sure you burn all of it before you leave in line with leave no trace ethics.
Other special rules apply during your period of stay. Soak the wood in water before you leave your campsite to ensure that the fire has been extinguished completely. This prevents any fire breakout should strong winds ensue.
Also, put other flammable materials far away from the campfire even when you are around. A spark of fire can annihilate the entire park and that may invite legal actions against your ignorance.
Also worth considering are the parking permits per park. At most, only two vehicles can be allowed in most campgrounds. You have to obtain special permission for additional parking spaces if you brought extra cars. Again, this depends on the type of land you occupy. Some camping permits are inclusive of parking permits.
How to camp without a permit in the US?
US campgrounds are plentiful. That said, you do not need to only know how to get a camping permit, but also how can you camp without one. With about 154 national forests in the US, it should present ample opportunities for those wanting to camp without permits. Getting a permit can be a process and many are trying to look for better ways to avoid them.
Permits can involve lots of costs which can be straining to the budget conscious campers.
National forests are the best go-to campsites if you want to avoid the hassles of getting the camping permit. The grasslands and the BLM lands are also easy targets of camping without permits.
While you can enjoy disperse camping at these aforementioned campsites, you are still expected to practice leave no trace guidelines to preserve the natural environment for many generations to come.
Camping with no Reservation
Camping with no reservation invites no permit request. In some state forests, if you are camping for a day you may not need a camping permit while in others you may be compelled to have it.
However, even if permits are required in national forest lands, there are no fees likened to national parks and privately owned land.
The downside of many camping permits is that you have to book upfront and be bound by certain rules and restrictions of the number of days to spend. Many people would love to just think of camping out of a sudden and then hit the road to a specific spot.
However, most land is under ownership so beware of encroaching on someone’s property. Keep an eye on land markings especially the land that is in close proximity to the high way or the land that has well-maintained trails.
Where to get Started?
You have to know your public land. That said, purchase the map to locate national forests, grasslands, and BLM lands in the US. There are plenty of these lands where you can come on a first-come-first-serve and pitch a tent.
Even if there are no permits allowed in some of the state forests, you may be restricted to stay only 14 days while in BLM lands you may be restricted to spend 21 days.
Furthermore, you may be restricted to make fire anywhere you like other than designated places. Other than these restrictions, there are no other limitations as long as you practice leave no trace.
The land use may differ from one place to the other. Generally, national forests are free to explore, and so we do not expect rangers approaching you asking about permits to occupy the land. Your main challenge could be finding that specific place in close proximity to scenic views and other attractions.
In some national forests you cellphone GPS may be disconnected due to lack of network signal. We recommend getting the compass for in case.
Most of national forests are not maintained at all. You might have to clear some trees to set up your camping.
With the clear map you can choose the best place to camp at without permit. Well, if you haven’t done geography at school you might struggle a bit to understand and locate your map. Your map should display information like the following picture with clearly marked lands.
That shouldn’t be difficult to decipher your way to the nearest national forest. The best way would be to pick the land that is located far away from other parks or urban areas. That could potentially demand permits to camp at.
Disadvantages of Camping without Permits
As much as camping without permits gives you freedom of land exploration, it has its downsides. The obvious downsides include rough trails that are not well-maintained. There are no camping facilities such as toilets, showers or laundries.
You are on your own and have to clean up the place before setting up the tent and also have to clean up when you leave it. It’s a public land so everyone has a right to keep it clean.
Camping in the United States is enjoyable with or without a permit. However, monitored campgrounds have abundant facilities to make your recreational camping worthwhile. Primitive camping is often void of these facilities, but then it depends from one land to the other.
If you want the opportunity of camping on a clean land, then know how to get a camping permit in state parks, national parks or privately owned land. Recreation.gov is the best website for all your permit bookings.
If you do not want the hassles of a permit, then camping without one could be what you’re looking for. National forests are free to explore, so you might as well need no reservation or a permit to occupy one.
These forests seldom have camping facilities. But you are required to practice a leave no trace ethic.
Permit rules differ in various regulated lands. Even the fees differ. Familiarize yourself with specific rules before embarking on your journey. Also, take into account the fire permits and parking permits.