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7 Tips for Camping in a National Forest

7 Tips for Camping in a National Forest

lady sitting next to river in the mountains

Camping in a National Forest is free for up to 14 days in most locations around the United States. It’s an excellent option for those looking to get out and explore beyond the pavement, but one should follow some unique rules and tips before heading out. 

1. NEVER Leave Anything Behind 

Camping in a National Forest means no facilities, such as restrooms, trash cans, or water. Before you go, make sure you are ready to follow leave no trace principles. There are seven definitive principles to follow to ensure the forest is left for future generations to enjoy: 

  1. Camp on durable surfaces 
  2. Plan and prepare ahead 
  3. Dispose of waste properly 
  4. Leave what you find behind 
  5. Minimize campfire impacts 
  6. Respect wildlife 
  7. Be considerate of others 

You can learn more about these seven principles on the National Park Website

2. Download Offline Maps 

Many times, camping in National Forests also means camping out of service. The roads can be confusing, making it difficult to navigate. Google Maps allows users to download maps for offline use. This means that even without service, you can set navigation and view roads. 

To download offline maps with Google Maps, follow these steps: 

  1. Open your Google Maps app and type the National Forest name into the search bar. 
  2. Select the three dots in the top right corner of the location page. 
  3. Select ‘download offline map’ 
  4. Zoom in or out to download the desired region. 
  5. Hit ‘download’ 

Note: The large the area you select, the longer it will take to download. 

Tips for Camping in a National Forest

3. Look up National Forest Regulations 

Most National Forests follow similar rules when it comes to free camping and stay limits, however, not all. For example, Talladega, Conecuh, and Bankhead National Forests don’t allow free camping. Before heading out on a trip, look up the national forest government website to understand rules and regulations. National Forests are open to camping unless otherwise stated on their individual website. 

4. Research Designated Camping Areas 

Pop up truck camper | Project M

Many times, apps such as Sekr or iOverlander have pins and information on popular camping areas in National Forests. They can provide helpful insight, which includes details on how many camping spaces there are, road conditions, tips on how to get there, and cell service information. Read our entire list of best websites and app for camping here

It’s always best to camp in an area used for free camping previously instead of creating a more significant impact by creating a new space. Many of the designated areas will also have fire pits; if you’re lucky, the previous campers may have left some extra firewood behind. 

5. Pack Enough Water 

Dispersed camping in National Forests comes with no amenities. That means you must pack enough water for the entirety of your trip. Packing a backup water filter is also recommended for emergencies or if you will be staying near a water source. 

6. Preplan a Bathroom Solution 

No amenities also mean no bathrooms. Before you head out to camp in a National Forest, have a plan for what you will do when it comes to bathroom needs. A few common options include packing in a portable toilet, using wag bags, or digging a hole. 

Additionally, remember to plan the best option for toilet paper waste, as it cannot be left behind when using leave no trace principles. There are many solutions to this and as long as you do not leave any toilet paper behind, do what works best fo you. 

7. Bring a Shovel & Axe

Two very helpful accessories to bring along on your National Forest camping trip is a shovel and axe. A shovel can help with numerous activities, such as burying a campfire and digging waste holes. 

Dispersed camping also means harvesting your own firewood, which can be made much easier with an axe. However, part of leave no trace means to never cut down any living tree. Only source wood from previously fallen timber. 

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