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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Camping and boondocking in the National Forests

This is the beginning of the camping season in our national forests. The US Forest Service administers 191 million acres of federal land—public land—including 187 million acres in 155 national forests and 4 million acres of national grasslands. There are 95 wild and scenic rivers, more than 133,000 miles of trails, and 4,300 designated campgrounds.

Many of these, however, are small suitable for tent camping or very small rigs. Before heading out on miles of forest service roads, make sure to check out the details on the campground first. That is enough to keep even the most active camper, boondocker, river rafter, angler, mountain biker and hiker busy for years.

The bulk of these national forest lands are in the western states. State maps usually show forest land in green shading, making them easy to find. Maps of a region’s forests as well as individual forest maps are available from FS offices. You can locate these offices on the FS Web site.

But you don’t have to stay in a designated campground. Camping in the national forests is permitted anywhere unless explicitly prohibited and signed or fenced off, or within a mile of a designated campground. The FS says you shouldn’t camp within 100 feet of a water source, but you will find obvious spots closer to some lakes and streams where campers have camped before you and will after you. Only once, when I was camped in a spot where it was evident that no other campers had camped before me, did a ranger ask me to move 100 feet away.

If you do choose such a place by a stream or lake, be very careful not to pollute it in any way. Keep your campfire and trash well back from the shoreline. Do not block any roads, no matter how unused they look. Do not cut any living trees, branches, or shrubs for fire wood. You must have a shovel handy (folding military entrenching tool OK) and a bucket (collapsible canvas OK) for throwing water on a fire. Some forests in the dry season require a free fire permit (Rangers will check for the shovel and bucket) to build a campfire.

A map of the forest is useful for exploring the roads that wind through the forests, as well as locating points of interest and identifying the terrain with elevation lines.

Check out my eBooks on boondocking on public lands and saving money on the road at

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