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Leave No Trace: Dispersed Camping Etiquette

Follow this guide to respect the campground you're visiting.

Aug 23, 2021 | Travel

Whether it is nestled among the mountain pines or on an empty stretch of beach in the sun, dispersed camping is all about enjoying nature without worrying about hookups and amenities.

But in order to keep nature as pristine and beautiful as it was the moment you drove up in your camper van, it is important to be conscious of the effects your actions might have on the wilderness. Even small actions can have a big impact on the ecosystems of the places you visit, which is why it is important to practice the right camping etiquette.

Based on the National Park Service, Leave No Trace Seven Principles, the following guide will help you ensure that you leave nature every bit as beautiful as when you arrived.

1: Plan Ahead and Prepare

Leaving no trace actually begins long before your trip. Planning ahead and preparing can help ensure that you are ready to enjoy dispersed camping the right way.

  • Before you head to an area to camp, make sure you are aware of any local regulations or requirements.
  • Be prepared for changing weather and potential emergencies.
  • Plan your trip with a small group of people. If you have a large group, consider splitting up into smaller groups so that you have less impact on the area.
  • Make sure you have a map of the area, as well as a compass and GPS. Avoid marking trails and campsites with paint, rock cairns, or flags.

2: Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Once you are prepared for your dispersed camping trip, make sure to follow the National Park Service’s second tip and only camp in locations where the ground can support your camper van. The goal is to avoid damaging the ecosystem. Remember, in many areas, particularly in high mountain country, it can take decades for vegetation to establish itself and only moments for a van to destroy it.

  • The best surfaces for camping are maintained trails, designated campsites, rock, gravel, sand, or dry grasses.
  • Never camp directly by a lake, stream, or river. Protect the quality of water by camping at least 200 feet from any body of water.
  • Never alter a campsite.
  • If you are camping in a popular location, try to park only in areas that are already established. Look for areas where there is no vegetation present.
  • When using trails in the area, stick to established trails and walk in a single file line to avoid damaging the nearby vegetation.
  • When you are dispersed camping in an area with less traffic, avoid camping in an area where the vegetation is just gaining hold.

3: Dispose of Waste Properly

One of the key principles of leaving no trace is to make sure you are disposing of all trash and waste. The goal is that no one would ever know you had visited the area once you leave.

  • If you packed it in, pack it out. Whatever you showed up to camp with, you should be driving away with. This includes leftover food.
  • If there are toilet facilities in the area, utilize them whenever possible.
  • If you need to use the woods as your bathroom, dig a cathole at least 6 to 8 inches deep. Make sure it is over 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. When you are done, cover the hole and pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • When bathing in nature or washing dishes, make sure to carry grey water at least 200 feet away from streams, rivers, and lakes. Only use small amounts of biodegradable soap.

4: Leave What You Find

Just as you should leave no trace of your presence behind, you should also leave the area intact. The next camper should be able to enjoy the same landscape as you did.

  • Take photos of cultural or historic structures and artifacts, but never touch these items or take any component of them home with you.
  • Never take rocks, plants, or other natural objects home with you.
  • Don’t build structures or dig trenches in camping areas.

5: Minimize Campfire Impacts

Sitting by a crackling fire at night is one of the greatest joys of camping. However, make sure that you are careful to minimize the impact that your campfire might have.

  • Check local regulations. Many areas face severe fire restrictions during dry seasons.
  • When possible, use a lightweight stove for cooking. Use a candle lantern or solar-powered light.
  • If campfires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mount fires.
  • Keep your fire small.
  • Only use dead wood that has fallen to the ground and can be broken by hand. Check local regulations to ensure that gathering firewood is permitted.
  • Burn your fire down to ash and put the fire out completely before leaving. A fire should be drowned and stirred until it is cool enough for you to touch with your hand.

6: Respect Wildlife

When you are dispersed camping, you are often spending time in the natural habitat of many critters. Remember, this is their home, so please treat it as such.

  • Enjoy watching wildlife from a distance. Never approach wildlife.
  • Do not feed animals. Feeding wildlife of any kind can alter their natural behaviors, damage their health, and even expose them to danger.
  • Keep wildlife safe by storing your food and trash securely.
  • If you bring pets with you, keep them on a leash or under your control at all times.

7: Be Considerate of Other Visitors

While you might find yourself spending plenty of time alone in the woods when you opt for dispersed camping, make sure you are considerate of others who might also be seeking out the quiet of nature.

  • Be respectful of others.
  • Be courteous, yielding to others on trails and roads.
  • Avoid creating loud noises, whether that be your voice or playing music. Instead, let others enjoy the sounds of nature.

Begin Your Journey into the World of Dispersed Camping

Dispersed camping is a wonderful way to get out into nature, away from the crowds. Start planning your next camping adventure by finding the camping sites from the BLM or The Dyrt.

At Antero Adventure Vans, we can help you find the perfect camper van to take you on your next dispersed camping journey. Our Class B vans are the ideal off-grid rigs, providing you with all the comforts and luxuries you desire without the need for hookups or traditional campsites.

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