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Dispersed Camping Explained: What You Need To Know


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Sibella Cardenas



Picture yourself surrounded by tranquil forests, nestled in the majestic embrace of nature, far away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Imagine waking up to the songs of birds, taking in the crisp morning air, and embarking on an adventure that unfolds at your own pace.


Dispersed camping offers all this and more. It is a type of camping that allows you to escape to the great outdoors and experience the freedom of staying at undeveloped sites without the constraints of designated campgrounds. Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or a novice looking to explore, dispersed camping is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in nature and create unforgettable memories.


Unlike traditional camping, which typically involves staying in designated spots with facilities such as toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings, dispersed camping takes you off the beaten path. It allows you to choose your own secluded spot, away from the crowds, and truly connect with nature. It’s an opportunity to experience a deeper level of solitude and remoteness.


Dispersed camping is a popular choice for outdoor enthusiasts who crave a sense of freedom and a closer connection to the natural world. It offers a raw and authentic experience, allowing you to camp in undisturbed locations that are often untouched by human development. This type of camping is particularly common in national forests, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, and other public lands where camping is permitted.


In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of dispersed camping, exploring its benefits, rules and regulations, finding suitable sites, essential equipment and supplies, setting up camp, leave no trace principles, and safety tips. By the end of this article, you’ll be equipped with all the knowledge you need to embark on your own dispersed camping adventure.


What is Dispersed Camping?

Dispersed camping, also known as primitive camping or boondocking, refers to the practice of camping in non-designated sites outside of established campgrounds. It is a form of camping that allows outdoor enthusiasts to explore the wilderness and enjoy the freedom of setting up camp in more remote and natural locations.


Unlike traditional campsites with designated spaces and amenities, dispersed camping sites are typically undeveloped and lack facilities such as toilets, running water, and designated fire pits. Instead, campers must rely on their own resources and equipment to meet their basic needs.


Dispersed camping offers a sense of adventure and self-sufficiency. It allows you to step outside of the structured camping experience and immerse yourself in nature in a more intimate way. You have the opportunity to choose your own secluded spot, away from crowded campgrounds, and truly connect with the surrounding environment.


One of the main benefits of dispersed camping is the freedom it provides. You have the flexibility to camp in a variety of locations, from national forests and BLM lands to wilderness areas and state parks that allow dispersed camping. This allows you to explore different regions, landscapes, and ecosystems, providing endless opportunities for adventure and exploration.


Dispersed camping is also environmentally friendly. By staying in undeveloped areas, you minimize your impact on the environment. It allows for a more sustainable approach to camping, as you are not relying on the infrastructure and resources provided by established campgrounds.


That being said, it’s important to remember that dispersed camping is not for everyone. It requires a certain level of preparation, self-sufficiency, and respect for nature. It’s essential to be well-informed about the rules and regulations, have the necessary equipment, and practice responsible camping principles.


In the next sections, we will explore the benefits of dispersed camping, the rules and regulations you need to be aware of, how to find suitable sites, the essential equipment and supplies you’ll need, setting up camp, leave no trace principles, and safety tips. So, let’s dive in and discover the world of dispersed camping!


Benefits of Dispersed Camping

Dispersed camping offers a range of benefits that appeal to outdoor enthusiasts looking for a unique and immersive experience in nature. Here are some of the main advantages of choosing dispersed camping:

  1. Privacy and Solitude: One of the greatest advantages of dispersed camping is the privacy and solitude it provides. Unlike crowded campgrounds, where you may find yourself in close proximity to other campers, dispersed camping allows you to choose a secluded spot away from the crowds. This creates a sense of tranquility and allows you to fully enjoy the peace and quiet of the natural surroundings.
  2. Flexibility and Freedom: Dispersed camping offers the freedom to camp wherever it is permitted, allowing you to explore a wide range of landscapes and environments. Whether you prefer camping by a serene lake, nestled in a lush forest, or perched atop a scenic mountain, dispersed camping allows you to choose your own adventure and camp in unique and remote locations.
  3. Closer Connection with Nature: Dispersed camping offers a closer connection to the natural world. By immersing yourself in the wilderness, you have the opportunity to observe wildlife, admire breathtaking vistas, and experience the sights and sounds of nature up close. This can be a grounding and transformative experience, fostering a deeper appreciation for the environment and a sense of harmony with the Earth.
  4. Lower Costs: Dispersed camping is often more budget-friendly than staying at established campgrounds. Many dispersed camping locations do not require a fee, making it an economical choice for those on a tight budget. Additionally, because you are not relying on campground amenities, you can save on expenses such as campground fees and utility hookups.
  5. Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences: Dispersed camping allows you to escape the beaten path and venture into lesser-known areas. By exploring remote locations, you can uncover hidden gems and discover unique landscapes that are off the radar of most tourists. This opens up a world of adventure and the opportunity to create truly memorable experiences.

Whether you’re seeking solitude, freedom, a closer connection with nature, or unique off-the-beaten-path experiences, dispersed camping offers a range of benefits that cater to your adventurous spirit. In the next sections, we will dive deeper into the rules and regulations of dispersed camping, how to find suitable sites, and the essential equipment and supplies you’ll need for a successful camping trip.


Understanding the Rules and Regulations

Before embarking on a dispersed camping adventure, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations governing these types of campsites. While the specific guidelines may vary depending on the location, there are some common principles to keep in mind:

  1. Camping permits: Some areas may require camping permits or passes for dispersed camping. These permits may have a nominal fee and can usually be obtained online or from a local visitor center. Make sure to check the regulations of the specific area you plan to camp in and obtain any necessary permits in advance.
  2. Campsite selection: When choosing a campsite, be mindful of any restrictions in place. Some areas may have designated zones where camping is allowed, while others may have specific restrictions in terms of maximum stay duration or number of people per site. It’s important to adhere to these guidelines to ensure a safe and sustainable camping experience.
  3. Fire restrictions: Due to the risk of wildfires, many areas have strict regulations regarding campfires. Some locations may only allow campfires in designated fire rings, while others may have temporary bans on open flames during dry seasons. Always check for any fire restrictions in the area and follow the rules accordingly.
  4. Trash and waste disposal: Dispersed camping sites often do not have trash or recycling facilities, so it’s crucial to practice Leave No Trace principles and properly dispose of your waste. Pack out all trash and leave the area cleaner than you found it. This helps maintain the pristine beauty of the wilderness and prevents harm to wildlife.
  5. Respecting wildlife and vegetation: When camping in natural areas, it’s essential to respect the wildlife and vegetation. Do not disturb or feed wildlife, keep a safe distance, and avoid damaging plants or trees. Remember, you are a visitor in their home, and your actions can have a lasting impact on their habitat.
  6. Stay informed: Regulations can change depending on the time of year, weather conditions, and land management policies. Stay updated on any updates or alerts from the local authorities or land management agencies. Websites, visitor centers, and official park social media accounts are reliable sources of information.

By understanding and adhering to the rules and regulations, you can ensure a safe and responsible camping experience while minimizing your impact on the environment. In the next section, we’ll explore how to find suitable dispersed camping sites that meet your preferences and needs.


Finding Dispersed Camping Sites

Finding the perfect dispersed camping site involves a combination of research, exploration, and a bit of adventure. Here are some tips to help you discover suitable locations for your outdoor escape:

  1. Online resources: Utilize online resources such as official park websites, national forest websites, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) websites to search for dispersed camping areas. These sites often provide information on specific locations, regulations, and any permits or passes required.
  2. Maps and guidebooks: Topographic maps and guidebooks specific to the area you plan to explore can be valuable resources for finding potential dispersed camping sites. These resources often highlight camping areas, trails, and other points of interest.
  3. Local knowledge: Seek advice from local outdoor enthusiasts, park rangers, or visitor centers. They can provide insights on hidden gems, lesser-known areas, and the current conditions of different camping sites.
  4. GPS and offline navigation: Consider using a GPS device or a smartphone app with offline navigation capabilities. This can help you navigate to remote areas without relying on a stable internet connection. Some apps even provide information on dispersed camping sites and user reviews.
  5. Explore public lands: Public lands, such as national forests, BLM lands, and state parks, often permit dispersed camping in certain areas. Research the rules and regulations specific to these lands and explore the opportunities they offer.
  6. Join online communities: Engage with online communities and forums dedicated to camping and outdoor activities. Other campers can provide firsthand recommendations, tips, and suggestions for dispersed camping sites they have visited.
  7. Be open to exploration: Sometimes, the best-dispersed camping sites are discovered through the spirit of adventure. Be open to exploring new areas, taking scenic routes, and following your curiosity. You may stumble upon hidden treasures that aren’t as well-known or documented.

Remember that dispersed camping is about embracing the unknown and immersing yourself in nature. Be respectful of the environment, follow the rules and regulations of the area you choose, and always practice Leave No Trace principles to ensure the continued enjoyment of these sites for future generations.


Now that you have an understanding of how to find dispersed camping sites, let’s move on to the next section, which covers essential equipment and supplies for your dispersed camping adventure.


Essential Equipment and Supplies

When planning a dispersed camping trip, it’s crucial to have the right equipment and supplies to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience. While the specific items you’ll need will depend on factors such as the location, season, and personal preferences, here are some essentials to consider:

  • Tent or Shelter: A reliable tent or other form of shelter is a necessity for dispersed camping. Look for a tent that is durable, weather-resistant, and easy to set up. Consider the size of the tent based on the number of people in your group and any additional gear you will be storing inside.
  • Sleeping Gear: Invest in high-quality sleeping gear, including sleeping bags, sleeping pads or air mattresses, and pillows. Choose gear that is appropriate for the expected weather conditions and provides adequate insulation and comfort for a good night’s rest.
  • Cooking Equipment: Depending on your preferences, pack a portable stove, cookware, utensils, and fuel for cooking meals. Don’t forget essentials like a lighter or matches, water bottles or containers, and food storage options such as coolers or dry bags.
  • Food and Water: Plan and pack your meals in advance, taking into account the duration of your camping trip. Opt for lightweight, non-perishable food items that are easy to prepare and require minimal cleanup. Remember to bring an ample supply of water or a water filter if you have access to natural water sources.
  • Clothing and Layering: Pack appropriate clothing for the expected weather conditions, including layers for temperature fluctuations. Choose moisture-wicking and quick-drying fabrics to keep you comfortable, and don’t forget essentials like rain gear, hats, and sturdy footwear for outdoor activities.
  • Lighting: Ensure you have sufficient lighting options for setting up camp, moving around at night, and any other activities after sundown. Pack headlamps, lanterns, flashlights, and extra batteries to illuminate your surroundings.
  • Navigation and Communication: Carry a reliable map and compass or GPS device to navigate the area. If applicable, familiarize yourself with the trail system or landmarks before starting your trip. Additionally, have a means of communication such as a fully charged cellphone, a two-way radio, or a personal locator beacon for emergencies.
  • First Aid Kit and Personal Care Items: It’s essential to have a well-stocked first aid kit that includes bandages, antiseptic wipes, medications, and any personal prescriptions. Bring personal care items such as sunscreen, insect repellent, hand sanitizer, and toiletries that align with Leave No Trace principles.
  • Campsite Cleanup and Waste Disposal: Pack biodegradable soap, a small shovel for digging catholes, trash bags, and zip-lock bags for proper waste disposal and campsite cleanup. Leave the area as you found it to preserve its natural beauty.

Remember to tailor your equipment and supplies to your specific needs and the requirements of the camping area. It’s also essential to check for any specific gear recommendations or restrictions from the land management agency or park where you’ll be camping.


Now that you’re prepared with the essential equipment and supplies, let’s move on to the next section to explore how to set up camp in a dispersed camping site.


Setting Up Camp

Setting up camp in a dispersed camping site requires careful consideration of your surroundings and a focus on practicing Leave No Trace principles. Here’s how to set up your campsite responsibly and maximize your enjoyment of the natural environment:

  1. Choose a suitable campsite: Look for a designated area or a spot that has already been impacted by previous campers to minimize your impact on the land. Avoid delicate vegetation, wildlife habitats, and sensitive areas to preserve the natural beauty of the location.
  2. Clear the area: Before setting up your tent, clear away any rocks, debris, or branches that may cause discomfort or damage your equipment. Be mindful of any potential hazards in the surrounding area, such as dead trees or unstable terrain.
  3. Set up your tent: Follow the instructions for setting up your tent, ensuring it is placed on level ground to provide a comfortable sleeping surface. Consider the direction of prevailing winds and any natural features that may shield your tent or provide additional privacy.
  4. Create a fire ring (if permitted): If campfires are allowed and you plan to have one, create a small fire ring using rocks or a designated fire ring, if available. Keep the fire small and always adhere to the regulations regarding fire safety and any fire restrictions in the area.
  5. Establish a cooking area: Designate a separate area for cooking and food preparation, away from your sleeping area. Use a camping stove or a designated fire ring for cooking, and be mindful of local regulations regarding food storage and wildlife interactions.
  6. Minimize your impact: Follow Leave No Trace principles by practicing proper waste disposal. Pack out all trash and dispose of it properly when you leave. Avoid using soap or detergents in natural water sources, and dig shallow cat holes at least 200 feet away from water sources for human waste disposal.
  7. Respect wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance and do not approach or feed them. Store food securely to prevent attracting animals to your campsite. Respect their natural behaviors and habitats, and avoid activities that may disrupt or disturb them.
  8. Be considerate of other campers: If there are other campers nearby, respect their privacy and maintain a reasonable distance from their campsites. Keep noise levels to a minimum, especially during quiet hours, to ensure a peaceful and enjoyable experience for everyone.

By setting up camp responsibly, you can minimize your impact on the environment and contribute to the preservation of these pristine locations. Remember to always follow the rules and regulations specific to the area you are camping in, as they may have additional guidelines to protect the natural surroundings.


With your campsite established, you’re ready to immerse yourself in the beauty of the outdoors. In the next section, we will explore the principles of Leave No Trace, which are essential for practicing responsible camping.


Leave No Trace Principles

Leave No Trace is an important set of principles that guide outdoor enthusiasts in minimizing their impact on the environment and preserving the natural beauty of the wilderness. By following these principles, you can ensure that future generations can also enjoy the beauty of nature. Here are the seven Leave No Trace principles:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare: Do thorough research, obtain necessary permits, and be prepared with the appropriate gear and knowledge for your trip. This ensures you are ready to minimize your impact and make responsible choices throughout your camping experience.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Stick to established trails and campsites whenever possible to avoid trampling fragile vegetation. If there are no existing trails or campsites, disperse your impact by camping on durable surfaces such as rock, gravel, or sand.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack out all trash and waste, leaving no trace of your presence. Use designated trash receptacles, or if none are available, pack out all waste, including food scraps and personal hygiene products. Properly dispose of human waste by digging a shallow cathole at least 200 feet away from water sources, trails, and campsites.
  4. Leave What You Find: Preserve the natural beauty and integrity of the environment by leaving natural and cultural features as you found them. Avoid picking flowers, disturbing archaeological sites, or removing natural objects. Take only photographs and memories, leaving no physical trace behind.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts: If campfires are allowed, use established fire rings or sturdy fire pans to contain your fire. Use only dead and downed wood and burn it down to ash. Ensure your fire is fully extinguished before leaving the site, and be aware of any fire restrictions in the area.
  6. Respect Wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance and do not approach or feed them. Keep your food stored properly to avoid attracting animals to your campsite. Respect their natural behaviors and habitats by giving them space and minimizing human impact on their environment.
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Respect the rights and experiences of other outdoor enthusiasts. Keep noise levels to a minimum, yield to other hikers on the trails, and respect their privacy and personal space. Leave the peacefulness of the natural environment undisturbed for all to enjoy.

By following these Leave No Trace principles, you can ensure that your camping experience is not only enjoyable but also sustainable and responsible. Leave nature as you found it, if not better, so that future generations can also experience the beauty of the great outdoors.


With the principles of Leave No Trace in mind, let’s move on to the next section, where we will discuss essential safety tips for dispersed camping.


Safety Tips for Dispersed Camping

Dispersed camping offers a unique and adventurous experience in the great outdoors, but it’s important to prioritize safety during your trip. Here are some essential safety tips to keep in mind:

  1. Research and Prepare: Before your trip, research the area you’ll be camping in and familiarize yourself with any potential hazards, weather conditions, and regulations. Plan your itinerary, inform someone about your plans, and carry maps, navigation tools, and a reliable means of communication.
  2. Pack Adequate Safety Gear: Ensure you have the necessary safety gear, including a first aid kit, emergency shelter, fire starter, whistle, multi-tool, flashlight, and extra batteries. Carry appropriate clothing and gear to protect against the elements, including rain gear, sun protection, and warm layers.
  3. Be Prepared for Emergencies: Familiarize yourself with basic first aid techniques and carry a comprehensive first aid kit. Know how to handle common outdoor emergencies such as sprains, cuts, insect bites, and allergic reactions.
  4. Stay Hydrated and Nourished: Drink plenty of water and stay well-hydrated throughout your trip. Carry an ample supply of clean drinking water, and be mindful of water sources in the area. Maintain a balanced diet and consume nutritious meals to keep your energy levels up.
  5. Practice Campfire Safety: If campfires are allowed, follow all fire safety rules and guidelines. Keep your fire small, never leave it unattended, and ensure it is fully extinguished before leaving the campsite. Be aware of any fire restrictions in the area and never leave hot coals or embers behind.
  6. Be Wildlife Aware: Research the wildlife that inhabits the area, understand how to safely and responsibly encounter and observe them from a distance. Store food securely and properly dispose of waste to avoid attracting wildlife to your campsite. Be prepared for wildlife encounters and know how to react in case of an encounter.
  7. Stay Weather Alert: Keep an eye on weather forecasts before and during your trip. Be prepared for changing weather conditions and have appropriate gear to protect against rain, wind, cold temperatures, or excessive heat. Seek shelter if inclement weather poses a safety risk.
  8. Practice Safe Food Handling: Prevent foodborne illnesses by properly storing and handling food. Keep perishable items chilled in coolers or insulated bags and separate raw meats from other food items. Clean utensils and surfaces after use, and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.
  9. Leave No Trace and Respect Boundaries: Follow Leave No Trace principles and respect any boundaries or regulations specific to the area. Protect the environment by leaving it in the same or better condition than you found it. This ensures the preservation of the natural beauty and integrity of the site.
  10. Trust Your Instincts: Listen to your intuition and trust your instincts. If a situation feels unsafe or uncertain, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Avoid taking unnecessary risks and make decisions that prioritize your safety and the safety of your camping companions.

By following these safety tips, you can enjoy your dispersed camping adventure with peace of mind. Remember, safety should always be a top priority, so plan ahead, be prepared, and stay alert to ensure a safe and memorable experience.


With safety in mind, let’s wrap up this guide with a few concluding thoughts.



Dispersed camping offers a remarkable opportunity to connect with nature, explore remote areas, and experience the serenity of the great outdoors. By understanding the concept of dispersed camping, learning the rules and regulations, finding suitable sites, and equipping yourself with the necessary gear, you can embark on a rewarding and responsible camping adventure.


Throughout this guide, we have explored the benefits of dispersed camping, including the privacy, flexibility, and closer connection with nature that it offers. We have emphasized the importance of understanding the rules and regulations specific to the area you plan to camp in, as well as the significance of practicing Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment.


From navigating online resources and seeking local knowledge to planning ahead, we have provided guidance on finding suitable dispersed camping sites that align with your preferences and needs. Additionally, we have highlighted the essential equipment and supplies you’ll need to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience in the wilderness.


Setting up camp responsibly, prioritizing safety, and respecting wildlife are key considerations when engaging in dispersed camping. By adhering to safety tips, taking precautions, and being prepared for emergencies, you can fully enjoy the adventure while mitigating potential risks.


Remember, dispersed camping is an opportunity to immerse yourself in nature, to disconnect from the daily routine, and to appreciate the beauty of the natural world. With each camping experience, be mindful of leaving the area as you found it, if not better, to preserve the integrity and charm of the environment for future generations to enjoy.


So, pack your gear, explore new landscapes, and create cherished memories in the wilderness. Embrace the solitude, the freedom, and the awe-inspiring beauty that dispersed camping offers. Happy camping!