Is Camping Illegal? What To Know Before You Go

Camping is a popular recreational activity enjoyed by people worldwide, especially in the United States, where we are surrounded by such beautiful public land.

However, when is it considered illegal camping? The answer to this question is not a simple one. Camping can be unlawful in certain areas or situations, but it is not always prohibited. In this post, we will explore the legality of camping and provide a few examples of when it is and is not allowed.

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Is Camping Illegal?

Camping is not technically illegal, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind before you go camping.

  • First, you must ensure you are not trespassing on private property.
  • Second, you must ensure you are not violating any local ordinances or regulations.
  • Finally, you need to ensure you are not causing a public nuisance.

When Not In A Campground

When not camping within a designated campground, you will hear different terms for this type of camping.

Stealth Camping

Some states have laws against stealth camping, where you are not supposed to sleep overnight. Stealth camping can be dangerous, leading to conflicts with residents or authorities. If you are caught stealth camping, you may be fined or arrested.

Wild Camp

Wild camping is a form of camping where people camp in areas that are not designated campsites. These areas can include forests, open fields, and beaches. Wild camping is often done for recreation or access to remote locations.

Dispersed camping

Dispersed camping is a term used for camping outside of established campgrounds. This can include camping in undeveloped areas such as forests, national parks, and public lands.

Dispersed camping is often less regulated than camping in a developed campground, making it a more affordable option. It also offers campers more privacy and the opportunity to experience nature in its raw form.

Dispersed camping

We all know it is legal to camp on public land when paying for a campsite at a designated campground. However, when you start to venture off with your RV, you may find areas that are not in a campground, and that is when the legal questions come in.

Below, let’s explore the typical types of public land and how to camp on them legally.

National Park

While camping is not technically illegal in National Parks, there are restrictions in place that make it difficult to do. For example, a wilderness pass is required for camping in most areas, and those passes are only available to people who have reserved a spot in advance. Additionally, certain areas are off-limits to camping altogether.

Most of these wilderness passes are more for tenters who are hiking the long trails within the National Park. If you are looking for a spot to park your RV for the night in the National Park, I suggest you check with the wilderness pass office. Again, passes are limited, so I suggest you reach out to the office well in advance.

National Forest

Camping is allowed in most places in the National Forest, but there are a few rules you need to know.

Fee Area camping at a National Forest is usually a developed campground. They are first come, first serve, and they fill up fast. That is where dispersed camping may come in handy.

Dispersed camping is allowed anywhere in the National Forest if you are at least 200 feet away from any road, trail, or water. You are also not allowed to camp in an area closed to camping by the forest service.

I recently disperse camped at a National Forest in Michigan. During the COVID lock-down, all fee area campgrounds were closed. Excited to go camping still, I called the forest service; Kelly was her name. And she gave me great tips on where I could quickly disperse camp – legally.

Dispersed camping in Michigan at a National Forest

State Park

Camping is not illegal in state parks, but there are rules that campers must follow. One of the most important is only to use designated campgrounds. Camping outside of a designated area can damage the environment and disrupt wildlife. In some cases, it can also be dangerous.

Camping On Private Property

Camping on private property without the owner’s permission is illegal in most cases. If you’re caught camping on private property, the owner has the right to ask you to leave, and if you refuse, they can call the police. Here are a few tips for camping on private property without getting in trouble:

  1. Ask the owner before camping on their property. Most people are happy to let someone camp on their land if they ask first.
  2. Make sure you’re not trespassing. Camping on someone’s private property without their permission is trespassing, which is illegal in most cases.
  3. Respect the owner’s rules. If the owner has specific rules for camping on their property, make sure you follow them. This includes leaving no trace that you were there when you left.
  4. Be respectful of your surroundings. If you leave a mess, you will likely not be welcome again.


Camping is not technically illegal, but laws and regulations can make it difficult to camp in some areas. Before camping, it is essential to be aware of these laws and regulations and to research the best places to camp in your area. If you are looking for a more wilderness camping experience, check with local authorities to ensure you are not violating any laws.