When you hear about “paying to camp” as opposed to “camping for free” what does that entail? I was curious to know so I did a little research and this is what I found.
How much does camping cost in a National Forest? National Forest campgrounds fees rang somewhere between $5 and $30 for a spot. Or zero cost if you are willing to camp in dispersed areas.
Why does the costs of a campground vary so much?
When looking at a list of campgrounds within a National Forest, you will often see the costs for each site will vary, sometimes by a lot. Not only that, the cost of one National Forest can be very different from another National Forest. What are some of the factors that goes into the prices of a campground?
Everyone has his or her own idea of what “Camping” is. You might like roughing it, with no help like electricity, water or waste removal. Or you might be the type that thinks sitting in your RV with the AC going is as rough as you want to get. The Forest Service tries its best to accommodate everyone by offering a wide variety of campsite options.
I paid for a National Forest campsite, what should it include?
With literally hundreds of campgrounds across dozens of National Forests in the United States, it would be impossible to list every amenity. However, there is a common theme and you will find that most of the National Forest campgrounds will include:
A small handful of campgrounds will have fewer amenities (i.e. no water or vault toilet). Many will include more such as Toilets with running water, even campgrounds with full RV hookups.
The National Forest has a directory of campgrounds you can use to research the area you are interested in and find a campsite that meets your needs.
Are there limits as to how long you can stay in a National Forest campsite?
Yes, and for the most part that limit is 14 days. There are several reasons for this policy that include:
Once you have reached your limit, you are required to exit the National Forest (for camping) for at least 10 days before returning for another 14-day stretch.
Occasionally you may see a sign that states something other than 14 days. For example, Medicine Bow National Forest has some locations allowing a 21-day limit.
Failing to depart your campsite not only deprives other campers the use of the area, but also can lead to confrontations with the Park Rangers and eventual fines or worst.
Is it required to make a reservation for a National Forest campground?
Some of the National Forest campgrounds either require or accept reservations. The U.S. National Forest Campground Guide will display a phone number should the campground you are interested in allow for reservations.
Usually if a campground takes reservations, it is for up to 60% of the sites. The rest are there as a first-come-first-serve basis.
When planning your camping trip try to plan far in advance (like several months). Highly popular campgrounds can sometimes be booked a year in advance. Others are not as popular and may only be booked out a week or two. The key is plan early.
What are some restrictions for a National Forest campground?
National Forests are public lands that all are invited to use and enjoy. Having said that, there are rules in place that are only common sense. Visit the website for the National Forest you are visiting to get the most up-to-date list of rules and restrictions.
Here are some common rules you will see at nearly all campgrounds:
This is nothing more than the Golden Rule. Treat others as you would want to be treated. It is no fun going to a campsite and the first thing you have to do is clean up after the guy who just left.
How can you camp for zero cost in the National Forest?
As we mentioned above, it is possible to camp in the National Forest for zero cost. Here are a list of situations that allow for free camping:
What are camping costs in other Public Lands such as the BLM? The Bureau of Land Management or BLM operates very similar to National Forest. With developed campgrounds ranging from $2 to $30 per site to zero cost camping in dispersed areas.
What does it take to be a campground host? Fill out an application at your local National Forest office, be willing to live at a campground for at least two weeks, and be willing to clean and maintain the campground as well as answer questions from other campers.
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