Dispersed Camping

dispersed camping

This campsite in the photo was a welcome one. I had just climbed up and out of the desert from Phoenix and into the mountains near Payson, Arizona. The day started in a beautiful ‘cactus forest’ desert at an elevation of 1,140 feet and ended in a much cooler piney mountain landscape at 5000 feet. Located at the base of the Mongolian Rim and well inside the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. Free Dispersed Camping near Pine, Arizona.

dispersed camping

Dispersed camping is legal camping in the wilderness where there are usually no pre configured campgrounds and services. Normally I find these types of campsites on State or Federal owned lands set away from large population centers. Sometimes they may have centrally located services like running water and/or a pit toilet. Colorado, Arizona, New York…In every state of the United States it’s very easy to find free and legal camping. You can find Dispersed Camping opportunities throughout the National Forests, National Parks, and Bureau of Land Management tracts. There is usually a small set of rules, time limits, seasons, and sometimes one needs to register. Europe has it’s ‘Freedom to Roam‘ laws. Non compliance of these simple rules shifts you to Stealth Camping mode. The rules are easy to find and follow. There is plenty of legal, majestic, free camping available to everyone all around us.

I enjoy the solitude and primitive experience of camping away from developed campgrounds and other campers. Sure it results in more work for the adventurer and more equipment needed. Since you are OUTSIDE of a designated campground you will probably NOT have toilets, picnic tables, trash cans, treated water, and fire grates. The rules are usually consistent with making sure you are a certain distance from established trails, fire roads, lakes, streams, rivers, etc.

There are extra responsibilities and skills that are necessary for dispersed camping. Can you protect your food? Can you purify water? Can you have a campfire? Do you need a bear canister? Do you have a way to dig a hole to go to the bathroom? Do you know the principles of ‘Leave No Trace‘?

Most Federal and State lands have clear easy to read instructions found here that outline dispersed camping opportunities:

dispersed camping

This was a spectacular campsite on Lizard Head Pass, elevation 10,222 feet. It’s located 12 miles south of Telluride. At the top of the pass there are several fire roads off to the east and the west. This was one of my greatest views I have ever camped under. It was breathtaking. It was also really cold in early August with the temperatures dipping under 40 degrees F. This is the best example of dispersed camping I can project. I was really psyched to make it all the way to Telluride, CO but after speaking to a few locals in Rico, Co they gave me some good hints on how best to enjoy my evening. The ride was only about 60 miles but it was highlighted by a rainbow as I neared the top of the pass and a picture perfect campsite. You really couldn’t ask for a better bicycle touring experience than this.

dispersed camping

I was right up in there. Camping with a million dollar view for free. Here is the Lizard head Pass on a google map.

dispersed camping

Some simple guideline to follow:

Picking a Dispersed C ampingCampsite

If you are going to an area where others have camped before, pick a site that’s been used before. The impact of new campsites on plants, soil and wildlife is extreme so use existing campsites to reduce your impact on the natural setting. If there is no existing campsite, then follow these Leave No Trace guidelines:

Plan Ahead and Prepare for Dispersed Camping

Get the Lay of the Land

Dispose of Waste Properly

Minimize Campfire Impacts

Respect Wildlife

There are a lot of wonderful places that can accommodate Dispersed Camping free and legally. I favor this type of camping above Stealth Camping because of the legalities involved. I will still Stealth Camp when I need to and I think the guidelines shown here are a good idea regardless of how and where you are camping.