Camping In National Forests

Can you camp anywhere in a National Forest?

So many people wonder, “Can you camp anywhere in a National Forest?” The quick answer is “no” but there are tons of options to legally go camping in National Forests when you know the rules! We do it all the time and are happy to share our secrets!

Rules For Camping In National Forests

Camping in National Parks and Forests

What Is The Difference Between National Forests And National Parks?

The National Parks and National Forests have different purposes and are operated within different governmental agencies with different rules. As a camping user of these facilities, there are a few things you should know.

National Forests

  1. Camping is allowed in designated ares of National Forests. Specific rules apply to each location.
  2. The purpose of National Forests: Sustain the health, diversity, and productivity (services and commodities) of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of current and future generations.
    • Some of the activities you might be surprised to see in National Forests include:
      • Lumber/Logging
      • Cattle Grazing
      • Mineral Products Mining
      • Recreation (motorized and non-motorized)
  3. National Forests are managed by US Forest Service (USFS) forest rangers with under the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

National Parks

  1. Camping is allowed in designated ares of National Parks. Specific rules apply to each location.
  2. The purpose of National Parks: Strict preservation of natural and historic resources for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of current and future generations.
  3. National Parks are managed by National Park Service (NPS) park rangers under the U.S. Department of Interior.

Rules For Camping In National Forests Are Different

Typically, National Forest camping rules are more lenient than National Park rules. Some examples include:

  • Hunting: Normally National Parks prohibit it but National Forests allow it.
  • Dogs On Trails: Normally National Parks prohibit it but National Forests allow it.
  • Motorcycles/Motorized Vehicles On Trails: Normally National Parks prohibit it but National Forests allow it.
  • Designated Wilderness: Normally National Parks and National Forests prohibit use of any kind for maximum protection of the area.

If you are camping in a National Forest that is adjacent to a National Park, you need to know the boundary lines and the different rules for each. An activity that is legal in a National Forest may result in a ticket (or worse) if you do the same thing in a National Park. Maps are extremely helpful when your are trying to determine which type of public land you are using. Have a good Road And Recreation Guide atlas to help you know where you are and the borders of the different types of land you will be visiting on your National Forest Camping trips!

Steps For Camping In National Forests

  1. Select your National Forest camping location. The U.S. Forest Service has an Interactive Map To Find A Forest Near You.
  2. Determine where you want to camp within the National Forest and which field office has jurisdiction over that location. People frequently ask us this question, “Can you camp anywhere in a National Forest?” The answer, “NO!” As an example, we usually camp in the Coconino National Forest so we visit their website to check for any closures, restrictions, alerts and warnings … this information will help you find legal camping areas within the National Forest. They will also have detailed maps with the Forest Service Roads like this Motor Vehicle Use Map showing the roads, trails, and areas approved for motorized vehicle use within the Coconino National Forest.
  3. Before you go … Know the rules for your specific National Forest camping location. Information is available from field office websites, via phone or in person when the office is open. You can also get information from camp hosts and forest rangers who are actually on location within the Forest.
  4. Determine if you need to make a reservation. The website allows you to make reservations for federal land camping and more. NOTE: Some areas are considered limited-entry locations and a lottery system is used to provide a fair distribution process for the available permits. You can apply for a lottery and check the status on the website.
  5. Determine if you need a permit for your camping location and where you can purchase it.
  6. You will find developed campgrounds as well as dispersed camping locations within National Forests. Be prepared for your situation.

Developed Campgrounds Or Dispersed Camping In National Forests

If you are camping within the unimproved areas of National Forests, you will be without facilities. Check with the appropriate field office for specific rules regarding the use of vehicles, campfires, hunting, garbage, human waste disposal etc. If you are dispersed camping in an RV, it is a little easier than tent camping but either type is doable.

Fire Restrictions While Camping In National Forests

National Forests cover a lot of land and are … well, forests … with lots of wood to burn. Because of that, they tend to have fire restrictions put in place by the authorities earlier than other types of more-developed camping facilities like at National Parks or private parks and campgrounds.


Camping In National Forests

Kim Hanna

Kim Hanna is the creator of Camping For Foodies®. On her blog,, she shares her passion for camping, hiking and cooking as well as living a balanced yet dream-pursuing life. Kim has appeared on several local TV networks, in magazines and at live special events as the ‘Modern Society Weekend Escape Expert’ she has become…inspiring others to unplug from their hectic lives one camp recipe at a time. She believes many adults are so consumed with their 24/7 connected lives that they don’t take time to enjoy nature and live in the moment. Kim gladly issues “permission slips” to adults who request them! She is a contributor to AZ Outdoor Magazine and has her own cooking segment on the Great Food Good Neighbors TV show. Kim is a Christian and lives in Phoenix with her husband and two cats.


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