No More Free Camping, Please

Part of my writing work involves researching what’s going on in the RV camping world. What I’m finding is that no more free camping is the only way we are going to save America’s best public lands with dispersed campsites for RVers and outdoor enthusiasts.

no more free camping on BLM Land
Public lands are being threatened by idiots.

You know you’ve been around the block a few times, when more sentences start with “Back in the day.”

When spoken in the context of discussing the death of free camping in the US, “Back in the day” is something that Boomers and GenXers can agree upon. That’s because free camping used to be awesome. And for you young’uns out there, I’m not talking about two years or even five years ago. I’m gonna turn up the wayback machine to the ’90s. Before the internet exposed secret campsites. Back when Jim and I still strapped our gear onto our motorcycles. When we headed out into the wild west to find awesome free campsites with paper maps and printed guidebooks!

At Devil’s Tower National Monument again, 26 years after our last visit.

We recently re-visited one of our favorite free camping areas in the fall; the Eastern Sierras. What a hoot to go back to Devil’s Postpile National Monument 26 years later. And how sad to see how this incredible place is in desperate need of National Park Service funding. But that’s a rant for another day. Right now, I’m talking about why this country needs to stop free camping. Let’s give public recreation lands a break.

The number of free campsites getting closed every year is skyrocketing. Something has to give.

From beautiful, now closed hot springs campsites in Montana, to out of control dispersed camping in Colorado, too many outdoor recreationists have lost respect for public lands. From leaving piles of shit in the woods, to food trash left out for bears, each week dozens of news stories about free dispersed camping areas highlight how these fools are causing beautiful places to get closed to camping.

These people prove our nation has a huge outdoor ethics problem on its hands.

It’s easy to blame the Internet and YouTube for all of the cheap RVers who loooove putting out free campsite GSP coordinates into the world. I’m not a fan of these sites, or these big mouths. Their desperate way to make a buck on internet ads has sped up the demise of countless remote, “secret” campsites.

But I think there’s an even bigger reason free campsites are shutting down. In our materialistic society, the average idiot doesn’t value something unless there’s a price assigned to it. These lowlifes don’t hold free campsites in high regard. Being at these locations didn’t put a direct dent in their wallet. And they certainly don’t think about or feel the direct pain of the costs required to clean up their trashed campsite, or RV dump station.

These people need to start feeling the pain.

No More Free Camping is the Only Solution

Just like it’s not smart to give away an animal for free because you’re just asking for an abusive idiot to take the creature, it’s SO dumb to give away our nation’s most beautiful camping locations. The same is true for ancillary services like RV dump stations. There has to be some kind of cost assigned to the privilege of visiting these precious resources. Even if it’s just a token fee to make these places affordable for everyone, it’s gotta happen.

public dump station with fee sign
No more free dump stations either.

Lawmakers tried to legislate a national free camping ban in 2014. We need to pressure them to write another bill like this. This time, it must pass. Charging for all public campsites and dispersed, open areas is the only way our government can start forcing idiots with no outdoor ethics to understand that even nature has a price we all must pay. If we want to keep going back to these great spots, people need to cough up the dough as easily as they do it for a Starbucks coffee. Death to free camping!

11 thoughts on “No More Free Camping, Please”

  1. Close roads and ATV trails. The dispersed RV camping will mostly be crowded on strips near heavily used roads, and less damaging.
    Here in Idaho ‘the day’ for the camping we took for granted was before ATVs descended like locusts in the 1990s. Even in the early 80s you could still see no one for days on many 4wd trails. Today RV campers seem to like crowds for the most part. Let them crowd a few hell strips.

    • @Ridahoan, I couldn’t agree with you more. The many roads that cut across public lands are a huge part of this issue. And so are the OHVs and ATVs that tear up the terrain. As their use has grown, so has the trashing of the land they camp upon.

  2. Thank you for allowing me to express our views here. Rene, I agree that we need to protect our land.

    Ric, I think you make a valid point. Folks willing to hike for hours or days to a campsite will almost always respect their environment. I’ve been camping on public lands for 50+ years. If you looked back at every place I’ve camped throughout my life, you would find no trace of me or my family.

    Sadly, as an RVer, I agree that the majority of violators are RVers, van campers, and to some extent overlanders. Each of those categories has wonderful and respectful members who will always leave a campsite cleaner than when they arrived. They also have the largest percentage of folks new to the great outdoors who are either ignorant or willfully disrespectful.

    There has always been a percentage of people who mistreat free camping sites, refusing to be good citizens. In the “good old days,” the total number of folks using free camping was far less than it is today. So if we assume that the percentage has stayed the same as the population has increased, then the total number of disrespectful people has grown astronomically. Hence the greater problem.

    I don’t think that simply requiring a fee will solve the problem. Additional rangers and/or fee enforcement staff will also be required to monitor and manage public lands. That cost will, most likely, be higher than the fees collected in most cases creating the need for a new tax. I am, though, willing to pay a reasonable fee to use public lands.

    I don’t have the answers, but I do know that as more of us focus on the issue, we’ll discover new ideas. In the meantime, we’ll continue to clean up after the idiots as we enjoy our nation’s treasures.

    • @Jay E, I’m happy to pay that reasonable fee as well. But now how do we define reasonable? And what entity is going to ensure that the higher fees collected actually go toward fixing the problem? So much to think about. And while I do, you’ll find me and Jim also picking up after the slobs. Thanks for your good help!

  3. Dear Rene,
    When you say “In our materialistic society, the average idiot doesn’t value something unless there’s a price assigned to it.” Help me understand something “comrade”, in what contemporary society would you want to live in that does not assign a value of a given object or service by price? In terms of “the average idiot”, help me understand “average”? Can a person be an average idiot without some context or definition of who or what is average in the eddies of idiocy? Do idiots have an average? Is it possible my rolling Marxist friend that you’re either an idiot – or not – but as defined by cultural conventions and not by personal declaration? What are those conventions as our society doesn’t really exist in terms of cultural cohesion? However, it does exist as per our enduring Declaration of Independence and our Constitution and in the words of Winston Churchill, “there is no such thing as public opinion, only published opinion.”
    Arguments aside, if you don’t pay or work for something you rarely appreciate it’s perceived value. However, I also agree with another comment, how do you enforce? Hefty fines and old school public shaming with stocks and public jeering would do nicely but alas, we have protections against “cruel and unusual punishment”. Would public spankings be either?
    Where’s my pitchfork and get off my Internet you crazy kids!

    Thanks for the report Rene as nothing breaks the heart more than reading about humans being terrible people.

    Your buddy on a small island in the Pacific Northwest.

  4. Interesting proposal and in general I agree with you that people are doing stupid things and it has to stop. The question of how is a real stinker because with any new requirement comes the need for enforcement. Having been a local government public servant for over 30 years I certainly get the need and desire to create rules to prevent or restrict bad behavior. Those rules can either be taken too far or not enforced and become meaningless. If there was a way to reinstall the value systems of our forefathers into the people of this world today, we would have a cure. Common sense and decency have gone out to the dump and people have little value for public land, life, the future of our planet and more. So sad, but true. Love your perspectives, your posts, and your willingness to publicly state them. You reflect great value and appreciation for our earth and its people!

  5. If you are proposing legislation to get rid of the free camping in BLM and NFs, I feel this is a bad idea. Your perspective of dispersed camping is largely limited to places an RV can go. But in Colorado, Utah and Arizona, there are more places a person is free to camp for free that cannot be reached by an RV then those that can be reached by an RV. And my experience from using such sites (only reachable with a four-wheel-drive vehicle) is that they rarely have the trash issues that you describe in this article. And legislation such as you are describing would create a shutdown for ALL public lands camping when the problems you describe are largely limited to RV-friendly locations. so I for one would not support blanket legislation against free camping on public lands.

    • Great point Ric, and I can see why it makes sense to rethink my idea. It makes sense that the harder to reach areas aren’t having as many issues, but RV friendly ones are. The best things in life and best places are usually harder to physically attain. As Jim says, comfort is overrated.


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