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11 Tips for Dispersed Camping on State Forest Lands

With tens of millions of acres of state forest land spread across the country, it’s almost a sure thing there’s some very near to your home. Throwing a minimal amount of gear in the car and heading out for a couple of nights of impromptu camping on state forest lands is a great way to counter the kids’ complaints, “There’s nothing to do!”

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However, so you’re ready when the mood strikes, you need to check out the regulations and availability ahead of time. Follow these tips for dispersed camping on state forest lands and use these links to ensure a hassle-free, close-to-home adventure:

Tips For Dispersed Camping

tips for dispersed camping
Tips for dispersed camping

1. Conduct a little research on state forest lands or contact your state forestry agency for information before hitting the road. Some states don’t have state forest lands open to camping or other recreation.

2. Find out who manages the land where you want to camp. In some states, state forests are managed by different agencies such as the state department of natural resources or even conservation groups.

3. Ask what types of camping are allowed and where it’s permitted. Dispersed camping (camping anywhere in the forest outside of a designated campground) is not permitted on many lands. Campers must camp only in designated areas. To give you an idea of what might be expected, look at Michigan’s State Forest dispersed camping rules.

4. Determine if a permit must be obtained or fees paid for camping.

5. Consider group size. On some lands, even small groups must heed special rules and regulations, and camp only in designated, group camping locations.

6. Look at options in your region, not just your state. The National Association of State Foresters segments the United States into three forestry regions. The Northeast covers approximately 23 million acres of state-owned lands, the South approximately nine million, and the West 41 million.

7. Understand the difference between state-owned forest lands and National Forest Service lands. They are not the same and have very different rules regarding camping. Review details on dispersed camping on NFS land before venturing there.

On the road and at the dispersed campsite:

tips for dispersed camping
Tips for dispersed camping

8. Stay on roadways. Do not take vehicles of any kind off the road or trails open to vehicles to set up the campsite.

9. Utilize a pack-in and pack-out plan. Don’t leave anything behind. The motto of many state forests is, “Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints.”

10. Camp at least 100 feet from any water source.

11. Focus on safety if you do utilize public lands, especially campfire safety. Smokey Bear has been teaching campfire safety since 1944, and offers up-to-date information and advice on his website.

Get To Know The Author
Laurie Lee Dovey is an avid life-long camper. She’s enjoyed all types of camping from wilderness, high-country tent camping to horse camping and life as a full-time RVer. She’s camped throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. She’s been writing about camping and traditional outdoor sports for more than 30 years.

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