You never want to receive a fine when enjoying the outdoors by camping for free. A penalty for illegal camping can quickly make a camping trip very expensive.
To avoid fines, you need to know when and where you can legally camp. So where can you get a penalty for camping? Let’s take a look!
Can You Camp Anywhere in the USA?
While it would be excellent if you could pitch a tent or set up your RV anywhere, it isn’t legally possible. Even out west, it’s not the wild west anymore. There are rules and regulations for where you can camp. It’s up to you to know the laws where you want to camp.
Camping on private property will typically always be illegal unless you have permission from the landowner. Some areas even prohibit camping or overnight parking if you own the land.
Public lands will typically provide the most freedom for finding campsites. However, public lands often have stay limits and other rules to help protect the area. Depending on where you’re camping, authorities may not be very forgiving.
What Are the Fines for Camping Illegally?
Penalties for illegally camping can vary by location. Many local ordinances have escalating fines for subsequent offenses.
For example, Morro Bay in California fines $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second, and every violation after is $1,000 per offense within 12 months of the initial broken law. Illegal camping along California’s Big Sur coast will cost you $1,000.
In most locations, authorities have better things to do than issue tickets to campers enjoying the great outdoors. However, they enforce the law and will issue fines when necessary. They’ll quickly issue citations in areas that criminalize homeless and permanent camps.
Where Is It Illegal to Camp?
Officials typically restrict camping in a national park to designated campgrounds and areas. Camping in any other national park area will likely be illegal. Backcountry camping areas are popular in many locations, but this generally requires hiking there and camping in a tent. Some parks mandate you to purchase or acquire a permit from a ranger station or visitor center. Do your research to know what sections of national parks allow camping.
Some beaches will allow camping, but not all. Some sites have been battling camping on beaches for years. It has become a severe issue in some instances, and officials are cracking down. Again, research the legalities of camping on a beach. When in doubt, contact the local law enforcement or governing agency to verify any rules and regulations for beach camping.
Many people errantly think that you can legally camp if you own property. However, that may be the case in some places, but not everywhere. Some local municipalities or homeowner associations may prohibit camping or RVs from parking overnight.
Do Any States Have Specific Laws Against Public Camping?
Laws against public camping have always been a hot-button issue. States like Georgia, Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin have bills that make public camping a punishable offense. Some even make sleeping on public property a Class C misdemeanor, which carries a maximum $5000 fine and a month in jail.
The government drafted these laws to address homelessness in many cities. However, the rules often also affect RVers and those looking for a place to stay overnight while traveling. Under these policies, sleeping overnight in your vehicle in public would be a crime. Because the rules change where you’re trying to camp, you must familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations for every location.
Tips to Avoid Getting Caught Camping Illegally
We have a few tips if you need to camp without getting caught. We can’t promise you won’t get the middle of the night knock on the door that everyone dreads, but following these tips will significantly improve your chances. Let’s get started!
Keep the Noise Level Down
Keeping your noise level down will help you avoid attracting attention. Making noise will only draw negative attention to you and your temporary campsite. Anyone who may have overlooked you may be more willing to report you to law enforcement if you’re making a scene.
Do yourself, and anyone camping around you a favor and avoid making noise. If you’re not supposed to camp, people won’t appreciate noticing that you’re there.
Leave As Early As Possible
You want to minimize the time you spend in a location. Your best bet is to arrive late and leave early. Depending on the area, some campers will come well after sunset and hit the road when the sun rises in the morning. The less time you spend in a spot, the less likely you are to get caught.
Avoid Starting a Campfire
Avoid starting a fire if you need to eat or prepare a meal. Some areas may have burn bans or other restrictions. Anyone who sees the smoke may report it and send authorities to investigate. If they discover you illegally camping, they will not be happy they wasted tax dollars and energy. Don’t expect to get a warning in these situations.
If you need to eat, plan accordingly. Have something to eat that doesn’t require a fire. Give it a shot if you can use a propane grill or burner without anyone noticing. However, ensure you take the proper safety precautions and give everything time to cool down before packing it away.
Make Sure the Area Is Secluded
One of the best ways to go covertly camp is to find a secluded spot away from others. You want to minimize the chances that law enforcement or anyone looking to catch someone camping might drive by and discover you. However, some very remote areas will make you a dead giveaway to law enforcement. Try to find a happy medium if possible.
Stay Safe and Camp At Your Own Risk
You should never put yourself in a dangerous situation when camping. When in doubt, pack your things and leave any spot where you do not feel safe. No campsite, free or not, is worth putting yourself in danger. Take the proper precautions to stay safe, and remember that you’re camping at your own risk. If you’re in a remote location, help could be impossible to reach. So always take the proper precautions to protect yourself.
Do you know the camping laws at your upcoming travel destination?
Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA
To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).
You should give it a try!
As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.
Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site!
We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: