Maybe it’s the lack of privacy at a campsite, or the impossibility of arranging a campsite before a big holiday weekend; whatever the reason, here’s a guide to legally registering yourself at a site of your choosing.
You are typically lawfully allowed to camp on any land that is state-owned. This means forests, river-banks and even open fields. As long as there is no signage forbidding you from entering and as long as you are 100% sure it is state-owned land and not a big private plot, chances are you can camp there.
After you’ve found a place where you want to set up camp, you must contact the land manager responsible for that land for two reasons. First, they will answer any questions you may have regarding the allowed use of the land and second, you are required to register with the governmental body administrating this land.
Begin at the website of your state’s Department of Natural Resources or the Natural Resources Commission. Find the answers and documents specific to your proposed site and get contact information for workers that will ultimately be the authority you deal with.
Typically it does not cost money to use the land (except for commercial events like concerts), but there may be a processing fee associated with the application. This could be a minor fee considering the typical $100 fine for not registering if a DNR officer stumbles upon you in the woods. It’s wise to register anyway in case anything happens to you. Police will know where to begin the search if you don’t come home for days after you intended to.
If this interests you, call your county’s land authority now. At least find out what the legality of the site and registration requirements are now and not five days before you intend on camping. Some authorities require as much as 60 days advance notice. Also, be aware that your application may be turned down for various reasons, so it is best to get informed right away!
Photo: Kenneth Baruch