Car Camping 101: Camping Etiquette

By following these guidelines, we ensure that our experience does not impose upon others or the natural habitat in which we are not only guests of, but caretakers.

Rule No. 1 Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace Ethics is a simple concept.  Leave absolutely no trace of your visit.

Leave your campsite exactly as you found it, only cleaner.  Your family is just one of millions that will occupy that same little plot of land.  We must be vigilant in our efforts to reduce our impact in order to preserve them for the generations to come.    

Do not use your fire pit for trash can.  That means don’t burn garbage in your campfire and don’t leave trash behind thinking the next guy is going to use it to build his fire. No one builds a fire with trash and no one wants to smell burning plastic.    

Plan ahead to carry out your trash by ensuring you have the proper supplies.  Garbage bags, large Ziploc baggies, and disposable gloves should be apart of every camper’s kitchen kit.  Take them with on day hikes and picnics.  I like to use disposable gloves to pick up the trash and cigarette butts that the previous tenants left behind. 

Stay on marked trails.  Don’t use shortcuts and don’t trample through delicate natural areas.  What may appear to you as just a mossy grass patch is actually a microecosystem home to billions of little creatures.  Unnecessary foot traffic damages these fragile places and leads to erosion.  Don’t move, collect, or stack rocks.  Do not pick flowers or collect natural things.  Leave no trace, only take pictures and memories. 

For more information on Leave No Trace Ethics, visit ntl.org.

Rule No. 2 Don’t move firewood.

Moving firewood around from place-to-place spreads disease and invasive species like the Emerald Ash Borer which has decimated ash forests across the country.  Leave your firewood at home and purchase it at your destination.  Most campgrounds sell wood and if not, you can find it nearby.

Many properties also have rules that prohibit the collection of fallen or standing timber.  State and National Parks ask that you disturb absolutely nothing.  Not wood, creature, flower, or stone. 

Rule No. 3 Campsites are private!

Campsites become the campers private plot of land for the duration of their stay, under the terms and agreement with the property owner. Therefore, it is not acceptable to walk through, cut across, or occupy someone else’s campsite. It might be a long walk down to the end of the road and back to get to the restrooms, but it’s still NOT okay to cut through someone’s campsite.

Rule No. 4 Respect wildlife.

Never feed wildlife and be responsible with your food items.  Take your garbage to the dumpster each night and if camping in bear country be sure to follow the recommended guidelines.  Feeding wild animals encourages human encounters which could ultimately lead to a deadly situation for the animal.  Keep your campsite clean and keep food items in a locked box or cooler or inside of a vehicle.  If you have food stored in a vehicle, be sure to have the windows completely sealed shut. 

Admire wildlife from afar.  Do not attempt to approach or touch an animal.  Do not attempt to help a sick or injured animal.   

Rule No. 5 Be considerate of others.

Don’t be loud. Voices carry.  So does music.  You might love REO Speedwagon, but your neighbor might not.  Quiet hours usually begin at 9:00 or 10:00 PM and many places enforce them fiercely.  Others do not.  Please be respectful of your neighbors.  Everyone has invested the same amount of time and money into their vacations and are deserving of your respect.  Don’t let your kids scream and yell. Of course, noise is expected from children who are thoroughly enjoying themselves but teach your kids to contain their joy to a respectable level. 

That being said, you cannot anticipate complete peace and quiet at a family campground especially on busy weekends and holidays.   Consider camping during the week or during the off seasons if you’re seriously looking for solitude. 

Rule No. 6 Educate your children.

Make sure your children understand and follow these guidelines.  Teach them to respect wildlife, nature, public lands, and their fellow campers (and their fellow camper’s property.)  Use caution when allowing your children free roam of the campgrounds.  Use a walkie-talkie or cell phone to maintain communication and set check-in times which should be strictly enforced.

Rule No. 7 Control your dogs.

A common complaint is the unrestricted dog.  The dog that is allowed complete freedom because the owner can Swear to God the dog is highly trained and follows all commands with perfect execution each and every time.   No matter how well trained your dog may be, it’s still against the law.  Nearly every state has a leash law, and every property requires your dog be restrained 100% of the time, usually on a leash that is six feet or less.  No matter how well trained your dog is, the excitement of a new environment and the sight of other dogs, children and people can alter their normal behavior. 

Another common complaint is the barking dog.  Dogs bark and it’s natural for your dog to bark a lot when he first arrives.  All the new stimuli are reason to bark.  Start working on correcting the behavior.  (Check out Camping with Canines for tips and tricks.) Don’t let it stress you out, as that will only stress your dog even more.  Most campers tolerate the occasional barker.   

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations regarding pets before planning your trip. 

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Don’t be loud.  Keep music and voices to a respectful volume.
  • Don’t burn trash or plastic in your campfire. 
  • Don’t use your firepit for a dumpster before leaving.
  • Don’t cut through other people’s campsites.
  • Don’t throw cigarette butts on the ground. 
  • Don’t arrive early unless you call ahead to make sure the spot has been vacated.  
  • Do learn the rules and regulations prior to arrival.
  • Do leave your campsite cleaner than you found it.
  • Do pick up trash if you see it. 
  • Do clean up after pet.
  • Do show patience with your fellow campers.

Before planning your trip make sure you take the time to review the property’s rules and regulations.  Many of the same rules apply but many may vary by property.  Follow the speed limits.  Be quiet when it’s Quiet Time.  Be respectful of your fellow camper, park staff, and the natural places you visit. 

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