If you’ve ever enjoyed a weekend at a beautiful campsite with no disruptions from fellow campers, you’ve benefited from people practicing good camping etiquette. While camping in general doesn’t have official “rules,” there are many unwritten principles that experienced campers follow.
Here are some basic rules of camping, whether you take your RV to a popular resort, pitch a tent at a state park campground, or trek into the backcountry.
Respect Your Campsite
1. Know your campground or park’s rules. The following list covers the basic rules of camping etiquette. That said, campgrounds and parks also have specific rules of their own. Knowing the campground’s rules before you go will make for a smoother trip. For instance, you wouldn’t want to bring your dog along on your trip only to discover that pets aren’t allowed.
2. Camp only in designated sites or camping areas. This may seem like common sense, but in order to minimize human impact on the environment and keep sites in good shape for future campers, it’s important to set up camp only at your designated campsite.
Park your RV in the site’s driveway and set up your tent in a part of the site where a tent has been set up before. (If you’re backcountry camping, there may not be specific sites but there usually are designated camping areas or zones. Most of the time, you’ll need a backcountry camping permit from a national forest or national park to camp in these areas.)
3. Follow capacity limits. Campgrounds usually limit the number of people and vehicles allowed at each site. Sometimes you can pay a fee for additional people but often, you’ll have to book another site once you reach the person and vehicle limits.
4. Don’t damage the surrounding environment. Never cut down trees or branches at a campsite, even if they’re dead. In some places, this is illegal. Likewise, don’t pick or kill any plants, remove shells or rocks, dig into the ground, or harass any wildlife.
5. Don’t feed wildlife. Admire wildlife from a distance but never feed wild animals, not even adorable ones like chipmunks. Human food isn’t good for them and this teaches animals to seek out people as a food source. It’s not uncommon for animals like bears to be euthanized after becoming a nuisance at a campground as a result of being fed by people.
6. Use the designated fire pit. Always build your campfire in a designated fire pit. (Most campsites have them.) If you’re at a backcountry campsite, try to build your fire in a spot where a previous camper made a fire. (Look for charred wood and piles of ashes.) And perhaps most importantly, be aware of any local burning restrictions. Depending on the season and wildfire conditions, campgrounds and parks may periodically ban fires of any kind.
7. Use only approved firewood. Forests across the U.S. are under threat from invasive pests like the emerald ash borer and bark beetle, which are often spread from one area to another via firewood. That’s why many parks and campgrounds no longer allow campers to bring firewood from home. Instead, purchase firewood at your campground or from an approved seller near your destination.
8. Store food properly. When it’s not mealtime, keep food in sealed containers or coolers, preferably inside a secured vehicle or RV. This will keep food away from curious and hungry animals. (And never keep food in your tent, especially at night. Otherwise a raccoon or bear may interrupt your peaceful night’s sleep.)
9. Leave it better than you found it. Before you leave a campsite, make sure to pick up all trash, remove clotheslines, and return items like picnic tables to their proper locations. You should also make sure that your campfire is completely extinguished. The coals and ashes should be cold and no longer be emitting smoke.
Respect Other Campers
10. Observe quiet hours. Most campgrounds have designated hours when campers are expected to be quiet, often between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. This usually means to keep voices low and turn off any music.
11. Be a responsible pet owner. One of the biggest problems that dogs can cause at campgrounds is excessive noise. If you bring your dog on a camping trip, do what you can to keep barking to a minimum, especially at night. (And never leave dogs alone at a campsite.) Also, make sure to pick up your dog’s waste and follow any leash rules the campground might have.
12. Respect other campers’ space. Don’t cut through other people’s campsites (even if there seems to be a trail) and make sure kids and pets respect campsite boundaries too.
13. Don’t arrive too late or leave too early. If possible, try not to set up camp or pack up to leave during the campground’s quiet hours. The excess noise (and light) can be really disruptive to campers who are trying to sleep.
14. Obey the campground speed limit. Whenever you’re driving to and from your campsite, make sure to drive slowly. Campgrounds are often full of people—especially kids—and driving slowly will help keep everyone safe.
15. Don’t wash dishes in bathroom sinks. While it can seem like a convenient solution to dirty dishes, most campgrounds don’t allow campers to wash dishes in restrooms. Not only is it unsanitary, it takes up limited space that’s meant for people who are using the restroom facilities. A better option is to fill a plastic washtub at a water spigot and wash dishes at your site.
16. Avoid running generators or vehicles. While some campgrounds may allow generators, many don’t, so be sure to know the rules before you use one. And while it’s tempting to turn on a car for a quick phone charge, be aware that an idling vehicle is not only noisy, it produces fumes that will have a negative impact on other campers. If you think you’ll need electricity during your trip, book a site with electricity or see if the campground offers places where you can charge devices like phones.
17. Don’t burn trash. Burning trash in a campfire produces fumes that can harm the surrounding environment and people who are nearby. Instead of burning, pack up trash and dispose of it in the campground’s designated container.
Remember that the above rules are unofficial camping guidelines. If you can’t remember them and find yourself questioning a decision while camping, just ask yourself if the action you’re taking respects the surrounding environment and your fellow campers. If you keep these two things in mind, you likely can’t go wrong.