Boondocking Part 3: Leave No Trace!

Free campsite in Dixie National Forest, Utah

Now that you know just how much free camping is out there and how to go about finding your very own free campsite, it’s time to learn how to leave that sweet site behind as nice – or nicer! – than you found it. There’s nothing worse than rolling up to a great secluded spot only to find trash, trampled ground or toilet paper.

Leave No Trace outdoor ethics are designed to preserve and protect everything from city parks to wilderness areas from abuse and overuse. The seven principals * are:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

1. When traveling to a new area, know your options. I always carry my National Geographic Adventure Atlas, which shows National Forest and BLM lands. There are other great resources out there too, like the Frugal Shunpiker’s Guides to Boondocking and, kind of like Couch Surfing for RV’ers.

2. Remember: Great campsites are found, not made. When scouting for a site, look for signs of previous use, like fire rings and always camp on durable surfaces: packed dirt, rock, gravel, dry grass or snow and at least 200 feet from “riparian areas” i.e. lakes, streams and wetlands.

Free campsite in Medicine Bow National Forest

3. Don’t let the lack of bathrooms freak you out. Compared to a pit toilet or nasty public restroom, crapping in the woods really is not that bad. First, find a secluded spot away from camp and off any trails. Then dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep (I carry a garden trowel for this purpose), take care of business, then recover the hole. Toilet paper is trash and should always be packed out! If you pack it in, pack it out. All trash – including left over food and food waste – should be taken with you.

4. Natural treasures lose their magic when you take them out of their environment. That shiny rock will never look as shiny indoors. Leave it for the next person.

Can I keep it?! Bowie sometimes has trouble with rule #4…

5. First, check if fires are permitted where you’re going. Many places are fire-free at certain times of year due to dry conditions. If fires are allowed, always use an existing campfire ring. Don’t move rocks to create a new one. Never cut down trees or branches for firewood and try to collect downed wood away from camp. If you buy firewood, try to get it within 10 miles of where you’ll burn itFires should be kept small and within the confines of the fire pit. Never leave a fire unattended and make sure it’s dead out (cool to the touch) before you leave camp.

Very creative and very gross fire ring in Nevada

6. Respect wildlife. Remember you’re a guest in their home. A fed bear is a dead bear. Store all food and toiletries (toothpaste, deodorant, etc.) in a closed vehicle. If you’re not worried about bears, think about skunks. Do you want to lure a skunk into your tent?

7. Be considerate of your neighbors. Nobody goes Boondocking to bother or be bothered. There’s plenty of space, peace and quiet for all of us out there!

When Boondocking, you’re often unlikely to have neighbors at all… Pawnee National Grasslands, Colorado

Tips and questions always welcome! Also check out my previous free camping posts Boondocking 101: How To Camp For Free in Beautiful Places and Boondocking, Part 2: Finding A Sweet Free Campsite!

The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics:

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
This entry was posted in Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Vagabonding 101 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Boondocking Part 3: Leave No Trace!

  1. Klbexplores says:

    Great list. One other thing to add to # 5 – Never move firewood from one forest or campground to another. You could be moving vegetation and pests that could affect the new camp area. I love knowing I always leave a site better than I found it. It is good for all of us!

  2. Good one! I knew I was missing something. More info here:

  3. evea192 says:

    I wonder if we here in South-Africa have free camping sites.?

  4. LA Edwards says:

    Great blog and great advice.

  5. Pingback: Boondocking 101: How To Camp For Free In Beautiful Places « Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  6. Pingback: Boondocking 101: How To Camp For Free In Beautiful Places « Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  7. Pingback: Explosions in the Sky: Canyonlands Thunderstorm! | Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  8. Pingback: Hey Blonde Coyote, Will You Plan My Road Trip? | Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  9. Pingback: Ask the Blonde Coyote: Where the Heck is the Bathroom?! | Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  10. Pingback: With A Name Like Death Canyon… | Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  11. ashley says:

    Im wondering if theres any free campsites in rolla missouri close by greyhound bus station or somewheres to camp

  12. Pingback: Tips For Camping in National Forests Such As Wayne National Forest – Southeast Ohio Beauty

Comments are closed.