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We all look forward to the weekend, long weekend, or that wonderful week long opportunity to spend time in our favorite campgrounds. You may have spent a lot of time in one or two campgrounds, or maybe you are the type of person who likes variety and enjoys visiting many different sites. Whichever type you are, there are some common rules of etiquette that we should all follow and respect. It not only makes our own trips far more enjoyable, it makes it a much more pleasant experience for everyone if we learn a few simple rules. The list of rules that we have developed unfortunately come from a few bad camping experiences, as well as some general rules that seem to apply to most parks that we have visited over time.
Read the Park Rules
While it may appear that all park rules are the same, they are not. Park rules can vary from state to state, county to county, and even within a single community. Please read and follow all rules as they are stated.
Quiet hours and noise limits
Most parks to have clearly defined times for "Quiet Hours"; however, they are usually the bare minimum. What most people do not realize that sound carries farther in the great outdoors. Generators, televisions, backyard electric bug zappers, and stereos are quite a bit louder than most people realize in these environments. Even the human voice can be heard from greater distances than most people realize. A good rule is to use your indoor voice, even though you are outdoors. Also, if you enter or leave a park after dark, please keep the use of headlights to a minimum, and please drive slowly as to avoid surges or sudden noises from your vehicle. These are the times that are the most dangerous to be using a vehicle in a park.
While there is no general rule about the number of people visiting/using a campsite, it is still best to be aware of the number of guests. A larger crowd of people will increase the noise level and can be an annoyance to other campers. Also, the number of people coming and going from the site can be a potential hazard to those around you. Most parks have rules that guests or visitors need to vacate the park by 10 or 10:30 PM (please check the individual park rules.) Also, when it comes to the number of vehicles per site, please abide by the park rules concerning this issue. Too many vehicles can make a site look cluttered and could cause road hazards for those traveling through the park.
Alcohol, Liquor, and other spirits
This is a very important issue to consider when camping, and rules vary from state to state. Some states do not allow any alcohol of any kind, while other states impose quantity limits. Please check the rules and regulations regarding this before partaking in the use of alcohol. Also, drinking and driving is against the laws in all states. Even if you have consumed a limited amount of alcohol, it is best not to operate any vehicle or machinery until you have given it time to clear from your system. We all want camping to be a life altering experience for positive reasons, not negative.
Weapons and firearms
Rules and regulations on this again vary from state to state. This includes the use of bow and arrows, air guns, paintball guns, rifles, and pistols. If you have any question regarding these regulations, please check with the official sources before heading out to your destination.
There are great number of pet lovers in this country, ourselves included; however, please keep in mind that there are some people who do not like pets. If you do take your pet with you when camping, please keep them on a leash at all times. Even if you are in a park by yourself, you never know if someone may show up unexpectedly. Make sure they have plenty of water, especially on hot days. If you have to leave them behind, a trailer or RV with air conditioning is the best thing to keep them in. If you think it is going to be hot and you do not have access to air conditioning, consider leaving them at home. Remember, if you are hot, they are hotter. Also, do not leave a pet unattended in a car. It only takes a matter of minutes for the car to heat up and be a potential health hazard to the pet. And lastly, please clean up after your pet.
Fireworks are illegal in ALL Parks
The one thing that can make for a bad camping trip for all camp goers is fireworks. We all enjoy the occasional fireworks shows that are put on for special events; however, these are put on by professionals who have quite a bit of experience, and most importantly licenses, permits and are covered by insurance. For the everyday person, fireworks can be dangerous, annoying, and have caused innocent bystanders to suffer injury and loss of property. Not to mention that if illegal fireworks cause harm to people or property, insurance will not cover the cost of any damages and the violator will be held financially responsible. Also, sudden loud noises and/or gun power smoke may not be good for some people with certain medial conditions. Most parks have strict rules about fireworks and their use therein. If a park does allow a limited type of fireworks, they are usually limited to snakes, smokers, party poppers, and sparklers. Please read the rules closely about fireworks for whichever park you visit, and if in doubt, please refrain from using them.
Be extremely vigilant while driving through all parks
Most campgrounds make use of the terrain they are on to showcase their beauty. This usually involves long winding roads through the park that people can drive on, walk next to, or bike down. Unfortunately, there are those that do not pay attention to the posted speed limit. Please keep in mind there are speed limits assigned and you can get a ticket for driving beyond the posted speed limit. Some parks may even have stiffer fines if you are caught. These limits are there to protect you from the unseen danger of other cars, hikers, or bicyclists. So please, watch your speed and watch the road. Also, many campgrounds have one-way loops. Please pay attention to signs for direction of traffic. Lastly, many children love to ride their bikes throughout the park, many times in groups. Please be wary of children at all times as they tend to appear when least expected.
Occupying or checking into campsites
Check-in time can be a very stressful time. Whether you have reserved a site or you are just going to use a first-come-first-serve site, getting settled can be a bit bothersome, especially after a long drive. Again, this varies from state to state, but some states have ranger stations that you must stop by first, while others you pick a site, fill out the campsite slip, and drop your payment in the box. Also, some states mark sites that are reserved, while others have a list of reserved sites by the registration kiosk. For those camping on a first-come-first-serve basis, please check the registration list to make sure your site is not reserved by someone else; especially during the early and late camping season. Please keep in mind that a reserved site means someone has already paid for the site. If you are someone who reserves a site, please use the site you reserved and do not switch with, or occupy another reserved site, without first checking with the person who reserved it. Many people who reserve sites do so because they have a long drive, or because they will be arriving late.
As for late arrivals, there are many reason people will be arriving late to their campsite. They could have had a long drive; there could have been unforeseen incidents along the way; they drive their camping equipment whenever they leave camp and their site does not look occupied even though it is; they may have reserved the site knowing that they would not arrive until early morning and did not want to have to wait until the site was cleared in the afternoon; and many more reasons. For those reasons and more, do not occupy a reserved site in the hopes that when the people who reserved them arrive they would want to change sites for any reason. You do not know them or when they are going to arrive. So please DO NOT occupy someone else's reserved site for any reason.
If you arrive on site and discover someone else in a site that you reserved, please do not confront them directly. Contact the camp host or Park Ranger immediately. Let them deal with the situation. While this can be a very frustrating thing to discover, especially if it is late at night, the Rangers and park staff are better trained to handle the situation. If you are the one that is in a site that was reserved by someone else, please follow the Park Ranger's or park staff's instructions, and work with them to remedy the situation as quickly as possible, and be prepared to move as quickly as possible. Please remember that the people who reserved the site are not the ones in the wrong. We are all out camping for the same reasons. To have fun, make memories, and make friends.
I would also like to mention along these lines, that when occupying a campsite, please occupy the campsite. While the rules about occupying a campsite for more that two weeks apply for free and paid campgrounds, there is an unfortunate loophole in the camping rules, about occupying the site. Please do not set up an empty tent or trailer, then not staying overnight. This has become an unfortunate way to reserve a free camping site. With a paid site, it is not as much of an issue because there is currency involved. But there are examples of people putting up their tent or trailer, then not using the site for a long period of time, or at all, thereby preventing someone from using the site in the meantime. As a courtesy to other campers, please only set up your camping equipment a few days or the day of your planned camp, and take it down when you are done. If you are going to put it up several days in advance, it is a good idea to stay in it at night. Not only is it a good way to ensure the safety of your equipment, it is respectful for fellow campers.
Camping is about "The Great Outdoors" - Remember to give each other space - Updated 8/6/2017
We all go camping for a number of reasons, but probably the biggest reason is to enjoy "The Great Outdoors". While I find it interesting, and fun, to meet our camping neighbors, and many have made life long friends this way, I may not necessarily want to get to know them too well. When checking into a campground, especially if you have not reserved a site, be vigilant of how large and how close the sites are to one another. If the campground is fairly unoccupied, or there are plenty of sites available, give yourself a little room from other campers. Also, check to see if an empty site, next to yours, is reserved before setting up, and make sure you have plenty of room. You never know how large of equipment the person who reserved the site next door will be, or whether they will be part of a larger group. While I encourage people to visit and get to know one another, nothing can be more bothersome on a camping trip to have someone camping in "your hip pocket". Especially if you do not know the other campers. Be courteous to one another and let us all give one another the opportunity to enjoy the "space" in "The Great Outdoors".
Be vigilant about where you go in the Park
Most parks do not have any restriction of where you can or cannot go; however, that does not mean you can wander into someone else's campsite without permission. A campsite that has been paid for by someone else is no different than a hotel room paid for by another guest. If you need to pass through someone's campsite, or speak with the register camper, then you must first ask permission before venturing on or through it. If you see an unoccupied site, some parks will allow you to use it as long as you clear out if someone wants to register it, or if asked by the park authority. A good rule of thumb about using an unoccupied campsite is DO NOT use it. Someone driving through looking for a site might confuse your vehicle parked there. If you do use an unoccupied site, please make certain that you follow the rules of keeping it clean. If other campers are bothered by you using it, it is best for all parties if you vacate the site when asked.
Another consideration is using paths or trails. Many of the entrances to paths, trails, or bridges run near or along the edges of campsites. Please be considerate of the people using these sites. Follow and stay on the designated path. Good way to remember this is to "Stay in Your Lane." If the path is unclear, give the campers a wide berth and DO NOT walk through their camp. Besides this being disrespectful to those camping at the site, there are many hidden dangers around campsites. Ropes, guide lines, pets, fires, etc. sometimes are difficult to see. The best rule is to avoid the campsite proper. Lastly, keep the commotion down to a minimum when passing by these sites. Sometimes children are not aware of the level of noise as they walk by, and all of us can teach by example in these types of situations.
It is always your responsibility to clean up after yourself
The great outdoors is great because it is fresh, beautiful, and full of life. When you are enjoying the great outdoors, please be respectful of it. Keep your sites cleaned, park where you are supposed to, and PLEASE put all TRASH where it belongs. Fire pits are not recycling containers for pop or beer cans, or bottles of any sort. Please put these items in their proper places. As mentioned before, if you have pets, clean up after them. If you are into equestrian or trail riding, please remove all waste generated by your animals and dispose of them in the designated areas. Please DO NOT throw the waste into the wild areas around the campsite. Also, if you do have large animals, please keep their areas cleaned. We all like to enjoy these areas, please leave the campsites the way you found them, if not better.
Park Rangers and Staff
You may see them driving through camp at all hours of the day and night, or you may see them performing routine park maintenance. Keep in mind that these are the people who are dedicated to providing a fun, safe, and comfortable environment for us to use and enjoy. Please do not be afraid to speak to or ask them questions. Many of them are enthusiastic about their parks and love to share information and stories about them. Also, do not hesitate to report problems to them about the park, or if you have concerns about other campers. If Rangers or Park Staff speak to you regarding a problem, please do not be alarmed, upset, or take it personally. This can happen to any of us, and sometimes we do not realize that we are being disruptive to other campers. They do want everyone to have a good experience and to return for future outings.
The Last and Most Important Rule about Camping...Smile!
Many a friendship has been made while camping. If you see something interesting that someone is using while camping, don't be afraid to ask. If someone asks you about something you have, don't be afraid to share with them. If someone looks in distress, the worst thing you can do is to ignore them. When you see your neighbors, don't be afraid to say "Hello", or share a friendly smile.