Camping is one of America’s favorite summer pastimes. Every year, thousands of people pack up their cars and head outdoors to camp under the stars.
Campgrounds are the most popular choice for campers. Sharing outdoor space with other people means following social customs to make sure everyone gets along and has a great time.
By following these basic rules of camping etiquette, you’ll be the best camper you can be.
What to do When You Arrive
- If you grab a first-come, first-served site, set up camp so incoming campers know you’ve claimed the site. Don’t leave the tag and bail. Especially if it’s a campground with high demand. If you’re ready to set up camp, set up. If you’re not, come back when you are.
- Pitch your tent on the designated tent pad or area. The tent pad/area is the spot that’s the most even and best equipped for your tent. Don’t pitch your tent on fresh grass or foliage. You’ll disturb the wild vegetation.
- If you arrive at the campground late at night, turn your headlights on low-beam. Set up your tent as quietly as possible and only use a headlamp or dimmed lantern.
What to do While You're There
- Keep your pets leashed and within sight at all times. Some campgrounds let you bring your furry friends along. Most require that you leash your pets. Respect these laws, as they’re in place for a reason.
- Clean up after your pets. Dispose of your pet’s waste, in a plastic bag or trash bin. Don’t let your pet take care of their business in another camper’s site.
- Control any loud or sustained barking, even if it means removing your dog from the campground. Disruptive noises can attract wildlife, frighten, or disturb other campers.
- Teach your kids about boundaries. Make sure they don’t wander into other campsites or into the road. Try to control their voice levels during quiet hours.
- If you’re bringing very young children, or a large group, consider reserving a site at the end of the campground. Other campers might be less likely to become disturbed.
- Don’t bring wood from home. It may carry insects or disease that can threaten the local forest. Be gracious and support your local campground that sells firewood.
- Never cut wood from trees in the campground. Only take kindling that’s already on the ground, unattached to any tree or foliage. Pay attention to rules against gathering kindling, as some campgrounds discourage it.
- If a fire ban is in effect, do not burn anything. Some fire bans are conditional and will allow stoves. Check the details of fire bans before going camping.
- Only build fires in designated fire pits. Most campsites have fire pits built into the site. Primitive campgrounds may have a fire ring of rocks. If you want to throw trash into the fire pit, make sure it’s safe to burn.
- Keep your campsite clean. Don’t throw trash on the ground or picnic table. This is especially important if you’re in bear country. Don’t leave anything out that can attract wildlife. Food, pet food, trash, dirty dishes, fuel, toiletries, soap, etc.
- Don’t dump your dirty water into lakes, rivers, or creeks. Dump it into designated water disposal areas. If there isn’t one, dump it at least 100 feet away from your campsite.
- Clean the areas around you. If you notice a camper next to you leaving trash behind, be a good citizen and clean it up. Their trash can attract unwanted wildlife. It benefits everyone to keep the campground clean.
- Use biodegradable soap. You can find it at any outdoor retailer or big box store. Most biodegradable soaps are highly concentrated so you only need a small amount.
- Don’t wash dishes in the bathroom sinks. Food and waste clog the drains. Many modern campgrounds provide sinks for dishwashing. If those aren’t available, water spigots are often placed throughout campgrounds.
- Don’t walk through people’s campsites unless necessary. There are exceptions; if there’s a path cutting through a campsite to the bathrooms or water spigot. Announcing yourself or giving a friendly wave is the polite thing to do.
- Respect quiet hours. Most campgrounds establish quiet hours between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am. Many campers get up early for activities, so they turn in early. Turn down the music, talk at a lower volume, and keep the kids a little quieter. It’s also considerate to turn off lanterns in favor of campfires.
- Don’t be raucous. It’s fine to talk, laugh, and make noise. But don’t turn up your music so the entire campground can hear it.
- If you’re camping in an RV, do not use a generator unless you’re in a designated area that allows them. Most campgrounds have RV sites with hookups.
- Follow the speed limit. Most campgrounds have a limit of 10mph-15mph. The speed limit protects everyone.
- Be friendly. Say hello to your neighbor, or offer to help set up their tent. It helps to keep the atmosphere a welcoming one.
- If you smoke, be mindful of the direction the wind is blowing. Try to keep your smoke out of your neighbors’ path as much as possible.
- Do not feed the wildlife. This includes small critters, like squirrels. It habituates them to humans, making them easier prey for all kinds of predators. More importantly, they can’t digest human food like you can. It can make them them sick and can shorten their lifespan.
What to do When You Leave
- If you leave the campground early in the morning, pack up quietly. Drive out with your headlights on low-beam.
- If possible, leave the campsite cleaner than you found it. Replace any tables or rocks you moved, and make sure to extinguish your fire. Check around you to make sure you didn’t leave any trash, cigarette butts, or personal belongings.
- If you have any firewood or kindling left, leave it for the next camper. Most campgrounds charge for logs if they offer any at all. If it’s raining, leave it under a tree or picnic table.
From arrival to departure, you now have the tools to be a courteous camper and wilderness guest. With each passing year, campgrounds are seeing visitors in increasing numbers. From basic manners to specific rules, these gestures are essential for a harmonious camping environment.
You’ll find that showing courtesy makes it easier to be safe, have fun, and enjoy the splendors of the natural world.