By Bob Difley
Summer is almost here, and boondockers will soon be looking for campsites in the national forests. These tips may help make your camping trip more efficient and more pleasurable.
Plan to reach the Forest Service (FS) office or visitor center before it closes, but also allow enough time to dump, fill water, and shop for food and supplies before you arrive. The last food market may be miles from the ranger station – and back in the opposite direction.
- If you don’t have one already, pick up “A Guide To Your National Forests,” a free brochure showing the locations of national forests and grasslands along with contact information.
- A ”Visitor Map” for the forest will provide indispensable information on attractions, facilities, services, and recreational opportunities. If you plan to spend some time in the forest or expect to return again, spring for $8 to $10 and buy a topographical map for the section of forest you plan to visit. It will show the forest in more detail, all the paved and unpaved roads, elevations, rivers, lakes, streams, and mountains, and is great for exploring as well as locating campgrounds and forest features.
- The above Guide and Maps are available online here.
- Most offices have photocopies under the counter of the campgrounds in the forest with a map of how to get there, amenities, size and access information so you know whether your rig will fit. If you don’t see them, ask.
- Check for special fire regulations, especially when it is exceptionally dry. You may not be permitted to build a campfire, though an enclosed barbecue, gas grill, or camp stove may be OK. Find out whether a fire permit is required. When you leave make sure the fire is out. Feel the coals to make sure they are cold. Cover the ashes with dirt.
- Ranger stations have a lot more information than may be visible in the office, such as where to go fishing, launch a boat, kayak, or canoe, hunt for mushrooms, and go rockhounding. They will have lists of wildflowers, wildlife, and birds of the forest, geocaching, off-roading and jeep trails, hiking trails, and berry picking locations. Ask for information if you don’t see it.
- Check for temporary road closures that aren’t on the map and for temporary closures of campgrounds.
- Always get forest fire information. You don’t want to find yourself camped downwind of blowing smoke — and smoke can blow 20 or 30 miles from the fire. Not pleasant or healthy.
- Ask the rangers about possible boondocking (dispersed camping) spots outside of campgrounds. They usually know which roads and locations have accessible campsites.
- Locate dump and water filling stations (sometimes the rangers will let you fill water from the office faucets — don’t be afraid to ask). Rangers will be glad to talk to you about their forest, so ask what they would recommend you see, unusual features, or specific scenic spots or trails. And be sure to thank them for their help.
When you have collected all the information, find a campsite for the first night based on what you have learned — maybe a designated campground not too far from the ranger station. The next day you can explore the forest to check out other campgrounds and boondocking sites.
You can find Bob Difley’s RVing e-books on Amazon Kindle.