National Park Camping Regulations

National Park Camping Regulations
The canons of National Park camping are as diverse as the areas they represent. In Glacier National Park in Montana, you're supposed to make loud noises to scare away grizzlies. At Mesa Verde, you don't start an artifact collection of petroglyphs or sacred kiva stones. National Parks are created to protect environments, flora and fauna and most of their rules are directly attributable to this mission. There are, however, some general rules that National Parks insist that you follow.

Site Limits, Reservations

Most parks limit the duration of your stay in their campgrounds, often to 14 days. Within the campgrounds, you may only inhabit designated sites. All vehicles, RVs and trailers must be parked at your campsite or on its driveway, and driving or parking off-road is prohibited.

Fires and Wood Gathering

Fire restrictions vary with area and fire danger indices that are usually contingent on season. Fires may be limited or prohibited at certain times. In campgrounds, the provided fire rings and grates are the only legal place to burn fires. Fires should be kept in control, should be attended and should be completely snuffed out before you leave a site. Wood gathering is usually restricted to down-and-dead materials or is strictly prohibited.


Most national parks do not allow pets on trails (the exception is guide dogs) or in swimming areas or bathrooms. In campgrounds and in areas where they are permitted, pets must be leashed or otherwise restrained.

Vehicles, Boating and Fishing

Trails, boardwalks and off-road areas are off limits to bicycles and motorized vehicles of any kind. For the protection of wildlife and pristine environments, motorized boats are subject to strict rules. Kayaks and canoes are generally allowed throughout parks. Fishing is regulated by minimum size, species, number of fish and sometimes season. Permits are usually required and can be purchased by the season, day or group of days.

Registration and Fees

In addition to entrance fees, national parks charge for campground use and the amount varies with type of campsite and services provided. Some campgrounds require reservations and, in high season at popular parks, reservations are strongly suggested. First come- first served sites often fill up before 10:00 a.m. A one-year pass to all national sites that charge entry fees is $80 in 2009.

Food Storage

Food must be securely stored and never left outside your vehicle when you are sleeping or away from your site. At back country sites, storage facility is sometimes provided as metal boxes or "bear lines." Proper storage protects you and your food and insures that animals will not become aggressive (and need to be eliminated).

Consideration For Other Campers

Most parks enforce quiet hours between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Not walking through others' campsites or creating very loud noise or visual spectacles is just common courtesy. The use of guns, bows or fireworks is prohibited in national parks.


To prevent pollution, garbage, litter, and foreign substances must be kept out of lakes, streams and other waters. All garbage and litter must be deposited in containers provided, or taken with you when you leave.

Article Written By Barry Truman

Barry Truman has published many outdoor activity articles in the past five years with International Real Travel Adventures, the Everett Herald and Seattle Post Intelligencer newspapers, Backpacking Light Magazine and He has a forestry degree from the University of Washington.

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