My camping style: no fees, no toilets, no people

I’m not that in to campgrounds. They make me feel claustrophobic, you have neighbors, you can hear them, your dog has to be on a leash, you have to pay, you feel bad for peeing outside your tent in the middle of the night.  I always feel like I need to keep my kids quiet… and it’s just sorta stressful for me.

I go camping to get away from the world.

This is why I love camping on public lands. You can pretty much set up camp wherever you want, which is technically known as ‘dispersed camping‘. I have topo maps of just about every state in the west for the sole purpose of knowing exactly where to find Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land.  I pour over the maps, until I’ve located the perfect obscure road.

We drive down some nearly nonexistent two-track in search of some real estate. We typically don’t camp in the same place more than one night (if so we usually sleep in our van), but if we plan to stay awhile, each patch of flat ground is critically evaluated.  I envision it as our camp, getting out to kick at the dirt a bit while I mull it over… weighing the benefits of ‘settling’ at a spot with the costs of going further in search of an even better spot and having to set up in the dark.

The perfect camp has:  A few trees (or at least a bush or two if we’re in the desert). An old abandoned fire ring. Dirt soft enough for hammering in some stakes.  Flat ground. And a hill somewhere nearby to hike up, in order to look down on camp first thing in the morning.

Once we’ve found the perfect spot I then employ my horribly suppressed homemaker skills to turn my patch of bare dirt in the middle of nowhere into a cozy dwelling for five. I find a rock that appears ‘meant’ to hold my water jug.  Two trees that are placed ‘just so’ to hold up my hammock.  A branch that was destined to serve as a hanger for my drying dish rags.

I set up the ‘bedroom’ where the tent goes, with a rug in front for shoes and sand. Way over there (WAY over there) I stick the shovel in the ground, topped with TP, in front of a giant bush that grants privacy for bathroom activities.  The kitchen is set up near the fire ring, but not too close to the bedrooms, with an open bar for daily activities.  If I am forced to rig up a tarp to protect the eating area, well, that’s just an added bonus.

I came across a few pics to help illustrate my point:

I guess I’ve just come to crave that feeling of being totally alone in the world; but camping preferences are different for everyone.  There are a few other bloggers blogging about their camping styles this week. Check these out:

Learning to love camping: It’s all about style

A Tent On Your Roof? What?

From tent to trailer. What did we do?!

Public Use Cabins, Yurts, Fire Lookouts

Camping in Style with an RV Trailer

Tent camping in State Parks

What’s your camping style?

32 Comments so far

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  1. […] Outside Mom, My camping style: no fees, no toilet, no people […]

  2. Angeerah

    The vast majority of my camping experience is east in the Adirondacks where we hike mountains then find a camping spot. Usually there are designated spots but often we find ourselves away from everyone else, usually in a close proximity to a brook or stream. When we lived in Utah, I loved camping on BLM land. As an east coast girl, I felt like I was trespassing and it felt a bit adventurous. One of my favorite spots was outside of Yosemite near Mono Lake. We found what could barely be called a dirt road and kept driving until we found a great spot with trees, a big field and a view of some mountains (hills?) I have to admit at first I felt weird camping there but in the end, it was pretty amazing.

    • Angeerah – I loved our thoughts on this. It does feel more adventures, I agree! Your spot on Mono Lake sounds wonderful, I love that area!

  3. […] Outside Mom: No Fees, No Toilets, No People […]

  4. I would love this kind of camping if I didn’t love having a bathroom near by so much. I hate squatting. But every time I see a photo of a tent in the wilderness like your photo above, it makes me want to drive off somewhere into the wild and find that solitude.

  5. I feel inspired. I have done many BLM trips in the past but not in a few years. Like you, I think campgrounds can be stressful. Especially with my kids waking up at 7am and wanting to start a game of run-through-the-forest. Going to do my research of BLM lands near us this afternoon!

    • Alyssa – Ya, you’ve got TONS of stuff near you, probably more Forest Service thought. I might do a review this week or next of the maps I use to find land… It’s key!

  6. Trieste

    Our family were down near dead horse point , then up near mirror lake. Both breath taking secluded places and drastically different. I felt so incredibly blessed to live in such a beautiful state.

  7. Misti

    Linds! I love how most of your pictures are “somewhere in…” Fantastic article and pictures, as always. Of course I’m not sure I could camp like you. I have to know SOMEONE SOMEWHERE has camped in that location before just so I know I can do it too. Retarded? I know.

    • Misti – If there is one thing I’ve learned from Seth and Todd it’s that you never disclose the full location of your ‘secret spots’. ;)

  8. Hi, Your photos look wonderful, and they really do look like what camping is all about. We are not fans of caravan parks either (maybe what you refer to as campgrounds??) but must admit that sometimes we use them for the fact that a hot shower and toilet facilities are so very tempting…..

    Now you have ME thinking about what our camping style is – but I do know that your photos make me want to go where YOU have been. I love the ones in the desert…

    • Annie – I’m going to start calling them caravan parks, that actually seems like a much more appropriate term! I wouldn’t mind camping where YOU are!

  9. Susan

    Your style of camping would be my style IF I didn’t not live here in Northeast Ohio! lol! When I lived in WA my hubby and the dogs and I would frequently stay in the middle of nowhere which I loved (still do). But being here in a densely populated state with no real wilderness areas we do camp a lot at nearby state parks. Occasionally we make it over to PA to camp in the Allegheny National Park but the drive makes it hard for just a weekend get away. My style of camping has changed a little bit since having kids but we still prefer tent camping over an RV and have come to love camping in any weather (yes, the rain does not deter us any longer!). This year we just started to use an air mattress for the kids in the tent and I cannot tell you how much that seems like extravegance! Little changes here and there but the main thing is we like to get away from the world so we camp a lot during the off season and we leave the gadgets at home were we can just be together!

    • Susan – I have to admit, that’s the #1 reason we could never live anywhere east of Colorado, the amount of public land drops dramatically. Still, it sounds like you’ve found some beautiful places as well as a camping style that works. And that is what it’s all about!

      PS Good call on camping in the off season, that’s when campgrounds are actually doable ;)

      • Susan Sedenik

        Hi Lindsey, I know I responded to this post last August (!) but I wanted to know if I could email you about an upcoming trip my family and I are taking to the southwest this summer. I was hoping you could provide a few locations you could recommend for dispersed camping and also give me an idea about what to prepare for or be on the lookout for in the desert (snakes, scorpions, weather, etc..). I am a regular reader and we have an extended trip coming up and thought you may have some good advice for me & the family! It will be 2 adults, 2 little kids, and 1 old dog! :) If we can email let me know, I would love to pick your brain!

  10. I do like camping in the middle of nowhere. Though with kids it is so much nicer to have at least a port-potty and potable water. But I am super picky about campgrounds. I got stressed out and miserable at one we stayed at this summer. I like lots of privacy and peace and quiet. We are fortunate to have some great Forest Service campgrounds in the Pacific Northwest, though they are getting more expensive than they used to be. I’m just starting to learn more about the dispersed camping options around here. I think when we get a bigger vehicle that allows us to bring our water and maybe a little table or something then it will be easier to camp commando style! I love the photos you shared. Maybe next summer we’ll make a road trip down to join you!

    • Jennifer – I use to spend some time in the summers kayaking (white water) around the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Back then our dispersed camping consisted of a lot of little pull offs along forest service roads. Not all the sites were pretty! The great thing about where you are is the off season!! You can be in a campground and still be relatively alone. Yes, come on down to the desert! YOu’ll love it. Well… maybe not in the summer. :)

  11. Beautiful pictures and congrats on staying so hardcore! It’s funny, but if I don’t have people around while I’m camping, I get REALLY worried about being abducted by aliens, or eaten by bears, or killed by a random escaped convict. Totally crazy, I know, but there, I’ve admitted it. :) I think you guys are amazingly adventurous to go out camping like this!

    • Kate C – Hahaaa. I kinda know what you mean, when/if I start taking my kids camping by myself I’m not so sure I could be in the middle of nowhere. Not because of animals, mostly because I’m afraid of crazy people. :) And yes, I’ll talk about the maps! SOon….

  12. Oh and PS – yes, please do a post about your maps. I am a map junkie. I own WAY more than you’d ever think was necessary – and I’m always looking for new ones!

  13. […] posting my article on dispersed camping a few days ago I’ve had quite a few questions on HOW one goes about finding places to camp on […]

  14. Back in my younger years, I truly love to join camping at school or through the invitation of my friends. I love stargazing at the night sky and the adventure as well.

  15. I have worked in National Parks for years and the last thing I wanted to do on my days off was be surrounded by a bunch of tourists. This is exactly how I like to camp, to get away from it all and everyone. I like to feel like this is my special place and it’s meant for only me at this moment. It’s so much more enjoyable when you don’t feel like you’re “working”, which is always how I feel when I’m camping or hiking and see someone being irresponsible.

  16. […] No Fees, No Toilets, No People […]

  17. […] directly to this situation, not yet having nine or ten year olds, we can definitely relate to camping, camping with kids, and camping while pregnant!  Between the two of us, these are our […]

  18. […]  An overnight camping trip and the first weenie roast of 2013.  Our bags were packed for this months […]

  19. […] mentioned before that I’m not really a campground kind of girl, but every now-and-then I’ve found myself in a low key backwoods campground where I actually […]

  20. I have always loved “real camping” as I call it. I have not been brave enough to camp with a child . . . until this weekend. We are going to baby step into dispersed camping. We will be camping in a primitive camp ground that has outhouses and picnic tables. I am hoping its successful and next month we can go real camping. Reading this and seeing your pictures, is inspiring. I can’t wait for my daughter to feel alone with nature and in awe at the beauty of a solo sunrise. Thanks for sharing.

  21. […] from experience outdoor parents about camping styles. Here are the links so that you can read – My camping style: no fees, no toilets, no – Learn to love camping: It’s all about […]


    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

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