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Basic Campground Etiquette for Camping Beginners

When camping in close proximity to others, especially in a developed campground, it’s important to follow some basic camping etiquette rules that respect the land and your camping neighbors.

By: Tara Schatz + Save to a List

Camping with my family, or even by myself, is one of the best ways I know to recharge my mind, body, and soul, whether I’m hiking deep into the woods, or setting up my tent at a front-country campground. All that relaxing and connecting with nature flies out the window if your camping neighbors are rude, noisy, or disrespectful.

Want to ensure that you get what you need from your adventure while still making friends in the woods? Follow these simple tips for camping etiquette, and everyone will have a good time. 

Abide By Quiet Time at Your Campground

I know. You’re on vacation. You don’t want to go to bed at 10 pm. You can go to bed whenever you want, but please, for the sake of your camping neighbors, keep it down. That means no radios, drunken shenanigans, or generators during campground quiet hours, which vary depending on the campground. And speaking of generators, many campgrounds mandate specific daytime hours for generator use. That’s because generators are ridiculously loud, especially for tent campers. 

Respect Your Camping Neighbor’s Space

Don’t cut through occupied campsites for a quicker trip to the beach or the bathroom, and be mindful of your neighbor’s privacy. Stay on traveled paths and roadways so everyone can have the privacy they deserve. If you’re camping with kids, make sure they follow this important camping etiquette rule as well!

Keep Your Campsite Clean

A raven taking advantage of a messy campsite in the Grand Canyon. Photo by Tara Schatz.

And most importantly, don’t leave food or garbage unattended. Rodents, birds, and bigger critters are just waiting for the opportunity to vandalize your site and steal your food. Every chance a wild animal gets to devour people food makes it more habituated to those people. Birds become a nuisance, but dangerous animals like bears, coyotes, and even raccoons will sometimes have to be euthanized because they lose their natural fear of humans.

The raven in the photo above had a great time at our neighbor’s campsite in the Grand Canyon, and while we tried to shoo him away, he and his friends were really persistent and gobbled up several bags of potato chips and made a huge mess that could have easily been avoided.

Follow Leave No Trace Principles

As a lover of the outdoors, you want to create as little impact on the ecosystem as possible. This means being respectful of wildlife, disposing of waste properly, and minimizing your camping footprint. You can read more about Leave No Trace principles here.

As our population and love of the outdoors increases, Leave no Trace principles will become even more important, allowing us to coexist with wildlife and maintain natural landscapes while still enjoying trails, campgrounds, and wild spaces.

Don’t Move Firewood

Invasive insect species and other parasites are decimating our forests at an alarming rate. These critters don’t discriminate and will hitch a ride on your firewood as they search for their next victims. New infestations often begin in campgrounds and parks, so it’s really crucial that campers respect these regulations. You can view state-by-state information about moving firewood here.

Practice Campfire Safety 

Enjoy your fire, but be sure to put it out when you're ready for bed. Photo by Tara Schatz.

We don’t see much of Smokey the Bear these days, but he’s still out there, reminding campers of all ages to keep their campfires a manageable size and extinguish them completely when the fun is over. When building your campfire, be sure to remove dry leaves and other debris from the fire ring, and only build fires in designated spots. Watch your campfire carefully, and when you turn in for the night, douse it with water so it is entirely out. Yes, it’s still true — only you can prevent forest fires!

Rowan enjoying a campfire Enjoying a campfire is one of the best parts of camping, but be sure to put it out completely when the fun is over.

Don’t Arrive to your Campsite too Late or Leave too Early

If you can help it, arrive at your campground before dark to set up, and don’t pack up and leave before 7 am. There may be times when you have no choice but to break this unwritten rule. If you do have to be setting up or breaking down in the dark, try and keep noise and lights to a minimum.

Camping with Dogs

Most dogs love camping and being outside. Photo credit: Tara Schatz.

Camping with dogs can be either awesome or difficult, depending on the dog. Our pup has such an exuberant zest for adventure, and he helps me appreciate the magic of being outdoors. Following some basic dog etiquette while camping will make you more popular with your neighbors and help keep your dog safe. As a general rule, I find that outdoor lovers are usually dog lovers, but not always. To keep the peace and become an ambassador for well-behaved dogs across the world, follow these camping etiquette tips:

Clean up After Your Pooch when Camping

You’re camping neighbors will not appreciate smelling (or stepping in) any gifts your dog leaves laying around the campground, and not cleaning up after your dog is a good way to make enemies of your neighbors! 

two people and a German Shepherd sitting in front of a small tent eating a meal. Camping with your dog? Be sure to follow some common-sense guidelines to keep everyone safe and happy.

Keep Your Dog Quiet When Camping in a Campground

Does your dog bark at every single person, squirrel, or dog he meets? Consider looking for an out-of-the-way campsite to minimize distractions and pacify your camping neighbors. If you really don’t think you can keep your dog quiet while camping, please consider leaving him or her with a friend or dog sitter.

Don’t Leave Your Dog Alone at the Campsite

Most campgrounds have rules about leaving your pooch unattended. To avoid problems, be sure you supervise your dog at all times.

Keep Social Interactions to a Minimum

Just because your dog is the friendliest pup on earth, doesn’t mean he has to meet and greet everyone he comes across. While many people are enthusiastic about loving up other people’s dogs, others would prefer to keep their distance. If your neighbors are dog-lovers, they will be the first to let you (and your dog) know that they want to say hi, otherwise, keep interactions to a minimum.

A Few Tips for Making Friends While Camping

A little campfire music is like a camping welcome mat. Photo by Tara Schatz. 

Now that you’re up-to-date on the finer points of camping etiquette, here are a few extra tips for making friends with your campground neighbors:

  • Bring along some instruments. Guitars and campfires go together like cookies and milk, and a little night music will set the mood for a lively evening under the stars. As long as you’re not too rowdy and abide by quiet times, your neighbors will probably appreciate the music.
  • Don’t forget the beverages. Whether you prepare the best camp coffee around, or you’ve got some extra homebrews in the cooler, sharing your beverage of choice with your neighbors is a great way to make friends.
  • Roll out the welcome mat. Creating a campsite that doubles as a cozy retreat will encourage visitors. If you’ve got the room, why not bring a few extra chairs, some solar-powered twinkly lights, and a colorful tablecloth? This camping thing could turn into a whole lifestyle!

You don’t have to be a hard-core trekker to enjoy a night or two under the stars. Follow the above guidelines for proper camping etiquette to become an ambassador for outdoor recreation and wild spaces everywhere.

Cover photo by Krists Luhaers/Unsplash. A version of this story first appeared on Back Road Ramblers.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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