What Is Dispersed Camping?

Camping & Hiking expert Elizabeth H. goes over common questions about the different ways to camp and the services available at each kind of site.

A campground with trucks, a camper, and tents in massive desert rock formations. The sky is pink and purple in the setting sun.

BLM land in Alabama Hills, CA. Photo by Ethan Dow

Dispersed camping is an awesome way to explore remote areas and avoid the tourist crowds. Just remember, when you’re dispersed camping you are both the camper and the campground host, so please leave no trace and follow pack it in, pack it out principals to help protect our public lands! Dispersed camping is one of many ways to enjoy the outdoors outside of a traditional campground. This article will take you through all the different camping options at your disposal.

What is dispersed camping?

Dispersed camping is camping anywhere that is not in a designated campground. This is most commonly done on public lands like National Forest or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Dispersed camping sites offer few or no services or amenities. This is ideal for experienced campers who are looking for more adventure or fewer crowds.

What is primitive camping?

Primitive camping is another name for dispersed camping. It refers to sites that have limited to no services or amenities. It has become much more popular over the last few years as more people head out to camp, so please remember to be respectful, pack out all of your trash, and properly bury human waste!

What is pioneer camping?

Pioneer camping is yet another term for dispersed camping! There are no services or amenities provided. You must bring everything you need with you and take all of it back with you when you leave. It’s a great way to get away from all of the distractions of modern life and live your Oregon Trail fantasies, though the thousands of miles of walking and dysentery are optional these days! To get set up with all the gear you need, reach out to a Curated expert.

What is stealth camping?

Stealth camping is camping at an unestablished site. This is common for backpackers or those on bike tours. This requires campsite selection skills and should be treated more carefully to reduce your impacts on the environment. In many places, it is illegal to camp outside of designated sites so please check the local regulations before doing this. By staying on established trails and in established sites, you are helping prevent unnecessary erosion and protect plant and animal life.

What is backcountry camping?

Backcountry camping is what you are doing while backpacking. No roads, facilities, or services will be available at backcountry sites. You will likely need a permit for backcountry camping, check with the local ranger station for more information. They can provide you with permits, maps, and alert you to any restrictions currently active in the area. Many places have fire bans in effect due to the drought and the extreme fire danger.

Two small tents are in the bottom of the image, on the shore of a lake that is reflecting the yellow sunset light shining on the jagged, snow-dusted peaks above.

Backpacking in the Eastern Sierras. Photo by Katie Rodriguez

What is dry camping?

Dry camping is camping in an RV in a place without any hookups, so essentially dispersed camping but in an RV. You are limited by the driving abilities of your RV, and the length of your stay depends heavily on water usage. Some benefits of dry camping are the low prices (it’s usually free), getting more privacy (RV sites usually offer no space between them), and expanding the options of where you can camp.

What is car camping?

Car camping is camping at a site that you can drive up to. These sites often have many amenities like fire pits, picnic tables, bathrooms, and trash services. This is the way to camp if you don’t want to carry your gear very far! This is a great, low-stakes way to start exploring camping! Check out this guide to car camping for beginners for more information.

What is walk-up camping?

Walk-up campsites are non-reservable, meaning they are first-come, first serve. Many campgrounds have a mix of reservable and walk-up sites available. Do your research, and if you will be arriving later in the day at a walk-up-only campground, have a backup plan in case it is full. My family has planned entire trips around arriving early to walk-up sites in order to get one. Capitol Reef National Park was walk-up only while they did campground reservations so we would wake up super early just to get a spot. We were successful! If you go, you have to try the pies from the Gifford Farmhouse since they make the early wakeup worth it!

What is yurt camping?

Yurts are portable structures in a round shape that originated in central Asia. Yurt camping is very common for ski touring, and they often provide shelter, beds, and cooking equipment, so all you have to carry in with you is your food and water. Check out Sun Valley Mountain Huts for yurt rentals in central Idaho!

What is KOA camping?

KOA or Kampgrounds of America is a chain of campgrounds that offer many services and types of sites. Depending on the KOA, sites will range from tent pads all the way to cabins with everything in between. They provide showers, laundry facilities, RV hook-ups, and often a small store with camping essentials. KOA is ideal for families as there are also playgrounds, swimming pools, and other activities easily available.

Do you have any other questions about camping? Please don't hesitate to reach out to me or another Camping & Hiking expert here on Curated for free advice and recommendations.

Camping & Hiking Expert Elizabeth H.
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Elizabeth H.
Camping & Hiking Expert
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I've grown up in a family of outdoor lovers. I've been camping and being carried on hikes since before I could walk and that love has continued throughout my life. I absolutely love spending time outdoors and exploring the National Parks and Monuments. My early years hiking, camping, and rafting ins...

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