Bivouac in Nl Parks and other areas. Any restrictions? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am planning a future trip to the Nl Parks, nature and preserved areas, state forests of the western states. Last time, being accompanied, I was really annoyed as we had to leave the areas long before night to drive to the next town and find a motel and where back when the sun was already high in the sky. Where I live, I drive in a small van, wander till night and drive discretely in a dirt side road where I spend the night sleeping in the van, back to work early morning. Of course I visit mostly non-restricted areas. Would I be able to do that in the States? Better to stay on a parking lot or hyde from the main road? Are Campers submitted to regulations that normal cars are not? Official camping sites recommended? From an earlier post on "permits for photographers" I am quite in doubt!

Would you be willing to share your tips and experiences? I guess things have changed from the time when AA used to sleep on the roof of his car in the Nl Parks? Any gangs, nasty bears, zealous rangers or other problems report? Thanks!

-- Paul Schilliger (, September 30, 2000


Paul, it would help if we knew exactly where you were going. I can tell you in the NP of Zion, Bryce, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Olympic, Glacier, Joshua....etc... these parks have very strict enforcement. For example, in Zion, you can not even drive you vehcile anymore, only shuttlebusses from point A to B. As for parking better be outside the NP to even consider it...I have a small RV, and parking it in the evening for 20 minutes just to clean my lenses, I get Park rangers banging on my door in fear I might decide to camp there. Also beware of many road closings in Yosemite and Yellowstone very early in the year...this can make travel hectic since there is not that many close by entrances into these parks. If you give me more details, I can help you better, I live in the South West and know most of these Nat. parks very well...

-- Bill Glickman (, September 30, 2000.

Bill, thanks! You just confirmed the worst case of figure. These parks (with the exception of the two last ones) I visited last time. It was from 15th of september and for three weeks. I thought the number of visitors would not be too high in that period but we had to search quite a bit to find accomodation for us 4. Next time, my trip will be in october for the fall season. I will be visiting Yosemite, Bryce, Zion, and find some areas of forested land in that perimetre. But not yet defined. An other option would be Jackson Hole, Yellowstone and up to Washington. I know from the last trip that nights can be quite cold in that period of the year in the mountains. Perhaps better to stay in motels.

-- Paul Schilliger (, September 30, 2000.

Paul, a photographer friend of mine just returned from Jackson and Yellowstone, there were blizzards already! He could not even shoot the snow was so heavy and the winds were gusting... If you plan to come to the western USA in mid October, the Eastern Sierras will be showcasing there fall color and that is definetly a trip worth it. Easy hotels accommadations up and down Rt. 395.... So you will have no problem filling a few weeks worth of shooting! You may consider renting an RV when you come... its off season, and they can be had for $75 per day if you shop around...An RV (24ft) will act as your hotel and your vehicle...a 24 ft. RV usually has 3 sleeping faciltities and can hold a lot of photo gear, not to mention cooking facilities, heating systems, etc. If you want to glance at the Eastern Sierra photographs...go to or to Mamouth county in CA web site, they also have some nice shots.

-- Bill Glickman (, September 30, 2000.

Gee, winter is early in Yellowstone this year! I noticed there was already some ice on the ponds when I was there in the beginning of october some years ago. Bisons contrasted nicely on the frosted grass. But I wouldn't have thought of blizzard at this time of the year! Should be safer to stay south. The Sierra should be a good place to begin with. If the bad weather comes, there is always a possibility to escape at lower altitude. I still have to search for where to go. Although Nl Parks are beautiful, there are certainly other photogenic sites that would be nice and perhaps easier to visit. Renting a small RV is certainly an appealing solution. I think it is less disquieting for people to see a RV somewhere than a normal van where they would have to guess whether this is an armed poacher, a fugitive or just a normal timber robber. I have heard gazoline price went up, but still affordable from european point de vue. Can you tell me what the regulations are outside the Parks? Can you just stay overnight anywhere on parking facilities or do you have to log in an official RV's campsite (I guess there are local restrictions, but in general)? I hope hosting this "out of topic" subject in the forum does not annoy other photographers! Thanks for your patience!

-- Paul Schilliger (, October 01, 2000.


Camping is still free in all National Forests and BLM land unless you are in a developed campground, where rates are from 2 dollars up to maybe as much as 20, usually 14 or so. I am speaking of Forest Service and BLM campgrounds, not privately run, private land operations. I never stay in developed campgrounds because what's the point? You don't get anything but water that you can't get on any abandoned logging road for free, plus in a developed campground you have to put up with the inevitable all-night generators, loud music, and idiots. Just make sure you are on NF or BLM land, pull off anywhere you like, and spend the night for free. Don't put soap in the stream and pack out your trash, but you know that already, right? It's a truly great thing about America's public landscape.

You may need a permit to park your car at established trailheads in some but not all National Forests. They are cheap and if you don't have one you just have to move more than 1/2 mile down the road in most circumstances. I recommend not buying one of these stupid permits unless you have to. Congress is gradually implementing a fee program in our National Forests that most people aren't aware of. It is sneaking up on us slowly as our public Forests go from being a product sold to timber corporations to a product sold to recreational vehicle and equipment corporations.

The downside to photographing on National Forest and BLM land is much of this land is logged or, worse, grazed to death. But there are still plenty of great pictures to take. Most places will not really be snowed in in October - the snowstorms start in the west in September but nothing really sticks till November except for the extreme high country, and you aren't going to drive to that anyway.

Erik Ryberg

-- Erik Ryberg (, October 01, 2000.

Erik, thanks for your comments. I wholeheartedly agree with you on what you say about camp grounds. In fact half of the pleasure in a trip like this is being able to sit quietly and enjoy a cup of coffee in the wild!

-- Paul Schilliger (, October 02, 2000.

Erik is right about the fee for using the NF areas and some BLM lands. The Forest Service has gone too far with this fee as far as I'm concerned. And the overzealous forest service employee will ticket you or sometimes even tow your vehicle away with no notice. Check before you go onto FS land. And be very careful of camping on Indian reservation land. James

-- james (, October 02, 2000.

Well, let's not scare anyone. In order to have your car towed you really need to be violating some serious regulations, like blocking a road, abondoning the vehicle (takes more than two weeks to be officially "abandoned") or parking in the river. The fine for not having a permit is I think 20 bucks, possibly a little more in some Forests (it isn't a consistent policy yet - they are trying out different approaches on different Forests). Most if not all Forests do not require a permit to enter, only to park your car at established trailheads. There will be a sign telling you that you need a permit and where to purchase one, which usually means turning around and driving for an hour back into town. You can still park everywhere else for free - for now. Entry permits are the next step though, so check back in a year or two.

-- Erik Ryberg (, October 03, 2000.

Not that I encourage this practice, but an individual that I know very well and who has spent lots of time in 46 NPs :-) was harassed by rangers only two times (one resulted in a $75 ticket) for illegal camping. Just arrive late and leave before sunrise.

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (, October 03, 2000.

I hope this is the only place this has happened but in San Diego mountains, Cleveland NF, we have the wilderness pass crap. They will tow away your car if you do not have the required permit and you are parked along side the roadway. And in Yosemite the rangers will ticket you for sleeping in your car on the road. James

-- james (, October 03, 2000.

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