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Are You Camping or Trespassing This Summer?

By George Khoury, Esq. on June 20, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Summer camping season is upon us. Camping can be good, wholesome fun, but doing it legally can prevent a good time from going sour. According to some statistics, nearly 14 percent of the country enjoys some form of camping annually.

However, a peaceful night under the stars can actually land you, your friends, and maybe even your family, in police custody. Well, it could happen if you go camping on another person's property, or on publicly owned land.

Below are three simple questions to help you figure out if you're a camper or trespasser.

Did You See a No Trespassing Sign?

If you saw a no trespassing sign on the property you plan to camp on, and you don't have permission from the property owner, or someone else with the authority to let you camp there, then you're probably trespassing.

Out in the wilderness, there may be privately owned property that abuts a campsite. Usually, campsites will only permit users to camp in certain areas, but will always limit campers to the site's own property. If you venture outside authorized campgrounds, or are just camping in what you wrongly assumed to be a public campground, you can be ticketed for trespass, and potentially arrested. If it was an accident caused by a missing fence, or some other truly reasonable and accidental cause, these charges can often be reduced, or dismissed, if there are no actual damages.

Did You Purchase a Permit or Register?

Most campgrounds require all campers to register, and they require permits for tents and overnight parking of vehicles. If you did not register or purchase a permit, a campground may be able to eject you from the grounds for trespassing. If you resist, you can be arrested by law enforcement. 

Often, public and private parks that allow camping may close to visitors at a certain time and only allow registered campers on the grounds during the closed times. This can confuse some new campers, and lead to late night headaches, as sometimes the permit and registration office will be located miles from a campsite (and closed by the time rangers discover them).

Can I Camp for Free Anywhere?

There are still a few places left, besides your mother's back yard, where a person can actually camp without a permit, or without registration. Before embarking on an unpermitted camping journey, be sure to fully understand the rules of the area where you are going. Thankfully, in this day and age, every park has a website that usually explains what rules and laws are applicable. Camping permit fees, when required, are usually less than one might expect, and campgrounds usually take reservations as far as a year or more in advance.

While all the bureaucracy surrounding "getting back to nature" may seem insufferable, it's basically all to ensure that there is some level of liability, as well as proper maintenance and care, of parks and camp grounds.

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