Excerpted from Camping Colorado, 3rd Edition by Melinda Crow, Published by Falcon Publishing/Globe Pequot Press
You are no longer at home. You’re not even on your own turf. Camping is a foreign world where strangers may be sleeping on the ground under the stars 50 feet away. It’s a world where the choices you make can make a difference from the top of the food chain to the bottom. And it’s a world where respect for your fellow man and beast is of utmost importance if we are all to continue to enjoy our natural resources.
The first sign of that respect is in knowing the camping rules that apply to your destination. The rules may seem arbitrary to you, but respect the fact that they have been placed into effect for good reason. Some examples of rules you should know include:
1. Maximum number of people per campsite/cabin. This varies between five and fifteen, but in general, fewer is better. Fewer people means less impact on the campsite and less impact on neighboring campers.
2. Maximum number of vehicles per campsite/cabin. The reasons are the same as for people per campsite, plus, by requiring additional vehicles to pay for additional space, the facility gains needed revenue.
Campfire restrictions. Always find out whether fires are allowed at the time of your stay. You don’t want to be the one responsible for the next forest fire.
3. Maximum number of nights. Campgrounds in state parks and national forests are not second homes. They are for the enjoyment of all. Popular areas may limit stays to as few as three days, whereas secluded destinations may allow up to fourteen or twenty-one days (campgrounds restricted to fewer than seven are so noted in the book).
4. Quiet hours. All campgrounds place people a little closer together than we would like. Quiet hours are to ensure everyone’s enjoyment and are usually strictly enforced. The normal times are between 10 p.m. and
8 a.m., but you will occasionally find places that are more strict.
5. Checkout time. You’ve paid your money and you intend to stay all day, right? Wrong. What you paid for was the previous night. Staying past your welcome cheats fellow campers out of a campsite. Even the national forest campgrounds have checkout times around noon. If for some reason you must stay longer, be sure to contact the camp host or a ranger about whether you need to pay for another night.
6. No picnicking in campgrounds. This is one of the most ignored rules in national forest campgrounds, but in areas where campgrounds stay filled, it is an important rule. When you spread out a blanket for lunch in a campsite, you cheat fellow campers out of a good site for the night.
7. Don’t pollute other people’s senses. Specifically, consider the impact on other people of every noise you make, every flashlight you shine, and every smelly pile your dog leaves behind.
Share space graciously. Campgrounds force us to share everything from toilet facilities to parking spaces, from water faucets to boat ramps. A good rule of thumb is to never use more than your neighbor does. Don’t take up extra parking. Don’t spread your camp right up to the next one. Don’t hang buckets or towels from or leave hoses attached to shared water faucets. And where showers are available, don’t hog the hot water. There’s always a limited supply.
8. Leave your campsite better than you found it. Do more than clean up after yourself. Pick up trash left behind by others and leave a stick or two of firewood for the next guy.
9. Learn how to camp lightly. Camping lightly means having the least amount of impact on the environment as possible. Little things, like pitching your tent in a grassy spot rather than on already hardened ground, cause damage that lasts far beyond your stay. The next camper sees that the grass is matted down where your tent was and decides to try that spot himself. In a very short time, that spot of grass no longer exists; it is now hardened earth that may be subject to erosion. There are good books written entirely about this subject, but they tend to be overlooked by vehicle campers who think those camping techniques apply only to wilderness campers. Many of them apply to anyone who sets foot in the forest. One of the best guides available is Wild Country Companion (Falcon Publishing/Globe Pequot Press).
It all boils down to respect—for each other and for nature. If you lack either, you simply are not welcome as a fellow camper.