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Lisa Maloney

Camping at Trailheads: Yes or No?

By February 20, 2013

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"No Camping" signOnce upon a time, I had a great backpacking trip planned -- it was going to be the perfect escape from the fairly miserable existence I was living at the time (going to college and working what amounted to two full-time jobs, one of which was unpaid). Said plans fell through, but I didn't want to go back to my (unpaid) job as a live-in caretaker early; I'd worked so hard to get the time off. I ended up sleeping in my car for that first night before I finally made it out into the woods the next day.

Sleeping in my car wasn't great fun -- it was a tiny little hatchback and even though I'm not very big, there's just no way to get truly comfortable when you're half-in, half-out of the trunk, trying to stay inconspicuous beneath the semi-coverage of a blanket draped between the seats. Even so, I felt more comfortable sleeping in my car in a relatively well-traveled location than just pitching my tent at (or very close to) the popular trailhead I'd planned on departing from. Here's why.

My vote on the matter is pretty clear: For me, camping right at a trailhead (assuming it doesn't have a dedicated campground available) is questionable at best. If it were in a place where that's common practice and there were some sort of community I felt halfway comfortable in, that would be one thing -- but up here in Alaska, I've seen too many people who full-on live at or near trailheads (I figure they're probably doing that for a reason) and at least one confessed serial killer used to troll trailheads for potential victims.

I feel safer sleeping all the way in the woods, or all the way out of the woods, than on the cusp in-between.

What do you think?

Photo Lisa Maloney


May 26, 2013 at 9:26 am
(1) Dave says:

Personally, I would *never* camp *near* a trailhead. I don’t even want neighbors in *designated* camping areas. Nothing is more aggravating than a one-year-old screeching in the middle of the night (only one of the reasons I prefer the desert…coyotes at 0230 are fine, squealing brats, not so much). I also plan my trips during off-season, when I have more solitude.

I’m a desert rat. My favorite spots are in the desert Southwest, and preferably as far from other folks as possible. I’ve grown fond of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) areas, where camping is pretty much “pick a spot…any spot” for no charge. There may or may not be restrooms or even water, so you need to research where you’re going beforehand.

May 30, 2013 at 5:37 am
(2) hiking says:

I couldn’t agree more! Although I’ve had the slightly unnerving experience of setting up camp, thinking I was all by myself… then crawling out of the tent in the morning to find three or four other tents pitched around me. Whoops.

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