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17 Camping Rules for the Best Outdoor Experience

Camping with friends and family can be a great adventure, but there are some unwritten rules with camping. Camping should be fun for everyone, including your campsite neighbors. 

Many of us have been in a situation where our camping neighbors are noisy or disrespectful. You definitely don’t want to be this person. It is helpful to be familiar with the do’s and don’ts of camping. 

This post will go over the top 17 golden rules of camping etiquette. But, then, be sure to share this with your campsite neighbors (if only you could). 

At least you and your family will know how to be a pleasant neighbor in the campground. 

Leave No Trace!

What is the first rule of camping? Leave no trace is truly the first rule of camping. It means to leave the campsite how you found it, if not better. If you brought it in, then you need to take it out.

Tidy campsite in the woods

That includes all your garbage and recycling unless the campground has designated dumpsters for campers.  

There is one exception to this, though, firewood. Firstly, whatever firewood you brought in needs to be local and or certified firewood. You don’t want to introduce any harmful non-native bugs into the forest. 

That being said, you should leave the firewood for the next camper. This is an excellent way to pay it forward, camping style. 

Do a thorough check of the campsite for any wrappers or small garbage that may have blown away. Do not leave any pieces of food or crumbs around the site. This will encourage bugs and critters. 

If you moved the picnic table, put it back. Also, do not leave any nails in the trees from hanging items. Finally, if you find any garbage that isn’t yours, pick that up too. 

Quiet hours

As soon as you check in to the campground, ask about the quiet hours. Most campgrounds have quiet hours from about 10 pm to 6 am.

Sound travels in the forest, and a group of laughing friends can sound like a barn of chickens to a neighbor. 

Once the quiet hours begin, keep your voices down to a reasonable level. If you have kids or slightly drunk adults, remind them to keep it down.

Also, if you need to blow up an air mattress, do this long before quiet hours begin.

You can hear a pin drop in the forest in the early morning. So if you like to get up and go before the quiet hours are over, keep this in mind. 

No loud music 

If you listen to music, keep it very low, even during the day. The type of music you like is very personal, and not everyone wants to listen to your playlist. 

A guitar being gently strummed is totally acceptable. However, rocking out with your air guitar to White Snake or Poison is not acceptable, never ever. Nobody wants to listen to your big hair bands. 

This goes for talk radio or podcasts too. Once while camping, we got to listen to the news every morning from our neighbor. That is the absolute last thing you want to hear when hanging out with mother nature. 

Respect neighbors privacy

It’s okay to be friendly, but don’t make it weird. Treat your campsite like it is your house. Meaning that you don’t talk to your neighbor by hollering out the window, so don’t try to talk to them while inside your campsite. 

Family peeking into a tent

Your campsite is like your home away from home, and it’s weird to have strangers randomly coming into your home. Don’t be weird. 

If you walk down the path in front of their campsite, that is okay. This would be similar to walking on the sidewalk down your street. This would be a normal and friendly time to wave at someone or say hello. 

Keep your tent in the designated campsite

This means to keep all your stuff within your actual campsite. Don’t set up your tent where it is almost in your neighbor’s area. Unless it is your teenager’s tent, then set it up on someone else’s site, just kidding. 

Be sure to set up your gear in the middle of your site as much as possible. But, if your neighbor sets up their tent on the edge of their campsite, try to give yourself some extra space.

Just be respectful with the placement of your stuff. 

The campground also has designated spots for a reason. They are trying to make less of a footprint on the forest, so be respectful of this. 

Limit amount of cars and campers at one site

Follow the campground rules regarding how many vehicles are allowed per site. Nobody wants to camp next to a used car lot. 

Also, just because you can pack people into your car doesn’t mean they all should be at your campsite. If you plan to have more people at your campsite, it is polite to rent another campsite to accommodate them. 

Campground speed limit

Obey the campground speed limit. It should be posted on a sign upon entering the campground. You can ask the camp host if you are not sure. Usually, the speed limit will be 5 mph. I have never seen it more than that. 

This may seem like you are crawling, but just relax and remember camping. What are you rushing for?

Keep the lights low

Keep your headlights as low as possible while driving through the campground at night. Hopefully, you don’t have to find your site at night, but if you do, just be respectful with your headlights.

Please use lanterns, string lights, and glow sticks to light up your campsite at night. Avoid big spotlights and other bright lights at night. If you are concerned about trip hazards, try to move big rocks out of the path.

Glow sticks are great for lighting a path to the bathroom. I also strongly recommend headlamps for the whole family. 

Don’t cut through other campsites

You don’t cut through people’s yards, so the same applies to camping. Please do not cut through other campers’ sites; it is awkward and rude. 

People paid for their campsite and their privacy, so respect it. So take the extra steps to get where you are going, and don’t cut through someone’s site. After all, what’s the rush?

We have had people camping outside the campground (so they didn’t have to pay) cut right through our campsite to use the restrooms and drinking water station :(.

Put out your fire

Fire safety is so important and cannot be overlooked. When in a campground, everyone is having fun around the campfire. However, you need to make sure someone is designated to put out the fire. 

Campfire in a well lit forest

Don’t just assume someone else will take care of the fire. Be mindful of how much wood you add to the fire late at night. It is difficult to put out a roaring fire.

You must completely put out your fire even if you have a raised fire pit with sides.   

When it is time to put out the fire, you must stir the coals several times with dirt and water. Always remember to bring a camp shovel for this task. Again, you will need to stir up the coals and douse them with water and dirt several times. 

Keep stirring until the coals are totally cold and out. It only takes one spark to destroy acres of forest land. 

Do not bring firewood from your home 

Camping firewood needs to be sourced locally (more information), close to the campground. You can also purchase firewood from big box stores. Just make sure it is certified and safe for campgrounds. 

You risk introducing tree-killing bugs to the forest when you pack in wood that is not native to the area. Fire is not the only way to kill a forest. Non-native bugs destroy acres of trees. 

You also can buy bundles of firewood from the camp host. This can be a bit pricey, though, so ask if a local woodcutter sells firewood. 

Don’t wash dishes in the bathroom

This is icky, don’t wash your dirty dishes in the same sink people wash their hands and face in. Most campgrounds will have rules about dishwashing, and they may even have a designated area for this. 

If there isn’t a designated area for dishwashing, do it in an area that looks like the water will soak into the ground well. Spread the water around, don’t dump it all in one area.

We have a portable camp kitchen, and this sure helps with dishwashing. You don’t have to kneel in the dirt with a bucket anymore. There are better ways. 

This goes for the drinking water pumps as well. I can’t tell you how many people turn the drinking water station into their own personal bathroom or kitchen sink.

Don’t feed the animals

I know this may seem obvious, but don’t feed the animals, ever. Not even the super cute little chipmunks or the tweedy birds. This will encourage more animals to come and even bring bigger not-so-cute animals. 

Be sure to discuss the seriousness of this with your kids. If they feel sad about not sharing their snacks, tell them how harmful people food is for wild animals. Sadly, they probably eat people food frequently and are used to it, but your kids don’t have to know this. 

Most campgrounds will have rules for this, but kids forget the rules. So be sure to remind them why it is so important to not feed the animals. 

Do not leave any food out, night or day

It is never okay to leave food out at your campsite unattended. If you decide to take a hike during the day, put all your food in containers or your car if you have food in bags. 

It is too tempting and too easy for animals to have access to food just sitting out. Even a bag of unopened chips will be an easy target for any animal. Birds can get into just about anything too. 

Keep your dog on a leash 

Most campgrounds have a strict leash law, and for good reason. So even if you think your dog is obedient and won’t stray, they need to be on a leash. 

Golden Retriever peeking in a yellow tent

Dogs cannot help themselves when they see a squirrel or a bird. Keep in mind there will be other dogs there too. They will get excited if they see another dog just running around. 

Also, keep your dog on a leash when going on hikes or adventuring around the campground. Your dog will likely go to the bathroom in your neighbor’s site the one second you look away. Try explaining that to your neighbor and the camp host. 

Clean up after your dog

Always clean up after your dog. This will also be a rule at the campground. Be a decent person and pick up your dog’s poop. Even if you are hiking in the middle of nowhere, pick it up. 

Wherever you go, bring plastic bags with you to take care of your dog’s business. Then take it to the dumpster or designated area right away. 

If you are camping with kids, be sure they don’t allow their sweet puppy to poop in the neighbor’s campsite. We make a family rule that someone always has to be in charge of the dog, which also involves cleaning up. 

Talk to your camp host 

You don’t have to be besties with your camp host, but it’s not a bad idea to just say hello. They are an excellent resource for local hikes or tips about nearby cool areas. The camp host will know the area better than anyone and give you helpful pointers. 

Final thoughts

Camping is a lot of fun but to make it enjoyable for everyone it’s important to follow some basic rules. We hope our unwritten camping rules help guide you on your next camping adventure.

Basically, be a good human and be courteous to your fellow campers. As always, camp s’more worry less. 

Steve and Kris
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Steve and Kris are avid campers, outdoor lovers, and founders of Camp S'more Worry Less. When they are not camping, they enjoy other outdoor activities, including fishing, kayaking, and hiking with their family. Read more.

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