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Can you sleep at Sierra Trailheads in your vehicle?

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No general camping policy in National Forests, it seems

Postby rgb2 » Wed Sep 08, 2010 7:40 am

I often camp and hike in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington state. There are many official large car campgrounds, all of which charge fees. I talked to one of the rangers there who advised me that camping outside these official campgrounds is allowed almost anywhere. She even offered to tell me about some of the popular unofficial camping places. I often car camp (sleeping in the car) at trail heads and day use sites there, all of which have toilets and some also have picnic tables. Never any problem. Most need a NW forest pass, which I buy annually.

This situation made me think that there was a general policy about unofficial camping in national forests, as compared to national parks, state parks, county parks, etc. But perhaps the the comments on this page about Inyo NF indicate that the USFS does not have a general policy regarding such camping. Maybe Inyo is a special case. Maybe because Inyo and other national forests in California are more popular than those in the northwest.

On the other hand, I can think of some very popular trail heads in Mt Baker-Snoqualmie NF, such as Schreibers Meadow (south side of Mt Baker), where the enormous parking lots are filled to capacity on summer weekends, and I've seen many of the vehicles being used for overnight camping. The forest service even provides 2 free car campsites there.
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Postby bobpickering » Wed Sep 08, 2010 5:30 pm

Many roads leading to eastern Sierra trailheads have signs that say "CAMP ONLY IN DESIGNATED CAMPGROUNDS" or something to that effect.

Webster defines camping as making or occupying a camp. Camps involve tents, cabins, and the like. According to Webster, discretely sleeping in your car at a trailhead is not camping.

However, the USFS has seen fit to redefine the word "camp." If you read the fine print on the signs around trailheads and campgrounds, you may discover that any outdoor overnight occupancy of USFS land counts as camping. Sleeping in your car is therefore illegal at most trailheads.

I've been sleeping at trailheads since 1987. I initially slept in a camper. When I was temporarily out of work, I drove a Honda Civic to save gas, and I slept in a bivy sack. It worked so well that I quit driving the truck unless I needed 4WD. I now have a comfortable bed in a car that appears much too small for sleeping. I've slept at trailheads hundreds of times.

The only time I've ever been harassed was when a campground host extorted $10 from my wife while I was climbing Broken Finger Peak in 1993. We were parked in a space marked "HIKER PARKING" and he charged us for a campsite we never occupied. After months of phone calls and letters pointing out that this wasn't a "fee area," and that charging a fee there was illegal, we got our $10 back.

Bottom line: Be discrete. Don't set up a tent or do anything else that suggests that you plan to be at the trailhead for more than a few hours sleep. Don't make a mess or cause a lot of noise. In short, don't give anybody a reason to complain and spoil it for all of us.
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Postby MelitoIrpino » Sat Sep 18, 2010 12:26 am

How about at Whitney Portal? I called the Visitor Center and it seems like they strongly discourage sleeping in your car. They mentioned the bear issue but it seems like they just want to extract a camping fee. Anybody know if they enforce this?
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Postby JJBrunner » Sat Sep 18, 2010 12:50 am

Just to let you know, my partner and I got into the south lake trailhead area after 10, slept in my truckbed, and were moving on the trail before 5 with headlamps. The most noise I made was putting the food in the locker overnight. I just parked in the day use spots that dont say "no overnight parking". I even went so far as to back the truck in. There were some people that were there before us and that were still there when we started hiking. They were just sleeping on the ground in the open. No problems arose, except that Mt. Gilbert's couloir was melted out and we didn't get to climb... :(
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Postby JJBrunner » Sat Sep 18, 2010 12:53 am

O, and if I had run into any problems I would've argued it's not camping because I didn't sleep!!! I got like 30 minutes of sleep! Damn you anxiety! It was not a fun drive back the next day...
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Postby rhyang » Sat Sep 18, 2010 8:25 pm

JJBrunner wrote:Mt. Gilbert's couloir was melted out and we didn't get to climb... :(


Damn, I should have tried it in 2005 :cry: :cry: :cry: Any pics ?

I got shut down twice in 2006 trying to climb that thing. I wonder if anyone has climbed it in ice conditions since then. One of these years..
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Postby JJBrunner » Sat Sep 18, 2010 9:41 pm

Image
Image
Image
Image

These are what I got from my phone
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Postby The Chief » Sat Sep 18, 2010 9:51 pm

Did you have a looksee at Moynier???
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Postby JJBrunner » Sun Sep 19, 2010 3:21 am

Which one's Moynier?

EDIT: Nevermind, I looked it up. I actually thought that couloir was Gilbert's couloir at first. That one looked like neve mostly from what I saw, but I only saw the full thing from a distance. It was still in. I wanted to do Moynier or Harrington but my partner didn't want to continue across the boulder field and didn't like the horizontal crack in the snow on Harrington. Oh well, it was a fun hike. What is that horizontal crack thing by the way?
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Postby JJBrunner » Sun Sep 19, 2010 3:32 am

This is the only other picture I have of that peak, it kinda shows Harrington. Sorry it's crappy, all I had was my phone.

Image
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Postby mungeclimber » Sun Sep 19, 2010 6:37 am

I've bivied at Saddle Bag parking with an early rise, to do No Ridge Conness. This as a long time ago. I wonder if the NPS patrols and harasses there regularly these days?
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Postby bobpickering » Mon Sep 20, 2010 4:24 pm

Rob, I climbed Gilbert in August, 2006. It was ice all the way, but it was only about two feet wide at one point. I haven't tried it since.
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Postby rhyang » Mon Sep 20, 2010 4:49 pm

bobpickering wrote:Rob, I climbed Gilbert in August, 2006. It was ice all the way, but it was only about two feet wide at one point. I haven't tried it since.


Nice work Bob :) This is as close as I got that year (November) -

Image

btw Saw Ms. Buttercup's pics on flickr -- good job you two on BCS !

V, dude, how was your weekend ??
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Postby rhyang » Mon Sep 20, 2010 8:09 pm

Awesome ! 8)
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Postby x15x15 » Tue Sep 21, 2010 1:53 am

and, folks actually sleep at these trailheads? usually, i arrive at 9pm, sort, rack and pack. then i lay my body down. finally, i lie there getting all psyched for the impending shit storm that is about to happen at 3am.
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