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Park Ranger:19 Tips and 2 Rules for Beginner Campers

You are all packed and ready to hit the road for your first camping adventure and looking forward to escaping, relaxing and a memorable experience. So, to help you to have the right kind of “experience.” I enlisted my friend and former Park Ranger, Paul Hawkins to give you some advice.

We have included 19 Tips You should keep in mind while camping. At the end of the article, Paul shares from his years as a Park Ranger, The 2 safety rules he had to enforce the most.

19 Tips You Should Keep in Mind While Camping

Leave it how you found it. This means a lot more than keeping clean. The rule applies to the environment and the campgrounds. Let's break it down.

1. Bring a lot of trash bags. Do not leave any of your waste behind when you leave. Put everything in the trash bags and either take them with you to throw away off-site or use trash bins provided by the campgrounds.

2. If you brought your dog, you still need to pick it up after them. There are many animals around living in a very particular ecosystem. Leaving your dog's dropping could upset or offset that. Double bag their poop and dispose of it later.

3. No souvenirs. Do not bring home any rocks or wood or anything from the campgrounds that are part of nature. The point is to enjoy nature and not disturb it. Take pictures but don't take things.

4. Pitch your tent where indicated. If you stay on a campground, use the places already cleared out for campsites. Do not intrude on nature or any of the wild growth around you. This is important for conservation and safety.

5. Animals are for observing, not petting. One of the things people love to do when camping is animal watch. There is a certain feeling when you step out of your tent in the morning and see a family of deer in a clearing or the woods near your site.

Even if they venture near campsites and are comfortable around humans, animals are wild. That means the animals should not be fed anything that you have brought. It would be best not to approach or pet the animals you see.

The best way to enjoy nature is by being only an observer and not interfere with the ecosystem or natural feeding habits and diets of the wildlife around the campsite.

Be kind to everything and everyone around you. Camping is about living in harmony. Harmony means peacefully coexisting with fellow campers and the living things around you. Here are some ways to do that.

6. Do not wash your dishes in the bathroom. Campsites have buildings and facilities designated for particular reasons, and these are to be shared by all campers. Do not dirty up the bathroom and misuse the facilities by washing your greasy pan and dirty bowls in sinks people use to wash up and brush their teeth. That makes a mess in the bathroom and is disrespectful to the park staff that has to clean up after you.

7. Put everything back before you leave. Please take a couple of pictures of your campsites before you set up and use them as a reference point to return things to their proper place. On top of not wanting to interfere with nature, you want the site to be nice and ready for future campers to enjoy.

8. Volume Control. Being out in the wild can make people feel rowdy or even act wild themselves. It doesn’t take much coaxing for a group of young people or very enthusiastic campers to become a major noise problem.

Remember, you are not the only people camping at a site or the only things that sleep in the woods at night. Be sure to observe any quiet hours the campsite may have so your camping trip doesn’t ruin everyone else’s.

9. Fire Safety. A while ago, I wrote some articles about the rules for having fires while camping like, Are Campfires Illegal In Any State. Those rules are for keeping everyone safe and should always be observed. To keep it short, here are the highlights: Be sure to put out any fire you start.

Only start fires if the camp allows, and there are no fire restrictions in effect. Don’t burn anything you shouldn’t. Keep a safe perimeter around the fire. To read the more detailed information please also read, 9 Easy Steps to Build a Safe Campfire.

10. Be mindful of boundaries. There will most likely be other campers at the sites you are visiting. As I stated above, this is a fast-growing hobby, which means there will be plenty of other campers at the sites and National parks.

Remember, a person’s campsite is their temporary home. People typically don’t like strangers walking their living rooms while spending time with their families. Think of their campfires as living rooms and the areas around their tents a bedroom.

The polite thing is to go around other people’s sites unless you are invited in or allowed to go through.

11. If you don’t know, ask. Many campsites and National Parks have rules about camping and what is allowed. Most of these rules are pretty universal, but some can vary depending on that state you are in or the campsite if it is privately owned.

It never hurts to look out for signs listing rules and regulations. Also, an excellent way to make sure and acquaint yourself with others around you is to ask someone who has set up camp already. They could be regulars to that site and know of things you may need to know. There may also be staff at the site or a central building to help answer any questions you may have lingering after you settled in.

You can never be too cautious when camping, and often the rules for these campsites and parks can vary depending on the season or weather. That is why it is essential to check for signs and announcements and check with Park Rangers and staff.

12. Dim the lights at night. When you are camping, you can set your own bedtime. Wake up with the sun or rise later in the day. But because you are planning on being up late doesn’t mean those around you are also.

People head out to nature to avoid many things, one being light pollution so they can enjoy a nice peaceful night and see the beautiful starry sky. If you are using lights at your campsite and notice people around you turn in, then switch off the bright ones or dim the lanterns. It will also help you get ready to turn in too.

Making Camping Your Own Thing

The way people have camped in the past does not determine how you camp now. One thing that has happened steadily over the years is people adapting camping to their lifestyles instead of their lifestyles to camping.

Here are some rules to help you define your own way of camping that fits the modern age.

13. Glamping is in. It has been looked down upon and debated whether Glamping is actually camping. For those who do not know, Glamping refers to camping outside with all the perks of being inside like electricity, heat, comfortable beds, and such.

Old school campers think if you are not sleeping on the ground in a tent without the luxuries of home, it isn’t camping. That idea is a bit old-fashioned. Now with younger campers and the advances in camping technology, it is pretty easy to pack your car up and set up a make-shift apartment for a weekend in the woods.

14. Find your sweet spot. Many of us associate camping with adventure, discovering something new, and taking part in a grand adventure. That is part of the excitement. Another route many people have taken is returning to the same spot.

There is something to be said for having found a place out in the woods that you can claim as your own. A place where you know every rock and tree. Where you and your kids have years of memories stored up in. Camping is about finding a happy place and if you found it, stick with it.

15. Your campsite can be just outside your back door. We have seen this in movies, and tv shows a thousand times. Some of us have even taken part in this ourselves growing up. Camping out in the backyard can be all the weekend getaway we need with our families. It can be as rustic or as modern as you want.

If the little ones get too scared, you can just head back inside. This is a great way to practice camping without having to travel hours away only to find out your kids are not ready or interested in it.

16. The tent is your home; let it be just as big. Tents come in so many shapes and sizes. Feel free to check out my other articles reviewing them, and finding one right for you. They can be small and compact if you want that cozy and rural feeling.

Tents also come big and with rooms in them as well. They can fit all the friends and family you wish to bring or give you all the space to stretch out and get comfortable.

17. It is fine to be alone. There is something to be said going out into nature alone. When you are able to be out under the stars by yourself with your thoughts, it can be a different level of peace.

Many people would be intimidated or too scared to go camping alone. Realistically camping alone is not any more dangerous than camping with others, especially if you stay at a campsite. It can be very liberating and fulfilling as well as freeing.

See our article, 12 Steps to Safe Solo Camping, and its benefits for more about camping here. You may not think camping alone is something you would enjoy but think about it and give it a shot. Many people are too.

18. Take the road less traveled. Exploring the wild is an incredible thrill. Finding a place few have been and really roughing it instead of staying at a prepared camping ground can make camping a new experience.

This kind of thing is called dispersed camping. There are no amenities but getting truly back to nature is the best perk. No camp fees to pay or other campers to be mindful of.

You can use apps like OnX and Google Earth to check out tracks that could lead to potential campsites, or head to Campendium or to find spots marked with GPS coordinates.

If you do use one of these locations, be very careful to leave no trace of you being there so the site can be maintained for years.

19. You don’t have to go far to get away. With the world as it is, traveling can be something that many people are not comfortable with yet. That is fine. You can find many places near you to camp.

If your state does not have a National Park, then look for other places to camp out, like state parks or nature preserves where permitted. Sometimes just getting a couple of hours away from home is far enough for you to feel like you have escaped.

2 Safety Rules I Had to Enforce the Most.

Paul Hawkins, former Park Ranger, Florida Park Service.

Food in Tents

Do not store food in your tents, even if it seems like it sealed or is just trash, many animals have gotten used to associating people with food and if they smell anything worth eating, they have a tendency to try to find it, we had racoons that knew how to unzip a tent with more ease than us humans and were not at all bothered by humans.

More than one tent was raided with people in them, trying to shou them out with brooms or whatever they could grab, needless to say the racoons got away with the food. The sad part is we had to trap them and try relocating them as far from the campground as possible, if they ever returned, we would have had to put them down.

Depending on where you are camping the campground usually warns of this and has procedures in place, like Bear boxes. Best bet if it's a site near your vehicle store your food and trash in there.

If it's backcountry, just put that in a dry bag and tie it up in a tree. That was one of the biggest problems we dealt with, wild animals and people food.


Another thing was firewood, most campgrounds have rules on if you can or can't gather it; if the former then in what areas you can. The main thing is don't hack up living trees and plants, they don't burn in the best of cases and if you do get them going all they will do is produce a ton of smoke, which is unpleasant for everyone. It also turns a campsite into a parking lot.

I think the one thing I can speak for all Park Rangers, as a former Park Ranger, is that we love to have people out at our parks camping and having a good time, the reason many of us got into this line of work is because we love it also.

That's why when we must come out and enforce the rules, we are not only doing so for your own safety and those around you; but because we want the camping to be enjoyable for us and you in the future.

Paul Hawkins and I have been friends for over 15 years. He is not only a committed conservationist but a brilliant leader and has taught me much.

Final Thoughts

Nature is a beautiful and wonderful gift we were given. It is up to us to maintain it as best we can. As campers, we are at the forefront of those who enjoy and are responsible for keeping nature pristine. The rules above not only keep nature safe but make camping an enjoyable experience for everyone out there.

"No one wants their treasured memories of camping to be ruined by the rude group nearby or the loud bunch who kept them up all night. Remember, we're guests in nature, and no one likes a houseguest who trashes the place. A good camper is like the wind in the trees: lovely, but once it's gone, only memories are left behind." —Jess Phoenix, an earth scientist.

All the best,

Alex Anderson

P.S. Thanks Paul for your help!


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