Utah Rules Of Camping | A Plea From The Locals
Every year, without fail there is a social media post or something like it about Utah locals complaining about how people are trashing our outdoors. You can call us any name you want, but when we see our beloved campgrounds that we have so many good memories of as children ruined. Wildflowers no longer blooming because people pick them, or trample the delicate ground they need in order to grow it is hard to not mourn those things. So as a travel writer and Utah local, I really felt like I needed to speak up and defend the areas that cannot defend themselves. So if you plan on visiting Utah here are a few camping rules the locals here wish you would be aware of.
After conducting an independent poll on multiple local private outdoor Facebook groups. After hundreds of responses, I collected the responses and put down the most common complaints or pleadings.
Respect the Ancient Ruins and Delicate Grounds
If we can't respect nature, pick up after ourselves, then the locals in the small towns that have to go in and clean up after us will call for the areas to be closed. There was even one instance where ancient petroglyphs, thousands of years old, were used as a shooting target.... Now it is closed indefinitely by tribes looking to protect their heritage. The highly popular false Kiva, and the balancing rock....also completely destroyed or damaged so much that it is now permanently gone or closed.
Ancient ruins are being climbed over, into, artifacts stolen from new ruins found that should be returned to the tribes in the area they belong to.
It isn't just ancient ruins though, it is the wild flowers, poppy fields and other instagram like spots that photographers, social media stars come and trample. The problem with this, is that the grounds that wild flowers grow in takes YEARS to be the perfect conditions to grow. If you look closely, you can tell exactly where people sit, stand, walk because it packs the earth down. Once the earth is packed down, the delicate flowers are no longer able to grow there. These areas then turn into a place where weeds grow, and very often, where wildfires are started.
I encourage each of us to be better passive observers of nature. If you let your children pick all the wild flowers, or use them to create a temporary flower crown you have taken away the ability for them to replicate and reproduce. This is why a lot of flowers don't grow close to the trails anymore and the line of flowers keeps getting pushed further and further back. Leave what you find, undisturbed, where you found it.
General Etiquette for campsite Quiet Time
After 10pm and before 7am is considered quiet time at a campground in Utah. This was reiterated over and over again from Utah locals when I posed the question what locals would consider camp etiquette. Utah has a lot of kids, sooooo the parents have to be up all night with them if you wake them up with your base booming because they think a party is going on. .
Just because you cannot see them doesn't mean they aren't there. Vibrations from your base can be felt inside a camper or car from 0.5 - 1 mile away. The vibrations from the horses of hooves or bison hooves were how Native Americans would hunt. When you don't have massive buildings or architecture penetrating the earth to break those vibrations they can be felt for miles around.
Shut your vehicle's doors GENTLY if you are in crowded campsites, or RV parks. If your kids are playing hide and seek, constantly getting things in and out of the car at night - you may not get a friendly hello in the mornings from your campsite neighbors. Just be courteous and try to keep the natural sounds the forefront of the symphony of nature.
Don't Let the Dogs OUt
I have a dog, I know what it is like to see how curious and inquisitive they are in a new surrounding and how much joy it brings me to see them like that. Yet the resounding message from a lot of Utah locals, is please don't let your dog run into someone else's campsite.
I know I bristled, as a dog owner, when I read these messages because I immediately defended my dog with a, 'my dog is good! She is so sweet!' - but yet....she is still an animal. You also don't know what other dogs at neighboring campgrounds are going through. Maybe they have an adopted dog or a rescued dog that is trying to assimilate to their new family. Letting your dog go into their campground could cause a dog fight, the neighboring dog to become territorial and result in biting your dog or even their new owner.
One Utah local told this harrowing story of almost losing her dog off a cliff:
"I was camping on a cliff edge and a huge dog ran into our camp and spooked/chased my dog and almost made him run off of the edge. You could say I went off on the owners. They literally almost killed my dog with their negligence."
There was story after story of even the best of dogs misbehaving, likely because it is a new territory - and they are animals. So they want to defend that territory and mark it. There was another story of someone who let their dogs bark all day. If they have separation anxiety, or bark at cars going by it can be quiet grating on the nerves to hear that instead of the symphony of nature.
The locals suggest to distract them or hang onto them, or move to a more isolated camping area. It is kind of like listening to someone else's kids screaming all day for no reason other than needing attention.
The Utah locals also BEG you to pick up after your pets (especially dog poop). Bring the dog poop bags, put it in the bag, throw it in your trash. If you are on a trail, you can tie it to your dogs harness, or leave it by the edge of the trail to pick up on your way back to your car.
There are a lot of wild animals in the area, including coyotes, cougars, bears, foxes etc... so your pets can easily be lured away and killed by the animals here. Please don't leave your dogs or cats unattended, or in an exercise pen while you go exploring.
Utah locals also ask you to use a non-retractable flat leash on walks to set a good example. They ask that the dogs not be let loose to roam and be allowed to pee on a fellow campers supplies, car, camper or RV that they have worked hard to buy and maintain.
One Utah local said, "I’ve had dogs come straight up to me growling while the owners are like “he’s friendly!” Friendly, yeah. Sure."
Keep An Eye On Your Kids
In the early spring the mountains in Utah are full of waterfalls, and the rivers are high and swift from the snow melt and runoff. As an adult you recognize that these waters can be dangerous. To a child, these waters can represent 'fun' after all the times at the pool. Too many stories, every single summer, of kids getting swept away by the river, and their parents attempting to rescue them meet a watery grave as well. There are even some stories of un-related rescuers who drown attempting to save the children.
While I would likely jump in and at least try to save the child, there are certain cases and situations where it is a futile effort to do so. The moral of this sad story? Please keep an eye on your kids, I know that having the freedom from feeling you have to watch them in the wilderness is nice, but in Utah, there are dangers that children just don't have the cognitive ability to discern.
One Utah local, while camping, reported that there was a family staying next to him that the children would come and pee right next to his RV trailer. Needless to say I had to edit his story because of how upset it made him, but to be fair - I would be pretty upset too. The old urine smell is not a pleasant thing to get rid of and it makes it hard to know where to walk so you don't bring it into your house/RV or tent.
So for Utah locals, we plead with visitors to the mountains to keep an eye on your kids and make sure they don't go around marking their territory like dogs do.
If peeing isn't bad enough, another camper reported that they kept having kids from a neighboring camp come to ask for food, snacks and sweets. They commented, "Kinda makes us wonder if your starving your children, or just haven't taught them what camping etiquette is." Just one more reason to keep an eye on your kids and set the boundaries when you get to your campsite.
Such suggested boundaries to your campsite are, not to enter someone else's campsite, where the 'bathroom' is and isn't. Also letting them know screaming, squealing during certain hours are not permitted.
The last shocking report from a Utah local, was kids playing hide and seek in his car when he went to leave the campground. While some say it was his own fault for leaving the car door unlocked, there could be some serious repercussions on both sides if the kid didn't pop up and say something. What if they got scared and didn't say anything until the individual driving was already home. How would the parent know if it was just hide and seek or a kidnapping.
You see how not keeping track of your kids while camping can create safety hazards for everyone around you? So while I don't have children myself, I know Utah locals are pleading with visitors to please keep an eye on your children.
ATV's and Motorcycles
Enjoying nature means peace, quiet, and time of reflection to hear the sounds of nature. Like a stream, birds chirping, the whispering of the wind through the tree leaves and pines ---- not the loud reving of ATV's and engines around campsites.
There are designated trails for atv's and locals love to get away from the noise of the city. For some people it is the best thing to treat anxiety and depression to have this type of sensory deprivation. So please be sensitive to this, and keep the noise from ATV's motorcycles, music, and generators to a minimum.
For your ATV's and motorcycles, just ensure you are about 0.5 mile away from anyone's camps before you rev that engine.
Drunk and Disorderly
Utah locals are not your mom, and they don't appreciate having to save your ass because you can't control your alcohol intake. Be responsible, or bring someone with you who is and can remind you to be responsible.
DO NOT drink and drive an ATV friends, I have personally seen cracked skulls with brain matter leaking from the ears because of the damage. I have helped reset hundreds of broken wrists, femurs, and helped put a lot of external fixation devices on patients because their bones were too shattered to mend.
So many unnecessary deaths.....don't be stupid....it is the wilderness and can sometimes take rescuers here HOURS to get to you and haul your sorry ass out to a hospital. The rural hospitals typically do not have the specialty surgeons, and you will likely need to be life-flighted out to the bigger trauma hospitals in St George, Utah Valley or Salt Lake. This will cost you around $8-$15k for the flight, good luck paying for that out of pocket.
Pack it in, pack it out.....too many times I have seen toliet paper left out in the open. They are actually closing off different parts and places in Utah because of how much trash is left behind in the parks, trails, and camping areas.
Don't pee by a stream, you need to be at least 100 feet from the water and bury your shit 6 inches deep. I personally use a flip out eco toliet that you put an eco pouch with powder in it and it solidifies the pee and makes the waste non-toxic so you can throw it into any trash receptacle.
From the BLM Office or Bureau Land Management
Popular outdoor destinations attract higher numbers of visitors, and receive more impact to the surrounding natural resources. This can lead to concentrations of human waste and other refuse, which pollutes the environment and presents a serious human health hazard. Left unchecked, these conditions may force land managers to restrict access, or implement user regulations designed to protect the natural resources and enhance public health and safety.
Public restroom facilities are not always available, especially in remote areas. Visitors to some public lands may be required by law to carry a portable toilet system for the removal of human waste. Portable toilets (also called “pack it out” toilets) are already familiar to many outdoor enthusiasts, including river rafters, sea kayakers, rock climbers, backpackers, and others. Any visitor to the public lands can help improve their favorite destinations by carrying and using a portable toilet system as a routine part of their outdoor activities.
The job of the base ingredient (either liquid or dry) is to reduce odor and make waste disposal and cleanup easier. Liquid-based toilets commonly use water and a chemical treatment (preferably non-formaldehyde), and are often designed to be compatible with RV dump stations for convenient disposal and cleaning.
Dry-based toilets may utilize potting soil, kitty litter, or other dry ingredients instead of a liquid, and are frequently lighter and less likely to leak in the event of mishap. When reducing bulk and weight is a high priority, single-use, individual bag products are available which consist of a heavy-duty ziplocking bag containing a special powder. The powder inside the bag turns liquid to gel on contact, neutralizes odors, and helps to break down the waste.
Many of these bag products are approved for disposal in a landfill (check local laws to determine what is legal for use in the area you will be visiting). Care must be taken with all bag systems to prevent small animals from tearing holes in the bags, so having a sturdy transport container is a good idea. The small size and light weight of such bag systems makes them particularly well-suited for hikers, kayakers, ATV riders, bicyclists, and others who may require a small, lightweight portable toilet
Have soap and water available so that hands can be washed after using the toilet. Only human waste and toilet paper should go in the toilet container. Trash and feminine hygiene products should be placed in a separate garbage bag.
Leave the Plants & Animals Alone
Don't stomp in wildflower fields, it takes YEARS for the ground to be the right condition for them to grow. So whenever possible, step on rocks, logs, or just stay on designated paths and camping locations.
Don't pick the flowers! Leave the wild flowers alone! They are so beautiuful and when you pick them you destroy their ability to reproduce and continue to fill the forest floors with beautiful colors.
Don't harvest live trees please. There are so many sage brush plants that are dead, dead limbs etc.. that you can use. If you want a fire, buy some at any gas station along the way, it isn't that expensive, or look on facebook marketplace when you get into Utah - there is always someone getting rid of old trees.
Don't stab things into trees, this can damage the internal system and the way the tree grows. You have to do it the right way, or the tree will 'bleed out' and end up dying.
Pine Beetles are killing the forest from people bringing in their own firewood from out of state. Now they are having to cut down huge sections of forest because of infestations killing the trees. This then creates kindling for wildfires, which Utah has to battle every season. You see these gorgeous green trees and then huge sections of pine trees that die from the top down (this isn't natural). Pine trees don't like shade, so the lower branches tend to die before the top sections. Now we have acres of pine trees that are just literal white skeletons.
Don't Leave A fire Unattended
This includes at night, if the wind picks up, it is 30F outside, do you really think you are going to want to get out of a nice warm bed to trudge over to the river and get some water? Then haul it back, dump it on the fire, and the wait for 10 minutes freezing in your underwear because you were too lazy to get your pants on? Nope I don't think so! So just make sure you drop it like its hot, no really, drop that water like it's still hot! Turn that fire, and don't let it burn!
Can you run your hand through it? Can you caress that fire like it is your significant other? If not....well....it isn't out enough. Pine trees, dry weeds, and all other sorts of natural elements nearby can light like a girls hair that catches fire in her own birthday candles. So don't be an idiot, and just make sure it is out so we can keep enjoying the beautiful nature.
No really, watch for those fire dangers peeps. You aren't a forest ranger, or an environmentalist - so don't try to guess on if lighting up the whole forest is a good idea or not. Cause if the fire danger is high, and DESPITE that you still decide you want to light that fire up for a 'better experience' - say goodbye to the beautiful surroundings. Utah is a desert, despite the greenery you may see, the plants get dried out and can easily catch fire.
Last year in Centerville, where I live, the hill behind my house caught fire because some kids decided to use it as a shooting range. There was so much smoke, people lost their homes. It took a few days to put it out.
A week after that a wildfire was sparked in the weed area right by the freeway from sparks that were created by dragging chains from a trailer. I don't think people from out of state realize what happens until they are well away from the area.
NEVER light a fire without a proper, and deep fire ring. Dig a little, make sure you wood stays within the fire ring and won't pop out or collapse over the side as it burns. Can you imagine trying to load everything up into your trailer, hitch it up, and getting out of a remote spot while everything lights up around you? SO SCARY! SO DON'T BE THAT PERSON!
These were a few of the comments left by locals in regards to playing music. For me, listening to nature is very healing, I don't mind if music is being played - but NOT when it is after 10pm. It is also good to consider that your fellow campers will likely not enjoy the same music as you - so just try to be considerate.
"If you want to listen to music, bring your iPod and earphones. Don't play ANY music out loud! Your fellow campers did not go to all the trouble to haul their camping gear out into the wild so they could listen to YOUR music. People don't seem to grasp the simple concept that we go out into nature to get AWAY from human noise, and bringing it with you defeats the whole purpose of camping."
"Create a cone of silence at your campsite. Wear wireless headphones. Minimize generator use. Party respectfully. Don't idle your tow vehicle unnecessarily."
Pack It In, Pack It Out
Utah locals are not your mother, please pick up after yourselves. If you don't and strong winds blow through they end up in streams, lakes, parks, and even in yards miles away from where they originated.
It is interesting to me that people are highly defensive of plastic in the oceans, but yet, we have just as much plastic, trash, and toliet paper accumulating in the over trafficked areas of the mountains.
There are locals who are so fed up with cleaning up after weekenders who come out to camp that they have asked the local government to close the area completely.
Let us all be a little kinder and pick up after ourselves. Throwing plastic, metal, glass into the fire is not helpful - don't treat it as a garbage disposal because the fumes from burning plastic are toxic, and metal and glass don't burn.
Speeding in a Campground
Obey posted campground speed limits. Going slower minimizes noise, decreases road dust, and lowers the risk of tragic collisions with wildlife and people.
Some RV campgrounds can be quite packed, kids run out into the road and can often be hit by cars or ATV's. They assume because they are in the mountains they don't have the worries of a regular road - and neither do their parents.
It isn't just kids, but wildlife, when I was up in the Cache National Forest, there are a lot of ranchers that have land that they bring their cattle on to graze and roam. There were a couple of cows just standing in the middle of the road chewing their cud. What if you were speeding down the canyon? You would have killed the cow, wrecked your car and maybe even trailer, and then it would have taken hours for the tow company to come get you out to fix things up.
It isn't just cows though, there are deer hit and killed in the mountains and even in the city all the time as they try to migrate and find food.
So please, for your sake, and the children, and wildlife - please go slow 10-20mph so that you can stop should something suddenly run out.
Light Pollution From Campgrounds
Embrace dark skies. Take time after dark to see how your RV lighting impacts your neighbors. Utah has a LOT of dark sky national parks, and there is nothing more magical for a photographer than to capture the night sky and galaxy.
A lot of out-of-towners don't realize just how beautiful the galaxy can be....because they truly have never seen it. So just take a second and see what other campers are doing, and be aware of how your light can impact this.
A Plea From Utah Locals
We want to share our campgrounds and hiking secrets. The problem is, we see so many people coming through that destroy those things we grew up cherishing - there is an internal desire to protect them now.
The individualistic attitude when you are in the mountains needs to stop. The same respect that Is now being shown (slowly but surely) to the oceans and plastic, needs to also be shown to the mountains and valleys that hold miles of adventures, wild flowers, and beautiful waterfalls.
Be safe, be kind, be courteous and most of all - be respectful to your surroundings when visiting Utah so everyone can continue to enjoy its beauty and bounty.
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My name is Janiel, a medical professional, and solo adventurer. I have over 23 years of international travel experience and have a sincere passion for celebrating humanity, connecting with cultures, finding unique art and adventure. I’m an advocate for animals and sustainable travel and want to invite you to join the Culture Trekking community.