Camping is fun, but there are times when campsites become overcrowded. But don’t worry, for your freedom and solitude, national parks can be a wonderful option. Camping in a national park can be dangerous. At this point, you might be thinking, “Can I sleep in my car in a national park?”
The answer to that question is mostly, yes and if you are doing it outside a designated campground, then it’s known as dispersed camping.
We mentioned “mostly, yes” because different national parks have different rules associated with dispersed camping, and they are pretty strict. The rules that national forests have for dispersed camping are lenient. However, most of the regulations are the same.
You need to understand and strictly follow these rules to avoid any penalty from the local authorities. Some of these lands are either managed by the Bureau of Land Management or National Forest Service.
Some of the outskirts of these national parks touch the BLM or NFS land as well. So you can camp just outside of a national park and conveniently drive right into them every day.
Is it legal?
National forests have far less strict rules as compared to national parks when it comes to dispersed camping. The rules vary from one national park to another. Most of the national parks don’t allow you to disperse camp outside a designated campground.
But before you set on the journey, it is better to check the website of the national park in consideration and have a look at their dispersed camping services and information page. It will allow you to be more vigilant about the DOs and DON’Ts for that particular destination.
The thing is that you need to pick the right location and research well before you pack your bags. It will make sure that you don’t miss out on the right spot and also wake up to a mesmerizing view.
How about these national parks?
Yosemite & Death Valley National Parks
Yosemite National Parks have their rules for dispersed camping, and you can check them out here. You can stay about 30 calendar days in this wilderness, but from 1st May to 15th September, you can only stay for 14 nights.
Death Valley National Parks also has its own set of rules that you need to follow. But they are not that strict. You can check them out here. You need to keep the impact low and park away from the way of other vehicles.
Bryce Canyon or Zion National Parks
Bryce Canyon also has its own two campgrounds, which are Sunset and North campgrounds. These campsites have proximity to the Bryce Amphitheater and the Bryce Canyon Lodge.
Both these campsites have their rules, and you can go through them here.
Zion National Park also has some rules, but it is also linked with some land controlled by the BLM. You can see all the details here.
Sequoia National Park
The Sequoia and Kings Canyon is a great place for camping reservations and groups. This location has 14 different campgrounds, and three of them are open all around the year. You can view their dispersed camping rules here.
There are far outskirts of the national park on the southern and northern ends that are controlled by BLM. These are the right places for you to camp for extended stays. Have a look at all their rules for dispersed camping here.
Some quick tips to sleep in the car in a national park
To ease things up for you, here are some tips to sleep in the car in a national park.
- You can browse the internet and check for different apps to see locations (both free of cost and paid) available where you can stay without being bothered.
- Make sure that you park your car out of the way of other vehicles and also display all the permits and passes that you are required.
- Park your car on a flat surface, ideally under a shade.
- Sleep in a direction where your head is towards your car’s front for a more comfortable room.
- Keep all your electronics charged, and keep all your food inside the car. Download your entertainment and also bring a headlamp lantern to hang.
- Keep a window open for ventilation at night but close enough for any praying hands.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you camp in your car in a national park?
Yes, you can camp in your car at a national park. In most of these parks, you must be in a designated campground area or must have a backcountry permit. Additionally, you need to abide by all the ethical rules of backcountry behavior. A permit is mandatory for this.
Where can you sleep in your car legally?
At present, there are no rules that make sleeping in your vehicle illegal in the backcountry or a designated campground. Some states do not allow you to park overnight in various public areas, such as rest stops. Some states don’t allow you to sleep in your car within the city limits. You need to go through these rules to be sure.
Can you sleep in your car at a campground?
Yes, you can conveniently sleep in your car at a campground if you want. It might sound a bit ludicrous to sleep in a car instead of a tent on a campground, but it can be an exceptional experience.
Your car will keep you off the ground, and you will stay dry too. But you need to have the right kind of vehicle for this.
Where can I find cheap places to sleep in my car?
Traditional campgrounds can work well for you, but if they get too crowded, then you can look for the NFS land near your location in the national park. You can also search for house-sharing services like HipCamp, Airbnb, or Glamping Hub.
What is the most important gear to pack for car camping?
Car camping in national parks is a lot of fun provided that you keep the impact zero and leave no traces. It is the most important rule of dispersed camping, and all national park authorities emphasize it a lot.
For being squeaky clean, you need to have your toiletries fully in stock. Your camping bin and food bin needs to be right there with you. Have your sleeping gear and clothes with you, and keep all the chargers juiced up.
There you have it! Can I sleep in my car in a national park? Yes!
Dispersed camping is fun. You need to have the right kind of vehicle with you, and you must know where to park it. Different national parks have different rules that you need to tap into before you set off. Having all this information will transform your trip into a memorable one. And you will keep coming back for more!