No, dispersed camping is not allowed in Massachusetts State Forests. However, “backcountry camping” is allowed within the state forest system, but is restricted to designated camping sites along hiking trails and by the presence of a leanto. Otherwise, camping in Massachusetts State Forests is limited to state-operated and privately-operated campgrounds.
Is Dispersed Camping Allowed in Massachusetts State Forests?
Massachusetts’s state forest system is managed by the State’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). The DCR manages about 450,000 acres of state forest lands across 103 individual forest units.
Some of these forest units are home to state parks, with campgrounds, swimming, and playgrounds. But most of Massachusetts’ state forests are just wooded areas offering little recreation aside from hiking.
The DCR has adopted a long list of rules relating to camping and recreational use of its lands. (You can download the full list of rules here)
Dispersed Camping is Not Allowed
The DCR has a rule requiring that all camping on state forest lands be restricted to designated campgrounds, camping areas, or campsites…
No person may camp on DCR property, except in a designated campsite, camping structure, or camping area.302 CMR 12.08 (1)
All Camping Must be Reserved
The DCR does not allow anyone to set up camp without first having secured a reservation. All reservations are handled online by Reserve America. The only exception is with leantos for hikers at designated backcountry campsites.
Residency Laws Do Not Protect You From Removal
The DCR has a rule stating that its camping facilities can only be used for recreation, and not for residency or domicile purposes. Meaning, you cannot cite residency laws to stop law enforcement from impounding your vehicle…
DCR camping facilities shall be deemed to be a temporary recreational use. No designated campsite or camping structure shall be used as a residence or domicile.302 CMR 12.02 (2)
Backcountry Camping is not the same as Dispersed Camping
The DCR specifically defines backcountry camping as being restricted to hike-in locations only, and within designated camping areas. Note that most of these designated backcountry campsites consist of a “leanto” that the DCR has constructed…
Backcountry Camping. Camping at remote, hike-in locations in designated areas, with no organized access to water, staff, or emergency services.302 CMR 12.02
Backcountry Camping is Limited to Two Nights per Campsite
No person or group shall stay in a designated backcountry campsite or shelter more than two consecutive nights except in case of emergency or illness.302 CMR 12.08 (33)