Does a person have a legal basis to charge you with violating their rights just because you walked through their campsite? Are there any laws that make it illegal to walk through someone else’s campsite? Even if you didn’t touch any of their stuff, and just you walked on through, do they have the right to stop you and make you turn around?
Is it Illegal to Walk Through Someone Else’s Campsite?
This question came up when a person named Mike e-mailed us with his experience. His story goes as follows…
On a recent visit to the porcupine overlook off sand flats road, there were several campers who were setup along the bluff which overlooks castle valley, Utah. In order to access the viewpoint, one had to walk through a campsite. One camper protested me walking through their campsite on my way to the edge of the bluff. He claimed no one should violate his site even though he knowingly setup next to the premier overlook blocking access to the general public. My question is was my act of walking through his site not physically touching his possessions such as tent, etc. Considered to be a violation of his rights. My understanding from numerous years of camping is one should not pick a site which is frequently visited if one wants exclusively. What is your opinion?Mike
Of course, he’s describing a very popular road and camping area east of Moab, UT. Sand Flats Road heads east from Moab, goes through BLM land, and eventually enters into Manti-La Sal National Forest. The viewpoint that Mike is describing is a very popular destination within the BLM portion of Sand Flats Road.
It’s Not Illegal to Walk Through Someone Else’s Campsite
Neither the Bureau of Land Management nor the U.S. Forest Service have any rules that prohibit you from getting too close to someone else’s campsite.
The State of Utah does not have any laws against this either. Utah does have trespassing laws, and they do include the entering of someone else’s vehicle, trailer, or RV, as trespassing. It would also stand to reason that entering someone else’s tent can be trespassing too. However, as long as you don’t enter a vehicle or tent, and just walk on through, there is no trespass in this example because the campsite was located on public land.
Trespass Laws Have Limited Applicability on Public Land
Just because you set up camp on public land, does not mean everyone else is required to stay away.
While trespassing laws do exist in every state, they only apply to your shelter, such as a tent, camper, or vehicle. Public land surrounding your shelter is not covered.
Moreover, “legal trespass” is different than “illegal trespass”, in that other people have a valid expectation that public land is usable for everyone. Their legal right is further supported because in the example above, someone set up camp where people generally access a popular view point.
Creating a Nuisance or Public Disturbance
Both the BLM and U.S. Forest Service have rules that prohibit people from creating a nuisance, disturbance, or inconvenience.
- See BLM rule CFR Title 43 § 8365.1-4 Public health, safety and comfort
- See USFS rule CFR Title 36 § 261.4 Disorderly conduct
While on BLM or USFS land, you are not allowed to create a nuisance, disturbance, inconvenience, or annoyance. However, it would be very difficult for a camper to demonstrate this if all you did was walk through without touching any of their stuff.
If however, you were to stop and lecture, harass, or annoy a camper, then they could make this argument. It would be up to them to notify a BLM or Forest ranger and report what you did.
Boondocking vs. Campgrounds
How does walking through someone else’s campsite differ when its boondocking versus a campground?
- If someone is boondocking on public land, it is not a violation of their rights if you walked through their campsite for the purpose of reaching an area that could not otherwise be accessed.
- If someone is camped in an area designated specifically for camping, with marked sites, and you walked through their campsite, they could reasonably argue that you violated their rights. Because their space was marked off specifically for camping, and they satisfied all the requirements to be in that space, they could reasonably argue that you violated their rights by entering without permission. That is, they have a valid expectation to enjoy a level of privacy when they set up camp in a marked site that was designated for camping.
- Boondocking is much different. In this case, people set up camp in the middle of open, public land, where everyone has a right to occupy and enjoy at the same time. Thus, if someone chooses to set up camp, they also have to respect the right of others to use the same land.
- However, no one has the right to harm another person, harass them, harm their property, enter their vehicle or tent.
What Should You Do if Someone Sets up Camp that Blocks Access?
- If someone is camped on open, public land, and it’s blocking access to a public area, you have the right to walk through their camp for the purpose of accessing that area.
- However, if there are other ways of reaching the area that are just as convenient, without having to walk through someone’s campsite, you should use those other ways.
- You should never stop within that person’s campsite to lecture or complain. You could be cited with creating a nuisance or annoyance.
- If a law enforcement officer is called to mediate the situation, he or she will evaluate who has the stronger claim and side with that person. You want to make sure you have the stronger claim.