Yes, kind of, it depends, not really, are perhaps good answers to the question of camping naked on federally managed lands. Some federal agencies have no regulations against being naked outdoors, while others do. But then again, there are agencies that allow state and local laws to take precedence. So, it becomes hard to tell if naked camping is truly permitted by law.
Is Nude Camping Legal on Federal Lands?
From the standpoint of law, the federal government has not addressed public nudity. However, from the standpoint of regulation, they have. Regulation is simply a more granular detail of how government will enforce law. Whereas laws tend to be broad and general, regulation contains all the finite details of how the law will be defined.
Which Federal Land Management Agencies Have Banned Nude Camping?
U.S. Forest Service, which manages all National Forests and National Grasslands, has banned public nudity in its regulations in its list of prohibitions…
§ 261.2 Prohibitions > Definitions – Publicly Nude means nude in any place where a person may be observed by another person. Any person is nude if the person has failed to cover the rectal area, pubic area or genitals. A female person is also nude if she has failed to cover both breasts below a point immediately above the top of the areola. Each such covering must be fully opaque. No person under the age of 10 years shall be considered publicly nude.
National Park Service, does not ban public nudity in its parks on a national scale. However, each park is free to establish its own rules, and a few parks have banned nudity…
§ 7.87 Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park (Hawaii) – (a) Is public nudity prohibited at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park? Yes. Public nudity, including nude bathing, by any person on Federal land or water within the boundaries of Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park is prohibited. This section does not apply to a person under 10 years of age.
§ 7.67 Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts) – (e) Public nudity. Public nudity, including public nude bathing, by any person on Federal land or water within the boundaries of Cape Cod National Seashore is prohibited.
§ 7.29 Gateway National Recreation Area (New York) – (c) Public lewdness. Section 245.00 of the New York Penal Code is hereby adopted and incorporated into the regulations of this part. Section 245.00 provides that: A person is guilty of public lewdness when he intentionally exposes the private and intimate parts of his body in a lewd manner or commits any other lewd act (a) in a public place, or (b) in private premises under circumstances in which he may readily be observed from either a public place or from other private premises, and with intent that he be so observed.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, does not ban public nudity in its wildlife refuges, however it recognizes that states or local jurisdictions may have. They specifically allow those laws to take precedence…
§ 27.83 Indecency and disorderly conduct – Any act of indecency or disorderly conduct as defined by State or local laws is prohibited on any national wildlife refuge.
State and Local Laws Can Apply to Federal Lands
State and local laws may have prohibited public nudity, and those laws will apply to federal lands.
Five of the six agencies that manage federal lands have specifically allowed state and local laws to apply to their lands…
- Bureau of Land Management allows state and local laws to apply. Refer to § 8365.1-7 State and local laws.
- Army Corps of Engineers allows state and local laws to to apply. Refer to § 327.26 State and local laws.
- U.S. Forest Service requires its officers to cooperate with state officers in enforcing state laws. Refer to § 211.3 Cooperation with State officers.
- Bureau of Reclamation allows state and local laws apply to its lands and recreation areas. Refer to § 423.3 When does this part apply?
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife allows state and local laws to apply to its wildlife refuges. Refer to § 25.13 Other applicable laws.
State Laws Regarding Public Nudity
Every state has adopted laws with respect to public nudity, public indecency, or lewd behavior in public. However in just about all states, outdoor nudity is only illegal when it’s done with the intent to offend or arouse others. As long as you’re keeping your nudity in private, or well away from sight of others, you should have no problem.
National Park Service Remains Exempt from State and Local Laws
The National Park Service is the only federal land management agency that exempts itself from state and local laws. This means that any activities a state or local authority may have prohibited, is not necessarily prohibited in national parks. But by the same token, any specific protections (e.g. discrimination, gender identity, profiling, etc.) that a state or local authority may have guaranteed to you, is not guaranteed in a national park. (Read this policy summary published by the National Park Service)
National Park Service Still Prohibits Disorderly Conduct
The National Park Service has incorporated the following regulation…
§ 2.34 Disorderly conduct.
(a) A person commits disorderly conduct when, with intent to cause public alarm, nuisance, jeopardy or violence, or knowingly or recklessly creating a risk thereof, such person commits any of the following prohibited acts:
(2) Uses language, an utterance, or gesture, or engages in a display or act that is obscene, physically threatening or menacing, or done in a manner that is likely to inflict injury or incite an immediate breach of the peace.
(4) Creates or maintains a hazardous or physically offensive condition.
Thus, while nude camping, nude hiking, taking a nude selfie, or being naked elsewhere in a national park, is not specifically identified as being prohibited, it could still fall within the context of “disorderly conduct” if that conduct was seen as offensive or lewd. It would require a park ranger having to determine if you had the intent to be lewd or offensive, or if your intent or actions were otherwise.
Where is Nude Camping Absolutely Legal on Federal Lands?
Nude camping is only legal on federal lands managed by the National Park Service.
But, it’s only legal so long as your activities don’t wander into the definition of “Disorderly Conduct” (see above). As long as you make reasonable efforts to maintain privacy, camp well away from others, and not cause a stir among adults and children, technically there is nothing illegal about it. Keep in mind that each national park may prohibit nudity within specific campgrounds, trails, swimming areas, and day-use areas. Always check posted rules before removing clothes.
With respect to the other five federal agencies, they all allow state and local laws to apply. All 50 states have laws that address public nudity and indecent exposure. Many states do not prohibit nudity across the board, with no exceptions. Instead, they only make it a crime when the intent was to offend, arouse, or cause public reaction. But, that could be a difficult prove or disprove to an officer or court. All states have laws against lewd behavior, which is different than public nudity.
Enforcement of Law and Regulation is an Entirely Different Matter
BLM – Those of us who have boondocked extensively on BLM “public lands” already know that enforcement of camping rules is nearly absent. BLM officers rarely ever patrol their public lands. Most of their patrols focus on larger problems such as illegal hunting, mining, growing marijuana farms, building permanent structures, et al. If anything, policing campers is something that only occurs on Wilderness Areas, high traffic OHV areas, and other highly popular developed campgrounds. If you want to camp naked, go find some BLM “public land”, get yourself some good distance away from a paved road, and go willy nilly. You’ll never be cited for it.
USFS – Forest rangers do make frequent patrols of areas popular with dispersed campers. The USFS tends to staff more patrol officers than the BLM. It’s highly unlikely you will be fined for naked camping. You’ll just be given a warning, or perhaps they’ll refer to a more secluded area where they’ll let you get away with it.
BOR – The Bureau of Reclamation rarely patrols campers. In fact, most of their recreation areas are not even patrolled by the BOR. They instead contract patrols to local authorities, and these authorities are primarily concerned with more serious crimes, like illegal drug use, impaired driving, shooting guns and fireworks, etc. If an officer stops you for being naked, you’ll just be given a warning.
USFWS – The Fish & Game wardens are not really concerned with campers. They’re more concerned with unlicensed hunters and fisherman, along with illegal boating activities. As long as you camp well away from water, and don’t light any campfires, you’ll never be bothered. If there are other people nearby, it’s best to don clothing, just to keep people from complaining. But if you manage to find a more secluded area, then go naked.
ACOE – The Corps of Engineers only cares that you keep your nudity confined to your camp. If they find you wandering naked away from your camp, and taking your nudity along trails, they’ll stop you and make you put clothes on. The ACOE does have rangers that patrol their areas. The Corps is very diligent in keeping the peace, even at areas that seem empty and less popular.
what is considered indecent exposure on blm land