As a Los Angeles transplant, it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed by the city. The constant traffic noise outside my window, the never-ending line at Starbucks, the traffic at 10:00pm on a Sunday. It all starts to take its toll on me. When my patience starts to wear a little thin; when I start dodging and weaving through the Costco shopping carts like I’m racing on the 405; when I start cutting people off just because I don’t want them to get somewhere faster than me; that’s when I know it’s time for a camping trip.
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, the weekend warrior’s dream of finding that secluded campsite on a beautiful mountain lake was always pretty achievable. Sure, you might have to drive a little ways, but in the Pacific Northwest there are enough lakes for everyone.
LA is a little different. It’s still a great idea to get away from the crowds after a long week at work. The only problem is that 4 million of your closest friends had that same great idea. So not only have all the campsites been booked for months, but even if you had enough foresight to snag one in advance it probably wouldn’t be that secluded experience that you’d hoped for.
Fully aware of this, we decided to go camping…at the Grand Canyon…on Memorial Day weekend.
Our trip began on Saturday morning at 6:00am. We didn’t want to get caught in the Vegas traffic, and we figured they would have all driven up on Friday night. This actually worked pretty well as we didn’t hit much traffic at all.
We decided that our only hope of achieving our secluded camping weekend was to head for the less visited North Rim, even though it was farther from LA. Additionally, we knew that RV’s and family camps would likely overrun all of the developed campgrounds, so we didn’t even try for those. Instead, we headed for the Kaibab National Forest.
There are a few great things about the Kaibab National Forest:
- It’s not technically in the Grand Canyon National Park. I know, I know…why is that such a great thing? Well, it means that you get all of the great views without having to pay any entrance fees.
- Dispersed camping is allowed anywhere in the Kaibab National Forest as long as you follow a few simple rules. You can’t be near developed campgrounds or trailheads. Because of this, we were pretty sure that we’d be able to find a spot.
- Because you can camp anywhere, you can actually get campsites with views of the Grand Canyon. I don’t know about you, but I’m all about grilling some hotdogs while looking out over one of the most beautiful vistas in the world.
Anyway, we headed towards the Kaibab National Forest, and more specifically to a place called Crazy Jug Point. 30 miles of muddy forest service roads later, my hardy little Subaru was ready for a break, but we had made it. And you know what’s crazy?!? We basically had the place to ourselves. We passed a few tents on our way in, and some folks had set up shop a little ways away from us, but we were definitely away from the LA crowds. And boy was it worth it! We were camping…for free…in a secluded forest…and the Grand Canyon was literally steps from our campsite! Unreal.
These pictures show the view literally steps from our campsite at Crazy Jug Point:
So next time you’re trying to get away on a holiday weekend, don’t worry if you’ve got nothing reserved. Just follow these simple tips to find a dispersed site:
- Find a National Forest that allows dispersed camping. While dispersed camping may not offer some of the amenities of a developed campground (like toilets and showers), you end up getting a peaceful, quiet, and true camping experience instead. Besides, it’s probably way more sanitary to take a “nature poo” than it is to use the “little campers room” at most developed campgrounds.
- Once you’ve found your national forest, get ahold of a forest map. You can pick these up at the Ranger Station, buy them online, or even download them to your smartphone. These maps show all the forest service roads in the area and even show some areas that have primitive campgrounds. A cool thing about the smartphone version is that many of the maps are GPS enabled so you can tell roughly where you are even if you don’t have cell service.
- Find a forest service road that’s open, make sure you’ve got all the necessities (like water, food, and a spare tire), and head out to explore. Don’t worry if you’ve never done this before. The best adventures come from the times when we stretch ourselves a little.
Note: I find that the main thing people are worried about with dispersed camping is that they aren’t guaranteed a campsite. First of all, camping is about adventure. You can’t plan everything in life so just get out there and explore. You’re not going to stretch yourself and grow as a person by staying inside your comfort zone. Also, (thanks to the mathematician inside of me) if a national forest allows dispersed camping, the odds of every single turnout, dirt road, and flat patch of land being occupied by a tent is roughly the same as the odds of you getting hit on the head by a coconut while you read this (which does happen, but it’s rare). Stop worrying already, get out there!