Camping without a permit will get you in trouble in some states. In others, a permit isn’t required. But how do you know? Our state-by-state guide to which states require permits, what kinds of permits you might need and how to get them follows below!

States That Require Camping Permits

The following states mandate permits for camping.

  • Alabama
  • California
  • Florida
  • Georgia*
  • Hawaii*
  • Illinois (state parks only)
  • Kentucky (parks and forests only)
  • Maine (camping in state parks )
  • Minnesota (“official camping areas”)
  • New Jersey*
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

*Island or coastal camping only

That’s all the states we know of at this time – and it’s about half of them. If you are ever in doubt, check the website where you are going or make a phone call. It is the only sure way to know.

Some counties may also require a permit for camping.

Assume You Need a Permit, Unless You Don’t

If you plan to camp in a state park or forest, national park, recreation area, wildlife refuge or on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land , chances are good that you need some kind of permit.

If you are looking to boondock or dry camp, find out the information for where you are going. You may not need a permit, but there may be rules and regulations to be aware of. Know your limits before you unknowingly violate the site’s rules.

If you are in an urban area and just need a free, place to camp without a permit, check out Walmart to start. Searching online to see where other urban boondockers go is your best bet.

Some states have free permits available online beforehand while others require an application and might charge fees. How do you know what you need and where?

How to Get the Permit You Need

Camping permits are required in almost all U.S states for both public and private land. If you aren’t sure, check out and learn the details.

Some areas have self-serve kiosks where you can pick up free permits, while others require an application to be filled out so it’s best to call ahead or check the website .

Some campgrounds will also let you pay for your site with a credit card instead of having to wait in line at the ranger station. Even if you are caught without one, don’t panic! Most times they’ll give you time to get it sorted out or just issue a warning.

Camping Spots Where No Permit Is Needed

There are still some great camping spots where no permit is needed. There may be rules about how long you can stay, but if it’s a popular place with lots of visitors then the chances that they’ll come check your permits or kick you out after just one night are pretty slim! Here are some ideas:

  • National Forests
  • Bureau of Land Management lands
  • Public grounds that allow boondocking or dry camping

Some agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers (Cape Cod) or US Fish and Wildlife (Florida Keys), require registration but not a camping permit. The golden rule here is to check in advance. You never know what you don’t know until you call.

How To Get A Permit For Camping in National Parks & Forests

Some national parks like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains will allow you to make online reservations for your camp site well ahead of time – up to sixOE)and Bureau of Reclamation have some sites where you can camp, too. But COE campgrounds are shrinking. It’s best to check out to know for sure.

How Long Can You Stay at a Campground with a Permit?

If you have the proper permits, the maximum stay at a campground depends on the state and the park or campsite.

The maximum consecutive stay at a national park is 14 days in a 30-day period. Some states have long-term camping areas where you can stay longer with the proper permit. Bureau of Land Management camp areas have 14-day limit in a 28-day period. Private campsites, such as KOA may let you stay 28 days or longer with a reservation.

If you are looking for extended-stay camping, you can make it work with the right planning. Know how long you can stay where and travel to the next spot when your time is up. Having a permit for anywhere you plan to go is key.

Other Camping-Related Permits You May Need

Once you’ve got your permit and you’ve set up camp on your site, you may need a few other permits related to your trip, like a recreational use permit or a special recreation permit and reservation.

Recreational Use Permits may be needed by people using public lands for organized events, such as sporting competitions or large group activities. If you are planning on hosting an event that requires more than 35 participants and impacts the environment in some way, this is something to consider.

Some sites also require a campfire permit. And if you like to fish, you better check into that fishing permit before you hit the road and know what the rules are for what you catch.

The Bottom Line on Camping Permits

Always assume you might need a permit and check into which permits you might need while you are planning your trip. If you are moving from state to state, plan acccordingly. Most permits are free or reasonably priced and it’s better to be safe than sorry so you never end up with an unpleasant surprise.