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Stealth Camping Locations

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stealth-camping-in-greeceHello BTP readers, “JimboTrek” here.

Over the last ten years or so I’ve amassed 4,000+ miles of bicycle touring experience and over 3,200 miles of hiking experience. Most of the nights I’ve spent traveling involved camping – and a large portion of those nights required that I partake in what is commonly referred to as “stealth camping”.

During my travels, I’ve come to find stealth camping an occasionally necessary (and even unavoidable) part of long-distance bike touring. Like nearly all adventurers, I don’t have an unlimited budget for motels or pricey established campgrounds every night, and many times these luxuries aren’t even available. Since many factors determine daily mileage, I rarely know where I’ll be sleeping at the end of each day. But this, to me at least, is part of what makes bike touring so exciting.

As Darren mentioned in a previous article on this same subject, you want to use good judgment and choose your campsites wisely. If you don’t feel comfortable stealth camping—then don’t do it. But in all reality, stealth camping doesn’t have to be particularly stealthy or illegal. I certainly can’t condone the latter. Avoid private property. The last thing you want is to wake up to an angry land owner… or worse.

With that said, I’ve come to find that if you simply ask property owners (nicely), most times they will grant you permission to camp on their land, and may even offer other free amenities!

In my experience, rural environments have the most camping possibilities, followed by small towns and suburbs. Urban areas are the most difficult to find safe places to camp, but it’s not impossible if you know where to look. (You can always ask a local for help.)

I’ve come to find that the trick to stealth camping is to get far enough away from trafficked areas and most people, but not so far away that you have to spend valuable daylight hours hunting for a flat, appropriate space to spend the evening.

If you do choose to stealth camp in a trafficked or questionable area, make sure to set-up late, depart early, and leave no trace. These three things are paramount to being both safe and responsible when stealth camping.

As Darren has already given you suggestions on places not to camp, I will give recommendations on places I’ve used in the past that have worked well for me. Your results may vary.

Public School Grounds:

Public school grounds are great for camping, particularly during the summer months and weekends. Aside from the fact that there is plenty of space to stretch your legs, many schools have water-fountains. Some even have baseball field dugouts which can provide you with shelter—so you may not even need your tent! Some also may have Porto-potties. If possible, avoid camping at schools on school nights, unless you get going really early… or you happen to be a teacher! (Normally baseball fields/dugouts are great, but I once camped at one that was located right near a busy metro station and the train rolled in every half hour; whistle blaring. Zero sleep!)

State/Town Parks/Waysides:

I’ve used these many times. Many parks have picnic tables (sometimes under pavilions), a water source, and/or bathrooms. Camping under a gazebo is always tempting. Be wary of camping in a park located in the center of town. Best choice is a park on the outskirts of town, if possible. Many state parks have campgrounds, but in the ones that don’t—you might need to stealth. Some parks are referred to as highway “waysides” on maps (tagged with an icon). They usually have picnic tables but not much else. Waysides can be a good choice, as they’re rarely visited at night, but some may be along a busy highway. Be wary of those, as well as city parks. Again, use proper judgment.

Formal Campgrounds (Off-Season):

Campgrounds typically operate in the summer months, but if you’re traveling in early spring or late fall, most campgrounds are closed for the season, deserted, and thus ideal. Keep in mind that bathrooms will probably be locked and water spigots might be shut off.

Woods:

The woods are usually the ideal place if you want to be away from streets and away from people. As long as you’re not on private property, you should be okay. Avoid camping in or near a trail-head. Gear is more likely to be stolen at trail-heads. Parking lots should also be avoided – no matter what time of year.

Day/Sleep-Away Camps:

I’ve camped at a few that were actually deserted during the summer, which was unusual. The ones I’ve used actually had amenities such as water-spigots, open-air showers, pavilions, etc.

Behind Firehouses:

Sometimes a good choice, but ideally, you should ask permission first. Firemen are usually friendly.

Empty Lots:

i.e. Outdoor flea market sites, construction sites, etc. Could be OK, but shouldn’t be your first choice. Exercise caution.

Golf Courses:

Cool places to stealth if you use caution. If possible, camp behind bushes or at least on the “back 9” if you’re a late sleeper, as some golfers tee off at 6am! (I once camped on a golf course; It was getting dark and I had no other options. A guy spotted me from the window of his home, but instead of hassling me, he brought me a mug of fresh coffee then next morning!)

Cemeteries:

If you’re not spooked out with the notion, a graveyard essentially guarantees a peaceful night’s rest. However, I’ve only camped in/near a graveyard twice, and both times I did it because I had little other choice. Many such places have a caretaker and/or locking gates, (and no trespassing signs) so you might want to stay if , and only if, there are no other possibilities.

Beaches:

Beaches are always tempting, but you should be very careful about camping on beaches or in the sand dunes. Many of these locations are illegal to camp in, so use extreme caution. If you can swing it, beaches are an ideal camping spot.

Backyards & Private Homes:

I wouldn’t recommend crashing in someone’s backyards without permission, but you may be surprised by what you receive if you ask nicely. Many times you will receive a whole lot more than just a space in the yard on which to sleep.

Have you tried camping in any of these locations? What kind of results did you receive? What others locations are good for stealth camping?

Jim Dirlam (aka JimboTrek) has bike toured through the northern/central Rocky Mountains, all of the New England states, and NY, NJ, PA, IL. Additionally, he has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail & NY’s Long Path.

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15 Comments

  1. Boyd Wiebe

    September 12, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    A word to the wise on beach camping – beware not to set up your tent at low tide. I once woke up to the gentle sound of waves lapping up my tent door on a bike tour of Vancouver Island.

  2. Mandy Creighton

    October 10, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    and watch out for sprinklers coming on in the middle of the night 😉

  3. Émile Essent

    November 28, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Beware of golf courses, they are among the most toxic places on earth because of the pesticides. Young children should not even be allowed to play there (they are closer to the grass).

  4. Rob

    August 16, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Thanks for all the tips. You have a great website. I’m just getting into this. It’s the only way I’m going to get to travel before I’m dead, as it looks like I’m not going to be rich any time soon. Honestly, I’m a little scared by the stealth camping thing. But at the same time it’s an exciting adventure. I think the thing that scares me most is not knowing night to night where I’ll be sleeping, and secondly, dealing with the nice government agents with too much time on their hands. Don’t you expend a lot of energy and time trying to find a location at the end of the day? and secondly, do you have any tips for dealing with the police?

  5. Bicycle Touring Pro

    August 19, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Rob, as for finding a place to sleep each night, yes, this is probably the hardest part about long-distance bicycle travel. If you are doing a shorter trip you can plan out your nights in advance, but when you are traveling for months on end, this is a whole lot more difficult. I recommend people try and plan out their nights in advance if they can.

    As for fears about the police, I’ve found the police on my bike trips to be nothing but helpful. You can usually ask the police where it is safe to camp and they will point you in the right direction. Some cops will even tell you where it is safe to stealth camp. But, yes, you do need to be careful when stealth camping so as to not camp somewhere that you will be discovered – somewhere that would get you into a lot of trouble. My advice is this: ask the police first where you should sleep. If they don’t help you out, then you have stealth camping as a backup.

  6. bob

    February 28, 2011 at 12:30 am

    I pull a trailer with 2 foldouts at each end. They fold out to a little over 6′. I also hav e several yards of camo material, and one of those knotted cord hammocks. The trailer hitch swivels at the connection point. My two favorite ways to set up are as follows: 1, I sit in a bar until late in the evening then pull around back and open up the trailer and throw a camo colth over the whole rig and sleep like a baby. 2 I go to the cemetary and find two trees about just the right distance apart and hang up the hammock. Lay the bike down and cover with camo, then stretch the hammock tightly and cover it with the rest of the camo.
    Several interesting instances are as follows: 1 I awoke in the morning right in the middle of a nudist club! 2 The other time I observed the town cop, (not twentyfive feet under and away from me) watching traffic. Later in the night a lady joined him, she came in on foot. When they left another car came in. It seems I had stealth camped right in the middle of the local lovers lane. I didnt sleep much that night. I have camped there several times since then but to no avail.

    When I am traveling i don’t pay any attention to ANY laws. What are they going to do, hang me?

  7. Scooter

    April 21, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    I’ve done beaches and cemeterys on my bicycle trips – plus a whole lot of othere places, and yes! Beware sprinklers!

  8. Brian

    June 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    “Land for sale. 9+ acres” This is the best thing you can see. Any type of undeveloped land for sale is gold. There is usually a giant sign marking it and the lot will be all woods or field. I will creep 50-100 feet back into it and setup. What are the chances someone is coming in the morning to look at the land and buy it? Pretty much zero. You will see lots like this all over. It doesn’t matter how they are zoned either. You may end up right by a gas station if your lucky.

  9. tech

    July 4, 2012 at 4:55 am

    I have a unusual situation. I may be voluntarily homeless soon, therefore considering stealth camping to save a little money while not imposing on friends.
    I’ll be doing this urban style in a city of 16k which happens to be my hometown!
    I have mapped out several spots so I can rotate frequently. My favorite is a wooded area/ soccer field which I can bike in and out of without notice. I don’t have the funds to do this cross country so I guess I’m “faking it” but having military savy I should be able to pull this off with none the wiser, while still working.
    A ymca membership to workout & shower, post office box & cell phone should help to appear normal, I hope.
    I currently live in a major metro area that it’s been 3 years and I’m not happy or familiar with so it’s time to ramble on.
    Has anyone ever found themselves with a urge to cut the strings to society for awhile? To go camping…without really telling anyone HOW you’re camping?

  10. Mri

    October 14, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    I’ve been “voluntarily” homeless for about 14 months or so now (uni is expensive and then I fell in love with a bloke :). It’s pretty easy; try talking to the other homeless – they are not the creepy weirdos Hollywood makes them out to be. My first week on the streets, they actually showed me around – where to eat, shower, sleep, wash clothes, etc. Most shops don’t mind you sleeping out front/nearby as long as you’re gone before they have to open, but the worst that happens is they ask you to move on.

    To not appear homeless, pretty much all you need to do is make sure you keep your appearance clean and don’t carry so many bags. The bags always give you away, but don’t stash them under bushes and think they’ll still be there the next day. >.> However, what you can do is leave your stuff under your sleeping bag as if you’re sleeping. The homeless don’t bother each other so as long as it doesn’t look abandoned, they more than likely won’t mess with it (did that for months and never had a problem). The only problem you will have are other passerbys – esp. on a Friday/Saturday night. They can be real jerks, so a secluded spot/with others is best.

    Also, if you want to travel, it’s actually possible with little to no money. I hitchhiked across a good portion of Australia and didn’t get murdered once, but I would advice you going with at least one other person of the opposite sex. For some reason, couples get picked up easier…though that might be b/c we were both young (20/21) and didn’t seem like a threat. 😛 I’m heading of to Europe in a few months to do the same; never have to pay for accommodation b/c of the stealth/bush/wild camping so all you have to worry about is food. The most important thing while traveling, is researching everything beforehand so you know where to lay down for the night w/o getting buggered.

  11. Mri

    October 14, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    PS: Try to find a spot with an overhang to sleep under for when it rains. 😛

  12. Jerimiah Gentry

    April 11, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    Traveling through the rural US, I found that in many small (2000 or so) Texas towns, there would be a town square with a police/sheriff’s station near by. I would often ask Law Enforcement directly where to camp. Often they invited me to camp in the square. Once I was offered to camp on the HS Football field. I then met the principle, who invited me to dinner with his family and I slept in their guest room. I was very impressed with how open and inviting people where to a long haired hippy type in bike shorts. 🙂

  13. Don

    February 15, 2014 at 11:32 pm

    Great ideas thanks. I have not done any camping just long day trips but I am preparing for it starting in the spring. On my rides I always see lots of churches even out in the middle of what seems to be out in the middle of no where. I figured they would be good places to camp.

  14. jj

    January 2, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Golf courses spray chemicals big time. Higher cancer rates near golf courses. I’ve smelled it while walking by a golf course. Chemicals just sit there in the grasses blowing around.

    • Darren Alff

      January 9, 2017 at 1:39 pm

      And what does this have to do with stealth camping? Camping for a couple hours near a golf course is very different than living next to one.

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