Can You Tent Camp In State Parks?

Most people go on 5-10 camping trips in their entire life so it’s normal to feel confused when planning a camping trip. It seems like most campgrounds are geared towards RV campers instead of young families with tents. State parks have a lot of weird rules from one park to the next, which brings up a common question.

Can you tent camp in state parks? Most state parks have designated campgrounds where you can tent camp, but there are some exceptions. If you want to camp deep into the forest you will have to pay for a backcountry camping permit or dispersed camping permit. Some places restrict backcountry camping to designated areas so call ahead before planning your trip.

Planning a camping trip can be confusing! The average person might go on 5-10 camping trips in their lifetime (unless you’re a Boy/Girl Scout). Keep reading to learn a few tips to help you plan a camping trip in state parks.

Are Tents Allowed In State Parks?

This is one of those questions that doesn’t have an easy answer. Most state parks allow tent camping, but only in designated areas. You can’t just walk into any old state park and pitch a tent.

Setting up a camping trip is basically like staying overnight in a hotel. You will have to make reservations and the office will give you a designated tent camping site to stay in. Sites are reserved on a first come first serve basis and they tend to sell out on busy/holiday weekends.

Tent Sites Come With a Few Basic Amenities

Every state park will be different, but tent sites will usually come with a few amenities you won’t find in RV sites. The average tent site will have the following things:

  • A designated 12’x12′ space to place 1-2 tents, room for 2 cars, and a small area for a fire ring, cooking and social activities.
  • Picnic table, fire ring and sometimes a grill.
  • Easy access to bathrooms
  • Potable water spigot, drain and maybe an outdoor kitchen(sometimes off site)
  • A 20 Amp Electric Outlet For Charging Phones, Coffee Makers, etc.

How Much Will It Cost?

State campgrounds are usually cheaper than staying at a privately owned site. Plan on spending $15-40 per night to camp in most state parks. Weekday rates tend to be cheaper and holidays will be the most expensive.

Make sure you ask if they offer tent only campsites when booking your reservations. Some places have cheaper rates for tent only campsites. They tend to be smaller private sites that are harder for RVs to access. Public restrooms will probably be closer as well.

How Many Tents Can Go On a Campsite?

Most campgrounds limit you to 2-3 tents per campsite (6 people). Camp sites are designed for a single family with up to 4 children. So ask for an oversized “Double Lot” or side by side lots if you’re going with a large group.

Parking is limited to a maximum of 2 cars per lot so plan accordingly. You can sometimes pay $10-15 per night for parking lot access. Remember that campgrounds are designed for RV access so you can’t overflow into the road and block traffic. Your car will get hit and the park rangers will ask you to move the car.

What About Backcountry Camping? (aka Boondocking/Dispersed Camping)

Most of the larger state parks will allow backcountry camping, but you’ll have to request a permit. The park rangers need to know where you’re staying so they can manage the land. They also need to use permit info to rescue missing backpackers so requesting a permit is extremely important.

Every state/national park will require you to obtain a camping permit, which will come with a small fee. You can obtain the permit at any visitor center and it will be good for the duration of your stay.

Can I Camp Wherever I Want?

Most places will allow you to camp wherever you want, but you’ll have to keep moving each night. Staying more than 1 night in a location will throw off search and rescue efforts so keeping to your schedule is extremely important. Always plan your route ahead of time and leave it with a trusted family member just in case.

Some parks have designated camping areas that you have to stay in, but that’s rare. These sites will usually have a post set into the ground with metal fire rings. This is common in areas with wildfires and places with sparse water access. In these cases you’re required to camp only in designated areas.

Don’t Setup a Homebase

Most state/national parks won’t allow you to setup a home base camp and stay there the entire time. They don’t want to have congestion in popular areas like lakes, rivers, overlooks, etc. Rangers don’t want their backcountry areas to turn into tent cities. You can’t have parks turning into temporary residences for homeless people.