Is stealth camping illegal?

In today’s blog post, we will answer the following question: Is stealth camping illegal? We will explain what stealth camping is and give you a few essential tips for safe camping. 

Is stealth camping illegal?

Whether stealth camping is illegal or not, it will highly depend on where you are trying to camp. Stealth camping is illegal in areas that have specific trespassing laws.

Stealth camping laws can be divided into two groups:

  1. The criminal laws are used when someone ends up trespassing in a prohibited area or a stealth camp somewhere that is not allowed.
  1. Civil trespass laws are used when someone sneaks up on private property and causes some damage.

While you should always verify this information with your own research including possible city and county codes and laws, here are the states that (more or less) allow stealth camping*:

StatePlace where you can stealth campPlace where you cannot stealth camp
AlabamaUnused and unimproved plots if you have not been told otherwise by the ownersLand which has been fenced, signed, farmed, or near structures.  You cannot stealth camp on any land that you have been told not to.
Alaska“Unimproved and apparently unused land, which is neither fenced nor otherwise enclosed in a manner designed to exclude intruders”, as long as you have not been told otherwise, and as long as there are no signs informing you of otherwise.Unimproved, unfenced, non-posted, and apparently unused land, if you have not been told otherwise.
ArizonaUnfenced, non-posted, open to the public areas, unless otherwise told so by someone with that authority.Locations that have been fenced, posted or otherwise improved.  You cannot stealth camp in an area where you were told to
CaliforniaStealth camping is legal in California as long as you leave-no-trace, only use unimproved and non-posted land, and you are sure to leave immediately when asked.  You must be sure to not interfere with any business that happens on the land.
IdahoAreas that are not fenced, not posted, and are not unharvested and cultivated.Fenced or posted land.  You cannot stealth camp on cultivated (unharvested) lands. 
MinnesotaIf the land is not fenced, posted, farmed (including trees and grasses), or near structures, and if you have not been told otherwise by the owners.Land which has been fenced, posted, farmed, or is near structures.  You cannot stealth camp on any land that you have been told not to.
MontanaOn any non posted private land, where you have not been told otherwise.On any occupied structure, premises, vehicle,  land that has been posted, or where you have been denied permission.
North DakotaAreas that are not enclosed or posted,  so long as you are not in or on any structures and you have not been told to leave.IIn or on any structures, in any area enclosed to exclude intruders, posted areas, or areas where you are otherwise told not to.
WisconsinOn unsigned “open land” if you have not been told otherwise by the owners.On land which has been fenced, signed, farmed, or is near structures.  You cannot stealth camp on any land that you have been told not to.

*Source: StealthCamp.com

What is stealth camping?

Stealth camping is the practice of spending one or more nights in an unmarked vehicle (usually a van or a trailer) outside a camping area and usually without any permission from the owner or the manager of the property. 

The difference between stealth camping and dry camping (boondocking) is the permission to camp. While both practices imply the idea of sleeping outside a campsite, boondocking is legal in the US and done on approved plots for camping. 

When stealth camping you must consult the law in the state and the municipality you plan on parking overnight. Most areas do not allow people to sleep in their vehicles overnight and such practices are punishable by law. 

Tips and suggestions for stealth camping

In some areas, sleeping in your vehicle overnight is illegal. Most of the time these are local ordinances because neighbourhoods have had problems with clutter, aggressiveness, or just too many RVs or camper vans taking to the streets.

By following some common tactics, you can comfortably camp, find legal parking areas, and avoid unwanted attention. Here are some of the most important tips, tricks, and tips for all stealth campers:

  1. Choose the right RV or van: If you plan to sleep a lot in the cities, purchasing a standard vehicle will be a great advantage before starting your adventure. That said, with proper planning, almost any vehicle, truck, or van can work.

When choosing your motorhome, choose something low-key that doesn’t stand out too much. Standard white vans and minivans are good options. A vehicle that does not appear to be ready for sleep is preferable. If your option is this to be in large urban centres a lot.

Avoid brightly coloured vehicles or large billboards. Don’t post your Instagram name, bumper stickers, or anything memorable. You want to be as invisible as possible.

RVs and box trucks are also good choices. They can park discreetly in the city or in industrial areas, but they may not do as well in some neighbourhoods. And camper vans, they’ll give you more space than a standard minivan, and they also tend to blend in pretty well.

  1. Keep your van or RV clean. Many people won’t mind seeing a standard white cargo van parked on their street. But if the truck is rusted with trash on the roof and dirty windows, they will be more upset.

Keep your van shiny and the interior clean. If people take a look inside or the police call you, you want to appear to be a stable individual. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just keep your plates lined up and don’t let the garbage pile up. Your first impression will help a lot in your interactions with the public.

  1. Inspect the area first. Leave your RV on the other side of the road and a bit out of the way to camp and go investigate the area. Does it seem like you are going to bother anyone? Examine the type of soil. Dried mud can be a trap if it rains. Think about where you will go the next morning if it rains a lot during the night. 

Rivers and lakes are good places to bathe but at night they attract a lot of humidity and animals. Don’t camp near them. They can also have unexpected floods.

  1. Building a fire is a way to get attention. They may not see the fire but they do see the smoke. Also, if a dog has seen you and starts barking, it is better to leave. They can be very insistent! Be ready to leave anytime. 
  1. Treat the place with respect. If you have to go to the bathroom, do it far from your camping place and make a hole in the ground, even with your foot, and cover your excrement with stones. Leave the place exactly as you found it.
  1. Try to find a place that meets the sun in the morning. It is nice to be woken up by the sun. If you cannot find a good place, it is better to approach a neighbour and ask if you can camp in his garden. Many times you will end up being invited inside.
  1. And finally, if it’s hunting season, don’t try to camp in those places. Hunters can be very stealthy and don’t ask before shooting.

The bottom line

Here are our final tips for safe stealth camping:

  1. Be discreet. The idea, always the same, is to be as discreet as possible to preserve any people who live around it but also to allow other travellers to be greeted and welcome at a spot.
  1. Collect your waste and even that of others to leave the spot even cleaner than when you arrive.
  1. Follow your instincts. If you don’t feel sure of one place, for whatever reason, whether it’s rational or not, go away and look for another spot.

Please feel free to get in contact if you have any questions!

FAQ on Is stealth camping illegal?

​​Is it illegal to sleep in a caravan on the road?

No, it is not illegal to sleep in a caravan lawfully parked on the road. The first thing to take into account is that it is perfectly okay to sleep, for a nap or for a night, in road rest areas or motorway rest areas. Drowsiness is one of the main causes of highway crashes, we do not play with that. But it also means respecting certain rules. The highway area is not a campsite.

Where to stop with a motorhome?

A motorhome can stop in town in a parking space and spend the night there. It does not matter whether the motorhome operators are on board or not, as long as they comply with the regulations.

Can you sleep in a parked car?

The quick answer is yes, it is totally possible to sleep in a stationary car, as long as it has been parked correctly and in compliance with the Highway rules. Sleeping in your car is, in fact, highly recommended after driving for many hours. It is advisable to stop for a nap if fatigue takes over. Fatigue is one of the main accident risks and there are quite a few deaths from falling asleep at the wheel and getting off the road.

Can I sleep in my van?

Currently, it is completely legal to sleep in a van, a campervan or a travel trailer. There is nothing in the law that prohibits it. In theory, you can therefore spend the night wherever you want, unless it is otherwise specified so.

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