Do river campsites have different rules

Do river campsites have different rules than BWCA campsites? In the BW its first come first serve. You get there first its yours. But when canoe camping on rivers here in Mn it seams that if your first you get the campsite, but others may join you. They will camp off about 50 feet away but they set up without even asking. This has happened a couple of times, so I just assumed its the way of the river. Is that right?

repelled at the end of a gun!
be careful in maine i was told i would get hurt if i got out of my boat while on a 135 mile paddle. next i will have a shot in my canoe.

Prefer the site to myself
Does first come first served mean you get exclusive use of the site? Or does it mean you are the first to decide where to put your tent?

I think most paddlers, myself included, prefer to have the site to themselves. But, sometimes you have to make do.

I was on a trip where after we paddled our intended distance we came to a site that was occupied. We passed it by. This was on Maine’s St. John river, and you are only allowed to camp at designated sites. The next site, several miles downriver was also occupied. We kept going. The next site was occupied, too., but that was it for us. It was already late in the day, continuing on would have taken us through Big Black rapids, which we didn’t want to tackle at dusk, and we were already depleted from paddling nine hours in mostly cold rainy weather.

We were lucky that the gang at that last site was welcoming. They gave us hot drinks and helped us set up our tarp. They turned out to be a great gang of guys that called themselves “brotherhood of the moose.” Camping with them turned out to be one of the hightlights of the trip.

I don’t know the particulars about your situation, but if there was room (50 feet away), I’d say it’s okay. If you camp in a car camping area you are going to have another tent 10 or 20 feet away. Take advantage of the situation to meet some other paddlers. They might turn out to be alright. It might even be me! :wink:


Where I have canoe camped out
west, it depended partly on the nature of the campsite and the surroundings. Some campsites were in large, open areas, and it was just accepted that other parties would camp there, especially if the site was near some great side canyon hikes. But there were other sites small enough that, once one party was there, no other party would join them unless in a state of relative emergency.

When on the St. Croix, I noticed that at least some of the designated sites were planned to accomodate more than one party. When we were in Quetico, however, the sites were generally such that they would not accomodate a second party, unless they were unusually intrusive people.

Now, for car camping, I’ve noticed that many actually seem to enjoy camping cheek by jowl. Many campsites are designed for it, including Abrams Creek in the Smokies. But USFS campsites often are designed to space people out more.

Maybe it’s something about Minnesotans. You might write Garrison Keilor. Might be a Lutheran thing.

keep paddling
I always keep paddling when I see that someone has set up camp.

The closest I have ever been is 200 yards down stream. We could see their fire and outlines of a lighted tent and maybe hear a whistle for their dog.

If someone has the campsite let them have it. Don’t set up your stuff next to someone it rude.


Different Rivers do have Different Rules
Ya, I agree that if you can, keep going and let people have their privacy. But on some rivers, you are only allowed to camp at designated sites, and the sites are miles apart. Sometimes, the only practical thing to do is intrude, and camp at a site where somebody is already camped.

If you are talking about a river where there are no restrictions and lots of spots available, there is really no reason to camp on top of somebody else. I think most paddlers will prefer to be well separated from other parties. But sometimes there is no other practical choice.


never had that problem
but on rivers I usually don’t end up at a campsite either. Usually its just stealth camping on rivers.

What river are you paddling that has campsites?

I have been looking for a good river trip I could camp more legally at.

Stealth camping…I have a camo diamond tarp that can cover the bright Kayak; pull the boat/canoe away from river view, set up camp and rack out…if you HAVE to have a fire, make it small…

LEO’s will usually concentrate on trouble spots, (Bonfires/rowdy campers) if you are reasonable in your approach you will seldom have an issue…

Mostly, Maine
The Susquahanna River Trail has designated camp sites, mostly on islands.

But most of my river camping was done in Maine. The St. John, The West Branch Penobscot, and the Alligash have designated sites. Same on the big lakes: Moosehead and Chesuncook.

Not rivers, but Assateague and False Cape have designated sites. In the Virginia Barrier Islands, some of the islands are off limits, one open to campers, and some are open with special permits.

The Potomac has many islands which are privately owned or designated wildlife refuges, but also plenty where camping is allowed (not sure allowed is the right word, but the islands are a jurisdictional no-mans land). For 180 miles, the C&O canal runs along side, and there are designated sites all along that stretch.

Oh, and not sure you’d want to go this far, but New Zealand’s Wanganui River has designated sites.

Many sites limit the campable zone in terms such as “within 50 feet of the fire ring.”


one thing I have read
is that Minnesota allows “dispersed camping” on some state land. I read it as allowing anyone to camp on open state land in wilderness areas where it is not expressly prohibited. For example BWCA only allows camping at designated campsites. On other state land open to people you can camp anywhere…If anyone knows more about this rule I would like to know more.

They also say river banks up to the high water mark are public property but that doesn’t fly with many land owners next to the water.

Firts on the site rule
The rule I use when doing rivers is; sites are on a first come basis, you get there first its yours. However, on rivers one has to be a bit more open minded, sometime sites are large enough to accommodated several groups for example some sites on the San Juan River in Utah. I would not ask for permission if the distance of the second site is far enough (30+ yard) and has a seperat take-out. I also had a situation on the Spanish River in Ontario were a group came through late at night completely exhausted with no sites available for many miles down river. In that case we offer them to share a site and they gladly accepted. In such case asking for permission to set up camp or waiting to be invited would be the proper thing to do. I personally would consider very rude if was first on a site and someone would set up camp 20 ft from me with out asking.

state land camping
In Mn you can camp anywhere you want on state forest, and national forest land as long as its not a day use area. You can camp on sand bars, but some land owners don’t like that. Also you have the right to portage onto private property if its the only way, but you might cross paths with an unhappy owner here as well.

The river cuts mostly through private property so the state has placed camp sight about 20 miles apart (or less, rarely more). So if you pass up a sight there isn’t another one for quite a while. So I guess everyone must share the sights.

I hate that. and would never do that
to someone else, but unfortunately there seems to be a lot of rude people in the world.

The only time I don’t mind is if the camp sites are few and far between, and it is getting dark out, and the other party is getting desperate.



Suggestion: bring a boom box, and
once you land, turn it up loud, playing nothing but 20th century classical music. Stuff like Varese.

I’ll bet you don’t get any low class butt-ins landing to camp by you.

Please Don’t
"once you land, turn it up loud, playing nothing but 20th century classical music. Stuff like Varese."

I know you’re joking but lets not give others any ideas…


Oh heavens, NO!
…talk about NOISE pollution!..personally, I like to sit within view of the river while I wipe down my shotgun…then if’n the fellers in boats don’ git the hint, I jus’ SPIT…thet usual like has 'em movin on down river…

Always take a bow and arrows and a butt plug for when the music starts.

12 foot antenne mast and radio
are always at my camps. along the northern maine border you can get the best jazz on the air from Quebec. never loud enough to bother anyone if anybody is around. but my new trick is to wear a straw hat and a white long sleeve shirt buttoned all the way up. when people come close i shout"the lord has delivered you safely to join my flock this night" that keeps them a paddlin.