Car camping naked – it’s similar to hiking naked, in that you get to enjoy nature in a pure form, far away from “civilization”. But it appeals also to more sedentary types. It’s an option for almost anyone who enjoys being naked, though they may not have seriously considered it. (For simplicity, I include pickup trucks as equivalent to a “car”. If you have a lot of gear, and a truck suitable for rough dirt roads, that might be preferable.)
Before I get into more details, here are some of the pluses of this activity:
- You can be naked in nature 24/7 (weather permitting). Perhaps you already enjoy car camping but haven’t realized it need not be limited to public and private campgrounds where clothing is required.
- Locations where naked car camping is possible also offer plenty of opportunties for naked hiking – if you’re a more active sort of person.
- It’s free! No fees, no reservation or registration hassles. No need to vacate the site by a certain time.
- Places for naked camping often involve just one site by itself – no noisy, inconsiderate (or voyeuristic) neighbors. That’s not an unmixed blessing – help may not be nearby if you have problems. But often the solitude is worth it to get away completely from the crowd.
- You’re not necessarily confined to one tiny site, so you may have plenty of room to spread out – if you have a large family or friends who’re tolerant of nudity that you’d like to bring along.
So how do you go about finding places to go car camping naked? My personal experience is limited to California, especially the central part of the Sierras. So I can’t say how much this will generalize to other states, or even all of California. But here’s the deal. California has many U. S. National Forests – about 20 by my count. Most of these have a number of nice, public campgrounds – but all or most also have what’s called “dispersed camping”. That means you can camp almost anywhere in the forest! There are some sensible limitations. In certain high-use areas, dispersed camping isn’t allowed, so you have to use a public (textile) campground.
When you’re not in an established campground, the Forest Service strongly prefers that you find a location that’s already been used for dispersed camping. This means you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) clear away grass, vegetation, brush, downed wood, etc. The site should already be essentially bare ground. You also want a fairly level spot to place your tent. An ideal site should also be well shaded and close – but not too close – to sources of water. A decent sized stream nearby is great for splashing or cooling off in, naked of course. If you have kids with you, they’ll love it. (But if you want to drink the water, be sure to purify it.)
The site should also be adjacent to a Forest Service road (of which there are a large number). That makes it more convenient for you, and avoids disturbing untouched areas. You’ll be able to recognize such sites quite easily as you drive by. For one thing, they often have campfire rings – rock circles 2 or 3 feet in diameter. Although open fires are often not allowed during summer months (because of the high forest fire danger), the rings are still there. (For cooking, you can use a propane or “white gas” camp stove (“Coleman” stoves).) National Forests are the best places for this type of camping. They’re generally where the most convenient and suitable camping sites are easy to find. The USFS also, usually, has very good maps that show all navigable roads, as well as excellent, but less detailed, maps of the Forests themselves. There may, however, be other good locations for naked camping on public lands (belonging to the U. S. Bureau of Land Management or state/local jurisdictions).
What, more specifically, do you need to do to find places for naked camping? Unless you’ll be travelling, start by checking Forest Service web pages to identify the National Forest closest to home. Go to the web page for that particular Forest and check what they say about dispersed camping. Each Forest has its very own map, which you can purchase online for about $15 from the USFS itself. (USFS ranger stations usually have them too, and so do major outdoor recreation stores.) Buy the map. (There are also online maps you can view interactively, but these aren’t as easy to use as physical maps.) Examine the map for places that are most convenient for you and/or that have features of possible interest (lakes, rivers, etc.).
There are always a few paved main roads in the forests, but they may carry a fair amount of traffic, and they aren’t the most likely places to find a site with good privacy. You should usually search for sites beside the secondary roads, which vary significantly in drivability. A few are (or were) actually paved, but most are gravel or dirt. Many are suitable only for jeeps or OHVs (Off-Highway Vehicles) – not for passenger cars. Some of the dirt roads aren’t bad at all, but many are truly awful. You can’t always tell from the map. You can explore on your own, but be careful. A road that starts out looking OK may suddenly narrow, develop huge ruts, be blocked by fallen trees, etc. There may be few places to turn around if you reach an impassable section. If you’re not familiar with Forest Service roads, it’s best to stick to the better ones as much as possible. And if at all possible, use a vehicle with 4-wheel drive and high clearance.
The best advice is to call or visit a Forest Service ranger station and ask about road conditions and the best places to find dispersed campsites (they probably know most of the latter). You’ll also be able to get (for free) a much more detailed “Motor Vehicle Use Map”. They should be considered a must-have. Though more detailed, however, they still aren’t perfect. The maps indicate the usability of the roads, but these indications vary in accuracy. If a road becomes “challenging” to drive on, it’s best to turn around and look elsewhere. If you visit a ranger station you can ask for advice on which roads to use and which to avoid. The maps don’t show anything but public campgrounds, so ask a ranger to suggest the best places to look for dispersed sites. If you have any concerns about the legality of nudity in the area, this might also be a good time to ask. (* see note at the end)
I’d suggest – if the place where you’re interested in camping isn’t too far from home – making several trips early in the season (or other convenient times) specifically to scout out promising areas. You could easily spend all day looking for a spot if you haven’t already found one you like. By looking ahead of time you’ll probably find a place that’s much more satisfactory than if you don’t. And you’ll have alternatives in case the site you want is already occupied.
It helps a lot to have a GPS unit (or a GPS app on cell phone or tablet). GPS works fine even without Internet (which is seldom available in the forests anyhow). Record exact GPS coordinates and nearby roads of sites that appeal to you. Perhaps you could start a little notebook that also has some description of the site – good and bad features, availability of shade, privacy, difficulty of access, etc. Mapping programs to help you navigate are problematical, since they may not include minor roads, and may not be able to get needed maps from the Internet. On the other hand, if you have either printed or online topo maps, you can have some idea of what the topography is like and what features (streams, rivers, lakes, mountains, etc.) are nearby. The topography is important, because fairly level ground is much better than steep slopes for camping.
Speaking of cell phones, tablets, and a laptop or other electronic gadgets, you should think about preparing to recharge them. Even if you can’t find either cell service or Internet access, the gadgets may still be useful (game playing, maps, GPS, photography, taking notes, etc.) Bring several fully-charged external batteries, and/or perhaps something like a GoalZero Yeti, or even a solar panel or two. When you’re car camping, there’s no reason not to bring such things along, if you expect to use your gadgets.
Now, here’s the Catch-22: The farther you have to drive and venture onto crummy roads, the more likely you are to find good private sites where you can be naked without hassles. Conversely, the more convenient and easily accessible a site is, the more likely someone else will already have occupied it – or (possibly worse) come along after you’ve set up your gear and are nakedly enjoying the peace and quiet. There are always trade-offs. If someone else should come along and find you naked, it’s not usually the end of the world. In California, especially on Forest Service land, it’s generally not illegal to be naked as long as you aren’t intentionally trying to cause offense to others. (* see note at the end)
Others who come along will probably be considerate and understanding if you’re naked. It’s much like hiking naked and passing textile hikers on the way. You’re pretty much away from “civilization”, and most people are usually OK with such encounters. But there aren’t any guarantees. However, I’ve come across people sunbathing naked even at semi-remote established picnic areas in the forests, so such things do happen without incident. If you have concerns about this, you might keep something like a pareo around to wrap up in quickly if you see someone coming. Of course, chances are that being seen naked doesn’t embarrass you. You just don’t want to deal with any unpleasant reactions. It’s best decide ahead of time how to handle such things – but don’t let this concern deter you. If you’re in a place where there’s room for more than one campsite, and if someone comes along who seems friendly, you might even say “Feel free to set up your gear in the open space, as long as you don’t mind if I’m not wearing any clothes.”
Now a little more random advice. Unless you’re familiar with an area, you know the roads, and you know there’s room for an RV or large travel trailer – don’t bring one. They simply won’t fit on a lot of forest roads, and it can be damned hard to turn around or back them up if you find a narrow spot you can’t get through. Plan on camping in a tent instead. (Small teardrops or pop-ups might be OK.) If you’ve already done much car camping, you probably have all the gear you’ll need. But there are a few things you might want to bring: cutting/sawing tools in case a small dead tree or branch is blocking a road; plenty of insect repellent and anti-itch cream (for mosquito bites on your bare butt); simple food that requires little or no cooking. You’re “roughing it”, remember – and even if you have a large, high-quality ice chest, the ice tends to melt sooner than you’d like. Have a large ice chest and bring an extra supply of ice if you need to keep things cool more than 2 or 3 days.
One disadvantage of this kind of camping is that “sanitation” is a problem. There may be no restrooms for miles around. This is much like backpacking in remote areas. You need at least a shovel to properly bury solid waste. A little more upscale is a small portable toilet ($20 to $30) and waste bags. If you’ve ever backpacked, you know the drill.
You should also think about sun exposure. Some sites have plenty of shade, at least much of the day. But others that are fine in other respects may have little shade. The last thing you want to do is put on any clothes to avoid sunburn, right? So bring some sort of canopy for extra shade if needed. There are also screened canopies (from outdoor recreation suppliers) that keep out (most of) the bugs too, though they may not provide as much shade. These are almost a must-have if you’re somewhere with lots of mosquitoes and/or other unpleasant bugs (wasps, yellow jackets, etc.) Your naked skin is fully exposed, so do your best to protect it. Public and private campgrounds tend to have fewer bug problems because they take measures to ameliorate the problem. But you’ll be pretty much on your own.
Are there other downsides to this kind of camping, compared to public and private campgrounds? Yes, I have to be honest about this. In “normal” campgrounds, there are usually lots of other campers, and probably a campground “host” or two. They keep an eye on things, so thefts and other crimes against people are less likely. When you’re by yourself, you’re literally on your own. If you leave your site for a hike you have to wonder what might happen while you’re away. At least, keep valuables in your vehicle, and lock it at night or if you walk away. It might not be a bad idea to camp with a few friends or relatives, if they’re OK with nudity, so someone can stay around to watch over the site.
A more serious, but (hopefully) less likely risk is forest fire. In a public or private campground there should be timely warnings to evacuate if there’s a fire approaching. But in a remote location you might not be warned if a fire develops nearby, and there may be no escape routes. I don’t want to frighten anyone, but climate change is making big fires more common. There are, unfortunately, several per year now in California. Before you head out it’s a good idea to check https://inciweb.nwcg.gov. It can inform you whether there is an active forest fire near your intended destination. Even if the fire doesn’t directly threaten that location, the smoke from the fire can be very annoying, and you might not notice smoke from a new fire closer to you.
Before you decide on a site, you should try to find one that has more than one route away from the site. Choose one at the end of a longish dead-end road only if the fire danger seems low. Unless a fire is moving rapidly (due to high wind), you’ll probably smell smoke and see it in the air while there’s still time to get out. Smoke is more of a warning sign away from developed campgrounds, where it’s usually present from campfires. Don’t panic, but don’t take unnecessary chances either. If you suspect a forest fire and know where there’s cellphone service nearby, go and call a ranger station.
Another problem is the risk of large dangerous animals. Mountain lions are very rare, but there are a few out there. There are black bears too, but they’re usually less dangerous. Such animals aren’t as likely to hang around “normal” campgrounds. It would be a good idea to read up on how to react if a mountain lion or bear comes around. Also, especially regarding bears, be careful how you store food – just as if you were out backpacking. Established campgrounds usually have bear-proof storage. But undeveloped sites don’t. At least keep food in your car overnight, since bears generally won’t break in unless they’re really hungry. Also be aware that in some locations small rodents may carry nasty diseases. Don’t feed them or touch them – especially dead ones.
There are lesser problems too. Primitive campsites aren’t kept neat and tidy, like “normal” ones. Watch out for broken glass around fire pits. Although beer in glass bottles, as well as open campfires, are less common than in the past, for many years thoughtless people have tossed bottles and other glass into their campfires – and much is still there in some places. Once you’ve picked a site, look around carefully for broken glass or sharp metal objects. Pick that stuff up and save it until you can dispose of it properly. Don’t go barefoot until you’ve checked around carefully. So bring good sandals or other footwear with you.
I certainly don’t want to frighten anyone out of the idea of car camping naked. It’s really a lot like backpacking on one of the less popular backcountry trails (which are also good places to be naked, but demand a lot more from you). You have to take care of your biological needs and avoid common dangers in much the same way. But naked camping does lack some of the backpacking risks, such as running out of supplies, accidents and injuries on the trail, unexpected bad weather, and lost or damaged essential gear. On balance, it’s safer than backpacking – which isn’t all that dangerous anyway, if you’re in shape and know what you’re doing.
It appears to me that car camping in out of the way places isn’t much of a “thing” these days, for either naturists or non-naturists. This could be an opportunity to “take over” the forests for the chance to be clothesfree in nature for a few days or more – at a very reasonable price. This is similar to how U. S. naturists started many “nude beaches” in the 1960s.
* About the legality of nudity: I’m not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. However, in California courts have decided there are no state laws against nudity, as long as there isn’t an intention to cause offense. There may be local laws in some areas, usually outside National Forests. There are no Federal statutes against nudity either. Nevertheless, you should consult a lawyer or do you own research to understand possible legal “exposure”. Here’s a link to a good place to start: https://www.aanrwest.org/government-affairs.html)