Wednesday, November 29, 2023


Bighorn National Forest asks community for help with dispersed camping squatters

For years, the National Forest Service has been dealing with a growing issue—careless dispersed camping squatters dropping off their RVs in the forest for an entire season with the intention of using them as “summer homes.” Outside of the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming, Forest Service staff have turned to local communities to help combat the problem.

In a series of six public forums taking place in communities surrounding Bighorn, Wyoming, officials are asking for input and solutions on how to move forward. While the government body normally formulates a proposed plan prior to addressing residents, this time they’re taking a reversed approach.

Forest Service identifies two main problems

Recreation officer Andrea Maichak explained to the Buffalo Bulletin that the Forest Service is primarily concerned with two things: environmental and social impact.

Environmentally, many of these squatting RVers are destructive in their usage and damage the public land. Increased use leads to erosion and ecosystem changes, which can negatively impact wildlife populations. Additionally, improper trash and waste removal, such as continuous gray tank dumping, can harm the surrounding soil and water supplies.

The biggest struggle is the frustration that these individuals have brought to the greater camping community. Many locals have found that it’s impossible to find dispersed camping sites that are available, with unoccupied RVs taking up the majority of the spots. The Forest Service acknowledges that this is also a major concern for fire season. They have no idea who owns these RVs or if people are actively using them.

In most cases, “entitled” campers are simply bringing their rigs up to their favorite spot early in the season and leaving it there throughout the summer.

The community weighs in on dispersed camping squatting

Bighorn National Forest sign

The Bighorn Mountain Coalition Dispersed Camping Task Force, a group of individuals representing the interests of the local community, presented the Forest Service with four recommendations. These starting ideas were then expressed to attendees of the public forums, with comments, feedback, and suggestions being encouraged.

The four ideas were as follows:

  1. Assign Dispersed Camping Sites: Restricting campers to designated spaces would allow the Forest Service to keep track of RVs more efficiently.
  2. Implement a Sticker Program: Similar to the OHV snowmobile program, dispersed campers would be required to purchase an annual pass. National Forest officials commented that 95% of the revenue would be used to fund dispersed camping enforcement.
  3. Change the 14-Day Stay Limit: Currently, the Bighorn National Forest forces campers to move at least 5 miles away from their previous campsite every 14 days. Community members have suggested changing this rule to only allow for 14 total days of camping per season.
  4. Increase the Citation Fee for Overstays: Citation fees would be increased to $100 for exceeding the 14-day limit. An additional $20 would be charged for every extra day.

The problems of enforcement

As one of the least-funded government bodies, the National Forest Service struggles with adequate staffing. While passing new rules is great conceptually, it may be difficult for Forest Service officials to enforce.

In Bighorn National Forest, there is only one protection officer responsible for managing the entire area’s dispersed camping.  With an increasing RVer population, managing public land usage has become difficult. The Wyoming community hopes that the proceeds from a sticker system would fund more staff to enforce the regulations.

What’s your take on these “squatters”?

Punishing those who abuse the rules, while not taking anything away from those that don’t, is quite the balancing act. Far too often, respectful campers find themselves paying for the misdeeds of a few bad apples.

Has your favorite National Forest also seen an uptick in inconsiderate RVers? I’d love to hear your solutions in the comments below.


Jeff Clemishaw
Jeff Clemishaw
Jeff Clemishaw is a traveling freelance writer, passionate RVer, and snowboarder. He and his fiancé travel in their truck camper, chasing powder and seeking adventure. You can reach him at



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Cal (@guest_211982)
1 year ago

The same problem exists on the nations local, State and Federal highways in the form of vehicles left on the roads and streets. In Kansas law enforcement applies a sticker to the vehicle and then there’s a 48 hour window for the owner to move the vehicle. After that time expires local tow trucks are notified or if they observe one of these vehicles they impound it at their facility. The owner is then responsible to pay the tow service in order to reclaim their vehicle.
Why can’t a similar action take place in the national forests?
Campers would have to obtain a 14 day sticker but on day 15 they need to move or face being towed.

Trish (@guest_204236)
1 year ago

We have noticed and spoke with others that have noticed this is a huge problem. Not just in the Big Horns but Vernal, Utah as well. I believe it’s a problem in several areas. A solution is needed for sure. I already put my 2 cents in.

It is aggravating it was allowed to go this long to become the problem it is now. They close off roads and dont open others, bottle neck people into an area that then gets trashed then closed, goes to controlled dispersed spots, pushes people to paid camping areas which is another beast of problem. New road closure & No Camping signs are up every year shrinking dramatically the areas for the public to enjoy.

If don’t know better it appears they are locking us out of our public lands to use.

Don (@guest_203735)
1 year ago

I boondock in the Big Horns, I know there are a lot of campers stay all summer. The last place we stayed three campers used the forest for their bathroom. They did both never covered either up or even attempted to cover either up, very horrible….this was for two weeks. So much for a pleasant stroll through the forest.

Heather (@guest_202836)
1 year ago

For those that attack dispersed camping are basically scapegoating all boondockers & boondocking in general. That’s just not right.

Teton (@guest_205135)
1 year ago
Reply to  Heather

I haven’t read anywhere on here where anyone is attacking dispersed camping but rather staying past the 14 day legal limit in one spot.

Gandalf (@guest_202610)
1 year ago

Implement a sticker program immediately. Color code for length of stay. Any RV not having a sticker after a 14 day grace period gets towed to an area designated by the National Park Service. Owners showing up to claim towed RVs pay a fine of course, after proper ownership is proven and should be banned from National Parks for 12 months for squatting. THe Park Service would of course have to keep files on these banned RVs, to include photos of RV types and Vin numbers which won’t be difficult to obtain after towing to the designated area.
Any towed RVs not claimed within say, 60 days, are either sold at auction or for scrap.
There, thats 3 or 4 ways to increase park revenue and be able to enforce some new rules.

Heather (@guest_202837)
1 year ago
Reply to  Gandalf

Yes, this can work!!!

Jay Froman (@guest_204118)
1 year ago
Reply to  Gandalf

I agree 100%. These squatters are taking up much of the Sierra National Forest dispersed areas. They Should Be Fined!!

Ellen White (@guest_205803)
1 year ago
Reply to  Gandalf

Love this Idea! I would be happy to stop by the Ranger office to obtain a “sticker” for my 14-day stay.I would color code for the month but also write on the sticker the DATE it was purchased so there is no doubt about the 14 days.I would change the “grace” period to10 days.Then IF still there have it towed–the cost of towing would be offset by the FINE to the abusing RVer IF they ever claim their RV–IF they don’t claim it within 60days, auction it off at a public auction just like the police do for their “impounded” stuff! Of course at the auction you would set a minimum price, that would cover storing costs, towing costs, & admin costs to organize & put on this event.
I would add to this a Volunteer HOST that covers several areas of dispersed camping-the job of the Volunteer HOST would check stickers for expiration date, warn campers to move if still there after the date & report to rangers anyone overstaying & any RVs needed to be towed. In return the Host would get to stay longer

Greg (@guest_251116)
3 months ago
Reply to  Gandalf

Great idea
Easy solution

Susan Shedd (@guest_202515)
1 year ago

The only one of these proposals I could consider supporting is #4 . Make the persons who are overstaying 14 days in a particular campsite pay a fine. That will stop it, or most if it.
My husband and I have been camping on the mtn for 40+ years. We don’t want to see more regulations to limit our use but it isn’t right for people to leave their campers there and take up campsites that other forest users need. We are ok after Sept. 1 in consideration of the hunters, but not before.

JCH (@guest_205237)
1 year ago
Reply to  Susan Shedd

LMAO your logic is part of the problem. Why should Hunters have special treatment – because YOU are finished camping and don’t have to deal with hunters in YOUR camp spot its ok?

Dave (@guest_202508)
1 year ago

Yes number 1. Environmental impact
Omg. Look anywhere. Land forest gone. Cities they running from all that
Number 2. Yes. Rv must be inhabited
Number 3. With all the homeless. All the ghettos. Projects. ECT
PRAISE them. Yes. Communities help them
14 days. Nuts
30 days free. Then prove. It a Home. Try to live life nature. Then. To get permit. Not use the parks system

To abuse them trying to life. Nature
TO LET abuse. Drugs. No
Park rangers. Can do it.
I have home. Owne in fl.
I not want land abuse
Omg. Sad
but I camp in Maine 6 months. Friends place.
Silly people. So simple

Ron Catchpole (@guest_202494)
1 year ago

Why not do like they do with broken down vehicles where they color tag the vehicles.
They give the owner adequate time to either repair or have it towed by a company of their choosing. After set days it’s still there it’s towed by a towing company on call usually shared by other towing companies to their lot. The owner must then deal with that towing company to get it back.
Locks on the tongue if used can be cut off, picked or possibly a master keys.
Or just let a potential camper wanting that site to tow the camper to front entrance lot.
As long as the colored tag or numbered shows its parked illegal nobody liable.

Donna Flanagan (@guest_202298)
1 year ago

I know several veterans just wanting somewhere to be away from the hustle and bustle. What about program where vets can sign up to have their own private site labeled with something like Camp Host and a bulletin board near the entrance to the designated areas whether they are actual sites or boondocking areas that explain the rules, a sign up sheet that’s more like a safety precaution than an actual registry. I would love to do something like this just to have a spot somewhere that is somewhere I can be out in nature whether traveling or staying put for a time. I take my home with me wherever the wind takes me. If I can have and share the peace of mind that my stuff and self and is welcome and protected as well? And to have the access to be somewhere steady, at any time of year while keeping forests clean, friendly and healthy without being there to enforce but rather a friendly reminder, helper in case of emergency, a “groundskeeper”. Sign me up!

Rob lee (@guest_202339)
1 year ago
Reply to  Donna Flanagan

Unfortunately the problem with your naive idea is someone within rip down the sign and use it for firewood or if it’s made out of metal they would then steal it for scrap change

Tom (@guest_202355)
1 year ago
Reply to  Rob lee

You mean those citizens of WY would do that. Oh my.

Dennis (@guest_202271)
1 year ago

I do dispersed camping often. (usually one nite at a time). I keep in close contact with the respective Rangers in my area. If someone sets up camp for the season (14 day limit here) I politely tell them I will be notifying the Forest Service if they exceed the 14 day limit. They always politely move on. Never once have I had to contact the Rangers in 24 years. Most people are pretty responsible and will try to follow rules.

Tom (@guest_202356)
1 year ago
Reply to  Dennis

How do you keep track? Are you staying more than the allotted time to enforce it?

Gandalf (@guest_202617)
1 year ago
Reply to  Dennis

Sooner or later, especially these days you’ll politely tell someone that and they’ll never find your body. It’s not your job or responsibility to enforce Park rules, that’s the Rangers jobs. Be smart and stay safe and let them do the job they get paid to do..

D. Wenger (@guest_203752)
1 year ago
Reply to  Gandalf

Mob Rules in the wild, ehh? Part of our responsibilities as citizens is to stand up for law and order, and be good witnesses. If being a witness requires you to defend yourself, so be it. People have to take back their own responsibility rather than be sheep. The smart play is the long game and what cowering in the shadows in fear ultimately does to society.

Gandalf (@guest_206250)
1 year ago
Reply to  D. Wenger

If you knew me, you’d know that I’m definitely not sheep. I’m not advocating sheepish behavior either. You’re correct, it is our responsibility to be good witnesses or observers in our quest to stand up for what’s right. That doesn’t necessarily include offering unwanted or unsolicited advice or threats to contact authorities. Sheep or not, sheepdog or not, there’s ALWAYS wolves in the wild who don’t follow societies rules and there are always bigger wolves.

Teton (@guest_205136)
1 year ago
Reply to  Gandalf


Tom S (@guest_202235)
1 year ago

We shouldn’t be surprised by these entitled individuals, they are on the highways everywhere.

Xavier (@guest_202227)
1 year ago

I understand the frustration. In the Bighorns I’d see a van parked in the same place each year with toilet paper everywhere around it. North Carolina plates. On the other hand, my friends and I take our four campers into one spot in a different mountain range and leave them there. Granted, there are no established campgrounds up there. We clean up and we’re not dispersed. We also don’t have gray water. One or more of us is up there basically every weekend.

Vincent (@guest_202210)
1 year ago

Hey, let’s make some heavy rules that make it hard for the folks who play fair. Also, make it expensive for those who can’t afford to stay at a fancy RV resort or park. Dumb. Here is a simple yet easy way to help with enforcement without sticking it to people. Require them to register their license plate number on the camper/RV and be given a placard for vehicle or tent. Can be self serve since no money is changing hands. They must provide a current phone number. Now it’s easy to know when they arrived, who they are, and how to contact them. The rules of 14 days, how far they have to move, Warnings of being towed away if they overstay printed on back of placard. No excuses if their camper is not there when they return! Advertise for a volunteer attendant to go check on spots and compare to register. Provide an electric off-road golf cart. He/she gives info to Ranger to handle when violation found. Give them a spot they can boondock in all summer long without moving as a thank you.

Last edited 1 year ago by Vincent
Dan (@guest_202167)
1 year ago

Oh you know the cost of living? The more it goes up the more of this style of living rises.

Matt (@guest_202134)
1 year ago

I think folks are getting the wrong impression of the term “squatters’ in the case of the Bighorns.
There are no homeless people in RV’s in the Bighorn mountains.
These are average folks that live nearby parking their RV’s as “Summer Homes” in the same spot for months.
The Forest Service claims they “can’t determine” how long a vehicle has been parked there.
That trailer has been unhitched with no towing vehicle nearby for 2 months now.
Everyone knows what they are doing here.
It is a lack of enforcement and a lack of enforcement with teeth that has caused this issue.
Nothing will change.
Next year the same campers will vacantly occupy the same spots all Summer and the Forest Service will write a few tickets but nothing will come of it.

Steve (@guest_202131)
1 year ago

In my opinion, the Bighorn Mountains are one of the most beautiful places on earth and deserve more protection than they receive. Dispersed camping should be limited to backpacking tents or hammocks. RV’s and such should be strictly limited to designated developed campgrounds. Possibly an allowance could be made for single overnight stays if nearby campgrounds are full – in other regions this is often done with specifically designated “overflow campground areas” typically located adjacent to developed campgrounds – other than that, anything else should be confiscated. For those who need to park an RV at a trailhead while out in the backcountry for multiple days, permits can be issued. By restricting dispersed RV use outright, it makes enforcing against a few violators much easier.
Lastly, I don’t want to sound political, but Wyoming does need a congressional delegation effective at pulling for and earmarking the needs of the forest service

Matt (@guest_202132)
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve

The Forest Service is federal.
We only have one representative in the House and 2 Senators.
I get what you are saying but a “delegation” is not in the numbers.

Dianne (@guest_202199)
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve

I was thinking this would be a great place to re-explore places I visited as a child. I have no problem moving on at the most every 14 ot 15 days. I am a retiree who has never had the opportunity to take my Time exploring great places in our nation. But a 14 day yearly limit is hardly time to explore an entire region. I feel that the majority of people are honest and do as the rules say to do. Step up your enforcement and raise your violator fee if You must, but please don’t limit our yearly stay to just 14 or 15 days.

Jaym (@guest_202121)
1 year ago

Have a 14 day pass. Once it’s up, impound it.

Matt (@guest_202120)
1 year ago

There is no enforcement currently.
Sorry Pat.
You need to have teeth to your rules.
I hate it.
But you need to be willing and able to impound and auction campers and RV’s before you announce new rules.
Otherwise, the fines are simply viewed as “rent”.
It is ridiculous that people that have an $80,000 truck with 600 lb ft of torque, can’t remove their camper after the weekend.
It’s a 10% grade you babies.

Kevin (@guest_202110)
1 year ago

This is not a new problem in the Bighorn NF. We visited the area in 2018 and found a camper in most every nice boondock spot. Hundreds of units that obviously had been there for the summer. I asked a campground host, and she shrugged. There is not enough nfs funding for enforcement, so the locals use the NF as their RV storage all summer.

It’s not a homeless problem. It’s an enforcement problem that has been going on for many years. The locals are not homeless, they are entitled by unfunded enforcement.

Alex johnson (@guest_202122)
1 year ago
Reply to  Kevin

Really locals? They’re not perfect but I HIGHLY doubt they are locals . We have the same issue in washington they come here clog up every camping spot and act entitled to them and cause wrecks and most of all fires it makes me sick. The real problem is overpopulation Jesus where do all these nasty people come from? Believe me after tourists season its sasquatch country if locals were the problem you’d know it. But saying someone can only camp 14 days period is plain unconstitutional those people pay taxes too. But again please can someone tell me why is every single pretty national forest absolute clogged to the rim with people where do they all come from? What happened to this poor earth there are WAY too many people …feels like we’re in a third world country sometimes

Ellen (@guest_202103)
1 year ago

Put a boot on the sqatters tire, after that you can educate or fine the camper.

Rob lee (@guest_202108)
1 year ago
Reply to  Ellen

This is a matter of The Haves and the Have Nots we’re now hearing from some Have Nots which is good the semi homeless who need to squat on public land to survive so once again we the taxpayers will flip their bill so all you ringers this is the reality

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