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Wild Camping in the US - advice for an Englishman, please!
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alastair humphreys
(alastairhumphreys) - MLife

Locale: UK
Wild Camping in the US - advice for an Englishman, please! on 04/10/2014 01:58:54 MDT Print View

Hi,
I'm writing from England where it's not technically legal to wild camp (camp away from proper campgrounds). However if you act with courtesy, common sense and discretion nobody minds at all and nobody even notices.

Next week I will spend a week doing a few different overnight microadventures around the Hill Country of Texas.

I'd like to know people's thoughts on wild camping there.
I don't want to cause problems, I don't want to offend people, I don't want to get shot. But nor do I want to sleep in a campground with loads of other people unless I have to...!

I would appreciate a steer to what is the 'right' thing to do in the US regarding wild camping.
Thank you.
Alastair

ps - anyone got any good tips of beautiful wild places to go vaguely within reach of Austin? (My hub for the week, though I will have a car).

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Not There on 04/10/2014 05:20:58 MDT Print View

Hiking across a private ranch in Texas probably won't work for a variety of reason. You won't get shot but the chance that someone will see you and call the police or come to run you off personally is pretty high. "Wild Camping" just isn't part of the culture. If someone sees you on the wrong side of the fence they are going to assume you're up to no good because no one does that.

Here is what you can do

-Paddle a river and camp below the high water line i.e on a gravel bar.

-There is a trail being built in the Austin area, not a complete wilderness but its public access.

-Bike along a public road in Texas. Some roads are more conducive to this then others. Do some research there are some popular routes.

Texas is a great place, but I doubt wild camping would be welcomed.

alastair humphreys
(alastairhumphreys) - MLife

Locale: UK
Thank you on 04/10/2014 05:24:47 MDT Print View

Much appreciated.

Michael Gunderloy
(ffmike) - MLife
Re: Wild Camping in the US - advice for an Englishman, please! on 04/10/2014 05:39:21 MDT Print View

Depends on where you are with respect to the patchwork of land ownership in the States. Wild camping on National Forest land is generally legal within certain limits (minimum distance from trails and water sources, for example). Same for BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. Trying to wild camp on private land in Texas might get you shot.

The term you probably want to look up if you're researching is "dispersed camping" - as usual we're separated by our common language.

Bear in mind that we don't have any equivalent to the public right of way laws that encourage hillwalking in the UK. Private land is presumed to be private without explicit permission.

alastair humphreys
(alastairhumphreys) - MLife

Locale: UK
?! on 04/10/2014 05:59:23 MDT Print View

"Trying to wild camp on private land in Texas might get you shot."

WOW!

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re ?! on 04/10/2014 06:21:40 MDT Print View

You probably won't get shot but the assumption would be you're up to no good if you're walking through the middle of a private ranch. They would not see you and say "oh another walker" they'd think you're poaching or (in south Texas) a smuggler.

Don't be scared off, just follow the local laws. If you want to camp check out Big Bend and the Guadalupe National Park. Very nice place. You need to camp in designated site but its worth it. The Guadalupes are very nice and not that crowded.

If you really must hike and camp I know a place that hosts mountain bike races on a private camp in the Hill Country. They have 1400 acres and might let you camp on it as a paying guest. Depends on dates though, if its summer season you don't want to be there.

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: London, UK
Re: Wild Camping in the US - advice for an Englishman, please! on 04/10/2014 06:27:56 MDT Print View

Born and raised Texan and Hill Country ranch owner here. This time of year is really best for DRIVING the Hill Country West of Austin. Rent yourself a sporty convertible and head out HWY290. Lot's of wildflowers along the roadways. Camp in state parks or private campgrounds.

Would not advise wild camping on any posted private ranch property as you will likely find a firearm pointed at you either by the landowner or the sheriff. Some ranches still are hunting Turkey and hogs too. Another problem you will have with wild camping is the total lack of water sources while daytime temps are already approaching 90F.

FYI, a good time to visit San Antonio for the annual Fiesta celebrations. Basically a 2 week long street party.

http://www.fiesta-sa.org/

alastair humphreys
(alastairhumphreys) - MLife

Locale: UK
Thank you on 04/10/2014 06:32:13 MDT Print View

Hi Rick
I will have a hire car so I can zip around from place to place.
But what I really want to do is hike (and / or possibly cycle / packraft) in beautiful places and camp as basically as is possible / legal to do.
Thank you very much for your advice.
Alastair

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
cycle and packraft on 04/10/2014 06:38:24 MDT Print View

If you have a packraft and a bike you could do a cool raft/bike trip on a publicly accessible river and backroad in Texas. I've thought about trying that myself. Howeve do your research because we've had a drought and many rivers will be low.

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: London, UK
Re: Thank you on 04/10/2014 07:03:47 MDT Print View

Hmm, methinks what you really like to do and what you can do is at odds in most of Central Texas! Most of the "beautiful" Hill Country nature areas are around water features. But the drought has really had an impact and many rivers and lakes are dry or near record low levels. And almost all lake or river side land is private so you can only enter/exit from a few designated points. These public or private commercial access areas will be developed with picnic facilities and most camping sites are of the car camping type. Only out West and in Big Bend will you find trekking accessible only camping.

But you can FLOAT in a tube along the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers in the towns of San Marcos and New Braunfels south of Austin. But you will do it with hundreds maybe thousands of others!

HK Newman
(hknewman) - MLife

Locale: Western US
Re: Wild Camping in the US - advice for an Englishman, please! on 04/10/2014 07:10:35 MDT Print View

There are some hiking trails on mostly state and county public lands but they are mostly day use areas (think you can pay to "car-camp" though - a former assignment sent me there 1 week out of every month but always required a hotel stay). Not sure of the status longer 100-mile plus one being connected which starts to the south of Austin that was in the Texas thread. That area of Texas is mostly privately owned and, yeah, I wouldn't cross property lines. Texas cities are pretty mellow in the tourist areas/some burbs but the rural areas can be "gun city". My female college German instructor (decades ago) tried to do a "Sound of Music" hike on a TX farm (...."all this open land"...) but was escorted off by a gun-wielding property owner .... and she was a cheery Bavarian type of German.

Add: Not sure how popular established campgrounds are around Austin and San Antonio as most people will be attracted to the nightlife and restaurants of those two cities, requiring a hotel. Then there's the seasons. Texas is hotter than Hades in the summer (my former organization did a "fun-ruck" around Lake Travis just south of central Austin one June or July - we had to start at 3 AM to beat the heat). There were some people fishing the wee hours, a couple of couples coupling in the moonlight as we hiked by ... but no one was sleeping by the banks).

Edited by hknewman on 04/10/2014 07:23:27 MDT.

Brendan Swihart
(brendans) - MLife

Locale: Fruita CO
Re: Re: Wild Camping in the US - advice for an Englishman, please! on 04/10/2014 07:48:47 MDT Print View

Texas definitely doesn't have the amount of public land that states further west do. I'd second the recommendations for Big Bend and Guadalupe Mtns.b

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Wild Camping in the US - advice for an Englishman, please! on 04/10/2014 07:54:03 MDT Print View

I found this website that looks like a good starting point:

http://www.briangreenstone.com/austin/trails.html

Bon voyage and welcome to the colonies :)

alastair humphreys
(alastairhumphreys) - MLife

Locale: UK
rules on 04/10/2014 07:55:47 MDT Print View

Wow - all these complicated restrictions make me even more admiring of Scotland's (and Scandinavia's) Right To Roam policy.

It's also interesting for me to see how it feels to be a 'novice' about an area.
People often email me for advice about wild camping and it feels like no big deal to me. So this is a reminder of how everyone is a novice at some time and it's good to try to help them find their way to be comfortable in the great outdoors.

Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Re: rules on 04/10/2014 08:07:30 MDT Print View

Hi Alistair,

I'm new to Texas myself - having moved here in September (I live in Austin, by the way, if you need a contact) and I have been STRUGGLING to find good places to do quick weekend hikes around here. Yes, Big Bend is AMAZING and there's no one there. Yes, there are established sites and zone sites, but no worries - you won't see another soul. It's not a campground, they are individual sites that are far apart. You also won't see any water. That's the bad part, but easily managed.

I've checked out Colorado Bend state park and Lost Maples State Park, both of them Hill country and both rather nice. Not big long trips, but enough to get away and sleep in a tent and get some miles under your belt in two days. I've heard good things about Government Canyon a bit further south closer to San Antonio but I've not been yet.

You'll find the long mileage further west into Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains. Seriously gorgeous country and if you can do it I highly recommend it.

But other than that, no, Texas doesn't appreciate your tramping on other people's land. They like private property here and they mean it. The one thing I just can't stand about this place, that's for sure.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: rules on 04/10/2014 08:10:00 MDT Print View

Texas is another country :) The national forests in Pacific Northwest are less restrictive and large enough for some exploring.

The free access rules in the UK are much a result of small parcels of farmland with no direct access. With inheritance issues and farmers owning a patchwork of small parcels, it was (and is) a much different approach to farming. Only our old colonial towns had commons.

If you look at a detailed map of Kansas, you will see a fine grid of access roads based around the homesteaders farm land. The smallest homestead tracts were 160 acres (640 acres per square mile).

MDry land ranching requires huge tracts of land and cattle rustling is a real thing, both adding to the unique Texas "culture." :)

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re rules on 04/10/2014 08:12:52 MDT Print View

Its not that bad, its just that different land agencies are different and face different challenges in managing recreational use. The canyon lands in Utah have to be managed differently the forestland in Virginia for example.

To keep things simple

-National Forest land is pretty much free to "wild camping" with a few exceptions (motly in CA)

-National Parks normally require a backcountry permit and camping in designated sites. Normally its not a big hassle, just stop at the office near the trailhead and get your permit. Its normally a good chance to chat with rangers and get their ideas on the best places to go.

-State Parks are typically smaller piece of land along a river or lake and are mostly for car camping.

The Brian Green's blog is a very good resource. There is some nice day hiking but overnight hiking is somewhat limited in the Hill Country. If you can get to Big Bend, Big Bend State Park or the Guadalupes you'll have a great time.

Edit - Let me know if you want to go further afield. I can tell you about hiking in Arkansas and New Mexico but I imagine you don't want to go that far.

Edited by Cameron on 04/10/2014 08:14:51 MDT.

Rick M
(rmjapan) - F

Locale: London, UK
Re: Re: pollen on 04/10/2014 08:13:20 MDT Print View

Another concern is it is peak Oak and Juniper pollen season in the Hill Country now. All my family has been suffering terribly the last 2 weeks.

Edited by rmjapan on 04/10/2014 08:19:45 MDT.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Pollen on 04/10/2014 08:16:56 MDT Print View

Good grief Rick we'll scare the poor guy away, "I could handle the rattlesnakes and guns but then I heard about the pollen and that was the final straw.."

I've lived in the Hill Country and most of us were fine, its just a seasonal allergy thing. Bring some benedryl or something like that just in case.

alastair humphreys
(alastairhumphreys) - MLife

Locale: UK
Re: Re rules on 04/10/2014 08:20:49 MDT Print View

That's a great summary. Thank you.