Can You Go Camping Under 18?

Camping is really fun for the entire family, but sometimes kids want to go camping without their parents. If kids are responsible and old enough, it’s really a great learning experience. What can really be frustrating though is finding a campground that allows for under 18 year olds. So what age do you have to be to go camping?

Can you go camping under 18? It depends. State parks will not issue permits or give campground reservations to anyone under 18 years old. Minors must also be accompanied by adults. Private campgrounds may have different age restrictions. For dispersed camping in National Forest, there are no age restrictions.

Do You Have to Be 18 to Rent a Campsite?

A frustrating thing is that a lot of experienced hikers and campers who are under 18 can find themselves unable to rent a campsite. Pretty much all US State Campgrounds I checked had language similar to this:

A camping permit or reservation shall not be issued to anyone under 18 years old.

Minors must be accompanied by an adult who accepts all responsibility for the camping party.

There are a few National Park campgrounds that offer free camping during the off seasons that do not require permits, though they are rare.

For private campgrounds, rules may vary. What you’ll need to do is call your local campground and ask about age restrictions they may have.

If you are just wondering how old do you have to be to stay on a campsite, then normally there is no age restriction.

So, How Can You Go Camping Under 18?

Here are ways you can go camping without an adult:

  • Have an adult reserve the campsite for you
  • Camp on private land with permission from the owner
  • Go dispersed camping in National Forests

Depending on the camp rules, you may be able to have an adult reserve the campsite but not go camping with you. Doing this tactic may be a little tricky so make sure it will work before arriving at the campsite.

Another tactic is to find people with land and contact them directly. This works great with friends and family who own property. Explain your situation and what you want to do. Communicating ahead of time that you will be responsible and respectful of the area will help.

And finally, dispersed camping is an option in some areas. This is basically going out in the woods state-owned land and camping in National Forests. Before you head out, make sure you are prepared, know where you are going, and follow the rules and regulations.

When You Need a Permit

Do you need a permit to go camping? State Parks and most private campgrounds will require a permit. Depending on the state and location, permits may or may not be required. It’s best to always check with your local forest or parks and rec service.

States will require permits when they want to monitor or limit the number of campers in the area. Sometimes camping for 1 night is fine, while multiple days will require a permit.

Here’s one example of such case from a Pennsylvania government website:

Obtain a camping permit if staying more than one night in an area in a state forest

What You Need to Know

If you are under the age of 18, you won’t be able to rent a campsite at a state park. However, private campgrounds will vary. If you decide to go dispersed camping, be sure to check your local laws, regulations, and always be safe.