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I plan on living out of my car for a while, and was trying to find out about the rules/legality of pulling off on the side of mountain roads to setup camp; roads like the San Gabriel Canyon Road.

On the San Gabriel I know you can pay for a parking permit to park at the top, where many tourists/hikers venture, but I'm wondering about just pulling off much earlier than that without many people around.
I wouldn't be spending more than 3 or 4 nights in any given location, so as not to upset anyone.

Do I still generally need a permit?
Are these rules strictly enforced?
Are there other places around the LA area where this might be allowed?

I can't seem to find much information on this topic.
I'm ultimately just trying to find secluded places near LA that I can legally (or not get caught) drive to and spend a couple nights.

  • Hi Jordan, and welcome to The Great Outdoors. Thanks for your interesting first question! Make sure to check out the help center for any questions about how to use this site. You could improve your question by explaining more in detail how long you are planning to stay at one location. – Paul Paulsen Jul 18 '14 at 7:16
  • There isn't going to be a completely general rule as it depends on who owns or administers the particular piece of land on which you are trying to camp. In the US there is no general freedom to roam that would generally let you camp where you want. However, the majority of that land is part of the Angeles National Forest or San Bernardino National Forest; I didn't find relevant info on their web sites, but I would suggest calling them by phone. – Nate Eldredge Jul 19 '14 at 0:08
  • I find this useful resource for anyone looking for free campsites. Still wondering if anyone might have some more light to shed on the topic. – Jordan Jul 19 '14 at 1:06
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What you want to do seems to be referred to by the Forest Service as "dispersed camping," and you can find a lot of information by googling on that phrase. Different jurisdictions seem to have different rules, but this blog post has a nice attempt to summarize how the rules usually work in national forests and on BLM land. Basically what they seem to want you do to is this. Drive along a paved road to somewhere where there's a dirt road. Then drive at least 1/4 mile down the dirt road, and camp at least 1/4 mile away from any campground and 100' from water. Park your car on the side of the dirt road, not in a meadow, etc.

You can't camp for more than 2 weeks in any consecutive 4-week period. You can't leave your stuff at your camp unattended for more than 3 days.

They have rules about fires and poop disposal, but anyway IMO you should follow a stricter leave no trace ethic because it's the right thing to do. That includes burying your poop and taking your used toilet paper away with you (e.g., after you wipe, throw it in a ziplock bag that you'll take away). Toilet paper doesn't biodegrade well, because it consists of long-chain molecules that bacteria can only attack from the ends. Since this is one of the driest years in California since 1877, I'd suggest simply not making a fire at all.

You may need an adventure pass to park in certain areas. Court rulings have restricted the adventure pass system, but the forest service has interpreted those rulings in the narrowest possible way.

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