Car camping gives you the freedom to go and camp wherever you want – but it’s always sensible to know local laws and regulations, as different countries view wild camping differently. This post will walk you through how wild camping is seen in the US and EU.
Right to roam (Freedom to roam) laws
Most of the land you’ll be looking to camp on is likely covered by Right to roam laws (or some version of it), especially in the EU. In simple terms, it allows the public to use large swaths of otherwise unused private land for recreational purposes. This might include camping but doesn’t always. These could be private forests and meadows, open fields without agriculture – they are owned by someone, but the Right to roam laws give you access to them, as long as you are respectful and don’t damage anything. More about it on righttoroam.org.uk or Wikipedia. It is common in Scotland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Austria, Czech Republic and Switzerland. This doesn’t generally include any disrupting or economic exploration activities, such as hunting or logging, making fires and driving offroad vehicles.
Is wild camping in Europe legal?
Wild camping is generally allowed in many European countries, although the specific laws and regulations vary from country to country. In some countries, such as Sweden and Norway, wild camping is allowed on any public land as long as it is done in a responsible manner and follows Leave No Trace principles. In other countries, such as France and Spain, wild camping may be allowed in certain areas but is generally not permitted on private land or in protected areas.
It’s important to note that wild camping is not always allowed in the European Union, and it’s always a good idea to check the specific laws and regulations of the country you’ll be visiting before setting out on a wild camping trip.
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The Right to roam law in the UK only allows passing through open land for walking, running, watching wildlife and climbing. These activities are not allowed on privately owned land:
- taking animals other than dogs onto the land
- driving a vehicle (except mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs)
- water sports
Wild camping in the UK
Wild camping in the UK is generally illegal in England and Wales. Nevertheless, it is possible with permission from the landowner. Generally, if you are respectful and not shouting to the world you are camping in the place, you should be fine. Stealth camping rules will help you stay out of problems – but, it is still at your own risk.
It is the opposite in Scotland – due to the right-to-roam laws – you can use almost any open land, as long as you behave responsibly.
Wild camping in France
In popular areas, national parks and tourist centres, wild camping isn’t allowed. But away from those, it’s tolerated – as long as you don’t disrespect and don’t pollute, you should be fine. The longer you stay, the higher the risk of being told off or fined.
Read more on Caravanya
Wild camping in Italy, Croatia, Spain and Portugal
Wild camping in Italy and Croatia is not allowed. But there is a huge number of official camping grounds in Croatia and Italy at reasonable prices.
According to some forums, wild camping is tolerated in these countries nevertheless – I can confirm that too, have wild camped in Italy and Croatia without problems, although we stayed in one spot only for a night and didn’t have a camp set up, just parked for the night and left in the morning.
The tide is changing because of rising numbers of caravans and other car campers, often disrespecting local rules or not behaving responsibly. It’s generally a good rule of thumb to avoid areas, where you already see some people wild camping – those just attract attention.
Wild camping in Portugal has been allowed again in 2021 – Siestacampers have a good post about it: “overnight stays in motorhomes approved by the IMT (Institute of Mobility and Transport) for a maximum period of 48 hours are allowed”.
Wild camping in Spain isn’t officially allowed, but it’s tolerated – also depending on the area. Coastal and beach areas will be more strictly monitored than other, rural and inland spots. It’s possible to stealth camp all over the country, I’ve tried it several times – but at your own risk.
Read more on Caravanya.
Wild countries in Germany
Wild camping isn’t allowed in Germany and if you’re caught, the minimum fee is 100 EUR or more if you also pollute or make a fire. Again, if you are not seen and stealthy, you should be fine to sleep at a good spot for a night, but don’t make a fire and stay invisible as much as possible.
Read more on Caravanya.
Wild countries in other EU countries
It’s safest to assume it’s not allowed but tolerated if you’re respectful. Stick to stealth camping rules, leave no trace principles, don’t stay in one spot for more than 1-2 nights, avoid popular tourist areas and protected parks and you should be generally fine. Some countries, like Slovakia, have protection zones – usually indicated on the road or path with a sign. You can’t camp in anything from level 2 and higher. But only the higher levels are properly monitored (3+).
Is wild camping in the US legal?
Wild camping, also known as dispersed camping or backcountry camping, is generally allowed in many public lands in the United States, including national forests, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, and some state and local parklands. However, some restrictions and regulations are in place, and it’s important to check the specific policies of the area you’ll be visiting before setting out on a wild camping trip. You should be able to wild camp in US National Forests & Grasslands unless otherwise marked.
It’s important to note that wild camping is not allowed in all public lands in the U.S., and some areas may have specific restrictions or permit requirements in place. It’s always a good idea to check with the local land management agency or visit their website to learn more about the specific policies and guidelines for wild camping in the area you’ll be visiting.
The Right to roam law (Freedom to roam) doesn’t really apply in the US.
Is wild camping in Canada legal?
Much of Canada’s open land is either a National Park or Crown Land and is free to access for recreational activities like hiking, cycling, canoeing, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding. Wild camping is also generally allowed, although some areas might require a permit. You will find so-called “backcountry campsites” which are often far from any roads and accessible only by foot.
READ MORE: Parks.Canada.ca
Some specific guidelines to follow when wild camping include:
- Not camping in developed areas or near established campsites
- Don’t camp too close to people’s homes or roads
- Not leaving any trash or debris behind – uphold Leave no trace principles
- Only use open fire where allowed
- Properly extinguishing campfires
- Respecting any local laws or regulations
- Respecting nature and any potential neighbours
- Know the limits of your car – don’t get stuck in the mud somewhere off the road
- If you have a dog with you – make sure it doesn’t disturb wildlife, especially during nesting/breeding season – when animals have their young, who are not always able to escape a curious dog (even if playful, it will cause harm).
By following these guidelines and respecting the natural environment, you can help ensure a positive and enjoyable wild camping experience in the United States or Europe.
Founder of NimbleCamper.com, avid traveler and outdoor enthusiast. Car camping and microcamping allows me to keep traveling and exploring with a much greater level of freedom & privacy – to go anywhere and sleep anywhere. I didn’t have 30K to buy a VW Multivan, so found my way to the world of everyday car camping conversions. Here I share my experiences and what I learn.