Forest Ranger Shares Tips For Camping

With over 30 years of experience in the National Forest Service serving the South Platte Ranger District in Colorado, Scott Dollus has seen a lot of changes.

The Pike and San Isabel National Forests & Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands (PSICC) encompass over 3 million acres of diverse forest and grasslands in the Rocky Mountains. The South Platte Ranger District serves the area along the South Platte drainage, directly west of the busy Denver urban corridor.  Ranger Dollus serves as the Recreation Planner for the South Platte District.

Pike National Forest near Kenosha Pass shows off its fall colors (Photo by TC Wait)

Our 155 National Forests were created through the Land Revision Act of 1891 in order to protect and manage natural resources for future generations.  Management of these lands by the Forest Service includes everything from conservation to watershed protection to regulating logging, livestock grazing, and mining.

Forest Service Rangers roles have changed substantially over the years.  With many years of contracting budgets and exponentially growing numbers of visitors, Rangers have had to take on many roles to try to best protect and preserve our National Forests.

Daily activities can vary greatly, but often include efforts to better educate the public about the forests and their uses, issuing various use permits (guides and outfitters, special events, special uses, etc), establishing and maintaining trails and motor vehicle routes, patrolling and law enforcement, and maintenance (replacing signs, cleaning up garbage, etc.).

Ranger Dollus says that one of the more recent changes that visitors may notice within the National Forests is the move to restrict dispersed camping to designated sites identified by brown signs with a tent symbol and a number.

There are several reasons behind this:

  1. To try to prevent “migrating” primitive campsites. You have seen them—they start near an access road, then over the years migrate further back into the trees or spread out as people look for “nicer” campsites.
  2. To protect water resources. Everyone likes to camp next to the water.
  3. To control the de-vegetation, erosion, fire potential, trash and human waste that is impacting the forests from human use.  Designated camping sites allow for more efficient use of Forest Rangers to patrol and maintain areas.

When asked what are some of the biggest concerns the National Forests are dealing with currently, Ranger Dollus said again that it varies, but for the Pike forest, one of the big recent concerns are “squatters” who are essentially living in the National Forests.

Other concerns are the build-up of human waste and trash in many areas.  Some dumpsters that were once available had to be removed as there was SO much trash being left piled around the bear-proof dumpsters, that it was becoming a bear attraction.  Unattended fires and recreational shooting without proper safeguards are also issues that they are currently working to find a solution.

When planning a trip to visit a National Forest, Ranger Dollus offers some tips to make your stay more enjoyable.

  • Busy weekends fill up fast! As of now, dispersed camping sites are on a first-come, first-served basis.  Plan ahead for holidays and come with lots of back-up plans.
  • Check with the local Ranger District before your visit. You can learn about camping areas, any burn restrictions, or other attractions that may be interesting for your trip.  There is a lot of information available online, but Ranger Dollus suggests giving a call to the local district as well.
  • Know what is allowed and follow the rules. Recreational shooting, for example, may not be allowed in some places.  If it is allowed, there are rules to follow (safe backstop, at least 150 yards from a trail, road, campsite, or occupied area, not over water, manufactured targets only, etc.)
  • Pack out what you bring in. This includes trash, dog waste, human waste, and food.  Leave the area where you have been in better condition than when you arrived.
  • Report problems to the Forest Supervisor’s Office or the local sheriff first. They will know how to get in touch with the local rangers.

Get out this summer and enjoy one of America’s greatest treasures, our National Forests.  The great outdoors is the reason that we have RVs, and keeping our natural resources protected with responsible use helps ensure that the forests remain wild and available to future generations.

See also: Campground Littered With Garbage, Causes Facilities To Close

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Places To Visit, Campgrounds And Boondocking In Bighorn National Forest

A couple of entries ago we visited Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. In this installment, we will look at many more points of interest an adventurous RVer will want to visit while in the vicinity of the Medicine Wheel.

First off are two nearby waterfalls of considerable size. The first you will encounter is Porcupine Falls. The falls features a 200-foot thundering vertical drop into a pool at the base. The falls can only be viewed from the base requiring a short but relatively steep hike.

Bighorn National Forest
Porcupine Falls. All photos by author (Dave Helgeson)

The small opening in the cliff-face, about a third of the way up to the right of the falls, is the remnant of a tunnel that used to power a mining operation.

Once you have explored Porcupine Falls, continue north down the road to Bucking Mule Falls.

Many consider Bucking Mule Falls the most impressive waterfall in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. The listed height of the falls varies depending on the source—some claim 300 feet, others say it’s up to a 600-foot drop.

Realistically, the falls are comparable in height to Porcupine Falls. The hike to the falls viewpoint is considerably longer than Porcupine Falls, but not as steep as the falls can be viewed from the top rather than the base.

Bighorn National Forest
The author at Bald Mountain City Site

While the Bighorn Mountains were never a major source of precious metals, some mining did take place in the Bighorns providing some historic places to explore.

Mixed among the beautiful places to boondock in the mountains you will find the remains of Bald Mountain City, the Fortunatus Mill, and a gold sluicing operation.

Bighorn National Forest
The site of the old Fortunatus Mill

Here is a short description of the mining activity that occurred:

“Discoveries of fine-grained gold north of Bald Mountain were made in 1890. ‘Gold Fever’ brought many prospectors to the area over the next 10 years. In 1892, the Fortunatus Mining and Milling Company purchased a group of claims on the head of the Little Big Horn River and Porcupine Creek.

The excitement led to the establishment of Bald Mountain City, the most extensive attempt at a settlement in the Big Horn Mountains. Near Bald Mountain City are the remains of the old Fortunatus Mill. The gold rush ended by 1900 because yields were not enough to pay for the effort of panning.”

In addition to the waterfall and historical stops, be sure to keep a lookout for wildlife as you explore, as the area is a mecca for moose, deer, and other animals.

Bighorn National Forest
A moose we spotted
How to get there
  • The trailhead for Porcupine Falls is just off Forest Service Road 14 at N44° 51.465 W107° 54.770  — Click here for trail details.
  • The trailhead for Bucking Mule Falls is just off Forest Service Road 14 at N44° 53.049 W107° 54.345 — Click here for trail details.
  • A sign marking the remains of the Fortunatus Mill can be found along Forest Service Road 13 at N44° 49.394 W107° 49.917
  • A sign marking the remains of Bald Mountain City can be found along Forest Service Road 123 at N44° 48.393 W107° 47.537

Those wishing to explore the remains of the sluicing operation will find them a short hike off of Forest Service Road 15 at N44° 49.811 W107°44.301

Bighorn National Forest
Boondocking in the area

Developed campgrounds in the area include Porcupine Campground and Bald Mountain Campground. You can also choose one of the many boondocking sites along the roads mentioned above.

Lots of exploring options from one camp, just another great adventure in RVing!

See also: Don’t Miss This Historic Site In The Bighorn Mountains

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