Why does the park service make wilderness visitors lie about camping next to water?

If you wish to obtain a permit to visit the Yosemite Wilderness, to hike perhaps on the PCT, one goes to the Wilderness Permit office labeled as such, off the main road (not the stone building near the campgrounds) and stands in line and picks up one’s reserved permit, or hopes that someone else does not, and a permit becomes available. I was told this year that fights have broke out in the line to get permits.

If one reaches the desk, one speaks to a polite but stern young park ranger, who asks a number of good questions. Do you have a bear canister, and if so, what type? (Not all bear canisters have been approved for use by the park service.) Where will you camp the first night? (PCT hikers heading north from Tuolumne Meadows will likely be commanded to stay at the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp, a very beautiful but crowded place for backpackers.)

And will you promise not to camp within 100 feet of water?

The park service forces people who want a permit to walk out ride in these areas to swear not to camp next to water. To tick off a box pledging such and sign.

Even though most camps and most fire rings — which are implicitly sanctioned by the park service, and destroyed if they are too numerous or scarring — are found within fifty feet of water in this section of the trail.

Perhaps the park service has found this method of dealing with the public is most effective, but to this hiker it’s unfair and frustrating. It’s a brutal refusal to see the way people live in nature, and have always lived in nature. It’s like telling lovers they mustn’t kiss, for similar and similarly misguided reasons — fear of diseases.

For example: What hiker/camper could not be drawn to this perfect camp at the aforementioned mile 1024?

No one else is around. It’s not crowded, not polluted, and you will not harm this water in any way, shape, or form with your existence. Further, you have a right to be in this water, to drink it (safely, in my experience) and bathe in it, and live with it.

Now tell me: Who would not camp here?


But wait! There’s more. The vast majority of campsites and fire rings on this trail are like this: right next to water.

Let me show you, with a few pics from the trail, for context. The lovely trail by this fork of the Carson River heads south for a couple of miles from 1024, then takes an abrupt left and climbs out of the canyon, but it’s so pretty one can almost forgive the uphill.


Helps that on this climb on finds water almost everywhere it seems.


Maybe because this valley attracts rain clouds.

thunderclouds gather over east fork of the Carson River canyon
thunderclouds gather over east fork of the Carson River canyon

But once you get out of the canyon the land turns dry and the rock turns metamorphic.


Even turns into cattle country of a sort. Man, cows are strange.


And although you can’t exactly see it in this picture, this perfect campsite (on Halfmile’s map, labeled WASC1035) is within perhaps 75 of an excellent stream.


On the map it’s labeled “small creek, camping nearby.” Why is this wrong?

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

2 thoughts on “Why does the park service make wilderness visitors lie about camping next to water?

  1. you will not harm this water in any way, shape, or form with your existence.

    This is false.

    Campers invariably eliminate wastes, bury excess food and kitchen waste, and wash with soap very near their sites.
    In the spring, when the camper is not around, water moving downhill brings the nitrogen and phosphorus and potassium from those “deposits” into the lake or stream.

    Campers cut and burn virtually all the dead wood near an established campsite, and bad campers hack away at living trees; an experienced eye can see the campsite from far away as an artificial and growing opening in the natural vegetation. The wear from foot traffic kills the ground-cover low growth. The accumulated ash and charcoal build up around the fire ring.

    One can see the intermediate-term result at the traditional first-night campsite right next to Chewing Gum Lake, in the Emigrant just north of Yosemite. What was once a bushy glade among large trees is now a large circle of black, charcoal-rich bare dirt; spring melt and rainstorms erode the campsite and dump that dirt into the lake. This promotes a warm green lake overloaded with nutrients, and an exposed, sunny, dirty, bare, eroded mess where once was the formerly-delightful shady campsite.


  2. Note: discussed this idea with Taylor, a young man who lives in the neighborhood, and Taylor asked an excellent question. Has anyone been busted for camping by water?

    That’s a question for the park service. Have any tickets been written for that category of violation? If not, should we take it as a sign the policy is working?


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