JACKSON, Wyo – Camping on the Bridger Tetons is cool. Live on it? Not as much.
But knowing the actual difference between “camping” and “living” can be tricky, so Todd Stiles, who serves as Jackson’s District Ranger on the Bridger Tetons, is here to explain.
“If you’re camping for recreational purposes and that’s your primary purpose, you’re welcome to do so as long as you follow the regulations in place,” Stiles said. “But if you’re trying to live in the woodlands and you don’t have an address, that counts as residency and that’s illegal.”
The US Forest Service defines camping as the temporary use of National Forest System land for the purpose of overnight stays without a permanent structure. There is a five-day camping limit in summer in popular areas.
Stiles explained that the purpose of the five-day stay limit from May 1 through Labor Day each year is to provide campground availability to a wide range of recreational visitors. It is also in place to prevent people from keeping a website for long periods of time, which can reduce opportunities for everyone.
Additionally, shorter stays in popular areas help avoid physical impacts on vegetation and water quality, Stiles explained.
This five-day limit is for the really popular areas that people associate with “scattered” camping near Jackson. These areas include Curtis Canyon, Flat Creek, Shadow Mountain, Gros Ventre River, Fall Creek Road, Phillips Ridge and Granite Creek. Outside of this annual May 1 through Labor Day period of the year, camping stays are limited to 14 consecutive days, and any time of year is 14 consecutive days in the Gros Ventre Wilderness area and at fee-paying campgrounds such as Hoback, Granite Creek, East Table, Wolf Creek, etc.
Regarding “staying” in the forest, staying is prohibited regardless of how long a person should do so. Housing is regulated by the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 36 CFR 261.10 – Occupancy and Use.
In the past, the Forest Service has handled situations where individuals have exceeded their five-day camping limit.
In November 2021, a man was found guilty of three misdemeanor charges related to long-term camping on land managed by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
Law enforcement investigated reports that eventually led them to an area with unguarded campfires, several derelict vehicles, trailers and lots of trash. The forest service wants to prevent this by enforcing its regulations.
Stiles added that given the issue, he’s not blind to Jackson’s housing shortage, especially during the summer months.
“It’s the real deal. I see,” Stiles said.
“We are also struggling with housing for our staff and have enough housing for the Supervisor’s Office and the Jackson Ranger’s District.”
But at the same time, the work of the service is to enforce these regulations and protect resources on the land. Simply put, Forest Service lands are not a place to call home.
The public can view the Jackson, Blackrock, and Grays River Ranger Districts of Bridger-Teton National Forest camping regulations and fines for Sublette, Teton, and Lincoln Counties, Wyoming in the file below.