Alaskans flock to campgrounds on weekends all summer long—creating in effect a series of temporary villages in the woods. For a few nights, you possess a space that’s yours to maintain while getting along with close neighbors. (Sometimes they’re only a few yards away!)
How to do it? Especially if you’re “boodocking” off-the-grid in a gravel pit or along the shore where no one is enforcing any rules.
Here are our suggestions on how be a good campground citizen.
- Keep your campsite orderly. Put your gear and clothing away when not in use, and throw out your trash. Remember that your campsite is likely in full view of your neighbors. Clutter sabotages the vibe. It’s not restful. We suggest keeping kitchen and personal items in plastic tubs and duffels that can be easily stowed and organized.
- Keep it clean. Bears (and other critters) are drawn to food odors, and food-conditioned bears will tear into anything left in the open. So don’t leave food out on the picnic table or in a tent. Store food inside coolers inside a hard-sided vehicle or inside a bear-proof food locker (provided at many campsites.) Wash up and store dishes and utensils before leaving the camp or going to bed. Bring along trash bags and use them.
- Give loud voices and laughter a curfew. The glory of Alaska summer camping may be that it stays light to midnight (and beyond.) It’s a blast to sit around the campfire way into the evening. But remember that many people—some in the very next campsite—might go to bed early. So lower voices and dial back the boisterous fun sometime between 10 pm and 11 pm. (Some campgrounds have a specific “quiet time.”)
- If you run a generator, turn it off about the same time or follow the posted quiet time.
- Respect others’ space. Campsites are often laid out in mazes, along winding lanes, with paths and shortcuts meandering all over. But just like you wouldn’t cut through your neighbor’s backyard at home without permission, or sneak around their patio at bedtime, don’t take a stroll through someone else’s campsite on the way to somewhere else just because there’s a path.
- No toilet in RV? Use the vault toilets or restrooms. (Or consider carrying a portable toilet.) Kind of goes without saying.
- What if no facilities are provided and you must use the outdoors for relief? Nothing is more icky and revolting than finding human waste and toilet paper on the fringes of a camping area. And it doesn’t have to happen! To urinate, walk into brush, out of sight from neighbors and at least 20 feet from water. Human urine does not harm vegetation and is undetectable if dispersed. If you need to defecate, follow this procedure: Walk 100 feet from campsite or any water body and a small hole about 3 to inches deep into mineral soil. When finished, use a lighter to burn toilet paper or gather it into a zip-lock baggie to throw out. And finally, refill the hole to bury your waste. It’s possible to do this without leaving much if any trace that you were ever there. A bottle of hand sanitizer or diaper wipes will finish your personal cleanup.
- Camping along the ocean without facilities? If you can find a place out of sight from the neighbors, you can safely deposit human waste on the beach in a hole dug at or near the low tide line. Bury it in the cobble or sand, put a rock on top, and then burn your toilet paper.
- Adult beverages. While some campgrounds restrict or prohibit drinking alcohol, in practice many Alaskans imbibe while camping, and most non-drinking campers likely expect it. But this practice is not universal. So it’s best to keep containers and drinks inside your campsite. Again—How would you behave at home on your neighborhood street? It’s likely you would restrict your consumption to your personal area and be discreet.
- Marijuana. Recreational marijuana is legal in Alaska for adults 21 and older, but its use is strictly prohibited by law in public places. That includes state and federal campgrounds. In practice, however, some Alaskans still indulge when camping in campgrounds or shared camping areas. Don’t be disconcerted if you catch a whiff drifting on the wind! It’s customary here to grant and use discretion about pot. Alaskans have a long tradition of valuing privacy in this area.
- When in doubt, follow the Golden Rule: Treat your fellow campers as you would like them to treat you and your party.