Picking the perfect campsite is equal parts art and science, and the more you camp, the easier it gets. While you might come to realize that you value views over morning sun, or seclusion over being close to a source of water, there are two basic guidelines you should always follow:
- Camp at least 200 feet from any lakes, trails, and streams.
- Camp on hardened surfaces.
How do you measure 200 feet in the wilderness? When in doubt, step it out. 100 feet is about 70 adult paces. Camping 200 feet—about 140 paces—from trails, lakes, and streams helps ensure that any nearby campers can enjoy a sense of solitude; causes less stress for wildlife, which might use trails to get to water; and decreases the chances of your poop contaminating water.
Pitching your tent on a spot that has obviously been used before—this is what we mean by “hardened surface”—protects the landscape. FYI, hardened surfaces within 200 feet of trails, lakes, and streams don’t count. Sadly, in the BTNF, especially near lakes, there are hardened sites that are too close to water and/or trails. Don’t use these. Instead, hike the proper distance away from water and trails, then look for a hardened site.