And just like that, summer is here. The mercury hit 100 degrees this week in Bishop, and up high, the snow is melting fast. Whether you’re from close by or cover a lot of ground to get to the Eastside, there’s no better way to experience all our landscapes and ecosystems than by making ourselves at home outdoors.
Camping seems really simple: you grab a tent, stoke a fire, and look up at the stars. But being a responsible camper means being prepared and knowledgeable about how our actions affect the landscape, communities, and wildlife around us.
So where do we start? The Eastern Sierra Sustainable Recreation Partnership recently put together a list of guidelines for campers, starting with choosing your site. Using established campgrounds—ones equipped with bathrooms, fire rings, and, sometimes, trash facilities—reduces our impact on the wilderness by concentrating our usage to designated areas. There are over 160 established campgrounds in the Eastern Sierra, many of which are run by the US Forest Service and can be reserved online at recreation.gov.
If you do decide to dispersed camp, there are a few important things to consider when choosing a site. Dispersed camping means venturing beyond the bounds of established campgrounds, which means that campers take on a higher amount of responsibility. For your car and tent, use an already disturbed space that does not trample new vegetation. Your site should be at least 200 feet from water, and you should give other campers their space so that everyone can enjoy the outdoors in peace. It’s critical to use proper food storage, like bear canisters, to protect wildlife.
For many campers, the biggest difference between established campgrounds and dispersed camping is in the bathroom situation. Without established bathrooms, it’s on you to find the appropriate way to manage your waste. The best way to minimize your impact is to pack out all solid human waste. Wag bags are simple systems that come equipped with two bags for waste storage; make sure to have enough wag bags for each time you need to go. Another option is to create a bucket with trash bags or to invest in a portable toilet system. Historically, burying waste was an acceptable choice, but today’s Eastern Sierra is seeing too many visitors to accommodate this method and the lower-elevation desert ecosystem is not as well-equipped to break down human waste.
But it’s not just us that need to go to the bathroom—it’s our pets, too! Dog waste has become a major issue in the Eastern Sierra. Our public lands are often pet-friendly, but their waste leaves a larger impact than it might seem. Always carry bags for pet waste so you can carry it out and dispose of it in a proper waste receptacle.
When many of us think about a weekend camping, the smell of campfire rushes into our memories. But camping in California, and most of the western United States today, means being knowledgeable about ever-changing fire restrictions. Starting May 24, the Inyo National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management Bishop Field Office entered Stage I fire restrictions. According to the Forest Service, “This decision is based on very high fire danger, drought conditions coupled with extremely dry vegetation, an increase in human caused wildfires and the availability of firefighters for response.” Under these restrictions, campfires are only allowed in fire rings at established campgrounds. Campfires are not allowed in dispersed camping areas at this time. Additionally, fireworks, smoking, combustion engine power tools (like chainsaws) are prohibited. If you do many a campfire in a designated site, the fire should be cool enough to touch before you walk away from it. Vehicles also start many wildfires in Californai each year, so make sure your tires and brakes are in good condition and that no chains are dragging while you drive.
The Eastern Sierra Sustainable Recreation Partnership has all these resources and more available on their website in addition to a comprehensive camping map to help visitors know the regulations of the Eastern Sierra’s different land management agencies. The Eastern Sierra is a beautiful place to recreate that draws visitors from all over the world. If we work together to protect this area’s limited, fragile resources, we can all have a safe, responsible summer season.