Are Pop Up Campers Allowed in National Parks?

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Pop up campers are a unique breed of towable RV. They’re often seen in national parks, but not all parks allow them mainly due to safety concerns from nearby animal life. Not only do a few national parks restrict or outright ban pop up campers from entering, but sometimes it only affects one camping area but not others. So, it’s the classic, “it depends” answer here.

For sure, owners of a pop-up camper would be wise to check for any restrictions at popular national parks before they set off, just to be sure. Calling up or checking their website for information is never a bad idea either.

Are Pop Up Campers Allowed in National Parks

There is no outright ban on pop up campers being allowed inside national parks. There is sometimes a negative association with these types of campers because they’re often associated with lower-income people. However, that’s not always the case and is just a bad impression that some people still maintain.

Is Camping Allowed in National Parks

Campers are generally allowed in national parks. However, each park operates its own rules depending on the campground, the availability of facilities for campers, and an appropriate location for them.

Never just assume that you’ll be able to roll up and camp in a national park. Do check first because if you get all the way there, queue up to enter, and then get turned away, not only will that be very frustrating, but the distance to another appropriate park will be considerable.

Read Also: Long Term RV Park Rules

Camping in a Pop Up Camper?

Getting out into the great outdoors to go camping in a pop up camper is an excellent idea. It’s an affordable way to become an RVer by using an existing car or truck with sufficient towing capacity to pull a lightweight camper.

Also, getting over bumpy terrain is easier than with a heavier motorhome that’s less agile. Furthermore, they’re simpler to maintain because there are fewer fixtures and fittings inside too.

It’s possible to recharge the batteries inside the pop up camper while driving too. Also, if you’re looking to get one, consider using the barter system to swap something you already own for a pop-up camper that the current owner no longer wants.

Read Also: What Does Dry Weight Mean on a Camper? (GVWR, UVW & Tow Capacity)

Are Pop Up Campers Safe?

Pop up campers are safe. They’re perfectly fine to go camping in.

Are pop up campers safe from bears too? The main issue is when choosing to go camping in bear country. The smell of the food when left inside the pop-up camper (and not in a refrigerator or icebox) can tempt a bear. They may wander into camp because they’ve been attracted by the food smell.

We cover campers in bear country in a later section in this article.

Are Pop Up Campers Allowed in Yellowstone National Park?

Yes, pop up campers are allowed in Yellowstone National Park. There are some exceptions to this though.

Hard-sided campers are the only campers acceptable at Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone. No pop-ups can camp there. However, other than this, pop-up campers can stay in other campgrounds within Yellowstone.

The same is also true with Yosemite and some of the other more popular national parks too. Occasionally, there are exceptions mainly due to concern about potential bear attacks in the area. But otherwise, parks have no reason to disallow pop ups from a stay there.


Pop Up Campers and Bears

To better understand the specific concern with pop up campers and bears, the primary issue is attracting bears by the smell of human food.

Bears and Campers

Campers get a bad rap when it comes to bears and camping nearby.

The concern is if the camper is not behaving responsibly in the campground by cooking food, leaving it out, or inside the camper with the door open. The food aromas can attract bears into the camp that otherwise would have walked on by.

The distinction between bears and campers is particularly focused on whether it’s a hard-sided camper or a soft-sided one. Hard-sided campers with the door closed to prevent food smells from escaping. As such, they’re seen as safer than soft-sided pop-up campers.

Also Read: How to Get Rid of Mildew in My Camper

Are Pop Up Campers Safe in Bear Country?

Due to pop ups not having a hard shell covering the exterior, odors from inside can escape into the surrounding area. If that’s the smell of people, that’s fine. But if it’s food-related, a hungry grizzly bear (or another type) can decide to wander in to try their luck.

Do Bears Attack Pop Up Campers?

It can happen. But when taking the proper precautions, a bear attack on a pop up camper is highly unlikely and shouldn’t be a concern.

Yes, a brown grizzly could wander into camp and start trampling over vehicles. However, bears are typically shy animals and run away once they realize that you’re another animal and potential prey. Additionally, near the end of the article, we’ve supplied a list of things to do if a bear pays a visit to the national park.

By securing food away from your camper, substantially reduces the chances that a bear will tear through the canvas top or sides. They do this to get to the food they smell there.

To get around these potential issues, there are 3 ways to approach them:

1) Towing Vehicle

Is food safe in a car from bears?

The tow vehicle is the first option to keep food. An icebox or another cold storage option that’s lockable can prevent food smells from lingering in the area.

Either placing the cold storage box in the trunk of the car or truck, or on the seat is possible too.

This Coleman Heavy-duty Cooler holds 70 quarts and will keep food cool for up to 5 days:

Coleman 70-Quart Xtreme 5-Day Heavy-Duty Cooler (Blue)

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2) Bear Boxes & Bear Canisters

Bear boxes and bear canisters are two approaches to storing food safely at ground level.

Bear Box

A bear box is sometimes provided by a national park when it located within bear country. The box is accessible to open, secure food, first aid, and other essentials inside, and then lock it up.

Any food stored inside a bear box will prevent it from attracting a bear into the campground. It won’t stop a bear from visiting the campground anyway – they may think it’s deserted and not realize humans are there too.

Using a bear box for food storage prevents you from being the cause of a bear incident or a bear attack, which is particularly important when camping in bear country.

Bear Canister

A bear canister is a cylindrical-shaped object that can contain food or liquids, at ground level. It’s advisible for safety reasons to store the canister away from the tent even after it’s been closed up because an aroma can linger.

These types of bear canisters are designed with a rounder shape because it prevents bears from grasping it successfully. The materials used are strong enough to not let their claws penetrate or crush the container.

For example, the Frontiersman Bear Safe & Resistant Food Storage Container adheres to bear protection suggestions from the U.S. Forest Service, stores over 11 litres of food, and is airtight. It is the best bear canister product to keep food safe at ground level:

Frontiersman Bear Safe & Resistant Food Storage Container. No Food odors. Locking Lid. Airtight – Orange color (11.86 Liters)

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3) Bear Bags

When there is no bear box or other place to place food, then use a bear bag instead.

These hanging bear bags are designed to contain food and then be secured away from the campsite. Preferably positioned downwind, they will hang in a tree and be 170 feet or a greater distance from the campsite for safety.

The best bear bag in our opinion is the Ursack Major Bear Proof Bag for protecting food from animal life:

Bear Resistant Food Sack from Ursack Major. Bear Proof Container (8″ Diameter)

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There are different approaches to using a bear bag which is shown in the video below:

Mind Your Trash

All types of camping should include being mindful of trash.

The trash can include food containers, tins, and other garbage that still has a food aroma (animals have an incredible sense of smell compared to humans). Therefore, if you simply stick this outside your camper or even inside a pop up camper, the garbage could attract unwanted visitors from the woods.

For this reason, use designated trash collection points and other services designed to remove trash from the area to avoid attracting animals. Also, it’s always a good policy to “pack it in and pack it out” anyway.

What to Do If You Encounter a Bear at a National Park?

If you spot a bear in the distance, alert a Park Ranger, and do not approach it.

When you’re closer to the bear and a confrontation is unavoidable, follow these steps:

  1. Don’t stare it down – Looking directly into the bear’s eyes can be interpreted as a threat. While they are scary, look at their body and not at the eyes to avoid challenging them.
  2. I’m Human! – Speak to the bear. This helps it realize that you’re human and not an animal they’re considering for dinner tonight. Lifting your arms up and waving at the bear can alert it to your presence. Contrary to what you might believe, that’s a good idea.
  3. Remain relaxed – If you panic and run, the bear will follow. Speak in a calm voice. Stay still. Give the bear time to realize who you are and that you’re not a danger to them.
  4. Stand tall – Present a larger presence, physically. Collect up the kids and keep them close. The same goes for the family pooches if you’re RV camping with dogs too.
  5. Stay in groups – A group of people being quite loud is imposing to a bear.
  6. Keep your possessions with you – Don’t drop your gear and run. That’s even worse if there’s food inside the pack that the bear will want. The pack could be a useful separator or buffer should the bear choose to move closer to you.
  7. Slowly retreat – Backing out of the area is wise. Do it slowly. Do not block the only escape route because the bear may choose to use it first.
  8. Carry bear spray – One or more cans of bear spray is always useful to have in your pack in bear county.
Maximum Strength Bear Spray by Mace Brand – Powerful Pepper Spray, Self-Defense for Camping (260 grams, Green)

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Most of the time, bears will leave of their own accord. When they’re intimidated by noises or odd sounds (even sounds from a smartphone can frighten them because it’s unfamiliar), they will choose to leave. If they were attracted by food smells, making more of a ruckus proves convincing. However, if you just happened to have walked into a part of the park they were moving through, they won’t have reason to stick around.  

Closing Thoughts

In the majority of U.S. national parks, camping with a pop up camper is perfectly acceptable.

It does pay to check the respective website for further information before setting off though. Sometimes, one or more campsites at the national park have pop up camper restrictions, while the rest of the campgrounds there may not. So, check first, and book online to avoid disappointment.

Also, bring bear spray in bear country and make use of all applicable food storage options like bear boxes or an icebox to avoid food smells attracting bears into camp.

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