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Virginia parks guarantee campsites for bike travelers

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A new policy in Virginia requires state parks to set aside areas for bicycle tourists so they’ll have a place to pitch their tents, even when the campgrounds are full.

This is an issue near and dear to traveling bicyclists who prefer camping but don’t relish the thought of stealth camping in a patch of woods.

It hasn’t been much of an issue for me lately, as most of my bike camping involves overnight trips. If I’m heading to Washington state parks, I can choose those that have primitive hiker/biker spots, such as the one at Joemma Beach State Park on the Key Peninsula, above left.

Primitive camping

This one was swank by primitive standards, as it offered a picnic table and fire ring. Others, like the one at Sequim overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca, offer a communal setting with shared picnic tables and fire rings. All are a short walk to drinking water and showers.

Whenever I’m checking in, I always ask whether there is primitive camping available for bicycles. That’s how I was directed to the bicycle site in Sequim. Elsewhere, such as the Wenatchee Confluence State Park, the campground host said he’d never heard of such a thing, so I chose an open site with a concrete pad, parking space and an electrical hook-up, left.

Campground full?

When I’m told there’s no bike-camping per se, I always wonder what would happen if I had dragged in here an hour before sunset with the “no vacancy” sign out. Would they turn me away? Would they find a spot over by a picnic gazebo if I promised to be gone first thing in the morning?


Updated: I contacted the Washington State Parks headquarters with that question. A customer service specialist responded later in the week:

“Whereas I have had this question before I am sorry to say there is no brochure or link specific to hiker/biker sites within the Washington State park system.  I will tell you however, when I spoke with park staff I was told they would do their best not to turn away any camper arriving under their own power (hiking or biking) but would find a site even if it was just for the night.”


Thank you. That’s extremely comforting to know.


Virginia policy

The Virginia campground policy came about after lobbying by the Virginia Bicycling Federation. State park director Joe Elton explained at the bike federation’s blog:

“I credit the Virginia Bicycling Federation with helping us understand the special circumstances that long-distance touring cyclists can find themselves in when the campgrounds are full and there is no reasonable alternative place to overnight. Once we understood the challenges, we called on our Operations Chief Craig Seaver and the Campground Design and Management Working Group to come up with a practical solution to the problem.  These are experienced Rangers who work routinely with all kinds of campers to find ways to enhance the outdoor recreation and camping experience. We believe our approach provides a simple, practical solution that makes Virginia an even more attractive destination for outdoor enthusiasts.  Put simply, we want the Commonwealth to be the most welcoming place you ever bicycled.”

Can’t argue with that.

The policy, spelled out here, only applies when the campground is full and there is no alternative private or state campground that can be reached before dark. It limits the group to four or fewer and they cannot be accompanied or joined by a vehicle.

State with policies

Here in Washington, I know from personal experience that Joemma, Sequim, and Old Fort Townsend parks offer biker-hiker camping. When I’ve checked individual campgrounds, I’ve seen that others – but not all – offer biker-hiker camping as well. I’m sure there’s always a way to squeeze in another traveler at these sites.

In online discussions of these policies, I read that Washington state does this,and indeed they do. Other states that cyclists say have “guaranteed camping policies” include Oregon, California, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota. Others say that Arkansas and Florida specifically do not.

If you know of other state that do or don’t, please share them in the comments.

With the growing interest in bicycle travel and the emergence of U.S. Bicycle Routes, this is certainly a policy whose time has come.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.bikingbis.com/2012/04/05/virginia-parks-guarantee-campsites-for-bike-travelers/

1 comment

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  1. Gene Bisbee

    Before writing this story, I contacted the Washington State Parks to determine if they have a policy about camping for hikers or bikers. I received a response today.

    “Whereas I have had this question before I am sorry to say there is no brochure or link specific to hiker/biker sites within the Washington State park system. I will tell you however, when I spoke with park staff I was told they would do their best not to turn away any camper arriving under their own power (hiking or biking) but would find a site even if it was just for the night.”

    That’s good to know. What’s more, the customer service specialist offered to point me toward state campgrounds with hiker-biker sites if I provided a basic route I’d be taking on my bike tour. Very helpful.

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