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Forest Service Roads National Forests

Can You Park on Forest Service Roads?

Forest Service roads are in many ways the unsung heroes of our amazing National Forests. With the ability to connect us to vast areas of wilderness, they are a wonderful tool for those looking to get a little wild.

Can you park on U.S. Forest Service roads? Many National Forests allow the parking of vehicles on U.S. Forest Service roads, though parking rules are maintained by each specific location. These rules can often be found under the ‘Dispersed Camping’ section, found in the ‘Recreation’ menu.

Next I’m going to show you what you need to keep in mind when determining whether you can park on Forest Service roads.

How to Determine if You can Park on Forest Service Roads

At first, you might believe that all the National Forests would have one single policy regarding parking, but the reality is that each location has its own unique challenges and demands.

As such, your best bet when trying to figure out if you can park on Forest Service roads is to go local and check with your specific National Forest. While there are national standards, they don’t necessarily apply to each location.

Also, it’s important to have your specific use in mind when trying to answer this question. As you can probably guess, parking on the side of the road for your morning hike is a much different situation than leaving your vehicle on the side of the road for 14 days while practicing dispersed camping.

Your Best Bet: Check the Rules of Your Local National Forest

The easiest way to check the local rules of your specific National Forest is to go to the U.S. Forest Service website and select your local National Forest from the drop-down menu.

Next, you’ll be taken to a homepage, and you’ll have to find the navigation menu on the left side. This navigation menu is consistent for all National Forests and Grasslands, so you should expect something like this:

screenshot of the side menu of the chequamegon nicolet national forest web site

Even if you don’t plan on doing dispersed camping, the best bet for you to find local parking rules is to locate the dispersed camping rules section. This can be found by going to the ‘Camping & Cabins’ menu item after opening the ‘Recreation’ area and then looking for a link that says ‘Dispersed Camping’ on the next page.

If you manage to find this page, you’ll likely have to expand the text at the top of the screen to see the full rules that apply in this National Forest:

screenshot of the dispersed camping site of a national forest with the expand text button with an arrow pointing to it

It’s possible that you won’t be able to find explicit rules on parking vehicles for your National Forest, as not all locations provide that information.

If Parking is Okay, Confirm the Distance From Road Legally Allowed

If parking is allowed at your local National Forest, you’ll have to confirm The following two things: the distance from the road and how exactly they measure that distance. Now, you don’t exactly need to bring out you’re 100-foot measuring tape for this job, but it’s good to have clarity on the rules when you’re parking.

Some National Forests Have Designated Parking Areas

If you happen to be visiting a National Forest or Grassland near a large population area, you can expect that parking on Forest Service roads possibly won’t be allowed.

You can see how this would be for a good reason, as designated parking areas are a great way to reduce the unnecessary impact on the land. This is especially true for these areas that may get a high volume of visitors while not incredibly large.

If Their Website Doesn’t Specify, Then Visit a Local Office

If you are looking on the website for your specific National Forest near you don’t find any parking information, it might be best to swing by and visit a local office. Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to know the rules when enjoying public locations like this, and it’s never a bad idea to stop by a Forest Service office.

You can even pick up a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) for your local area while you’re at it!

Tips and Tricks to Keep in Mind While Parking on Forest Service Roads

While that covered the logistics of finding out whether you can park on a forest service road, there are a few other things to keep in mind before you go and park your vehicle. Yeah, parking a car isn’t terribly difficult, but it’s a little different when we’re working to keep from getting stranded in the middle of the woods.

Know the Capabilities of Your Vehicle – And Be Honest With Yourself

First of all, try not to be overconfident in your vehicle’s capabilities or overall performance. This can ultimately mean many different things, but we’re really trying to say here is that you should play it safe.

If you happen to get stuck in the middle of the National Forest, it’s going to be a little more difficult to get out of there, and you might be there awhile. Part of this is being aware of the difficulties that may arise from the different seasons of the year.

For instance, Forest Service roads can be quite muddy during spring, and therefore you easily could run into some difficulties while trying to get out of your parking spot. Also, do your best to avoid unnecessary dead batteries- no, it isn’t completely necessary to listen to the Packer game in the truck.

Securely Store Your Keys While in the National Forest

This sounds a bit silly at first, but it’s really important to store your keys securely while you’re away from your vehicle and exploring the National Forest.

I’ve fortunately never had to experience this, but it would be an absolute nightmare to try and locate your lost keys, assuming you didn’t realize that until you got back to your vehicle. Your best bet here is to store them in a zipped pocket or, at the very least, a pocket that has a button over it.

It’s also best if you can physically feel your keys’ presence while you’re walking, as that will help to remind you that they are securely on you.

Allow Safe Enough Distance for Logging Trucks to Pass

You probably won’t run into loggers or logging trucks while in the National Forest, but it does happen often enough. Regardless, you want to verify that your car isn’t parked so close to the road that it could create problems for a logging truck with a wide load.

Also, you want to make sure that there is enough room for two cars to pass each other on the forest service road. These roads are usually a bit narrower than your average city road, and it would be really helpful to have your car out of the way.

Be Sure to Notify Someone of Your Plans

Finally, be sure to notify someone about exactly what you plan to do in the National Forest. This doesn’t have to be terribly complicated if you are going out for a morning hike, but it’s still worth mentioning to a loved one.

Many things can go wrong when exploring such wide-open spaces, so it’s better to play it safe. This doesn’t have to be a very complicated thing either, as you can give them the approximate GPS coordinates of where you plan to be parking your car or where you plan to be exploring.

Concluding Thoughts

Hopefully you learned some valuable information from this post that’ll help you out the next time you’re out and about in the National Forest.

If you need more ideas about what to do in our National Forests then check these articles out:

By Drew Meulemans

I've long admired forests and devote much energy to learning about them and exploring. I enjoy sharing what I learn and wish to inspire others to do the same.