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8 Campfire Rules You Should Never Break

You should follow these eight campfire rules every time you have a campfire. From following legalities set by a governing body and practicing Leave No Trace principles to proper campground etiquette, these are all meant to keep the fun going, not to stifle it. 

1. Follow Any Fire Regulations and Bans

Playing ignorant has no place in a forest when it comes to campfires. Just because you had no idea there was a fire ban does not give you an excuse to have a campfire. It is your responsibility to know the administrative fire regulations for your area.

If you don’t know, don’t guess. When in doubt, leave it out.

Most campgrounds or dispersed sites will have fire information posted at the entrance to the site. If not, you still need to know if you can have a fire before starting one. You can call or look online for the local Forest Service, local law enforcement, park rangers, or news reports if there are no posted signs.

You will need to know the name of the county, forest, or park to obtain local regulations, which you must then follow.

Airstream parked next to campfire.
Practicing fire safety is crucial when building a campfire.

2. Leave No Trace

There are seven Leave No Trace Principles (LNT), which are guidelines that focus on minimal environmental impact when camping and recreating. One of those seven principles focuses on campfire impacts.

LNT means less impact. If your camping area is degraded from overuse, you should reconsider your campfire plans. You should not notice your LNT fire after it is out. While this is not always possible, doing your best to minimize campfire impacts will keep the land healthier and happier for longer.

You can reduce your campfire impact by:

  • Using water to extinguish the fire,
  • Building a fire in a preexisting fire ring when available (more on this next)
  • Using local wood that doesn’t disturb the surrounding area. 

3. Use Existing Fire Rings

Many of us love to go camping in the middle of nowhere, but there are still campfire rules to follow. One of those rules is to use an existing fire ring. Moving a few rocks around to create a new fire ring is pretty easy, but we do not recommend it.

Rocks are often shelters for native insects or small wildlife, and campfires damage the ground. As much as you may not like bugs, lizards, or rodents, they are a necessary part of a healthy environment, and the less we disturb them, the better.

The less land we damage, the more likely we can continue camping in the middle of nowhere.

Pro Tip: Need help getting a fire going? Check out these 5 Best Techniques To Start A Fire Like An Expert.

Cait from Mortons on the Move sitting next to a campfire.
Only use local wood when building your own campfire.

4. Only Use Local Wood – Don’t Move It!

Insects and plant diseases can travel on wood, spreading unwanted diseases and introducing non-native species into forested lands. If you don’t burn all the wood you have for that campsite, leave it for the next guest or spread it out naturally throughout the forest.

While this is convenient and can be a money-saver, using wood in one region brought from another can do a great deal of damage to the environment.

Don’t worry. There will be more wood down the road. 

5. Don’t Gather Wood From Public Campsites

Most public campgrounds do not allow you to gather wood around your campsite. This is to maintain the natural beauty of the campsite. Think about it – if every camper at that site chopped a tree down, soon the site wouldn’t have any trees. It’d be barren and ugly.

If you are allowed, we recommend doing so farther away from campsites and in places with plenty of downed wood to collect. It will help to avoid disturbing the view and possible animal and insect habitats while collecting wood.

Pro Tip: Enjoy a campfire no matter where you camp with these 7 Best Portable Fire Pits to Build a Safe Campfire Anywhere.

6. Don’t Burn Trash in Your Campfire

A common myth about campfires is that it is a great place to dispose of trash to save space. Please don’t do it. Trash doesn’t simply dissipate into nothing when it’s burned. 

Dispose of your trash properly in a waste bin, not a campfire.

The only exception may be plastic-free and chemical-free paper products. And maybe the occasional marshmallow from your s’mores-making.

toes by the campfire
After roasting s’mores over the fire, make sure your fire is properly extinguished.

7. Extinguish Your Campfire Properly and Completely

Whether you’re camping in a humid rainforest or a desert doesn’t matter. One of the essential campfire rules is to put your campfire out. 

Burn the coals to white ash. Spread them out. Cover them with water, not dirt. Make a soup-like mixture, and ensure no hot coals are left over.

You will have to start from scratch on the campfire the following day, but that is exactly the point. It would be best to put any remaining campfire dead out so there is no chance of anything springing up in the middle of the night.

8.  Never Leave a Fire Unattended

Whether you’re going to bed or going out for a hike, extinguish your fire.

If you leave a campfire ablaze, a tiny spark could light up an entire forest. Nobody wants a wildfire listed on their resume.

campfires from the air above
Make sure to never leave your fire unattended!

Have Safe, Wood-Free Campfires With Propane Fire Pits

While we all love campfires when camping, sometimes the campfire rules can be pretty overwhelming. Other times, you can’t have a campfire because of local fire restrictions and fire bans. What do you do when campfires are one of the reasons we love to go camping?

One option is to get a wood-free campfire with propane fire pits. There are cons to these, as they can take up space and be pretty cumbersome. But the pros definitely outweigh the cons. 

  1. There’s no need to purchase or gather wood
  2. You don’t have to fret over trying to start a campfire
  3. When you turn it off, it’s off
  4. Propane fire pits are often allowed even during fire restrictions or a fire ban. You have control over the flame, and you can shut it off in a second. No sparks, no unexpected flame activity!

If you’re worried about trying to follow all the campfire rules, or wondering if you can even have a campfire, have a propane fire instead. 

Pro Tip: Still unsure if a propane fire pit is right for you? Check out these 5 Reasons Portable Propane Fire Pits Are Better Than Wood Campfires.

Smokey's Lessons on Fire Safety

Enjoy Your Campfire Safely

If we do our best to follow the rules, we can continue to enjoy our campfires, which can be the best thing about camping. Not following campfire rules can result in hefty fines and, quite possibly, wildfires. If we all follow campfire rules, we can safely enjoy the beauty of a campfire.

Do you have any other personal campfire rules? Drop a comment below!

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About Cait Morton

Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

Believe it or not, she is rather camera shy, though she co-hosts the Mortons’ personal videos and The RVers TV show.

Caitlin’s passion lies in outdoor recreation and with animals. Some of her favorite things to do are hiking, biking, and getting out on the water via kayak, SUP, or boat.

She also loves the RV life due to the fact that you can bring your pets along. Sharing information about safely recreating outdoors with your whole family – pets included! – is very important to her. Because of this, Caitlin spearheaded the launch of HypePets in 2023.

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Skip Clements

Tuesday 8th of March 2022

It's not Smokey the Bear It"s "Smokey Bear" White man build big fire, keep warm chopping wood. Indian build small fire, sit close keep warm. Sparks from a fire can put holes in tents, awnings, chairs, etc. build a small manegable fire a safe distance from these. This also applies to clothing, tiny micro holes from very small sparks can make that rain coat no longer waterproof.

Susan J

Tuesday 8th of March 2022

Thanks for this good article Tom & Kait! As a former campground host at Missouri State Parks, one of my biggest troubles was having to dig nails out of fire pits. Campers would bring in old wooden pallets for firewood that, when burned thoroughly, left only lots and lots of nails for me to remove. Along with plastic bottles and aluminum cans, fire pits were my biggest trouble! Thanks for your articles!

Mortons on the Move

Wednesday 6th of April 2022

That sounds frustrating—removing all those nails! We're glad you enjoyed the article, though. :)