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Camping Beaches

By Trevor Paetkau

Alas, ye old hippy... endless sand, driftwood shacks and long nights passed in a ganga haze are getting harder and harder to source.

Once the defining notion of a life without strings, setting up camp on a beach is no longer a simple matter... it requires planning and effort, and even then, the man may have arrived first.

Said old hippy will recall the days when Long Beach on Vancouver Island was awash in tie-dye, macrame and a come-what-may vibe. Modern day libertarians are faced with a different tune. Long Beach has long been closed to camping, and those beaches that are still open require a kayak or backpack to get to, and a willingness to play by the rules.

Here's a quote from the BC Parks Service admonishing those who plunk themselves down without proper regard for authority

.. random campers will be asked to move to one of the designated campsites. Camping in areas other than designated campsites is a violation under various Acts, which are rigidly enforced...

Ouch; and they want money to boot. Likewise, in the US the National Park Service makes it clear that, while camping may be still be allowed in some of their parks, its not going to be much fun:

Open fires are prohibited; use a backcountry stove for cooking. Campsites must be north of the primary dune, not in sight of the beach, in a sandy area with no vegetation, and at least one mile inside the wilderness boundary. There are limited dune crossings from the wilderness to the beach. Dogs and other pets are not allowed during plover nesting season: March 1 - Labor Day; at other times they are permitted but must be on a 6' leash at all times.

So much for bringing the dog. And, lest the old hippy begins to think such restrictions are a North American phenomena, the same officious government meddlers have applied rules and regulations to beaches in Thailand, Costa Rica, Australia, South Africa and just about anywhere else intrepid freedom lovers may choose to gather.

Restrictions, of course, make sense; peripatetic wanderers have colonized the globe to the degree that there is no place truly untouched. The idea that an individual can "leave no trace" has been largely discounted, and even those who make the attempt must still admit, that as their numbers increase, the ideal becomes only that; an ideal and not a practical reality.

No matter what we may wish, or say, or do, our passing leaves an imprint on the environment, and this is particularly true of the pristine environments nature lovers most covet. Every mountaineer knows the disappointment of having attained a summit only to find bootprints left by the previous party. Likewise, every sailor, kayaker and canoer can relate stories of running into long lost classmates 7 days from put-in. Unbelievably, Mount Rainier National Park plays host to more than 2 million visitors a year.

With that in mind, old gray beard shouldn't be surprised that he's been caught in the corral. So what's he to do?

"Work harder, go further, don't get caught." Such is the advice offered by those who pursue those pristine beaches with a passion.

Isla Espiritu Santo, just off La Paz on the Baja Peninsula proves the point. Designated a global conservation priority by The Nature Conservancy, it has all the qualities a adventure traveler may wish. It, and the surrounding islands are chock-a-block with picturesque beaches, mangrove lagoons, rock formations and sea life. They are also chock-a-block with eco-tour groups, charter boats, and an assortment of independent travelers intent on getting their fix of mother nature.

And therein lies the challenge... while its possible to find a deserted beach one must be prepared to make more effort than the almost anybody else to get there. In the Sea of Cortez, what this means is finding an Island with no water supply, and just that much further off the beaten path, than the organized tours companies are prepared to push their guests.

Likewise, Playa Naranjo in Costa Rica, a beautiful, kilometers-long, pale gray sand beach that is legendary in surfing lore for its steep, powerful tubular waves and for Witches Rock rising like a sentinel out of the water is on the map... it is every bit worth the effort, but be forewarned, others have been there before. Off season may just be the best time to go...

Getting Away With It...

So that said, it's Thursday afternoon and you've got a deep longing to hop in a woody, drive less than two hours, and set up camp in the sand. To get away with it you're going to need some luck and some planning. Here's what you do --

- arrive after dark

- go solo or in pairs - small groups attract less attention

- keep a low profile - a low tent behind a dune is much less visible than a 6 person department store special

- no fires - damn!

- no light - have you ever seen tent lit from within?

- no noise - the stereo stays at home

- clean up after yourself - no trash, no trail, no evidence

In short, act like that old hippy should have acted 20 years; respect the beach and respect those that follow.

About The Author

In addition to his lifelong interest in the outdoors recreation community, Trevor Paetkau is the proprietor of Moraine Adventure Books, an independent source of Adventure Travel, and Outdoor Recreation articles, advice, books and resources. To view this article and more like it visit


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