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What You Should Know about Visiting Public Lands

Many guidelines or regulations are the same in national parks, national forests, or in other parts of the Public Domain, but there are many differences as well. Some of these guidelines are outlined below. For a complete set of regulations, visitors should contact the Public Lands Information Center or the appropriate agency.

Alaska Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Click the above link for answers to commonly asked questions about Alaska.

Did You See a Site in the Wrong State?
At the Public Lands Interpretive Association, we try to make things as user-friendly as possible around here. But you know how these darn computers are. Every so often you run up against a brick wall, trying to decide between usability and functionality (I know, it shouldn't be a choice). So here's one thing we know can make you think you're seeing things, that we're not going to completely fix any time soon.

If you are browsing recreation information for a certain state (say Washington), and you open the site in a NEW browser window and start browsing another state (say, Arizona), and switch back and forth between windows, before long, you will start seeing the Grand Canyon in Washington, or Coulee Dam in Arizona.

If you care about the gory technical details, this is because we pass information in a "cookie" that tracks ONE state at a time, so all the information is contextual for that ONE state. If you are trying to look at two states in two separate windows, the site takes the information from the cookie (the last time you clicked somewhere that "passed" the state information) and makes everything look like it's in that state.

Alternately, if you have cookies turned OFF, then everything seems like it's in New Mexico. Once upon a time it was, but for now, just turn your cookies back on (look under internet preferences or internet options, depending on your browser), and everything will be fine.

We are working to make all the links pass the state information, so it wouldn't matter where you were clicking, but this can only proceed as quickly as PLIA can raise funds to support this site. So if you are annoyed by not being able to multitask, please send a donation, or buy some maps, and add the comment that the funds are to go toward fixing the image map links.

Public Lands FAQs


Unless drought conditions exist, fires are generally permitted in campgrounds where fire rings or fireplaces are provided. Firewood may not be available at many campgrounds; it is best to bring your own. When traveling in the back country, use dead and down wood only and make sure that the fire is completely out before leaving camp. In the back country areas of national parks, fires are usually prohibited.


In campgrounds, developed recreation sites, and in state and national parks, pets must be kept on leash or otherwise confined. No pets are allowed on trails in national parks. Pets are not allowed in National Wildlife Refuges except for hunting dogs where hunting and the use of dogs is permitted. When hiking with pets on other public lands, please remember that harassing wildlife is unlawful.

Firearms and Fireworks

Firearms are prohibited in national parks and in all campgrounds and generally in all state parks and national wildlife refuges except during hunting season. On other public lands, discharging firearms within 150 yards of a building, campsite or developed recreation area is prohibited. As with any activity that may be potentially dangerous to others, extreme caution is advised. Fireworks are generally prohibited on public lands.


All plants and animals are protected in national and state parks and national wildlife refuges. On all other public lands state wildlife laws apply to the taking of wildlife. On Forest Service and BLM lands permits may be obtained for cutting firewood or collecting plants for personal use.

With the exception of lands administered by the National Park Service, invertebrate fossils, rocks, plants, fruits and berries may be collected for personal use on most public lands. For specific rules, consult the appropriate agency.


Generally, camping in public land campgrounds are on a first come, first served basis. Day use and overnight fees are charged in most public campgrounds and fees may vary from year to year. Advance reservations are strongly recommended for campgrounds at many national parks and other popular recreation sites. Most campgrounds have established limits on length of stay, usually between 7 to 14 days. In national forests and on BLM lands camping is allowed away from established campgrounds with a 14-day limit on staying in any one place.

Leave no trace of your stay, don't block roads, camp at least 1/4 mile from water sources, and if you have a fire, make sure it is dead out before leaving. Call your nearest Public Lands Information Center for more details.

Entrance and User Fees

The upkeep and administration of public lands and facilities runs in the hundreds of millions of dollars. To help alleviate a chronic shortage of funds, entrance fees are charged at all national parks and monuments while user fees may be assessed on certain BLM and Forest Service lands and wildlife refuges and national parks and monuments. An annual Golden Eagle passport may be purchased which provides entry to all national parks and monuments but doesn't apply to other fees. Lifetime Golden Access passports are issued to people with disabilities for free admission to national parks and monuments and entitle the bearer to a 50% discount on federal user fees. Golden Age passport, for those over 62, also entitle the bearer to free admission to national parks and monuments and a 50% discount on federal user fees. Golden Age passports require a $10, one-time processing charge.

Backcountry Use

Hundreds of miles of trails and backcountry roads criss-cross the nation's public lands. Travel in many places can be an adventure but adventure can quickly turn into disaster if a breakdown or a sudden change in weather catches you unprepared. Visitors may find themselves miles from help in case of an emergency. Some hints for a safer back country travel:

* Plan your trip carefully. Tell friends where you are going and for how long. Stick to your plan and let them know when you return.
* Don't travel alone
* Dress properly. Even in summer, temperatures can change drastically from daytime to nighttime. In winter, subzero temperatures are common at night in many parts of the public land states. Always inquire locally about weather conditions.
* Carry plenty of water, whether you are hiking or driving. Don't ration your water; it will do you good only if you drink it.
* Make sure your equipment is in good shape. That includes you.
* Test the ground before driving through washes and watch out for flash floods.
* Remember, abandoned vehicles may be subject to vandalism.
* Don't camp in washes or drainages.

Hunting and Fishing

Hunting and fishing on public lands are governed by state law. Seasons and bag limits are set by the State Game Commission. For specific details, inquiries should be addressed to the appropriate Departments of Game and Fish or to the nearest Public Lands Information Center.

Paleontological Sites

Many fossils of both large and small vertebrates exist on public lands. Removal of vertebrate fossils (bones) is not allowed without special permits. Invertebrate fossils may be collected for personal use but in national parks and developed recreation sites collecting is prohibited.

Archaeological Sites

Long before the arrival of Europeans, people have lived over much of North America. Signs of these ancient cultures are found on public lands in form of ruins, petroglyphs, and broken pottery fragments. To the Native peoples these sites have significance, often religious. Admire the ruins if you come across them, marvel at those long-gone people who lived in often inhospitable environments, ponder our common humanity, but leave everything where it is. To do otherwise is not only disrespectful but also against the law.

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