Handling situations with camping neighbors who don't follow proper etiquette, manners, and courtesy
Here are some tips, gained by experience and by working with authorities at the local and state level on how to handle situations with camping neighbors who don't follow common courtesy, consideration, manners, and etiquette, by respecting quiet time and other rules of the park.
1. Proactive Planning
Before reserving a site, call in advance to the state park ranger or owner/manager and ask if they have a live-in host that observes and advises on camping etiquette and park rules. If they don't have a live-in host, strongly consider looking for a different campground. Also proactively ask the Park Ranger in advance how to contact authorities after the ranger station is closed in the night. Write down the phone number to call. Many campgrounds and state parks do not publicize the phone number. You have to ask in advance. Ask for the process and specific phone numbers to call when checking in or before you reserve a site. Also ask how do they enforce the rules about campground etiquette and what are examples of how they handle situations.
2. Getting to know your neighbors
When you get to the campsite, decide if you want to get to know your neighbors before nightfall. Size them up by their manners. It might be best to simply stay away. If they have good manners and/or you are comfortable, get to know them and enjoy their company. Then if the need arises, have a simple and polite conversation with them about whatever is of concern. 95% of the time all that is needed is a simple and polite conversation. However for 5% of the time when this is not possible or would not be effective, further ideas are offered below.
3. Communication with neighbors
You came to relax, not to provide free and potentially unwanted counseling or conflict resolution techniques to a dysfunctional neighbor.
Etiquette is very personal to most people, and closely related to their personality, upbringing, family history, and individual idiosyncrasies (which we all have). Determine who is in the best role to approach people with conduct that is not good etiquette. Some people might accept information from authorities that they won't accept from neighboring campers.
People have complained in online forums that they greatly dislike being told that their conduct or etiquette is unacceptable, when the information is provided in what they think is an impolite, discourteous, or rude manner. People admit they become defensive, offended and/or angered and will not back down when provided with information in an impolite manner. Some feel others are trying to control them or put them down. Providing unwelcome information in an impolite manner can be perceived as worse than the original offense. So if there is a chance you are upset and might be communicating in a way that comes across as demanding, harsh, threatening, demeaning, hurtful, or sounding like a verbal attack or scolding, then let someone objective and neutral handle the communications, like the campground host, or park ranger/manager/owner.
If you do choose to communicate with camping neighbors, consider a a polite, indirect comment, hinting at something, which is more likely to be effective and accepted than a pointed or direct comment. Rather than opening communications with a complaint, determine if you want to first develop a relationship with them through friendly hello's, polite conversation, and sharing of things they may have forgotten. Sometimes neighbors are receptive to polite conversation. But be prepared for the fact that some neighbors may not want even polite conversation for a variety of unknown personal reasons.
4. Contacting a Host
If neighbors are not following proper etiquette and manners, contact the campground "Host" if your campground has one. A host camps in one of the sites, can observe and be objective, and knows when to bring the situation to the attention to the next level of authorities. The host has credibility with authorities. Bad neighbors keep coming to places without a "host" site. The host camps in a site in the campground and usually has a sign called "Host" or "Campground Host" next to their site.
5. Contacting the Ranger/owner/manager
If you don't have a campground host, contact the ranger / owner as the next step in the process to communicate your concerns about unruly or discourteous neighbors. If the ranger station is closed for the night look for signs on who to contact on bulletin boards near the restrooms. It is important to learn and know the process about how to contact authorities after hours. Each campground should have a process that can be explained to campers. If a campground does not have a process for contacting authorities after hours consider camping elsewhere.
6. Leaving a Note for the Night Guard / Watchperson
Minnesota State Parks usually have a Night Guard/Watchperson who walks around 2-3 times per night looking for inappropriate behavior. These people usually have some training in criminal law, but they are not a Sheriff.
I was given an option at one State Park to write a note saying "Site XX is loud and disturbing and we can't sleep", stick it on the door to the ranger station, so the Night Guard will see it, after returning from his rounds. Then he could quietly approach the site to observe it more carefully. Sometimes problem sites will quiet down when they hear the Night Guard approaching, and then crank up the noisy talking (from being drunk) after he is out of earshot. Night Guards are looking for tips like this so they can quietly approach the site and observe the behavior. Do not leave your own site number on the note, to protect your anonymity in case the disturbing site happens to see your note.
If I have gone through all the trouble to get up out of bed, get fully awake, and make it to the Ranger Station, usually I'm going to be inclined to just call the Sheriff, rather than hope the Night Guard will see a note I stuck to the door. Sometimes they make their last rounds at 12:30, so anything after that will not be seen.
7. When to call after hours phone numbers
If the ranger has gone home, or a host is insecure about calling the authorities, you may need to contact the authorities yourself. Consider if your neighbors are being unreasonably loud or unruly. Apply a "reasonable person test" to the situation. Ask yourself would the ranger or a Sheriff consider your complaint reasonable. Don't be afraid to call and ask for help from authorities when the behavior is unreasonable.
8. How to call
If reception is poor, take your cell phone to the nearest high hill or drive to a place near a cell phone tower and contact the authorities. I've been advised by authorities for some campgrounds, that if you really can't sleep because of noise from neighbors, the neighbors behavior should be reported without hesitation, as long as you are a reasonable person with reasonable judgment.
9. Where to call
Where to call varies from campground to campground. Some State Parks have a non-emergency number to call. Some want you to call 911 because they use the 911 dispatcher to route your non-emergency call to the Sheriff or State Park ranger at home or a Night Guard walking around in the State Park. Some absolutely don't want you to call 911 because they want 911 to be only used for life threatening emergencies and the local 911 lines are commonly congested or busy.
In Minnesota State Parks the process to contact authorities after hours is often to call 911 and describe the nature of the disturbance which can be forwarded to the authorities up to and including the Sheriff. Most State Parks in MN I've talked to have arrangements with 911 dispatchers. If there is a local Sheriff phone number posted on bulletin boards as the primary non-emergency contact, that would be the place to call first. However, most of the signs on bulletin boards say for emergencies only so it can be confusing. Below is an example of a sign in MN in one of the most popular state parks in the state. It lists a non-emergency contact phone number for the Sheriff. However the advice I received verbally was to call the 911 dispatcher for disturbances because they worked closely with the 911 dispatchers to train them on how to handle such calls. More examples of bulletin board items regarding campground etiquette are on my Photo Sharing Website.
Take a digital photo of the phone number with your cell phone or camera in case you need it in the middle of the night.
More signs and communications at State Parks appears in the slide show below.
In some Minnesota State Parks, a live public land line phone is maintained outside the ranger station for calling 911 or the local Sheriff phone number, especially when cell phone towers are too far away. There may be a sign on the phone that says "for emergencies only", but the verbal instructions I've received from authorities are to use it also for neighbors who are noisy as well.
In other states the process of contacting authorities by phone will likely vary so you are advised to learn the process proactively before you need to use the process.
In Michigan I've learned from a camper that the process is similar to Minnesota, where you are asked to use the 911 dispatcher in some state parks to contact the authorities, even for non-emergencies related to disturbances.
In Missouri, I've learned from a camper that every state park has "who to contact" information posted on bulletin boards outside all larger restrooms/shower houses/etc. (along with directions to the nearest hospital, etc.). Sometimes they list the local county sheriff's office with their regular phone # (not 911) as the primary contact.
In some areas and especially large inner-cities, there is a penalty (fines and jail time) for prank calls to 911 and for intentionally and falsely requesting assistance from police, fire, etc, which ties up the phone lines for real life threatening emergencies. 311 is the non-emergency version of 911 but it is only available in certain areas like large cities. For non-emergencies you are required to call 311 in certain big cities. However since most campgrounds are outside of large cities, 311 is not available, and 911 may be the only option to report both emergencies and non-emergencies. If you are concerned about calling 911 falsely you might want to dial "0" (zero) for the Operator and ask for advice.
If you are not aware of the process in your state, calling 911, like in Minnesota, might be your best option, since that gets you to law enforcement authorities. You might explain to the folks at 911 that in Minnesota this is the process for most State Parks. Whatever the process is for your campground, contacting the authorities is the appropriate thing to do.
10. Do campground rangers, managers care?
My experience is that State Park Ranger really want to know about campground etiquette issues. The ranger does not want you to confront a potentially violent neighbor. Many rangers won't confront a potentially violent camper or attack dog. At one time Rangers carried guns and were trained in their use. Now they don't and they just call in the Sheriff.
Poorly trained, inexperienced, or incompetent rangers who may be insecure about enforcing good behavior, leave the door open for continued inappropriate behavior. Bad campers keep coming back to poorly managed campgrounds. You can still call the Sheriff yourself, and that is what the authorities over the local ranger prefer, rather than taking matters into your own hands.
At some private campgrounds the owner/manager may not seem to care. If they don't enforce the standards of behavior that they publish, then prepare everyone to pack up and leave the campground. Ask for a refund of your camping fees which is justified since the owner/manager failed to perform their job to manage the campground. As suggested in point #1 above, proactively call and ask if they have published rules and what they do to enforce the rules.
I've found owner/managers feel more accountable to be professional when they learn I'm connected to Popup Camping Forums on the internet that communicate with hundreds or thousands of campers nationwide about pros and cons of various campgrounds in the country.
If they still don't seem to care, it probably is not worth ever coming back again. Proactively seek out other campgrounds that are managed professionally in the future, and be thankful you learned a good lesson on how to evaluate campground management practices. Word will spread on its own as good campers help other good campers to find professionally managed campgrounds.
Keep your call confidential. Do not threaten your neighbors or do anything to anger them or tip them off that you might call the sheriff. Just do it quietly. Avoid and do not invite retaliation, which could be dangerous. Let those with authority deal with the unruly. You really need the power to evict them in order to deal with them effectively.
Here is a sobering link to a news article and video where a man was beaten and left for dead, for calling the authorities in a Canada Provincial Park. He learned a hard lesson to keep his phone calling confidential.
CBC News Posted: Jun 6, 2012 5:59 PM MT
Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
12. Night Guards and Watch-persons
State parks usually have a night watch-person who walks around a few times in the night to catch noisy people and quell the unruly behavior, but it might be a few hours before they make their rounds.
13. Leave an unsafe environment
Always remember in the back of your mind there
is a very small chance you may need to leave or stay at a motel.
14. Urban and College Town Campground Issues
Consider avoiding State Parks close to large urban areas, especially on holiday weekends when novice campers come out to the park.
Usually state parks that are a long distance away from large cities have less unruly campers because it's too far to drive for the masses of unruly people. Only serious nature lovers come, not the big city drinking parties. Most often, but not always, Non-electric campgrounds attract more serious nature lovers who love the quiet. Electric campgrounds have people who play louder music, because they don't operate on batteries. However, in campgrounds near a metro area, some people select Non-electric sites to get away from others who will complain about their noise. Select campsites on the outside perimeter of roads or "loops" in a campground to minimize noise from sites adjacent to you. Select sites that are far away from others. Sites on the inside loops have sites on the left and right and also directly behind you.
Some urban State Park campgrounds or County Parks have a bad reputation because locals want to go on a drunken escapade, and don't want to do much planning, reserving, or have any inconveniences. They just want a quick place to go and get drunk and then talk loudly together around a campfire. When somewhat intoxicated, people can't hear themselves very well so some people then raise their voices rather than have quiet conversations.
Consider avoiding State Parks that are right next to a "college town" especially on holiday weekends. Some college students might view the local State Park as a convenient place to have a loud party all night.
Sites next to Reservable sites are safer bets than next to Non-Reservable Sites. People looking for a last minute drunken escapade will choose the Non-Reservable site as a last minute idea on a place to get drunk with friends, which results in talking louder than they realize, keeping others awake.
15. Campgrounds that don't evict poor neighbors
State Parks want good campers to help keep out the bad campers and they want to work together with the good campers. Poor campgrounds and mangers/rangers that accept revenue from poor campers continue to decline in quality, risking their long term reputation.
16. Share knowledge of etiquette
Spread the word on how to communicate issues to authorities. Work with your state park department of natural resources to post signs in bathrooms on how to escalate issues appropriately. This works like a "neighborhood crime watch" to keep bad campers on the run, looking for somewhere else to camp, or by conforming to society's expectations.
17. Holiday Weekend Strategies
Avoid high risk potential problem campgrounds on holiday weekends like 4th of July, Labor Day, and Memorial day, which is when inexperienced campers come out with arrogance, ignorance, desire to get drunk and be free, which results in talking much louder than they realize into the wee hours of the night or early morning. People going on such escapades often have little or no knowledge or interest in camping etiquette. Holiday weekends bring out people who are more often less educated on campground etiquette so some people avoid camping on these weekends. There are some campgrounds I'd be comfortable staying at during holiday weekends because the management has very low tolerance for bad campground conduct. Once you find those campgrounds you add them to your list of places to try on holiday weekends. Often management is influenced by clientele that comes back year after year, demanding higher standards, and communicating and working with the management by building relationships with them so they can influence the standards of the campground. Sometimes, some of the most beautiful parks/campgrounds attract campers with a big investment in large rigs that demand good conduct. Finding these gems of campgrounds is like finding a good fishing spot. Some people who know about them tend to keep them a secret from crowds who might destroy the environment. Doing your own research will lead you to these campgrounds over time.
18. Where do discourteous campers seek refuge?
Those who want to get drunk and be obnoxious, may get evicted and then they learn to go to state forests and/or state parks that are far from a cell phone tower, and where the Sheriff is over an hour drive away. It is easiest to simply avoid campgrounds without access to authorities entirely. Do research, call the ranger beforehand, ask how far away is the Sheriff or appropriate authorities. Ask how often they get calls, how often they have to confront campers, how often they evict people.
19. Vigilante behavior leaves campers open to retaliation
Definitions of Vigilante:
For a moment, it may appear to be heroic to be a vigilante, but since you are always open to retaliation while camping, it's not easy to camp and relax while being a vigilante. Bad neighbors can try to damage your relaxation, quiet moments, and property (i.e. your camper, camping equipment, vehicle, etc) if you get involved in an inappropriate way. It's better to let the authorities deal with people with poor conduct. They get paid to do that and they have the legal authority to do so.
If the Rangers/Managers/Owners of the campground are incompetent or lacking training, try to influence the authorities, call a Sheriff if needed, or just leave and learn a good lesson. Then in the future, plan ahead and look for signs that differentiate a professionally managed campground from an incompetently managed campground.
20. Be prepared
Be prepared, do research in advance and you can avoid all of this mess. We don't camp at campgrounds without a host anymore for reasons above. Good hosts are very valued neighbors in good campgrounds.
21. Have confidence and be comfortable when communicating with authorities
If you are a good camper you should have confidence and be comfortable when communicating with local, regional, or state level authorities to influence things for the positive. They need to know about situations in order to correct them. Campers should have confidence and courage to confidentially, courteously, and professionally communicate with authorities. By having confidence, you improve the situation for future campers in your campground.
Authorities are people too, who depend on good and reasonable campers to make the campground a better place. Sometimes people hesitate to contact authorities for various reasons:
* They think authorities will not respond
* They think authorities may over-react or abuse their authority
* It's humbling to ask for assistance from the authorities. It feels better to not have to depend on others for help, even if you hired them and paid them to do a job of managing the campground in a professional manner.
* They might feel like they are being disloyal to their neighbor, who they feel they should be loyal to because after all you are their neighbor and neighbors must be loyal, no matter what their behavior.
Rather, view it as an opportunity to help your neighbor learn camping etiquette.
22. To campers who believe in displaying poor conduct.
Simply put, consider having good manners, so you don't find people communicating the situation confidentially with authorities.
23. Communicate, communicate, communicateIt's important to know the rules of what is appropriate. There should be communication on appropriate rules and progressive steps with authorities so everyone knows how to behave properly. There are always unfortunate exceptions, but generally the better the communication and processes that are established, the more likely that noisy people will look elsewhere. Campers can improve the processes by working with the rangers and administrators, for parks they want to see well managed.
It's a good idea to have water-proof type of earplugs for when things happen that make it hard to sleep. This might be a preferred option for loud, drunk neighbors, than to get out of bed when you are half asleep.
Some campgrounds are near railroads and the earplugs are useful to block out those types of sounds as well.
Here are high quality "waterproof" Earplugs from the grocery store. Recommended for tents and popup camping for times when you don't want to take the time to inform authorities about drunken, loud neighbors who talk all night.
Noise Reduction - 22 Decibels. $2.99 per pack. We keep a couple packs stocked in our camper.
How authorities deal with people not following campground etiquette, manners, and laws.
There are many ways to interpret the laws and rules of the campground so the interpretation and handling of situation varies depending on subjective judgments made at the scene. Here are some examples of how authorities deal with situations after being contacted through appropriate channels.
1. The Campground Host may choose to approach the offending campers, although this is only for minor infractions
2. The State Park Ranger may choose to approach the offending campers, and give a warning. Often they will come in pairs with a witness. If the complaint is severe they may sneak up behind the site or walk quietly to the site to be able to observe the behavior in progress without creating a chance to temporarily stop the behavior during the observation period.
3. The night watchman (who are often trained as police or military and working part time) may choose to approach the offending campers in the same manner as the Park Ranger. Sometimes the State Park Ranger defers confrontation to the Night Watchman, who may have more specialized training in criminal law.
4. The Sheriff and/or deputies may be called to approach the offending campers
5. The offending camper's Permit to camp may be canceled by the ranger or sheriff, requiring them to vacate the premises. Campers don't own campsites; they are permitted to camp on campsites with a permit, granted on entrance with an agreement to follow park rules and state statutes.
6. The offending campers may be given 30 minutes to clean up and get out or be arrested and spend the night in jail or have
all their vehicles and property impounded. Impounding of vehicles has happened.
7. The offending campers may be told they have to leave immediately
8. The offending campers may be given a warning, or a final warning and the next offense or complaint they hear will result in immediate eviction.
9. The offending campers may be dealt with in the morning and evicted immediately.
10. If the offending campers are too drunk to drive they may be taken to jail until the morning.
11. The Vehicle License Plate will be recorded, and a description of poor behavior will be documented and available for the next time they try to check in to a state park. At that time the Park Ranger may refuse to allow them to enter, or watch them carefully, based on the past demonstrated behavior.
12. more to come as I learn of more actual stories
Campground Etiquette >