Rules For Roof Top Tent Camping in the USA


Camping is a fun and adventurous way to spend your time. There are many methods and alternatives to camping but did you know you can camp on the roof of your car with a roof top tent?

Roof top tent camping in the USA is a method of camping that involves a vehicle, a roof rack, and a roof top tent that attaches to the roof of your vehicle. This gives you many more options such as camping in areas that are for vehicles and RVs only.

Nothing makes a road trip more exciting than adding the element of camping to the mix. Camping has been a long time favorite and when you mix that with the easy access that roof top camping provides then you really can’t go wrong.

There are some things that you need to keep in mind when using your set up in the United States.

While most camping grounds and parks are friendly towards roof top camping, a few rules apply. Most of it is common sense and once you learn the ropes you will want to go camping just about every weekend!

The United States has a ton of awesome places to camp and to visit. There is no shortage of breathtaking scenery and friendly people.

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Rules For Roof Top Camping

As long as you comply with a few rules for roof top camping you will be well underway to an exciting new way to camp and travel.

Most rooftop camping rules are simple to follow, however, just to be on the safe side, always do some extra research in the states, parks, and places you intend to camp to find out if there are any local restrictions.

Some basic rules to follow:

  1. Not all places you wish to camp allow vehicles
  2. Safety should always be your main concern
  3. Your roof must have a rack
  4. Camping must be allowed on the property
  5. Basic camping rules still apply

Some places in parks and on private campgrounds do not allow vehicles past certain points. Make certain that your camping spot is vehicle-friendly.

Roof top camping is an awesome way to camp but you must keep in mind that safety is your top priority. You need to have the proper roof rack and take all safety precautions that are recommended by your tents instructions.

Believe it or not, you cannot just camp anywhere you feel like. There are oftentimes designated camping areas. Double-check to make sure you have permission to camp on any property that you wish to camp on.

One benefit of rooftop camping is that you are allowed to set up your tent anywhere that an RV is allowed to set up (in most cases). Just know that when camping in an RV designated area that there could be restrictions for campfires and other camping habits.

One last thing is that if you are camping, the same rules apply for your new set up. Pick up your garbage, be courteous to others, and follow all of the rules of the site.

Are Roof Top Tents Worth It

If you are someone who loves to travel, loves camping, and loves road trips. Then roof top camping might just be the way to go for you.

There are many benefits to roof top camping, such as less work setting up, more options for places to camp, and the ease of having everything contained in one small area.

Anyone who has ever had to put together a ground tent that has a million pieces knows the struggle. Finding a solid level place on the ground, moving all the pieces together to fit just right can be quite a job.

Most rooftop tents have very little parts you must put together. In some cases, they even fold-out or are one solid piece. This makes it much easier to set up your tent. Most roof top tent systems come with a ladder that makes getting up and down easy.

How to Find Designated Camp Spots

Since there are some rules to where and when you can camp you may need help finding designated camping areas. Some camping grounds shut down during the winter months, and some only allow certain types of camping.

To find the best-designated areas, do some research online. Most parks and camping grounds have information available on websites. You can also ask other campers which spots are the best for vehicle camping.

Calling ahead is also a great way to make sure all of the information is correct. Most places that offer camping have offices that you can call that will answer any questions that you may have.

There are also apps for your phones that will show you nearby camping grounds as well as offer phone numbers that you can call with just one click.

Many of the apps and websites for campsite locations offer pictures of the camping areas and reviews from other campers!

Dispersed Camping Areas

Some people prefer a more primitive approach to camping. If you would like to camp off the beaten trail, with more solitude and open skies, then you may want to consider dispersed camping areas.

These are areas where you are allowed to camp in remote spots that are not dedicated camping grounds.

First, as a rule, you must make sure that you have permission to do so. Just because a public park or property is wide open does not mean you have full access.

Reach out the office or landowner to double-check that dispersed camping is allowed on the property.

Some things to keep in mind when roof top camping in dispersed camping areas:

  • Sometimes there are no designated campfire spots
  • There is usually no bathrooms
  • There is no running water

Some spots may have bathrooms but almost every dispersed camping area has no water. You will need to bring your water supply.

If you are planning on making a campfire make sure that it is allowed on the property. You may want to carry bricks or stones with you to set up your campfire ring.

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What Kind of Camping Are You doing?

When roof top camping you also need to consider what kind of camping you will be doing. If you are wanting the full camping experience, hiking, campfires, fishing, or other camping activities, you will want to double-check that all of those activities are allowed in your camping area.

The type of camping you plan on doing will need to reflect the rules of the camping grounds or park.

Some things to consider:

  • You may not be able to camp for more than 1 or 2 days, make sure there are no time restrictions for longer camping trips.
  • There may not be remote locations for you to drive your tent to if you are wanting to do dispersed camping.
  • If you are expecting there to be running water or bathrooms you will need to choose a campground with those amenities.

Everyone has different expectations when it comes to camping so make sure you have everything planned out accordingly.

Planning your trip around what kind of camping you are doing is the best way to make sure you have all of your ducks in a row.

How Long Are You Camping For?

A lot of RV parks and camping grounds have time limits for how long you can stay. If you are planning on a 1-2 week camping trip make sure that your destination allows longer times.

If your camping ground does not have running water or bathrooms you will need to have a full supply of water, food, and toiletries to last the amount of time you plan to camp.

Roof top camping allows you to be mobile as well, you may be deciding a long road trip with different camping destinations. The best way to be prepared is to plan ahead. The more planning you do the better suited for roof top camping you will be.

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Tips for Roof Top Camping

We’ve put together some tips for roof top camping that should help you out along the way. These are all things to consider for road trips and camping.

  • Consider if your camping areas have cellphone reception.
  • Planning is the best way to be prepared.
  • Most campgrounds have different rules for campfires.
  • Is there a drought? That could mean no campfires.
  • Always have plenty of supplies.
  • Buy extra mosquito nets, straps, and tent components.

Some people can go camping and on road trips while still working through broadband internet cards and cellphone reception. Make sure if you are planning on being able to do work that you will be able to make phone calls and have access to data.

Planning is your best friend. The more you plan and prepare the more suited you will be for roof top camping.

There are different rules for campfires when going to campgrounds and RV parks. You will need to find out what the rules are for each individual site to make sure you will be able to have a fire.

This is important if you plan on cooking your food by the fire. You may be traveling through a drought and there may be bans on having campfires.

You should make sure that you have all the supplies you need, food, toilet paper, appropriate clothing, and anything else you can think of.

The things on roof top tents that wear out the fastest are the thinner mosquito nets, snaps, and zippers. You may want to consider buying extra tent supplies incase something rips or needs repair.

Are All Roof Top Tents the Same

There are multiple types of roof top tents, each has different options and benefits. Some roof top tents have to be put together, some are pop up tents that just have to be pulled up with a few things to assemble.

There are also roof top tents that are one solid unit, similar to camper shells. You will need to consider which one would work best for you. If you are not good at assembling things, maybe consider the pop-up or solid roof tent.

You also need to be able to reach up high and climb ladders, if you are not very tall it may be harder for you to set the tents up. You may need to carry a ladder with you or a stepping stool.

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What Type of Vehicle Do You Have?

There are roof top tents that will work with different kinds of vehicles. As long as your vehicle can have a rack installed you should be good to go. Even most cars can have roof racks and will hold up to a roof tent.

The tent itself attaches to the rack, not the actual roof, so you don’t have to worry about whether or not your roof is solid or not, only if it can have a rack that can hold enough weight.

Make sure to research your type of vehicle to make sure that it will support a rack and the weight of the tent.

SUV’s and trucks that have camper tops will be able to support much larger tent sizes, while cars will have to use a roof top tent that is smaller in size.

Roof Top Camping With Pets

The biggest concern with bringing your pet along is whether or not the campsite or park allows pets. You may not be able to allow the pet into the tent depending on the size of your pet.

Pets usually have sharp nails that can rip into tent material. If you are bringing your pet with you, you may need to consider making a space for them in the vehicle to sleep.

Winter Camping in a Roof Top Tent

If you are going to be camping in the winter you need to take some precautions that will make your camping experience better.

Things to consider:

  • Will the campsite be open through the winter
  • Do you have safe ways to heat the tent
  • Will you be able to leave if it snows heavily

Make sure that any campsites you are going to visit will be open during the winter months, many sites can be seasonal.

You need to have plenty of warm sleeping bags, blankets and ways to insulate your tent if you are planning on a roof top tent camping in winter.

Consider the fact that you may get snowed in. Make sure you have snow tires, or the ability to pack up and leave the campsite.

Stealth Camping With a Roof Top Tent

Stealth camping is when you camp in areas that do not allow camping, such as non-camping public parks, residential wooded areas, and parking lots. While you may be able to pull that off in some spots, it might be hard to get a vehicle into the woods without being noticed.

In some cases, you can sleep in Walmart parking lots for at least one night. As long as you park over where the other RVs are parked overnight you should be able to sleep there.

Pros and Cons with Roof Top Camping

Here are a few pros and cons of roof top camping.

Pros:
More versatility.
Easy to set up.
Cons:
Wind can be a problem.
With only one vehicle you can’t leave the campsite.

Roof Top Camping for National and State Parks

National and state parks have different rules. The best thing you can do is call ahead if you are planning on camping in a park. Most of them are camping friendly and have designated camping areas and even some designated dispersed camping areas.

Some parks do not allow fires and have special rules. Be considerate and follow the rules if you plan on roof top camping in national and state parks. If you are unsure about the rules, ask someone.

Most parks have fees, permits, or limitations. Do your due diligence and you will be just fine.

Related Questions

Can a car handle a roof top tent? You will need to check the specifications for your car on whether or not it can have a roof rack and what the weight limit would be for that rack. A lot of cars can handle smaller roof top tents.

Can you use a roof top tent with a pick-up truck? If your pick up truck has a camper top that can support a roof rack or a solid bed cover that can support a roof rack then it is possible to have a roof top tent with a pick-up truck.

Chad Kilpatrick

Chad Fox is a camping enthusiast that loves nature and long road trips.

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