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Primitive Camping in Virginia

What is Primitive Camping?

Primitive camping is temporary and remote. There are no established campsites and no amenities. For example, the following are not available: electric, potable water, dump stations, restrooms, convenience stations, etc. Primitive camping on DWR’s Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) can range from sleeping in a sleeping bag on the ground to accommodations for those who prefer more creature comforts of a tent or even a small recreational vehicle (RV) or travel trailer. That being said, due to the size and design of access roads and parking areas, not all WMAs may be suitable for RV or trailer traffic. Please check WMA rules found on the specific WMA’s webpage and at the kiosk on site before you make plans to use these types of vehicles.

When preparing for your trip, remember that DWR’s WMAs are rustic places. Things to consider are there are no bathrooms or trash receptacles, and you will need be prepared to “Leave no Trace” to include taking care of human waste appropriately and packing in and packing out any supplies and garbage.

Have a Plan

Mother Nature can be challenging, so have a plan—let someone know where you plan to be, dress for the terrain and conditions, bring extra layers, use bug spray, make sure you have appropriate navigational aids (maps, GPS, compass, etc.), and remember there may not always be cell phone service. Depending on how long you plan to camp make sure you have appropriate amounts of food and water. Don’t forget the s’mores!

Have a plan for potable water. That can be as simple bringing the appropriate amount of water with you or having the appropriate means to purify water. It is highly recommended not to drink from any natural water source without some sort of treatment no matter how inviting it looks to ensure your camping adventure is a pleasurable experience.

A slightly charred marshmallow on a stick is held in orange campfire flames.

Did someone say S’mores?

It’s essential to take the necessary precautions to prevent food-related wildlife encounters. Keep yourself and wildlife safe by eliminating tempting smells as much as possible and using wildlife-proof coolers or hanging food between two trees at least 10 feet off the ground. If you are cooking or enjoying the comforts of a campfire in areas where they are allowed, please remember that they should never be left unattended. Fires must be extinguished completely when leaving. From February 15 to April 30, campfires are only allowed from 4:00 p.m. to midnight.

Be sure to consider what time of year it is. You are allowed to camp on most of DWR’s WMAs year-round, including during hunting seasons. You might even be camping on the WMA to allow you quick access to your favorite hunting spot. If you are camping on a WMA during hunting season, we recommend that you take note of your surroundings. If there are other vehicles in the parking areas, there may be hunters in the area. Put your campsite in a considerate spot and consider putting an orange band around trees at your campsite to alert other users to your presence. Be sure to wear blaze orange or pink and be on the lookout for other people as you move around the WMA.

Where to Go Primitive Camping in Virginia

DWR offers a wide variety of camping possibilities from the Eastern Shore  to the Blue Ridge Mountains on down to southwest Virginia. Please remember that not every spot offers the same experience, so please be sure to access the  Wildlife Management Area page on the DWR website or GoOutdoorsVirginia app and stop and read the kiosk to be sure you are aware of any WMA-specific rules and details.

You will want to make sure you have the appropriate license or permit to access the WMA and that you have signed up for the free camping authorization. To access a DWR WMA, you will need one of the following: a valid Virginia hunting, fishing, or trapping license, a valid Virginia boat registration, a daily access permit or a current Restore the Wild membership. Primitive camping is allowed for up to 14 consecutive nights when occupants are engaged in authorized activities (no more than 14 nights in any 28-day period). Camping is prohibited on or within 300 feet of any boat ramp, fishing lake or at other specific sites as posted or marked on WMA maps.

Primitive camping on DWR Wildlife Management Areas can be a fun and rewarding time to enjoy the peace and quiet of Mother Nature. We encourage you to take the time to unplug from the screen and explore the wild by fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing, or simply enjoying the outdoors while exploring the adventure of camping in one of the many scenic areas DWR has to offer.