General Regulations for National Forests

On this page, you’ll find an alphabetic summary of general regulations governing the use of National Forests, which are located in Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CCR), Part 261.  National Forests are administered by the Forest Service (USFS), often in cooperation with other Federal and State agencies like the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).  In general, these regulations are applicable to acts or omissions, regardless of intent:

  1. Occurring in the NFS
  2. Occurring on a NFS roads or trails
  3. That affect, threatens, or endangers
    1. US property administered by the USFS
    2. People using or working on the NFS
    3. People using or working on a NFS road or trail
  4. Occurring within the designated boundaries of a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

 [36 CFR Sec. 261.1] Warning shot!!!  Link to our list of National Forests with area-specific rules, regulations, and procedures, including the act of hunting.

  • Ammunition: incendiary ammunition, missiles, or tracer bullets are prohibited [36 CFR Sec. 261.5(b) and 261.8(b)]
  • Burros: see “Horses” below
  • Boats: see “Primitive Areas” below
  • Canoes: the following are NOT allowed in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness except by permit or as specifically authorized by Federal law or regulation–
  1. General Regulations for National Forests for boats, kayaks, and canoes.Living Quarters: amphibious craft or any watercraft designed for use as floating living quarters
  2. Propulsion: motors and mechanical devices capable of propelling watercraft
  3. Transportation: wheels, rollers, or other mechanically devices for overland transportation

[36 CFR Sec. 261.19]

  • Closures:
  1. Building: do not enter any building, structure, or enclosed area that is (a) owned or controlled by the US and (b) closed to the public [36 CFR Sec. 261.9]
  2. Orders: see “Orders” below
  • Caves:
  1. Fireworks: no fireworks (e.g. firecrackers and rockets) or explosive may be discharged [36 CFR Sec. 261.10(o)]
  2. Shooting: see below
  3. Trapping: do NOT curtail free movement of any animal [36 CFR Sec. 261.8(e)]
  • Camping: see “Recreation Sites”
  • Commerce: unless authorized by Federal, State, or local law, a special-use permit is required to–
  1. Sell merchandise
  2. Provide work
  3. Provide a service
  4. Distribute printed material

[36 CFR Sec. 261.10(c) and (g)-(h)]

  • Definitions: examples included, but are not limited to, archaeological resources, camping, motorized equipment, motor vehicle, National Forest System, National Forest wilderness, Operating plan (per Part 228, 292, and 251.15), person, prohibitions, resources (archaeological, cave, historical, paleontological, prehistoric), primitive area, residence, vehicle, wild river zone [36 CFR Sec. 261.1b and 261.75, which is specifically for California]
  • Disorderly Conduct: do NOT (a) engage in fighting, (b) use offensive, derisive, annoying communication likely to cause violence, (c) incite lawlessness, or (d) cause a public nuisance (e.g. unreasonable loud noise) [36 CFR Sec. 261.4]
  • General Regulations for National Forests for dogsDogs: must be controlled with a leash or otherwise confined except as allowed for hunting under Federal and State law [36 CFR Sec. 261.8(d)] (Link to our summary of regulations for hunting and training dogs.)
  • Fees: failure to pay recreation fees may result in a fine up to $100 [36 CFR Sec. 261.17]
  • Firearms: allowed in accordance with Federal and State law [36 CFR Sec. 261.8(c)]
  • Fires:
  1. Campfires: must be controlled and completely extinguished [36 CFR Sec. 261.5(d) and (f)]
  2. Fire Rings: see “Recreation Sites” below
  3. Negligence: do NOT negligently place ignited substances [36 CFR Sec. 261.5(a)]
  4. Permits: required to burn timber, trees, slash, brush or grass [36 CFR Sec. 261.5(c)]

Also see “Orders” below

  • Fishing: allowed in accordance with Federal and State Law [36 CFR Sec. 261.8(a)]
  • Horses: the following activities are NOT allowed concerning wild free-roaming horses and burros
  1. Breach of Contract: violations of terms and/or conditions related to care and maintenance
  2. Harassment: including inhumane Treatment
  3. Removal: unless authorized by law or regulation

[36 CFR Sec. 261.23]

  • General Regulations for National Forests for hunting.Hunting: allowed in accordance with Federal and State Law [36 CFR Sec. 261.8(a)] Also see “Caves” above
  • Improvements: a special-use authorization is required to construct, place, or maintain roads, trails, structures, fences, enclosures, communication equipment, significant surface disturbance, or residence on NFS lands or facilities [36 CFR Sec. 261.10(a)]
  • Law Enforcement: do NOT (1) threaten, resist, intimidate, or interfere with official duties or (2) give false reports [36 CFR Sec. 261.3]
  • Livestock:
  1. Authorization: required to place in the NFS [36 CFR Sec. 261.7(a)]
  2. Harassment: do NOT molest, injure, remove, or release authorized livestock [36 CFR Sec. 261.7(d)]
  3. Gates: always reclose gates [36 CFR Sec. 261.7(d)]
  • Noise: a special-use permit is required to operate or use any device (e.g. public address system, radio, television, musical instrument, motor, and engine) that will unreasonably disturb others in or near a–
  1. Campsite
  2. Developed recreation site or over an adjacent body of water [36 CFR Sec. 261.10(i) and (j)]
  • Operating Plan: may be required for use or occupancy of NFS lands or facility [36 CFR Sec. 261.10(p)]
  • Orders: subject to posting requirements, designated officials may issue an order to close entry or restrict use of any area, road, or trail,
  1. Closures: the order may restrict entry into areas for the protection of or related to—
    1. Biology: special biological communities
    2. History: objects or areas of historical, archeological, geological, or paleontological interest
    3. Property
    4. Indian Tribes: privacy of activities for traditional and cultural purposes
    5. Public: health & safety
    6. Science: experiments and investigations
    7. Wildlife: threatened, endangered, rare, unique, or vanishing species o plants, animals, birds, or fish
  2. Exemptions: the order may exempt certain people (fire and rescue personnel, landowners, residents, tenants, and for commerce)
  3. Restrictions: orders may restrict certain uses, including but not limited activities related to the following topics–
    1. Aircraft (landing, dropping, etc.)
    2. Alcoholic beverages
    3. Boats & Rafts (launching, propulsion, transportation, etc.)
    4. Camping (duration)
    5. Closures (entry into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System)
    6. Conduct
    7. Disease control and preventions
    8. Engines (internal combustion)
    9. Fire, Fireworks and explosives (camping, prevention, smoking)
    10. Firearms
    11. Fishing
    12. Horses (hitching, hobbling, riding and tethering, etc.)
    13. Hours of Use
    14. Hunting
    15. Litter (body waste, garbage, and refuse)
    16. Nudity
    17. Public (health and safety)
    18. Recreation Sites
    19. Roads (closures, commercial hauling, protection)
    20. Swimming & bathing
    21. Trails (mode of transportation, protection, shortcutting switchbacks, use, vehicles)
    22. Vehicles (e.g. motorboats, parking, size, reckless driving, speed, storage, type, weight)
    23. Water skiing
    24. Welding
    25. Wilderness (camping, carts, entry, firearms, fireworks, food and beverage containers, grazing, equipment, use, vehicles, and wagons)
    26. Wildlife (birds, fish, plants, and trees)

[36 CFR Sec. 261.50 through 261.58 and 261.70]

  • Personal Property: must be removed daily [36 CFR Sec. 261.10(e)]
  • Pesticides: allowed ONLY (a) for personal insect repellent or (b) with a special-use permit [36 CFR Sec. 261.9(f)]
  • Plants: do not damage and/or remove plants classified as threatened, endangered, sensitive, rare, or unique species

[36 CFR Sec. 261.9]

  • Primitive Areas: if classified as a National Forest Primitive Area on September 3, 1964, the following activities are NOT allowed
  1. Aircraft: landing is NOT allowed unless well established prior to classification
  2. Motor Boats: NOT allowed unless well established prior to classification
  3. Motors & Motorized Equipment: NOT allowed except for small batter powered, Geiger-counters and hand-held devices (e.g. cameras, shavers, and flashlights)

[36 CFR Sec. 261.21]

  • Property Damage: do NOT damage, destroy, dig, excavate, injure, and/or remove–
  1. Archaeological resource, structure, site, artifact, or property
  2. Cave resources without a special use permit
  3. Historic resource, structure, site, artifact, or property
  4. Natural feature
  5. Paleontological resource for commercial purposes without a special permit
  6. Prehistoric resource, structure, site, artifact, or property
  7. Vertebrae fossils without a special permit

[36 CFR Sec. 261.9]

  • Recreation Sites:
  1. Bathing: bath or wash only at designated water hydrants and faucets
  2. Bicycles: allowed only designated areas, if any
  3. Body waste: allowed only in designated receptacles
  4. Camping:
    1. Equipment: allowed only in designated areas when attended daily
    2. Occupancy: least one person must occupy the area during the first night after equipment has been set up
  5. Day Use: occupy only from 6:00 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  6. Fires: allowed only within–
    1. Fire rings provided by the Forest Service
    2. Fireplaces
    3. Grills
    4. Stoves
  7. Fireworks: NOT allowed (firecrackers, rockets, and explosive)
  8. Motorcycles: allowed only (a) for the purpose of entering and exiting and (b) in designated areas, if any
  9. Pack Animals: NOT allowed except in compliance with any posted instructions (saddle, pack, and draft animals)
  10. Personal Property: remove when vacating the area or site (e.g. camping equipment)
  11. Pets: except for service animals,
    1. Restraint: must be restrained at all times (e.g. crate, cage, or leash no longer than six feet)
    2. Swimming areas: NOT allowed
  12. Purpose: occupy only for the purpose of recreation
  13. Vehicles:
    1. Operation & Use: only (a) in designated areas or (b) for the purpose of entering and exiting
    2. Parking: allowed only in designated areas
  14. Washing: allowed only at designated water hydrants and faucets (e.g. personal property, fish, animals, and food)

[36 CFR Sec. 261.16] Also see “Fires” above

  • Sanitation: do NOT
  1. Dump: place refuse, debris, trash, or litter brought from private property of land occupied under a permit except in any designated facilities [36 CFR Sec. 261.11(e)]
  2. Garbage: fail to dispose of all garbage by removing it from the site or area or place it into receptacles (paper, can, bottle, sewage, waste water or material, and rubbish)
  3. Litter: possess or leave refuse, debris or litter in an exposed or unsanitary condition
  4. Toilets: deposit anything that would damage or interfere with its operation or maintenance
  5. Water Pollution: place any substance in or near a stream, lake, or other water that does or may cause pollution

[36 CFR Sec. 261.11]

  • Shooting: NOT allowed
  1. General Regulations for National Forests shooting.Caves: into or within a cave
  2. Negligence: In any manner or place that exposes a person or property to injury or damage
  3. Roads: Across or on a NFS road or body of water adjacent thereto
  4. Safety Zone: within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site or occupied area

[36 CFR Sec. 261.10(d)]

  • Special Use Permit: payment of fees and compliance with the terms and conditions is required when using or occupying NFS land or facilities activities described in the following paragraphs (see above and below):
  1. Commerce
  2. Fires
  3. Improvements
  4. Noise
  5. Pesticides
  6. Property Damage
  7. Timber

[36 CFR Sec. 261.10(k), (l), and (n)]

  • Symbols: see restrictions for using the “Smokey Bear” and “Woodsy Owl” symbols [36 CFR Sec. 261.22]
  • Timber: a special use permit is required to cut or remove timber or trees [36 CFR Sec. 261.6(a)]
  • General Regulations for National Forests for trapping.Trapping: allowed in accordance with Federal and State Law [36 CFR Sec. 261.8(a)]
  • Vehicles:
  1. Interference: do not block, restrict, or otherwise interfere with toads, trails, and/or gates [36 CFR Sec. 261.12(d)]
  2. Operation & Use: in general, vehicles are prohibited except in (a) areas designated on a motor vehicle use map and (b) compliance with restrictions related to type and operation of the vehicle (e.g. aircraft, combat support vehicles, emergency vehicles, law enforcement vehicles, snowmobiles, off road vehicles, right-of-ways, and watercraft) [36 CFR Sec. 261.13 – 261.15]
  3. Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail: a special-use permit is required for motorized vehicles [36 CFR Sec. 261.20]
  4. Parking: do not impede, cause a safety hazard, or inconvenience any person [36 CFR Sec. 261.10(f)]
  5. Peace Officers: visitors are required to stop when directed [36 CFR Sec. 261.10(m)]
  6. Property damage: do NOT damage roads or trails
  7. Size Restrictions: a special-use permit is required to exceed State restrictions for load, weight, height, length, and width
  8. Weighing Stations: comply with all signs

[36 CFR Sec. 261.12(b)] Also see “Primitive Areas” and “Trails” above

  • Violations: fine or imprisonment up to $550 or six months in jail. [36 CFR Sec. 261.1b]
  • Wilderness: the following are prohibited–
  1. Aircraft and helicopters (landing and dropping of materials, supplies, or people)
  2. Bicycles
  3. Hang gliders
  4. Motor Vehicles (unless specifically authorized under Federal Law or regulation)
  5. Motorboats
  6. Motorized equipment
  • Wildlife: transportation and possession is allowed in accordance with Federal and State Law [36 CFR Sec. 261.8(a)]

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