Currently there are lockdowns preventing local lodging from hosting guests coming to the area to recreate. At the same time public lands are open. Without getting into the politics of it, we’d like to show you an easy way to ensure that where you are camping for the night is… copacetic. This is handy information for any time — not just when there are lockdowns!

The Eastern Sierra is a delicate ecosystem, and is the watershed for most our participants coming from the South. So please, read below about how to properly go to the bathroom (poop) outdoors when there is no toilet. Local land agencies have been having particular trouble with this issue especially since Covid began.

Especially north of Bishop, California, there is quite a bit of public land to park on. Whether you are headed up in an RV or with a campervan or simply wish to put up a tent or even sleep in your car, here is how to find those spots.

1) Go to caltopo.com. They may ask you to accept their cookies — click “Accept Use.” Then click the dark orange button on the upper right, “Start Mapping.” You’re in!

We support Caltopo with a paid membership, since Caltopo is a priceless resource to firefighting and SAR teams. If you can, consider supporting, but you don’t have to in order to get the information you’ll need.

2) Top center there is a small search bar with a binocular icon. Enter in the town name or major landmark close to what you are looking for. For this example, I’ll type in “Lee Vining,” a small town, the east gateway of Yosemite. Click “Go.”

This will center the map near Lee Vining.

3) Now, to find the public lands near Lee Vining, click a box that says “Map Layers” near the upper right corner of the map screen. Go below where it says “Map Overlays” in bold, and click “Public Lands.” Done? You just added a layer to the map which shows where land boundaries are: private, state, BLM, National Forest, National Park, Tribal, etc. The map will hopefully now be a lot more colorful.

caltopo mono lake public lands

A Caltopo map of the Lee Vining (Mono Lake) area with public lands layer enabled.

4) You are now looking for areas shaded in Green and Orange. Zoom in to discover which roads lead to spots you take interest in, and either

  • write down your approach plan
  • take a coordinate of your planned location and enter it in your GPS device
  • or if you’re ambitious and/or familiar with Caltopo, create a route and save it to your GPS device

Other things you want to take into consideration when using the “Public Lands” layer to plan an overnight are

  • accessibility of the spot. Is it steep? Could it be very rugged? Snowed in? Sometimes you can turn on the satellite layer and double-check the conditions. You can call the ranger station, but they are very busy at the desk half the time and don’t necessarily have current/reliable information.
  • proximity to private land or busy areas. Will you be bothering people, or will people be bothering you?
  • are you sure the spot is inside the orange (BLM) or green (National Forest) layer? Make sure.

You may find when you arrive, your site isn’t what you’d hoped. Maybe it’s under a special closure (there are some prescribed burns going on in the Eastern Sierra this winter), maybe it’s snowed in. Make sure to have a backup plan.

LNT

As our friends and clients, please be the best stewards of Leave No Trace. These are tricky times, we know. You might end up hauling your trash all the way back home with you because dumpsters will be harder to find. Do it. If you see other folks’ trash, maybe pick some up. Try to leave your spot better than how you found it. No new fire rings, no old fire rings, no fires at all. Absolutely do not feed any wild animals, no matter how cute they are or how much they beg. Plan ahead and prepare! Keep it simple, keep it safe, stay close as possible to major roads and have a plan in case something goes wrong – like a flat tire or getting stuck in snow.

Enjoy a rustic campout with an incredibly clear view of the stars and a (hopefully) snowy Sierra range.

We’ve only scratched the surface of what it’s really good for, but hopefully you have begun to see how useful Caltopo can be for trip planning during a lockdown.

How to Poop Outside

If there is no outhouse around, do not just poop anywhere and leave your toilet paper to blow around! This is not only disgusting and ugly, but it is harmful to other humans and animals, the water, and your pride. (Not to mention the pride of the rangers and good citizens who DO come after you to clean up.) Please take 52 seconds and watch this quick video about how to make your poop disappear in the woods.

 
Alternatively, if you like flowcharts and hate videos, this is for you:

A flowchart for what to do if you need to poop outdoors

Worried that you won’t have time to dig a cathole? Carry a wag bag. Don’t have a wag bag? Poop in ANY sealing bag, and dispose in a dumpster. Some smart campers scout a great cathole location and dig the night before, so there is no panic in the morning.

Pack out your toilet paper the same as you would pack out all your trash. Do NOT bury your toilet paper; an animal WILL dig it up!

Got it? Good! This isn’t weird; this is how all the cool outdoorsy folks have been doing it a long time. So carry on, wash your hands. We’ll see you soon!