Throughout England and Wales, wild camping is a bit of a grey zone. And while it’s largely tolerated in most national parks, it’s only explicitly legal in one: Dartmoor National Park.
Situated in Devon in England’s stunning southwest, Dartmoor National Park is vast, open and wonderfully wild. Comprising mile after mile of undulating moorland, it offers perfect conditions for a weekend in your hiking boots. Especially if you visit when the weather plays ball!
Where can you camp?
From the rolling forests in the centre of the park to the dramatic open plains of the north, you can camp pretty much anywhere on Dartmoor. Just check ahead before you go and ensure that you don’t pitch on private land. For some surefire spots in some epic surroundings, head to the beautiful hills of Dartmoor’s stark northwest. This includes High Willhays, the highest point in the UK south of the Brecon Beacons, and the dramatic Yes Tor. In the Merrivale Range, Great Mis Tor and the stunning Foggintor Quarry offer dramatic backdrops for you and your tent. Just don’t pitch up inside the quarry itself! The vast camping land in the south of the park means you can quite easily — and legally — let yourself get lost for days.
Specific parts of this national park allow for backpack camping. But rules do apply: Visitors can stay only for one or two nights. They must be able to they carry their tent and other equipment in a rucksack, with zero impact on the environment.
People camping with large tents or in large groups with lots of equipment must use designated campsites on Dartmoor.
As with all backcountry rules, you must follow the Leave No Trace principles, such as not leaving toilet paper or other waste, use biodegradable soaps away from water sources and minimize campfire impacts.
While a really wild experience is easy to enjoy on Dartmoor, the accessibility of the entire park is what makes it such a perfect wild camping location. Through the moor, numerous car parks allow you to leave your vehicle overnight while you enjoy a night under the stars.
Dartmoor National Park is also home to numerous quaint English villages which transport you back to an England of a previous era. When the sun is shining and the breeze blows, you can also hear the muffled whispers of bygone cricket games being enjoyed on the rolling greens. These places make an ideal starting point for any adventures into the deep moor and offer returning travellers the perfect opportunity to enjoy a well-deserved English breakfast.
Across the moors, innumerable well-kept hiking paths make for comfortable walking even when you’re carrying gear. Due to the climate and the ever-present chance of rain, however, you should definitely pack a waterproof jacket and a pair of rain trousers. Even if the forecast says it’ll be sunny!
Before you camp anywhere on Dartmoor, it’s incredibly important you check the military’s firing timetable. Much of the park is still used today for training purposes. Divided into three ranges (Okehampton, Merrivale and Willsworthy), the British Army still uses the park for firing practice, which isn’t something you want to accidentally stumble into.
The military’s timetable for all firing on Dartmoor is outlined here. The ranges themselves can be identified by red and white postings which have been erected around the sites.
Update August 5th
Because of the sheer volume of rubbish left by campers, the Dartmoor National Park Authority is issuing a 27-day ban, starting on Friday, August 7th. Park authorities found 70 tents and 50 fire pits on one night in July alone! One park ranger said he had “not experienced anything like this before”, including “littering, human waste and fires” damaging habitats and wildlife. They now hope to allow the area to regenerate during this period of time. Please people: if you camp, leave no trace behind.