Can you mix camping with cannabis? We asked state park rangers and their answer surprised us

A view of Yosemite National Park | tiffanynguyen / RooM

On the surface, Mother Nature and marijuana seem like a perfect match. But, as GreenState discovered, bringing along some bud in your backpack to a state or national park isn’t that easy.

While most park rangers will tell you any time of the year is a great time to camp, there’s no doubt that shoulder season – April, May, September and October – is an optimal time to get outdoors. The crowds are thinner than in the summer months, the weather is mild, and costs to camp are generally lower. Maybe you’re looking to pack a sativa-based strain to ‘elevate’ that daytime hike across the Grand Canyon. Or perhaps your favorite indica flower is really crucial to getting a good night’s sleep when your tent buddy snores louder than Yosemite Falls.

So, suppose you just returned from a lengthy hike at Castle Crags or Alpine Lakes in California. You’re sitting around the campfire with a handful of friends. The sun is setting in gorgeous shades of pink and yellow. You barely need the light jacket draped over your shoulders, and the crackling fire is a welcome invitation for you to prepare the perfect s’more.

Wait. Your friend nonchalantly taps you on the arm, retrieves a joint from her backpack and offers it to you.

No one else is around.

Weed is recreationally legal in the state, assuming you’re camping in California, Washington or Colorado. Does that mean it’s okay to light up?

Interestingly enough for Californians, a search on the California Department of Parks and Recreation website yields little to no information about marijuana following the 2018 recreational legalization.

So, I called them up.

It was a Sunday, and the park ranger on duty said that the chief ranger would be the person to respond to my inquiry. She wouldn’t be able to do so until later that week.

Fair enough, I thought, it’s still the weekend.

I was later put in touch with Adeline Yee, an information officer for California State Parks. She said that they would need to confirm with their legal team before I was given an answer we could publish, and that they would have it to me by the end of the week.

This seems particularly intriguing.

The legalization of recreational marijuana in many states is still so new, and regulations surrounding it can still be complex and unclear. As questions like ours come up, there’s a possibility they haven’t been officially considered yet.

I did finally get my answer, though.

On behalf of California State Parks, Yee said that under state law, “persons 21 and older may possess up to 28.5 grams of marijuana.” That said, smoking or ingesting cannabis products in public places is still illegal, and cannot be done in state parks, which are public lands. So, whether you’re headed to Red Rock Canyon, Angel Island, Prairie Creek Redwoods, or Calaveras Big Trees, you’ll need to abide by those regulations.

How do these rules stack up to other states with popular parks?

In Washington, marijuana usage is illegal “in public and in view of the general public.” This means that if you’re on streets, sidewalks, or generally anywhere where you might run into anyone else, like a public park, you can’t consume marijuana.

What if you’re inside your own tent or RV, though? Not there either. Originally, Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission’s Toni Droscher told the Seattle Times you could partake, but that was then, and this is now.

Washington parks managers now tell us the interpretation has been refined, and recreational cannabis use of ANY kind is now prohibited in state parks.   GreenState has contacted the commission to clarify whether medicinal marijuana is allowed, because that can come in handy for uncomfortable-sleeping-on-the-ground, camping-induced insomnia. This article will be updated with that information.

Rules are similar in Colorado due to reasons outlined in the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act. This even applies to national monuments, ski areas and resorts on federal land. (Why someone would want to ski down a mountain while high is beyond me, anyway.)

Furthermore, Colorado Parks & Wildlife says that you can’t bring your bud aboard a boat – you’ll get dinged with the same penalties for public spaces. Bodies of water like lakes, reservoirs and rivers are considered public property, so “open display or use of marijuana” is also prohibited.  And, remember boating under the influence — whether alcohol or other substances — is still illegal.

Similarly, you don’t have any leeway if you’re at a national park like Yellowstone, Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier or Yosemite. Yep, even if you’re technically within the borders of a state where cannabis is legal. That’s because these national parks fall under federal jurisdiction as national land controlled by the federal government.

In spite of all of this, there is a way to enjoy cannabis and the great outdoors – legally. In Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, privately owned weed-friendly camping areas are increasingly popping up.

In the meantime, if you’re not stingy about the type of buzz you’re getting, drinking alcohol is still allowed in California state parks. The catch? You need to keep it in your overnight campsite.

Maybe you’re not a drinker, though, and decide to break the rules. It’s true that you can’t be searched without probable cause, and the telltale odor that wafts from a joint is more likely to cause you problems than discretely ingesting an edible. If you do get caught, though, you’re risking the chance of getting kicked out of your campsite, receiving a citation or misdemeanor related charge, or worse.

It’s best to play it safe or check out a cannabis-friendly private campground near you.

EDITORS NOTE:  The Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission contacted GreenState to clarify that regulations have been updated. The article reflects the new policy that all recreational marijuana use is illegal in Washington’s state parks.