Frequently I hear naturists make the claim, "There is no law regarding
simple nudity on Federal (National Forest Service (NFS)) land." While that
may be true on some NFS land, it isn't true on all Federal land. Also,
just because there isn't a Federal law governing an activity, that does
NOT mean that the activity is actually legal.
The subject of local law enforcement on NFS land is very tricky, and
varies from section to section and forest to forest. There are several
Cooperative Law Enforcement Agreements between Local Law Enforcement,
USDA, and NFS. The scope of these agreements varies, and you should inform
yourself about the situation in your particular area and those areas where
Here's one example:
COOPERATE AGREEMENT BETWEEN MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY
PATROL AND U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE FOREST SERVICE MARK TWAIN
NATIONAL FOREST ROLLA, MISSOURI
Under the Act of August 10, 1971, (Public Law
92-82) (16 U.S.C. 551a)
A. The Missouri State Highway Patrol agrees:
1. To continue to enforce the civil and criminal
laws of the State on lands and water within or a part of ANY Unit of the
National Forest System within the normal scope of its duty without
reimbursement by the Service.
Now, that's just a small part of that whole agreement. You can see,
however, that the agreement allows for the application of State law on
Federal land. NFS land is governed by Orders, and the administration
for each NFS region may set rules based on
36 CFR 261.
Looking at the Order for
the Southern Region, for instance, "Being publicly nude." is
The Order includes this language: "Violation of the
above is a Class B Misdemeanor punishable by fine and/or imprisonment
under 16 USC 551/36 CFR. Copies of Supervisor's Orders are on file at the
District Ranger Office and Forest Supervisor Office in accordance with 36
This is based entirely within the NFS rules. Section 261.58: Occupancy and
use. "When provided by an order, the following are
prohibited:" - and Being publicly nude is one of the prohibited
What does 'Being publicly nude' mean?
36 CFR 261.2 Definitions
Publicly nude means nude in any place where a person may be observed by
another person. Any person is nude if the person has failed to cover the
rectal area, pubic area or genitals. A female person is also nude if she
has failed to cover both breasts below a point immediately above the top
of the areola. Each such covering must be fully opaque. No person under
the age of 10 years shall be considered publicly nude.
That's fairly clear.
So, an administrator may post an Order prohibiting 'Being publicly nude'.
What is entailed in posting an Order?
(a) The Chief, each Regional Forester, each Experiment Station Director,
the Administrator of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and each Forest
Supervisor may issue orders which close or restrict the use of described
areas within the area over which he has jurisdiction. An order may close
an area to entry or may restrict the use of an area by applying any or all
of the prohibitions authorized in this subpart or any portion thereof.
(5) Be posted in accordance with §261.51 §261.51 Posting. Posting is
(a) Placing a copy of the order imposing each prohibition in the offices
of the Forest Supervisor and District Ranger, or equivalent officer who
have jurisdiction over the lands affected by the order, and
(b) Displaying each prohibition imposed by an order in such locations and
manner as to reasonably bring the prohibition to the attention of the
So, to make sure you know what the Orders for your region are, you should
check with the District Office, and look for signs with Orders posted. In
some instances - like in and around some hot springs - nudity is
officially sanctioned. Even if you do not find a specific order
against simple nudity, you can still be fined for indecency,
disorderly conduct, and a variety of other things depending on the
disposition of the ranger.
What's the penalty for violating an Order?
Sec. 261.1b Penalty. Any violation of the
prohibitions of this part (261) shall be punished by a fine of not more
than $500 or imprisonment for not more than six months or both pursuant to
title 16 U.S.C., section 551, unless otherwise provided.
Having said ALL of that, you can still enjoy Body Freedom on NFS
You have to understand the scope of the rules, and the scope of their
It's perfectly legal to shoot on NFS land, for instance. There are rules
that apply. You can't shoot everywhere. You can't shoot across roads
or trails. You can't shoot in campgrounds. You can't do anything that
might be considered 'threatening' with a firearm. If you play by the
rules, however, you can shoot on NFS land.
In our context, the rule prohibits 'public nudity', and it's important to
understand what that means. What it means is that if you don't get caught,
it isn't illegal. ;) If you stroll around in a public campground in the
nude, then you're going to get a complaint, and you're going to get a
ticket. The ticket you get will depend on the standing order, so it might
be a 'publicly nude' citation or a 'disorderly conduct' ticket. If you
give the ranger any lip, or if the ranger is having a bad day, you might
get arrested. This is arguably better than what you'd get in any
incorporated city, where you WOULD be arrested no questions asked.
Past strolling around naked at a campground, you have to consider the
scope of patrol and enforcement. "The Law" doesn't reach everywhere. For
the most part, there aren't enough NFS rangers to go around and cover
every square foot of NFS land. They mostly drive around in their pickup
trucks, check the campgrounds, drive the back roads, respond to
complaints, and look for forest fires. They don't have the manpower to be
everywhere, and most of them don't have the time or energy to walk deep in
the back country. In my area - in the South - I have NEVER seen a ranger
more than maybe half a mile down any trail or away from any road. EXCEPT
in an emergency, or those doing trail maintenance.
Due to some budget cuts, there are fewer rangers. NPS and NFS rangers are
like any other law enforcement. As a law enforcement trainer, I can speak
to this in our context. For the most part, rangers are going to stick to
'easy ground'. They are going to patrol campgrounds and other high use
areas. They are sometimes going to 'patrol' high traffic areas like trails
and canoeable streams. Really, though, it's quite rare in my experience to
meet a ranger more than a little way down any trail - and never off the
The lesson there is to simply walk far enough away from 'standard' patrol
zones to be off the radar.
The second thing to consider is the nature of NFS 'enforcement'. NFS
rangers tend to be of two types. The vast majority are easy going, very
friendly people. A very small few have bad attitudes for whatever reason.
None of them really like to write tickets - and they really don't want to
arrest anybody because it makes a lot of paperwork. ALL rangers, whether
you like them or not, are providing a service - and they ARE the GOOD
GUYS. They don't make the rules, they just enforce them.
The rules have been changing in the National Forests recently for a number
of reasons. One of the reasons is the expanding phenomenon known as the
'Rainbow Family'. Here is an example:
If you look at the report, and then you look at the new FS rules,
you'll see a correlation...
Rules are in place to make a good experience for everyone. Normally
rangers don't initiate complaints - and in some instances they cannot.
While out west I was caught skinny dipping alone by a female NPS (not NFS)
ranger. I got out of the water and covered up. She started writing me a
ticket and I said, "Did someone complain?", and she said no. I said, "Then
you can't write me a ticket." - and she couldn't. I knew the rules. She
was going to write a disorderly conduct ticket on me - a $50 fine -
because where I was nudity wasn't illegal in and of itself. But, without
the complaint, she couldn't write the ticket. We had a good conversation
and she left me alone. Now that the rules specifically censor nudity, a
ranger can initiate the complaint. There are some things to remember,
Rangers are people too, and if confronted by a ranger, it's best to cover
up, stay calm, and stay friendly. Most rangers become rangers because they
love nature as much as you do. They aren't just there to make your life
miserable. You could get lucky and wind up confronted with someone who
likes to walk naked on their off time. If you start acting like a
fruitcake or you start spouting constitutional law or you start on about
how it isn't illegal to be a human being then you aren't going to do well.
Cover up and say, "Oh! I didn't expect to meet anybody out here!" Smile.
Be polite. Be cooperative. Take the warning if you get one. USUALLY you
will simply get a, "I'm sorry, you can't skinny dip/hike naked/be naked
here." No matter what, apologize and stay friendly. Take the ticket if you
get one. Be friendly. Talk to the officer like a human being. The more
personable you are, the more likely you'll get off with a warning. If you
get a good ranger, and you are out in the middle of nowhere having a dip,
you aren't going to have any trouble at all. You might get a, "If somebody
comes along, you'll need to cover up!", warning and they'll leave you be.
If you are obnoxious, you'll just make trouble for yourself.
If you have to make any kind of defense on the spot, say things in a very
easy non-argumentative way. Pick something and stick with it. DO NOT go
into body freedom arguments, or start badmouthing 'stupid rules'. No
matter what, cover up immediately. Don't just stand there in all your
glory while the person who decides whether or not you go to jail today is
present. Pick something, say it, and, then keep your mouth shut. Say as
little as possible.
1. "I'm sorry sir/ma'am. I really thought it was acceptable to skinny dip
here. Has the rule been changed recently?"
2. "Oh, I've been walking out here for a long time, and I've never seen
anybody else. I'd cover up quick if I did. I'm not looking to shock
Stuff like that.
Things you should NOT say:
1. "I know my rights!"
2. "Don't you have anything better to do like catch crooks?"
3. "Hey, baby, wanna date?"
If you get a ticket, it's best to fight it if you can. It's better in the
long run to at least show up to a hearing and state your case. Again, be
calm and friendly. If you are belligerent to the judge, it will go badly
for you. Dress nice, show up early, and make calm and reasonable
statements. The ticket is only a misdemeanor, but it'll still cost you as
much as $500.00. If you don't have the $500.00, ask for an extension.
If you get arrested, cooperate in every way, but KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!
Don't say anything you don't have to. Get a lawyer. If you can't afford
it, contact AANR and
NAC and see if they can help
you. I can't imagine that a ranger would arrest anybody for simple nudity
so long as they weren't doing something obnoxious. Drinking and/or smoking
pot while naked is likely to land you in jail, and there isn't going to be
any body freedom defense that is going to save you from that.
In some places you might also run into game wardens but I have little
experience with them. Game wardens are rangers too, with arrest powers.
They're also frequently armed. For the most part, though, if you aren't
doing anything particularly stupid, they'll leave you alone. They have
enough trouble on their hands with poaching and other wildlife management
issues than to worry about naked people walking around in the woods. ;)
I hike in DeSoto a
lot, and I am usually nude. The new rule makes no difference to me. I'm
out on remote trails or even off trail. I have NEVER seen a ranger or
other officer down those trails. If you streak through a campground,
you're going to have a problem. If you hike nude and cover up when someone
is coming, you'll do OK.