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'Wild camping' is permitted in France, but not in national parks, according to this question.

How strictly is this enforced, and what are the consequences of camping in the a national park? Are campers just told to move on, or are there legal consequences? Are there potential fines involved, or cautions?

For reference, I am talking about 1-2 people in the mountains, no fire, only staying in a given spot for one night (pitching around 11pm, leaving around 6.30am) as part of a several-day hike.

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    Beyond the rules, what matters is also the protection of the park. National Parks are designated areas to protect, so any practice (forbidden or not) should avoid destroying/altering the environment. – Vince Apr 25 '16 at 9:10
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See articles R111-32 to R111-35 of the "Code de l'Urbanisme" created by Décret n° 2015-1783 du 28 décembre 2015 relatif à la partie réglementaire du livre Ier du code de l'urbanisme et à la modernisation du contenu du plan local d'urbanisme

Camping out of campsites can be prohibited on protected sites, national parks, within 200m of water sources, near historical monuments... or by the mayor for particular reasons (such as safety, health, monuments...). To be valid, the ban must be signaled to the public on panels (usually located near the town hall) and panels at the main entrance of the sites where camping is banned.

Indeed, camping in french national parks can be prohibited, in which case the sanctions are listed in articles R331-62 to R331-76 of the Code de l'envrionnement. For instance, if the guard is willing to make an example:

  • Camping: R331-64: 3rd class fine (450€), + R331-71: the tent can be confiscated.
  • My LED light is on: R331-65: artificial light, 4th class fine (750€) +R331-71.
  • I left a bottle of water out of the tent: R331-64, litter, 3rd class fine (450€)+R331-71.
  • I am smoking a cigar (bad taste...): R331-67: 5th class fine (1500€) +R331-71...

Since these kind of fines "contravention" are cumulative : 450+750+450+1500=3150€.

R331-70: If you are in a "réserve intégrale", all of these fines become 5th class (1500€). You will soon be above 3750€: your fault becomes a crime and the tribunal is free to set the level of your fine. +R331-75 : I may have to pay someone to restore the place to its original state.

Consider respecting the rules!

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Indeed you cannot camp, but you can "bivouac", even in protected areas (for example in the Mercantour, near where I live).

This is the same as camping, but:

  • The tent must be set at/after sundown, and removed at/before sunrise
  • You cannot camp more than one night in the same place
  • You should use "light" camping gear, like ultra light tents, tarps, or just sleeping under the stars (i.e. no 30 meter square tents)

Be aware that it is not always explicitly allowed, sometimes just tolerated (important difference in France!) and sometimes allowed (written at the entrance of the park), meaning that if you are a mountain lover, quiet, respectful, etc, you won't have any issues in case you encounter a ranger. But if you camp with music and want to party, that could be different!

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The shortest answer on this question is: in some places it’s legal, in most places it’s illegal. That said, it’s tolerated most of the time, with the exception of certain regional and national parks.

In general, the laws around wild camping are meant for camping cars, gypsies, long-term wild campers, etc. They are not meant to target a hiker who doesn’t make a mess, stays discreet and only stays for one night.

Because of this, they came up with the word bivouac. This generally means pitching your tent in the evening and leaving in the morning, using a small/light tent. Note that the term bivouac can be open for interpretation (especially in other countries).

Sometimes a bivouac is only allowed with a bivy sack, or sometimes not even that. This is kind off a gray zone. However, as long as you are respectful and don’t stay too long in one place (settle down late in the evening and leave early in the morning), you should be totally fine (even when using a tent).

To summarize, you can wild camp legal if:

  • You have permission of the owner of the land.
  • In certain areas
  • With special permission

Now, you might wonder what these "certain areas" are. Well, most national and regional parks in France have their own rules. If they don't have their own rules, the national rules apply (which means it's illegal).

You can find a full overview of the rules in the national/regional French parks in this article that I wrote: Wild camping in France: complete guide.

Actual legal information on a national level can be found here.

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Depending on the region and season, nobody might notice your presence. BUT if you get caught, then you might get a fine. It is hard to predict how frequently you'll get a fine. Sometime the forest guard will just explain you why this is forbidden and that's it. But sometime, they will also give you a fine...

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