National Park Week is upon us, and although the weather is a bit grubby, free entry awaits at many of our nation’s federally protected seashores, hot springs and swimming holes. Getting back to nature is what this week is all about, but for some—especially once spring finally works its magic—that can mean going au naturel.
So say you’ve decided to sunbathe the way nature intended in a far off meadow in Yosemite or a secluded stretch of Padre Island National Seashore, and Ranger Bob suddenly strolls into view, walkie-talkie at the ready. Are you good?
PJ Ryan at National Parks Traveler asked this question last week and came up with a rather vague answer: probably.
The law governing nudity in parks… doesn’t explicitly govern the explicit. Reader, meet the section of the Code of Federal Regulations that covers “Resource Protection, Public Use and Recreation.” Section 2.34 states that:
A person commits disorderly conduct when, with intent to cause public alarm, nuisance [emphasis added], jeopardy or violence, or knowingly or recklessly creating a risk thereof… Uses language, an utterance, or gesture, or engages in a display or act that is obscene, physically threatening or menacing… [Or] Creates or maintains a hazardous or physically offensive condition.
Not exactly clear-cut language here.
Ryan points out that rangers can choose to enforce state or local regulations, but as for the federal code, you’d have to be either a) engaged in a sexual act or b) aggressively nude before it’d be worth the park police’s time.
The key here is to stay away from other people, which, when you’re skinny dipping in a backcountry pond, is probably your goal anyway.
Going back to our Ranger Bob scenario, the likely outcome is that he tells you to put your clothes back on—unless he’s willing to stand behind a definition of “nuisance,” “obscene” or “physically offensive” that includes nude sunbathing away from other park goers. But that’s a lot of paperwork.
Only one unit of the NPS, Ryan found, has its own regulations about gettin’ naked: Cape Cod National Seashore. No need to reprint them here. Suffice to say an “intentional failure to cover” your bits is more or less the universal definition of public nudity.
The real takeaway here is not to flaunt it to people who don’t want to see it, and you’re likely to be in the clear.