The public lands offer something for everyone in Southern California, including those who prefer to recreate in their most natural state.
The Bureau of Land Management's California Desert District this week issued new regulations for public nudity, drawing a line in the sand, so to speak, for where nudists may hike, camp and fish on public lands.
The final supplementary rules came in response to concerns from the American Association for Nude Recreation that BLM's interim rules issued last summer, which banned nudity at "developed sites" and areas open to off-highway vehicles, were too vague and could allow nudists to inadvertently enter developed areas.
"There was a concern that they could be hiking in an area and there could be a well or a fence or something that would allow the area to be classified as developed," said Lynnette Elser, planning and environmental coordinator for the agency's Southern California district, which covers some 11 million acres east of Los Angeles. "They could stumble upon it by accident, not intending to go into a public site."
The new rules clarify that wilderness areas, which cover well over a million acres in the district, are open for nude recreation as long as there are not large groups of people.
But public nudity in developed areas can create controversy and conflicts among users and cause crowd-control concerns, BLM warned.
The new rules prohibit nudity near campsites with picnic tables, toilet facilities or visitors centers, in addition to off-highway vehicle trails, BLM said.
"There has been some concern in some of the areas of high concentration of use when people are not fully clothed when there are families there with young children," Elser said.
Last summer's interim rule grew out of concerns over riotous and potentially dangerous off-highway vehicle use, including vehicle crashes and people falling off of overloaded OHVs. Nudists who ride OHVs risk more serious injuries when they fall off of vehicles because they're wearing no clothes, said Dave Graber, government affairs chair for AANR, who lives on a nudist resort south of Battle Creek, Mich.
"Nude recreation is increasing," he said. "As time goes by, it's going to be more acceptable. It's tremendously more acceptable than it was 15 years ago."
Tom Mulhall, who owns the clothes-free resort Terra Cotta Inn in Palm Springs, said nude hiking and camping are on the rise in the area thanks in part to the desert's dry, bug-free climate.
"You've got people who might want to camp away from the hustle and bustle of most campgrounds in California, who want to be out in the stars," he said. "Lots of people obviously do it clothed, but there's also a lot of people who do it nude."
Nude hiking trails, beaches
Mulhall said there are three nudist resorts in Palm Springs and a handful of nudist campground areas, in addition to travel nudist clubs that meet at members' homes or beaches.
He pointed to a growing acceptance for nude hiking in Germany, where a nude hiking trail was recently opened in Dankerode, according to Time magazine.
Mulhall said nude hiking is a favorite among locals at nearby Joshua Tree National Park, which features cultural sites and "surreal" geologic features, according to the National Park Service.
NPS also manages a "clothing optional" beach at its Sandy Hook unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area in New Jersey across the bay from Brooklyn.
Muhall said he has lobbied BLM to set aside certain public lands in Southern California and elsewhere for nude recreation, but so far to no avail. He said more people would try nude recreation if it were legalized in more places.
"You'll find that most nudists want to live and let live," he said. "They want to get along, and that's why if they are going to be using public lands, they'll go away from where other people are."
Elser said BLM received more than 40 comments on last summer's interim nudity rules. Several commenters stated that nudity is not offensive, that the public supports nude recreation and that BLM should regulate sexual or lewd acts, not nudity.
One commenter urged BLM to adopt a the ruling of a San Francisco court that women have the same right as men to be topless, but BLM said the ruling does not apply to federal lands.
Last year's interim rule followed complaints from some about mobile strip shows, naked motorcycling and women flashing their breasts, according to the Riverside, Calif., Press Enterprise.