Home » Can You Have Fires On The Beach: Everything You Need To Know

Can You Have Fires On The Beach: Everything You Need To Know

The beach is a wonderful place to enjoy the outdoors from day break until well after the sun sets.  And what could be better than closing out a fun filled day on the beach by warming the night with a fire? 

But don’t be so hasty.  Are you sure fires are legal on your slice of the beach?  I’ve built my fair share of beach fires but you should know the rules before following my lead.

In general, you are allowed to build fires on the beach in some areas of the US.  However, beach fires are not legal on all beaches or in all coastal states.  Even in states where fires are legal on coastlines, there are also park or local municipal rules that dictate when and where fire are permitted, if at all.

Ultimately, it is your responsibility to know the rules before you spark up a fire on your favorite spot in the sand.  Good thing for you, I have taken it upon myself to demystify the rules as best I can.  Take a look below to find out everything you need to know before meeting up with friends for a fire on the beach.

Coastal states where beach fires are legal

Here in the US, we are lucky to have thousands of miles of beautiful coastline beaches.  Nearly two dozen states claim all that waterfront access and a handful permit fires on certain beaches.  

Take a look at this list to see which states have public beaches where fires are legal.

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts 
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Washington

While beach fires might not be strictly prohibited in these states, it doesn’t mean all beaches are fair game.  It’s a good idea to do an internet search to see if fire restrictions are in place for the specific beach you intend to visit.  If you are still in doubt, contact a local fire department for more information.  

In addition, some states like Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine and North Carolina allow fires by permit only.  In such cases, fires are limited to a few select beaches and rules are strictly enforced.  These permits are often obtained by reservation only or are sold at designated locations during very specific times.

Residents in other states, including Washington, Oregon, California, Texas, Florida Maryland, Connecticut and even New York, have plenty of opportunities to relax on the beach and enjoy a fire with only a few restrictions.  Again, fires are not legal on all beaches and burn bans may also be in place during dry months. 

No matter what, always check for rules and regulations regarding fires at any beach you plan to visit.

Coastal states where beach fires are illegal

Not all coastal towns appreciate the smoke, mess and fire hazards that come with beach side fires.  As such, there are a handful of states the outright ban fires on their public beaches.  While there are sure to be exceptions, the states listed below make it clear that beach fires are not permitted along their shores.

  • Alabama
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Georgia
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • South Carolina
  • Virginia 

Again, there are exceptions.  New Hampshire may allow fires but only with written permission from a fire marshal, which is more work than you probably care to do.  Other places, like Delaware, have such restrictive permitting processes that it’s not worth while.  However, there are some public bonfires hosted on local beaches during the summer.

In addition, Virginia has one lone beach where fires are legal within designated areas only.  Assateague Beach is a popular spot for camping and beach side fires but the rest of the coastline is a no-go. 

Since I can’t possibly know specific rules for every beach in all these states, there may be other exceptions.  It’s much safer to assume that fires on the beach are illegal unless you find out otherwise from an official source.  

What about fires at beach parks

If the beach you plan on visiting is a state park, national park or some type of community park, there are usually beach fire restrictions in place.  In most cases, park beaches prohibit making fires right on the sand.  Most often, there will be designated fire rings placed were park officials want you to have fires.  Building a fire anywhere else is likely prohibited.

It’s rare, but some parks allow you to have fires on the beach in portable fire pits.  These happen to be a good option for any other beach that allows fires as well.  

Your best bet is to check out the website of the park you plan to visit to see if there are restrictions regarding fires on the beach.  More than likely there are.  When you’re still not sure, ask a park official on duty before sparking up a fire.

Can you bring your own fire pit to the beach

There are a lot of really awesome portable fire pits perfect for enjoying a nice, tidy fire on the beach.  In fact, many public beaches along the coast have regulations that require all beach fires to be contained in your own personal fire pit.  Again, it all comes down to the specific rules of each particular beach.  

Even if you know the beach you’re on doesn’t have any restrictions about fires, a portable fire pit is still a good idea.  Here’s why.  Beach fires leave behind unsightly messes and dangerously hot coals that impact other visitors.  A portable fire pit really cut down on that issue and you’ll have less trouble with local authorities. 

Also, the vast majority of beaches mandate that fires be less than 2 or 3 feet tall and wide.  In other words, no bonfires.  A portable fire pit helps keep your fire from getting too big.

Where should you build a fire on the beach

Once you know that fires are legal on your favorite beach, where do you build it? 

Some public beaches post areas where fires can be built.  The best place to build a fire is in designated fire rings if they are available.  If not, then pick a spot above the high tide line and at least 50 feet from flammable beach grass or shrubs.  You can tell where the high tide line is by looking for a line of washed up material like shells, seaweed or drift wood.

The most important thing to think about when picking a location to build a fire on the beach is potential fire danger if the wind picks up.  Stay well away from large piles of drift wood and vegetation.  It’s also good to dig a shallow pit in the sand.  If you don’t get to wet sand after digging a few inches down, then you are too far above the high tide line.  

Can you bring your own wood for fires on the beach

It seems like driftwood and ocean beaches go hand in hand.  For some, this seems like an excellent source of firewood.  However, it’s not always legal to burn drift wood even if fires are allowed.  

In that case, you can bring your own firewood for a fire on the beach.  Just remember that you should not transport firewood more than 50 miles to your destination to prevent spreading invasive pests.  Instead, purchase firewood locally if you are traveling more than 50 miles to the beach.  

Be aware that not all types of firewood are permitted.  Pallets, construction material or overly large pieces of wood are generally prohibited.  Stick with 16-18 inch pieces of split, dry wood so you don’t run afoul of the regulations.

What about bonfires

The word bonfire gets used a lot when talking about a party on the beach with friends.  However, there is a difference between bonfires and a regular old fire.  Bonfires are big and almost every public beach I have come across prohibits them.  

We all love a giant roaring fire but these huge blazes get out of hand fast.  Ocean winds send sparks and embers flying down the beach where they run the risk of igniting a wildfire.  I have witnessed plenty of tickets being issued to overzealous fire builders on the beach.  

Commonly, beach regulations restrict the size of fires to less than 3 feet in size.  Resist the temptation to pile on large logs or pallets to get a big blaze going.  Fires might be legal but more often than not, bonfires are illegal on the beach.  

How to responsibly have a fire on the beach

You’re ready to have a fire on the beach, right?  I’ll share my favorite way to build a fire on the beach the responsible way.

Step 1:  Pick your spot

Like I said before, always use designated fire pits if available or bring a portable pit.  If you don’t have that option, follow my advice from earlier and choose a safe spot above the high tide line away from flammable vegetation.  

Stay clear of vehicle lanes or walking areas to avoid conflicts.  And don’t forget to look for any signage indicating the area is closed to fires.  Not sure?  Always ask an official or lookup beach regulations.

Step 2:  Prep the pit

Hopefully you brought a shovel but your hands will work just as well.  Dig a shallow fire pit 3 to 6 inches down into the sand.  It’s best if the sand below is moist so there is less risk of fire spreading outside the pit.  Your fire pit should be no more than 3 feet in diameter.

Digging down helps keep the wind from disrupting your fire and blowing embers away.  Sometimes I like to use a larger drift log as a wind brake but make sure you don’t let it catch on fire.

Step 3:  Gather wood 

Now that your spot is selected and your fire pit is ready, it’s time to gather some firewood.  However, before gathering any firewood, make sure it is legal to do so.  Regulations for beaches along natural areas or parks prohibit the gathering of driftwood for any reason.  

No restrictions?  Then start collecting some driftwood to get things going.  Start with small dry pieces for starting the fire and work your way up to 3 or 4 inch diameter pieces.  Avoid long lengths of wood or use a saw or axe to cut pieces down.  

Collect enough wood for a reasonable amount of burn time before lighting the fire.  You don’t want to leave your fire unattended just to go collect more wood.

Step 4:  Light your beach fire

Starting with the smallest sticks, start building a tee-pee shaped structure with fire starting material in the center.  A fire starter or newspaper is fine.  Now, add a few larger pieces and work your way up to a couple big logs.  Use a lighter or propane torch to start your fire.  

Never use lighter fluid or gasoline.  Not only is it illegal but causes thick, black smoke to bellow from the fire.  No one around you will appreciate a fire started with gasoline.

When your fire is lit and burning good, just add logs as needed and enjoy!

Step 5:  Clean up

Part of enjoying a responsible beach fire is returning the beach to the way it was before you got there.  Nobody wants to stare at unsightly piles of charred wood or half burned trash.  

A soon as you are done with the fire, douse it with water until it’s completely out.  Make sure all the coals are cool to the touch incase someone steps there later.  Then, bury any remaining coals with sand.  

Next, return any rocks or logs used as wind breaks to their original locations and pick up any trash you may have left behind.  Finally, take a look around and confirm that everything looks safe and clean so that one day you can come back to enjoy another fire on the beach!