June 29, 2023
People planning to camp on BLM lands are often camping enthusiasts that want to try a different location for their vacation. If you’re part of the camping community and love camping options that allow you to seek solitude in nature, this article is for you.
What is BLM camping, and what are the benefits you can get out of camping on these lands? Where can you find these dispersed campsites in the United States?
What are the permits, fees, and limitations that campers should consider when planning for a BLM camping trip?
This article will offer an overview of what BLM camping is about and how to camp on these lands. This write-up will also enumerate the pros and cons of camping on BLM lands.
We’ll also give you tips to help you plan a BLM camping trip, including what to prepare and what to expect from these excursions.
If you need a handy destination locator to plan your next BLM camping trip, you can visit AreaGuides.net. You’ll have access to an updated online directory of vacation destinations, restaurants, hotels, and businesses in Los Angeles, Oklahoma, Seattle, San Diego, Austin, and other cities in the U.S., to help make your road trip enjoyable and memorable.
The Basics of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Camping
Smart American travelers find camping opportunities on BLM undeveloped public lands. However, before you head out to pitch your tent and commune with nature, here are the basics of BLM camping that you must understand.
What Is BLM Land?
BLM land is a place managed by the Bureau of Land Management. These areas are primarily open for camping to people wanting to experience a dispersed campsite or a developed campground.
Camping on BLM Lands
The BLM has many areas perfect for camping that are not known to many people. These lands are often unspoiled by progress, have a preserved fresh vibe, and are a good place for peace and relaxation.
If you’re looking for a new place to pitch your tent and have a real getaway from urban life, then BLM public lands may be an excellent place to start. BLM areas include state parks, national parks, forests, and offroad campgrounds.
However, make sure that you understand and follow the regulations placed by the bureau in these BLM camping areas.
How to Reserve a BLM Campsite
Although BLM campsites welcome visitors on a first come, first served basis, you can register through its partner’s website, Recreation.gov. All you need to do is go to that site, search for any public land on its listing, and then book a visit.
Seasonal changes may affect the availability of campsites, so keep that in mind when you look for public lands for your next vacation.
Is BLM Camping Free?
First, you must understand the two main types of camping lands:
- Dispersed campgrounds: These lands are open for camping but not among the designated campsites.
Dispersed camping means little or no services are available. While there may be no tables, fire pits, or trash removal, some dispersed camping areas may have toilets.
- Developed campgrounds: These are often located outside floodplains, far from flash flood-prone areas.
Developed campsites have physical improvements like restrooms and other essential amenities.
Exception to Free Camping on BLM Lands
BLM campgrounds that provide amenities and other services require fees to help maintain the facilities. So, BLM campgrounds with bathrooms and trash cans that keep the place clean may ask for entrance fees.
However, camping on BLM lands is mostly free. Camping grounds that only have picnic tables in designated picnic areas usually don’t charge any fees for entrance to or use of camping grounds. Still, you have to be responsible and help maintain the campsite and not pollute it with trash.
What’s the Purpose of BLM Land?
The BLM manages government-owned land monitored by the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Congress. Below are two main reasons why the government continues to manage these large swathes of land in the United States.
Energy Independence and Sustained Yield
To promote energy production and independence, the government manages the surface area and what’s under the land, like minerals, oil, and other valuable deposits. Sometimes, the government rents out the land to companies for possible exploration of potential energy resources.
BLM land is also used to protect wildlife, ensure grazing fields for animals, and timber production in forest areas.
Recreation and Culture
The vast public lands can provide areas for recreational activities like mountain biking, hiking, and camping.
BLM grounds also include national parks, monuments, and historical sites that ensure the promotion of culture in the country.
Bureau of Land Management Dispersed Camping
BLM lands are open for anyone wanting to spend the great outdoors for free with no need for reservations. The BLM works with other agencies to protect these vast swathes of land in the United States.
Dispersed Camping Rules and Regulations
Dispersed camping means camping in places without any modern amenities provided by other campsites.
Note that dispersed camping isn’t “glamping” or camping with all the modern necessities present. You won’t find stores, restrooms, or other services in dispersed camping areas.
“Leave No Trace” Camping Principles and Dispersed Camping
BLM lands require those planning a dispersed camping vacation to follow the leave-no-trace principles in every campground they enter.
The leave-no-trace principles are the following:
- Always plan in advance and prepare.
- Consider resilient types of terrain to travel and camp on.
- Observe proper waste disposal. Dispose of human waste properly by burying it away from any water source or through a portable toilet instead.
- Only have fires when permitted. Don’t make new fire rings or fire pits outside your permit area. Strictly observe fire restrictions.
- Preserve and respect wildlife.
- Leave everything you find behind aside from what you brought.
- Be considerate of other campers enjoying their camping experience.
Wildfires and severe forest fires have plagued states like California, resulting in fire bans in many campgrounds. However, the BLM has eased fire restrictions, allowing campfires again.
Campfire permits are required outside developed campgrounds. You can apply for a permit online through a local campground’s field office or website.
How Long Can You Camp on BLM Land?
Camping on public lands or those managed by the BLM is called dispersed camping. The BLM allows dispersed camping for a maximum of 14 days within a 28-consecutive-day period.
Camping limits can vary per office, so you should check out your local office. Also, when you camp in these areas, you’re not allowed to leave personal property unsupervised or unmanned for more than 10 days (12 months in Alaska).
Where Can You Camp on BLM Land?
When you visit websites that provide information on BLM camping destinations, you’ll see camping areas in almost every state. Common sites are those near national parks and forests.
Almost 80% of all BLM lands are “open lands.” These areas usually don’t have signage and are open for camping. Open land areas are often leased to mining and lumber companies.
These places are usually cordoned off by fences or boundaries. Still, you can camp freely in open lands only if you observe these guidelines:
- You can only drive your vehicle on established roads or trails to the open land area of your choice. Driving off-road is not allowed.
- You can only camp in cleared lands or areas previously used for camping. You’re not allowed to make new campsites or clear ground.
- You can camp on land free of bushes and trees and far from animal habitats or areas with archaeological remains.
- You can’t camp within 200 feet of any stream, lake, pond, or river.
- You must be respectful of other campers in the area. Don’t be loud, maintain cleanliness, and leave the place in a better condition than when you came.
Some areas in open lands are privately owned properties, and trespassing is an offense. You should get permission from the owner to pass through their land.
Meanwhile, some open lands share boundaries with nearby cities, and city regulations are enforced. You should contact local city officials regarding the use of the property as a camping site.
Developed Recreation Areas
Developed areas are BLM lands with some development, usually for recreational use, to provide campers with basic camping needs like a camping place, fire pits, toilet facilities, and information kiosks.
Most off-highway vehicle (OHV) areas are under this category. At an OHV area, staging areas where campers and toy haulers set up are common. Larger areas are set aside for vehicular use.
Developed recreation areas usually have day use-only trailheads, wildlife observation decks, and picnic grounds. Camping in these areas is not allowed.
Meanwhile, areas designated as long-term visitor areas (LTVA) sometimes require fees.
National Conservation Lands
Most lands that fall under this category are national parks, national monuments, and areas under conservation. Dispersed camping is possible in these areas, but you should get information from visitor centers in each area.
You may have to acquire a camping permit for these places. Most of them are free of charge. You may also have to camp in designated areas in these locations.
These areas are part of the National Conservation Lands but with more rules. RVers, campers, or motor vehicles are not allowed in these areas, and only tent camping is permitted. You can park your vehicles in a designated parking area, although it’s not monitored.
There are dirt trails in these areas that are public land where you can set up your camp. You can stay in these areas with your vehicles but not cross into the wilderness areas. When camping on or near these dirt road trails, ensure you don’t block traffic to avoid inconvenience.
BLM-managed areas include national landmarks, historic sites, wilderness areas, trails, national scenic areas, and public lands.
- Alaska: Most of Alaska is uninhabited, but the bureau manages these areas to ensure its ecosystem’s preservation and its wildlife’s natural habitat. Alaska is currently the largest BLM-managed area in the United States.
- San Juan National Forest: This area comprises 1.8 million acres of land in Colorado. The Durango Recreational Area is located in this national forest.
- Mojave Trails National Monument: These areas have lava flows, dunes, and deserts, which were once part of the trade route used by Native Americans.
Other popular BLM-managed areas you can check out are the Valley of the Gods, Red Rock Canyon, Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area, and Browns Canyon National Monument.
There are thousands of campsites managed by the BLM in the United States. Most areas are simple campsites with a clearing, picnic tables, toilets, fire pits, and a potable water source.
When planning a camping trip to these sites, make sure they have the amenities that you need.
You can check out the other BLM-managed campsites in the country:
- Darby Well Road, Arizona
- Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Colorado
- Carrizo Plain National Monument, California
- Carbella Recreation Site, Montana
Developed Campsites vs. Dispersed Campsites
Developed campsites are almost similar to traditional campsites. They provide access to essential utilities, toilets, and picnic tables. Still, you can bring your camper or trailer to developed campsites with designated parking areas.
Dispersed campsites don’t have the utilities mentioned above, but you’ll get a much quieter and more nature-focused camping experience.
Developed BLM Campgrounds: Permits, Fees, and Limitations
When planning a camping trip, consider the additional regulations that area officials impose on their campgrounds. You can check these before deciding whether camping in developed areas is for you.
Consider the following when going to a developed BLM campground:
- Fees may vary depending on your location.
- Campsites are considered rented only after full payment of fees.
- Payments should be made within 30 minutes after occupying a campsite.
- Campers are typically limited to a two-week stay in any campsite in a month. Still, the duration can vary depending on your location.
- Personal property cannot remain in the campsite for more than 72 hours.
You can check the official campsite pages for BLM lands to know more about the fees and limitations in these areas.
Also, check the campgrounds first online or through a call to know if they’re open. Some campsites become unavailable because of weather conditions.
Dispersed BLM Camping: Campsite Selection
For those wanting a more personal experience with nature, dispersed BLM camping may be the option. You can camp in an undeveloped area near a national park and spend the rest of your vacation in peace.
You may find like-minded people also in search of a time out from daily life, but you’ll still find that spot where you, your family, and friends can hang out and enjoy the great outdoors. Dispersed camping, despite it being free, has regulations as well.
The downside to dispersed camping is that most areas are inaccessible to vehicles. You can’t bring RVs and campers to these areas, so you’ll need to bring tents and be ready for a considerable amount of walking, trekking, and occasional hiking.
When choosing campsites for dispersed camping, it’s best to choose existing ones that have already been cleared. This option helps protect the area as you won’t need to clear a campsite.
If you’re an RVer and crave dispersed camping, you can find a campsite with camper or RV parks. You can also ask if there are special offers for overnight camping.
How Can I Get a Camping Permit?
You can camp on these sites for free or head on the BLM website and search for areas that require permits and passes provided by the agencies managing these lands in the country.
Where Is Dispersed Camping Allowed?
Dispersed camping is camping outside the designated camp area. In most campgrounds, dispersed camping is allowed in a one-mile perimeter from a campground and 100 feet from any stream. For safety, you’re not allowed to camp within 150 feet of any roadway.
The U.S. Forest Service Dispersed Camping (USFS)
The Forest Service agency manages 193 million acres of public lands. The agency also helps other states or private agencies get the budget they need.
The USFS allows dispersed camping for up to 16 days. However, campers must relocate at least 5 miles away from the last camping spot.
Spending more than 16 days of any 30-day period (one month) at the same dispersed camping area is not allowed.
Tips for Camping and Playing on BLM Land
You only need five helpful tips to ensure your BLM camping experience is memorable.
- Visit the local BLM field office or website.
- Always come prepared with everything you need.
- Ensure that you leave the place in a better state than before you came.
- Maintain friendly relations and give space to others.
- Share your love of camping with others. Find ways to ensure you have good access to communication.
There are services today that offer satellite internet and telephony for places that are not connected to the grid. You can get these services, especially if you’re an avid camper.
Essentials of BLM Camping
Note that BLM campsites have little to no amenities and utilities. Your best choice is to pack all your supplies before the trip or get the things you need along the way.
When you go on a BLM camping trip, you’ll need these essentials to ensure a good experience in these secluded areas:
- Solar panels for portable energy
- Batteries for added energy source
- Tables and chairs
- Tire mats for camping at RV parks
- Pocket money
Advantages of Camping on BLM Land
Advantages of camping on BLM land include the following:
- It’s free for everyone.
- It’s perfect for people wanting peace, quiet, and solitude.
- It’s still pristine and untouched by modern development.
Disadvantages of Camping on BLM Land
Disadvantages of BLM camping lands include the following:
- They’re unmarked and often hard to locate.
- They’re first come, first served, and they don’t need reservations.
- They often lack a potable water source and established fire pits.
How to Find Camping Spots on BLM Land
There are many resources you can go to when looking for camping spots in BLM lands. Below are sites you can visit to get more information.
Bureau of Land Management Website
This is the leading website to find information about BLM public lands. You’ll get info about websites and maps of available campgrounds on this website.
Bureau of Land Management Field Offices
After choosing your location on the main BLM website, you can head over to their local field offices. You can get detailed information about the campsite you’re interested in, learn the condition of the place, and get an idea of whether you can bring your camper or RV.
The Campedium website offers an interactive online resource to those interested in developed and dispersed campsites. You can sign up on this website and use its overlay option to better use BLM maps.
This website lists all the available campsites in BLM lands and who manages them. The site provides information on free campgrounds and boondocking locations.
On this website, you can find dispersed campsite information that’s not present on other review sites. However, the website doesn’t always specify the management in an area.
BLM Camping Maps
If BLM lands interest you as a campsite option, get camping maps showing these areas in the United States. Visit the official BLM website to download or print the files.
BLM Camping Destinations: What Are the Best States for BLM Camping and Recreation?
Many camping destinations are still waiting to be discovered by avid camping adventurers. Below are some of the recommended BLM destinations, including three of the best states people flock to when looking for BLM camping and recreation.
Here are some of the recommended camping areas in Arizona. You can search these areas on the official BLM website to learn more about their availability. Here are some of the most popular BLM areas in this state:
- Schnebly Hill Road
- Edge of the World
- Coconino Rim Road
- Saddle Mountain Overlook
- Mogollon Rim Road
- Peralta Canyon
- Palm Canyon Road
- Pinery Canyon Road
- Craggy Wash
- Badger Creek Overlook
- Harshaw Road
Here are some popular camping destinations for both dispersed and developed camping areas in California:
- Alabama Hills
- Painted Canyon
- Usal Beach
- Prewitt Ridge
- Owens River Road
- Hope Valley
- American Girl Mine
- Furnace Creek Road
- Carrizo Plain
- Keysville SRMA
- Lava Beds Road
Another popular area for camping in both dispersed and developed BLM lands is Utah state. Here are some of the popular camping areas in this area:
- Muley Point
- Valley of the Gods
- La Sal Loop
- Diamond Fork Canyon
- Cottonwood Canyon Road
- Gooseberry Mesa
- Hole in the Rock Road
- Silver Island Mountains
- Tom’s Best Spring Road
- Jug Hollow
- Spiral Jetty
More About Camping on BLM Lands
Campers long for uncommon areas with fewer visitors but with the most amazing views. BLM can provide these kinds of scenic locations through their list of campsites that are free for anyone to enjoy.
How Much Is BLM Land in the USA?
Currently, the BLM monitors roughly 245 million acres of land in the United States. These lands are distributed in all 50 states, and this agency manages all of those areas. The BLM manages the largest amount of public lands in the country.
History of the Bureau of Land Management
The bureau was founded in 1946 by President Harry S. Truman by combining the U.S. Grazing Office and the General Land Office. This old institution managed the government lands since 1812.
In 1862, the Homestead Act was formed to allow people to freely claim government land to use and develop.
Today, the Department of the Interior oversees the BLM and all its operations and management of wildlife conservation and recreational activities in government lands in all 50 states.
Discover the Best Free Camping in the U.S.A.
BLM lands are one of the go-to options for people who want a great area to camp without worrying about hefty entrance fees. If you want a nice, quiet place to enjoy nature, then BLM camping may be your choice.
You can always get information about BLM campsites by visiting their official websites or field offices.
Have a Great Trip!
BLM lands are everywhere, from Nevada to New Mexico, California to the East coast. These lands are a vast part of the United States that is not regularly visited by people, and it’s up to you if you want to visit these areas.
Common Questions About Camping on BLM Land
- Is it safe to camp on BLM land?
Yes, if all the necessary precautions are taken. You need to be prepared, stock up on essentials, have information on various emergency services near the area, and have gone through the field offices or area personnel that manages the campsite.
- Is BLM camping worth it?
Yes, it’s worth it. BLM lands are untouched, which most people in the U.S. haven’t seen yet. So, if you’re looking for a new place in the country where you can memorably spend your vacation time, then BLM is an option.
- Can you boondock on BLM land?
Boondocking is another term for dispersed camping. You can enjoy dispersed camping in BLM lands.
- Can you just camp anywhere?
No, there are areas where you can’t camp, even in locations for dispersed camping. Essentially, you can’t camp near streams or on private property..
- Can I live on BLM land?
No, you are usually limited to a two-week stay out of a 30-day period in a campsite. However, regulations may vary depending on your location.
- What are all the states that have BLM and free camping?
There are BLM lands for camping in all 50 states. You can check the BLM website for more information about the specific locations of these campsites within a state.
- Are BLM campsites first come, first served?
There are no reservations in BLM campsites. The first ones to arrive get to pitch their camp first.
You can go to AreaGuides.net and see the establishments near your location. You’ll find hundreds of business listings in any area you are in. It’s best to have an online directory during your camping trips.