When campers look for dispersed campsites, they’ll often find BLM lands. Developed campgrounds and RV parks have gotten busier and overcrowded, making the desire for a peaceful trip into nature far less natural. So some like us seek ways to get further off-grid.
That’s why everyone mentions BLM lands as the go-to option for dispersed camping or boondocking, as RVers call it. Unfortunately, these areas aren’t always what they’re made out to be. Take a walk down the BLM road with us, and we’ll explain.
What Are BLM Lands?
BLM lands are public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency within the Department of the Interior.
You can find BLM lands throughout the western United States, and they encompass various landscapes, from deserts to forests to mountains. The public can use BLM lands for various purposes, including recreation, grazing, and resource extraction.
The Bureau’s mission is to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” These areas are important for environmental and economic reasons and provide numerous opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors.
The types of lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management include wilderness areas, historic trails, landmarks, and primitive public land. Some sites have fees, such as some developed campgrounds, but many RVers look to these lands for more off-grid, secluded campsites.
How Do I View BLM Land on Google Maps?
Google Maps does not specifically identify BLM land on its maps. However, It does show the Bureau’s managed sites like national monuments or developed campgrounds but doesn’t provide a way to categorize them.
To view these areas on Google Maps, you first have to identify those lands via another source, such as the website’s map or an app, such as RVLife or the US Public Lands. You could then look at that area on Google Maps if you’d like to zoom in for further detail or the Google Earth view.
What States Have BLM Lands?
BLM manages a massive amount of U.S. territory. It encompasses 245 million acres, equal to about 10% of the entire surface land mass of the country.
However, most of these protected areas lie in just 12 western states. These are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. So in general the western half of the US, because by the time the land was starting to be protected, most of the eastern regions were already sold off.
How Do You Use BLM for Camping?
For most people, camping on BLM land typically means going off-grid or boondocking — dry camping without hookups. It is generally a good way to get away from crowds, as long as you can be self-sufficient.
You may find a few fee areas, such as minimally developed campsites. When staying at any site, always follow the posted rules.
If you want boondocking or dispersed camping, you have numerous undeveloped areas across the 12 western states. However, you still have some basic rules and etiquette to follow when boondocking on public land.
Unless an area is designated as a developed campsite or conversely noted as a “no camping” zone, you can camp just about anywhere on BLM land. However, you have a 14-day limit to staying in one area for any 28-day period. After that, you have to move on. These limits are because these are for public use and not for anyone to live on long-term.
You must be self-contained. This means relying on your own supplies for food, water, power, and appropriately disposing of waste and trash.
You should also follow the Leave No Trace principles. Essentially, it means you leave any place you stay as good as or better than you found it. Don’t dump waste on the ground. Pack out all of your trash, even the little pieces of micro-trash. And if you want BLM lands to remain available, pack out any other trash you might find on site from previous visitors.
It’s also a good idea to reduce your impact on the land by doing your best to choose a site obviously already used for camping. Also, keep fires or fire rings at least 200 feet from any water source. Minimize any damage to local foliage.
Pro Tip: Make sure you know these 20 Golden Camping Rules Every Camper Should Know before you pitch your tent on BLM land.
What Is the Bad News About BLM Lands?
Though BLM land sounds like a great way to get away from it all and head out on your own, we have some bad news. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns out there.
That said, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Here are the downsides of camping on BLM land.
Camping on BLM land isn’t for everyone. It’s not the same type of experience you would expect from a developed campground that at least has vault toilets, water access, trash receptacles, fire rings, and picnic tables.
Boondocking on public lands is primarily available in remote, primitive areas. This includes places used for free-roaming livestock, mining, or oil drilling. Yes, this means you could take a walk outside your RV door and step in a cow pie.
These areas won’t have any amenities. You might end up close to a state or national park that offers certain things to do, but most areas don’t even have designated trails. You need to rough it with whatever you brought with you.
Though the Bureau of Land Management oversees these areas, they’re not your parents or a trash pick-up service. That means whatever you pack in, you need to pack out and leave the location as good or better than you found it.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Some folks simply don’t care or are negligent of their responsibilities when dispersed camping.
Instead of preserving the land, they literally trash it, leaving behind litter and any manner of garbage, even human waste. This doesn’t exactly leave the ground looking all that pristine for those of us that care enough to minimize our impact.
Because of this, some BLM campers try to pick up after others, as many areas get closed off when they are too badly damaged by disrespectful people.
Off-Road Vehicle Noise
In addition to camping, people like to do numerous other activities, such as fishing, hunting, and riding dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles.
It’s not that any of these folks break the rules or do anything wrong, but if you camp on BLM land to get away from it all, you may still find lots of noise from off-road vehicles.
However, some areas restrict such use but still allow camping. You may need to dig a little deeper to find them if you want to avoid off-road vehicle noise.
When boondocking in primitive, undeveloped areas, you can have primitive roads and campsites too.
Getting to many dispersed BLM campsites involves traveling on gravel or dirt roads and sometimes even rocky, rutted roads. These can be highly affected by rain, snow, and other weather, which may make them unstable or unsuitable for RV travel or anything other than an off-road vehicle. Even then, some roads can become impassable at times.
Accessible Areas Get Busy
When it comes to the areas that most motorhomes and RVs can get to on BLM lands you will find that many times they get crowded in the best seasons. Winter in the southwest can cause entrances to BLM areas and other wide flat areas to become quite crowded.
Just beyond these areas, it gets quiet again. But you might feel more like you are in a campground than out in nature.
Unpredictable Cell Service
Though cell phone coverage has come a long way, vast areas of primitive camping still have little to no service. If you want to go off-grid for your next camping adventure, take some basic steps to ensure your safety in an emergency.
At a minimum, you should check in with a friend, relative, or the local ranger station to let someone know where you plan to go and how long. Additionally, you may want to invest in cellular boosting technology or purchase a satellite option so that you can reach someone in case of an emergency.
Also, have at least some basic resources on hand. Plan for enough food and water for your planned stay, and ensure you have at least a first aid kit and any medications you may need.
Pro Tip: Use our Essential Guide for Backcountry Camping to ensure you have everything you need to camp on BLM land.
What Are the Benefits of Camping on BLM Lands?
It may not be as easy as you thought to get away from it all when camping on BLM lands. It takes a certain amount of research and preparedness. But you can find some benefits to camping on public lands, as well.
If you’ve done your research or at least enough scouting, camping on BLM land is a great way to escape crowds. Though more and more people go dispersed camping here, the Bureau manages 10% of the U.S. land mass. This leaves plenty of wonderful, unpopulated areas to seek out.
Camping on BLM sites can also boost your self-reliance. Plenty of resources tell you how to prepare for camping off-grid, and these lands can easily test your skills. Though you may eventually want to venture far off-grid, plenty of areas are close to populated areas where you can get your feet wet.
Probably the most popular reason for camping on BLM land is because it’s free. As long as you abide by the rules set forth by the BLM and follow the Leave No Trace principles, you have a massive amount of free camping to enjoy.
Is Camping on BLM Lands Worth It?
Camping on BLM lands isn’t a glamorous life but you can get sometimes score some amazing spots. You have to be self-sufficient with no amenities, however. You’re on your own.
Often, you may have cattle tromping through your campsite or neighbors a good mile away that still invade your quiet time with an off-road vehicle. Or you may head out to the perfect site only to find it trashed by those who came before you.
That doesn’t mean all BLM camping will make for a bad experience. Try out these public lands if you enjoy self-sufficiency and going off-grid away from the crowds. They’re still one of the best ways to do so, and they’re free!
We love BLM camping and have a few favorite spots of our own we have found over the years. Part of what’s fun is that they are so big and remote that if you put the effort in you can usually find a little piece of paradise that is all yours for a week or so.
Below is a shot from one of our favorite spots that it feels we (and our friends) only know about.
So, as long as you do your research and prepare, camping on BLM lands can make some of the greatest camping experiences you’ve ever had.
Have you ever camped on BLM land? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
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