Camping in Mother Nature’s serenity is a goal for many campers. The eerie yips of the coyotes off in the distance, the mountain vistas or vast desert lands, the smell of pine, campfires, and fresh air–it’s all an incredibly relaxing experience. More often than not, these spots are on BLM land if camping in the united states.
These government-owned campsites are a fantastic place to enjoy the great outdoors. You just need to know how to camp there.
What Is BLM Land?
First, you need to know what BLM land is, so let’s tackle that acronym. BLM stands for the Bureau of Land Management. Most of us think of BLM as free camping sites, places that offer campers the beauty they’re seeking in nature without charge. However, many lands the BLM maintains have purposes besides camping.
According to their website, “The BLM’s mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
BLM land is public land that has many uses, including ranching, mining and recreation. Some BLM land is also wildlife preserve and protected nature.
Most of the public lands managed by the BLM office are in the 12 western states. However, the BLM manages lands across the U.S.
About the Bureau of Land Management
The Bureau of Land Management was established in 1946, originating in 1812 as the General Land Office. Its original responsibilities were to encourage homesteading and westward migration.
Today, the BLM manages one-tenth of America’s land base for multiple uses while maintaining natural and cultural resources. That’s one out of every ten acres. It also includes managing 30 percent of the minerals found in the U.S.
Other lands include livestock grazing, forestry, and recreational destinations for biking, hiking, and camping. While most of these lands are in the western half of the U.S., you can find the grounds and minerals in every state. The topography varies widely from forest to arctic tundra to desert and everything in between.
What Is BLM Camping?
BLM camping encompasses a few different ways of overnight recreation on these public lands. Many people make the incorrect assumption that because BLM manages the grounds, it’s fair game to do anything they want with it.
However, it doesn’t quite work that way because of the many ways our public lands are used and conserved. The best way to know if you can camp on public lands is to simply read signs generally posted on these lands or refer to each area’s specific BLM websites.
When camping on public lands, most people think of this as being in the middle of nowhere with little or no amenities. In reality, camping on managed grounds can be anything from spending time in highly developed campgrounds with all the amenities to setting up a tent in the backcountry with nothing but what you’ve brought with you.
What Does Dispersed Camping Mean?
Dispersed camping is one way to differentiate the many forms of camping on public lands. If you’re camping for free without amenities and away from developed recreational activities, it’s generally considered dispersed camping.
You can use most public lands for dispersed camping as long as it doesn’t interfere with wildlife management or land conservation. Before setting up camp, try to find a spot someone has already used as a campsite. You can generally spot signs like a flattened area and tire tracks that lead into the site. The less impact we have on public lands, the more we’ll be able to keep camping on them.
Is It Safe to Camp on BLM Land?
Nobody’s safety is guaranteed at any time or anywhere. You’re responsible for doing the things you need to do to feel safe, which may include simple necessities like having fresh drinking water. Or it may consist of something more serious such as carrying weapons. (Check out the state rules for this first!)
Since BLM is not monitored all the time there may be dangers just to being out there like wild animals or uncovered mines.
The general rule when camping anywhere is to trust your gut and know what you and your vehicle are capable of.
For example, if you’re heading down a ten-mile rutted four-wheel-drive road that leads you into a canyon without cell service, are you prepared? Do you have a plan if you have a tire blowout or there’s a knock in the middle of the night?
Do your research ahead of time so that you know the general layout of the land, where to access emergency services if needed, and others’ opinions of how safe an area may or may not be.
In the end, camping on BLM land can be just as safe, if not safer, than camping in an RV park in Chicago, let’s say. If you’ve done the research ahead of time and know to trust your instincts, you’ll be fine.
How Long Can You Stay on BLM?
If you’re camping in a developed campground, each site will have varying limits on your stay. Most will have a maximum time of two weeks. Always read and follow the posted signs and instructions. Don’t leave personal property unattended for more than 72 hours.
Dispersed camping in any area is usually limited to 14 days within a 28-consecutive-day period. Those 14 days can either be continuous or separate visits. After you’ve reached your 14-day limit, you should move at least 25 miles away if you plan on camping at another BLM site.
These rules should help protect the lands and reduce and prevent damage to plants and wildlife due to continual human activity. Don’t leave personal property unattended for more than 10 days.
Each state and site may have different limitations, so be aware of those whenever staying on public lands. Always follow the limits on overnights. There’s nothing worse than getting a ticket for overstaying your welcome. Your free camping can become quite expensive if you do.
How Much Does It Cost to Camp on BLM Land?
When people think of camping on BLM land, they generally think of free camping. While this is usually true with dispersed camping, there may be fees, even when camping in the middle of nowhere.
If you’re camping in a developed site on BLM land, you’ll generally have to pay a fee to do so. This fee helps cover the costs of maintaining the amenities. Most BLM campgrounds will have vault toilets and trash receptacles, but you might also come across some with additional amenities such as picnic tables and fire rings.
The fee to camp in developed sites can vary greatly depending on amenities, region, or states. You could pay $3 a night or $25 a night, but the fee is generally around $10-$15 a night. If you do have to pay for dispersed camping, it will be relatively minimal. More often than not, you won’t be paying a fee for the camping itself but more for maintaining an area that’s often overused.
Nothing is ever truly free, so take care of where you camp. Most times, that’s the best way to pay it forward when camping is free.
→ BLM camping isn’t always a great experience. Know the Bad News about BLM Lands before you go.
How Do I Find BLM Land?
Back in the old days, people used to talk to other people when traveling. They’d visit a town and immediately seek out a ranger station, law enforcement agencies, or a public office asking for the best camping spots. This is still one of the best ways to find BLM land, as you might come across hidden gems only locals know.
However, in the 21st century, we love our technology, and there are plenty of apps and online resources to help you locate BLM land. To name just a few:
- Local BLM websites/ranger stations
Another good resource is the public lands app for smartphones. This app shows all BLM public land in the US.
While this will not show you campsites it helps to verify you are on BLM land as many times there are no signs. We once thought we were on public land, but got a knock asking us to move because we were on a ranch. Ever since we check the public lands app.
There are other resources as well–just type in a few keywords, and in seconds you’ll have access to directions, reviews, road conditions, images, cell service capabilities, things to do in the area, and more.
Tips for Camping on BLM Land
Once you find the perfect spot to set up camp on public land, it helps if you know some of the area’s rules and expectations. Many campsites and regions will have information on the area and guidelines for you to follow, but in general, here’s what you should know.
Read Reviews When Choosing a Site
Reading reviews can help you determine if a specific BLM site will work for what you need. But remember to take these reviews with a grain of salt. For example, one person’s terrible road could be your greatest adventure.
Pack It In, Pack It Out
Most BLM sites don’t have trash service or other amenities, for that matter. So, whatever you bring in, you also bring out. The more trash that remains on-site could mean the less access we have to BLM lands in general. If we don’t care for the land, we’ll lose access to it.
Be Respectful of Other Campers
Many campers enjoy the use of BLM lands, and some areas can get quite crowded. Be respectful of other campers’ space. Remember to use your generator during respectable times and stay quiet during the late evening and early morning hours. The kinder we are to each other, the more we’ll all enjoy the beauty that Mother Nature and the Bureau of Land Management offers.
Obey Posted Rules and Stay Limits
Just because it’s free or cheap camping doesn’t mean there are no rules to follow. Many places have informative signs posted at the entrance to campsites.
Stop. Thoroughly read the rules and guidelines. Then follow them. It’s as simple as that.
BLM Lands Are Priceless
The sounds of Mother Nature are much easier to hear while camping on BLM lands. The stars shine brighter. The sunrises and sunsets are more vibrant. And the joy we get from being off-grid with other like-minded campers is priceless.
Who can put a price on something like camping on BLM lands? That, too, is priceless.
If you want to camp in nature but are intimidated by the thought of camping off-grid we have created a course for you! Boondocking 101 teaches beginners everything they need to know to comfortably get off-grid and enjoy their time. Learn more over at RV Masterclass.
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