Like the National Park Service, the mission of the Bureau of Land Management is to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
However, the 245 million (yes, million) acres managed by the BLM include wilderness areas, historic trails, landmarks, and primitive public land, is generally a lot more secluded and offers a welcomed escape from the hustle and bustle of high-traffic recreation areas.
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But just because BLM land is generally off the beaten path, so to speak, that doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of rules and regulations. A few things need to be ironed out before boondocking in the backcountry, heading off the grid in your adventure rig, or appreciating the amenities of a developed site on BLM land.
How to Find BLM Land
Check out this book to see all the options for free van camping on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands. The BLM manages one in every 10 acres of land in the United States. So, although most BLM land is located in the Western states, you shouldn’t have to venture too far to find the perfect place to pitch a tent.
One of the easiest ways to find BLM land is by leveraging the interactive maps provided by the Bureau of Land Management. Pick your destination, filter the results based on your favorite outdoor activity, or type in a few keywords to narrow your search.
A quick search for California public land catered to climbing, for example, displays several incredible wilderness areas, national monuments, and campgrounds. A detailed excerpt is provided, as well as an in-depth map, current restrictions, fees, directions, and contact information for the nearest BLM field office.
Developed Campgrounds vs. Dispersed Camping
Not all camping is created equal, especially on BLM land. If you spend enough time sifting through BLM recreation areas, you’ll notice there’s a considerable difference between developed and dispersed camping.
Developed campgrounds will typically offer more frills and facilities than dispersed campsites. So, if you’re looking for a site with filtered water, restrooms, picnic areas, or electrical hookups, you’ll have better luck looking for a developed campground. Developed campgrounds don’t always offer the same amenities, but a quick search on recreation.gov will give you a rundown of campsite features, fees, reservation requirements, and might even feature a few snapshots of your campsite.
Dispersed camping, or “boondocking,” on the other hand, requires a bit more ingenuity and adventure. Believe it or not, there are vast areas of undeveloped public land available to campers. These primitive sites are often free, peaceful, and completely self-sustained. In fact, finding a campsite is half the fun. Websites like freecampsites.net and Campendium are available to help rookie boondockers locate dispersed campgrounds.
However, the Bureau of Land Management allows dispersed camping on most public land, as long as the area isn’t already developed or designated as a ‘no camp zone.’ All they ask is that you do your part to preserve the landscape and leave the campsite better than you found it. You also can’t stay for more than 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period.
Permits and Fees
Each wilderness area or recreation site will have its own fees and permit requirements. The cost and payment methods available will vary depending on the site. While some recreation areas have a visitor center or accept electronic payments, others have a primitive approach and leave envelopes at the trailhead or campsite to deposit cash. We recommend researching the location in advance, so you have cash on hand if you need it. After all, every penny collected by the Bureau of Land Management goes back to the maintenance and preservation of our public land!
Recreation passes, like the America the Beautiful Pass, can be purchased in advance to cover entrance fees or standard amenity fees. However, advanced research on a particular site is still necessary. Additional fees may be required for camping and recreation purposes.
Rules and Regulation
Looking for information on building a fire or what to do if you encounter wildlife? Before traveling to or camping on any public land, read through the safety tips outlined by the Bureau of Land Management.
Once you’re familiar with the basics, you can do your part to preserve and protect these beautiful landscapes by abiding by the following rules and regulations.
When camping in a developed campground:
- Use explicitly marked sites
- Respect other campers by abiding by posted quiet hours
- Read posted fire regulations and keep fires within a designated ring, grill, or stove
- Do not leave personal items unattended
When camping in undeveloped areas:
- Do not camp in designated “no camp zones”
- Stay on designated roadways when traveling in a vehicle
- Try to choose a site that is already established
- Camp at least 200 feet from water sources
- Check current fire regulations and do not build a campfire when there is a risk of wildfire
- Pay close attention to signs to respect native plants and species
- If you pack it in, pack it out
From Alaska’s arctic tundra to vast spans of the desert in Arizona and public river islands of Wisconsin, America ’s BLM land contains some of the nation’s most spectacular landscapes. With millions of acres to explore, you’re guaranteed to find your slice of paradise on or off the beaten path.