free camping blm and national forest land
7 Mar / 2013

Enjoy Your Right To Free Camping On BLM And National Forest Land

Is your budget feeling a bit stretched by the high cost of long-term camping?

Then you may be surprised to find out that there are huge areas of the American West where you can simply pull off the road and camp for free. And when I say "huge," I mean HUGE!

All you have to do is look at your map to find areas marked as National Forest or BLM land, and you'll see that they literally are everywhere. These lands are owned by the Federal Government. (BLM stands for the Bureau of Land Management). And you have the right as a citizen to politely pull off the road and set up camp, so long as there isn't some local ordinance against it. It really is that easy.

Public lands held by the National Forest Servi...

Public lands held by the National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management in the Western US. Data from http://www.wildlandfire.com/docs/2007/western-states-data-public-land.htm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of the cheap and free campgrounds listed on FreeCampsites.Net are within BLM or National Forest lands. Some are hardly more than a picnic bench and a fire ring, and maybe an "iron ranger" box for you to honorably deposit your small camp fee. Many more, though, are completely primitive sites with maybe a fire ring and a signpost, OR... nothing at all but an obvious clearing where others have camped. But the simple fact is, that if are a self-sufficient boondocker, you don't need to spend any time at all researching official campsites. You can simply drive into a pretty area, find a spot you like, and camp as long as you like.

There is usually just one rule that you should check on, and that is the one about the "dispersed camping" time limit. Typically the rule is that you can't spend more than 14 days in a row in the same spot. After 14 days you'll need to drive to a different location at least 30 miles away until a certain amount of time has passed (usually 14-76 days) before you can return.

Note: Some experienced boondockers will tell you that the farther you get off the beaten path, the less likely a ranger will even know you're camping out there. While it's cool to know that one could actually get away with a much longer stay, I prefer to keep to the "honor code". (And after 1-2 weeks, I tend to get excited to check out new areas anyway!)

Continue Reading: How To Find Dispersed Camping Sites

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6 thoughts on “Enjoy Your Right To Free Camping On BLM And National Forest Land”

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  2. James

    This is probably a dumb question but can you camp on any BLM land or are exceptions you should look out for?

    1. Hi James! Not a dumb question at all. There are exceptions everywhere, and that applies to National Forests and other public lands as well. It surprised the hell out of me the first time I ventured out into a National Forest and found a lot of it fenced off as “Private Property” (What?!) I still don’t understand how that works, but it’s true everywhere. Also some places only allow camping at designated sites, and many places, even with unrestricted dispersed camping, simply have nowhere to pull off the road to camp! In BLM land especially you may also want to research which areas are popular shooting areas and ATV areas if you prefer peace and quiet.

      The absolute way to stay on top of current restrictions is to stop at the local ranger stations and collect their maps and ask questions.

    1. Often, but yeah…”Not always”. Or the signs have fallen down or have been destroyed for target practice.

      National Forest land is pretty good about signage, but protected areas are always changing seasonally, so you need to check the kiosks and if you plan to get remote, check the latest road usage map from the ranger station.

      BLM land, though, is basically government owned “wasteland” and campers and conservation aren’t usually their priority, but rather providing space for “desert shenanigans” – like ATVing, shooting practice, and bonfire parties. I think of it more as “camp anywhere at your own risk” if you’re interested in quiet.

      In any case, just for casual camping, it’s easy enough to just look for places where others are camping. If no one is around, fire pits are a dependable clue. It mostly gets confusing where you find lots of fences and signs where different properties intersect, sometimes with wilderness areas or “state trust” lands, which I’m still generally confused about. 🙂

  3. Tom

    Not real sure on the State Trust lands either, but one thing I do know is that you must have a permit anytime you are on their land.

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