Did you know that some of the most scenic and spacious campsites in the U.S. are free or budget-friendly? Those seeking a more natural and remote RV experience should try BLM camping. If you’re unfamiliar with BLM, intimidated to camp on public lands, or looking for campsites to add to your bucket list, this guide to RV camping on BLM land shares it all.
BLM, or the Bureau of Land Management, is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of the Interior that oversees more than 247.3 million acres of land. Much of it is available to the public for camping.
The agency’s mission is to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” While RVers primarily use the BLM lands allocated for camping, hiking, and recreation, that’s only one way the Bureau of Land Management permits its public use. It can also be used for livestock grazing, conservation, mining, timber harvesting, cultural preservation, and energy production.
It’s important to acknowledge that all BLM land originally belonged to Indigenous peoples, and that modern tribes still consider these areas sacred. While BLM land is open for anyone to use and enjoy, we are all responsible for protecting and caring for the land.
So, how can you respectfully use BLM land for camping and RVing? Let’s find out.
Where to Find BLM Campgrounds
BLM public lands are primarily located in 12 western states. This map from the Bureau of Land Management shows areas managed by the agency. States with designated land include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
There are two types of BLM camping: developed and dispersed.
Developed BLM Campgrounds
The bureau manages plenty of developed BLM campgrounds where the camping experience is similar to national and state park campgrounds, with numbered sites. Most developed BLM campgrounds charge between $10 and $30 per night. Some campsites are first come, first served, while others are reservable on Recreation.gov. Site utilities range from dry camping to partial hookups. Not all developed BLM campgrounds can accommodate large RVs.
Dispersed BLM Camping
RVers craving solitude and adventure should look to dispersed BLM campsites. This refers to parking and setting up camp on BLM land that allows overnight camping. There are no designated campsites, utilities, camp hosts, or bathhouses. These campsites are often remote, spaced far from neighboring campers, and free. RV and car camping sites are located along rugged roads, but backcountry camping is accessible by foot. Some dispersed BLM camping is only meant for hikers or overlanding vehicles, and is inaccessible or dangerous for RVs.
How to Find Camping Spots on BLM Land
Finding campsites on BLM land can be confusing. How do you know who owns the land you’re considering, or whether camping is allowed in an area? Fortunately, there are apps and resources to help you find an amazing BLM campsite.
Bureau of Land Management Website
Bureau of Land Management Field Offices
Ask managers at your local field offices about nearby camping areas. Managers can provide advice personalized to your experience and RV, as well as advise on current conditions. Field offices are great resources if you’re not sure if the area you’re considering is accessible to RVs. You can find an area’s local field office on the BLM website.
This campground review website includes developed and dispersed BLM campsite listings that are popular among RVers. Each listing includes management information for the campground—look for “BLM” below the listing name. Members can overlay the BLM map in a search to easily identify which public camping is BLM-managed. Reviews provide information from fellow RVers about accessibility, cell phone signal, and other characteristics.
This review website lists free campsites and who manages them. Many of the listings are not accessible to RVs or vehicles. Read the reviews to determine if a site is reachable by RV.
This user-sourced app includes developed and dispersed campsite listings that you might not find on other review sites, but it doesn’t always specify campsite management.
Tips for Dispersed Camping on BLM Land
If you’ve never tried dispersed camping, it can feel intimidating to start. RVing on dispersed BLM land requires boondocking, meaning camping without hookups and amenities. It’s also important to know that some BLM campsites are difficult to access, and require traversing dirt, rocky, steep, washboard, or deeply rutted roads.
Boondocking does not require a specific kind of RV or special equipment. But your RV setup may limit where and how long you can camp.
Once you’ve chosen your BLM dispersed camping area, here are some things you need to know before you arrive:
Do Your Homework
Read reviews of the BLM area in advance. Keep an eye out for reviews from campers with similar RVs or needs to your own. This will clue you into whether your RV can access the camping area, cell phone signal strength, current closures and conditions, and tips for local amenities.
This is critical if you have a larger or low clearance RV. Park your RV or trailer nearby, then investigate in your tow vehicle, on bicycle, or by foot. Make sure the road into the campsites are safe for your RV and identify a place to park.
All dispersed camping is first come, first served, and sites at popular areas are usually claimed during peak seasons. Try to arrive on weekdays or during the off-season to nab the perfect campsite.
Park Only on Already Existing Campsites
Don’t impact the land by creating a new site. You can spot existing sites by finding areas where the ground is already packed down, or by telltale fire rings. It’s also common boondocking etiquette to not park in the same site as other campers, though in some popular areas this is expected.
Respect Your Limits and Your Rig’s Limit
Higher clearance RVs allow for more rugged terrain driving. Smaller trailers and motorhomes are easier to turn around in narrow areas. If you have a big rig, chances are you’ll only be able to use BLM sites that are closer to a main road. If you’re not sure if you can safely navigate your RV, don’t proceed. It’s not worth potential damage to your RV and the land.
Have a Backup Plan
For all the reasons above, sometimes BLM camping plans don’t work out. Have a backup camping area in mind just in case.
Prepare For Alternative Power Sources
The biggest limitation to BLM camping is the lack of utilities, especially for digital nomads. If you plan to boondock for more than a few days, you’ll need an alternative power source, such as solar panels or a generator.
Limit showers and dish washing to make your tanks last longer as there is no access to water sources or dumping stations at dispersed BLM sites.
Pack In, Pack Out
There are rarely garbage cans on dispersed BLM land, so bring your trash back to town for disposal. Never litter on BLM land or dump gray or black tanks. If your camper is not self-contained, properly bury all human waste. Leftover waste is harmful to the environment and disrespectful to the local community and fellow campers.
Leave It Better Than You Found It
Some BLM camping areas have shut down due to excess trash. We must all do our part to continue enjoyment of BLM land for future generations. Take some time to pick up trash around your campsite. Learn who the first stewards of the land are, and support local tribes. Buy from local businesses in the community.
Share Leave No Trace Principles
When you tell others about BLM camping sites, also share Leave no Trace principles and resources to learn about responsible camping. This ensures that future visitors are educated to care for the land.
Know The Stay Limit
Most BLM camping areas have a 14-day stay limit within a 28-day period. This maximum may vary, so check with the local BLM field office to confirm.
BLM Camping Destinations
There are thousands of beautiful BLM locations available to campers in the U.S. Here are some popular, RV-accessible favorites:
Sand Mine Road Dispersed Camping | Overton, Nevada
Enjoy a canyon and desert mountains from this dispersed camping area, located just outside the gates of Valley of Fire State Park.
Horsethief Campground | Moab, Utah
This developed campground provides dry campsites for $20 per night. It’s located near Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park.
Darby Well Road Dispersed Camping | Ajo, Arizona
Immersed in the solitude of the Sonoran desert, this campsite is located just north of Pipe Organ Cactus National Monument.
Sierra Vista Campground | Las Cruces, New Mexico
A handful of free gravel sites stand under the shadow of the Organ Mountains. Enjoy amenities in the college town of Las Cruces, and check out nearby White Sands National Monument.
Take in sandstone views from one of 56 very popular free campsites, just a short drive from Zion National Park.
Be wowed by the peaks of the Sierra Nevada and Inyo mountains. This popular boondocking location appears as a dramatic backdrop in several movies.
Essentials for BLM Camping
BLM camping essentials include shelter and supplies to carry out your waste. These additional gear suggestions allow you to boondock longer and more comfortably.
- Solar Panels: Solar energy is a game changer for powering your water pump, lights, and keeping your devices charged. A solar suitcase is a great starter for RVers not ready to mount panels.
- Portable Power Station or Battery Banks: Lithium batteries are handy for charging cell phones and laptops for shorter off-grid stays.
- Foldable Table and Chairs: Dispersed BLM campsites don’t supply picnic tables. Bring a foldable table and chairs for outdoor grilling and dining al fresco.
- Portable Water Tote: A portable 5-gallon water tote allows you to easily fill up ahead of time.
- Traction Tire Mats: Adventurous RVers use traction tire mats when stuck in sand or mud.
- Cash: Developed BLM campgrounds tend to only accept cash for nightly fees.
Common Questions About Camping on BLM Land
BLM camping is camping on public lands or in developed campgrounds managed by the Bureau of Land Management. You can BLM camp in an RV or tent.
Most dispersed BLM camping is free, but some areas or developed BLM campgrounds charge a nightly fee.
You can boondock on most BLM public lands, however, some public lands restrict camping, so check with your local BLM field office to ensure recreation is welcome.
Most BLM camping areas are limited to 14-night stays within a 28-day period. Stay maximums can vary, so check with your local BLM field office to confirm.