The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) remains the most popular of federal lands among RVers simply because it encompasses the most acreage. But it’s also popular because it comes with the fewest rules.
The BLM allows offers two types of camping…
- Developed Areas
- Dispersed Camping
Developed areas are often free, though some may charge fees. They may offer some amenities such as pit toilets, fresh water, picnic tables, fire rings. Developed areas refers to areas that the BLM specifically designated for recreation, including camping, hiking, and OHV riding. Often, they involve campsites marked with posts, picnic tables, and fire rings. There are, however, some developed areas where dispersed camping is allowed.
Dispersed camping refers to camping where the BLM allows people to camp anywhere their vehicle can reach without doing excessive damage to plants, animal habitats, and other natural features. Dispersed camping is not necessarily free, though most of the time it is. Many Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVAs) are actually dispersed camping, but in a developed area. Most dispersed camping, however, occurs on “open lands” which are lands not otherwise designated for a specific purpose.
Any area that the BLM has given a name to, is generally considered a “developed area”. These areas have at least some kind of access road and a sign designating its name, identifying it as under BLM authority, and even include a kiosk with a map.
All BLM developed areas can be found online here: https://www.blm.gov/visit
Most developed areas are classified into the following…
- Recreation Areas – which comprises the majority of developed areas
- OHV Areas – specifically for OHV riding, allows RV camping
- Long Term Visitor Areas – campgrounds for long term RV camping (click here for more info)
- Campgrounds – for camping only
- River Access Areas – usually include camping, but all include a boat ramp
- Management Areas – usually allow camping, but most don’t have access roads.
- Viewing Areas – generally for observing wildlife, but some will include camping
- Trailheads – no camping allowed
- Day Use Areas – no camping allowed
- Wilderness Areas – no camping allowed
Most areas with camping are free, but some will charge fees. If a fee is required, it’s usually pretty low, anywhere from $5.00 to $10.00 a night, and will honor the Access Pass, Senior Pass, and Military Pass discount. None of these campgrounds, however, can be reserved in advance. They are all “first come first serve”. Payment is generally handled at a self-serve kiosk involving envelopes and a collection box. Some campgrounds will have a resident camp host who will collect fees.
Most BLM campgrounds don’t have hookups. Some of these campgrounds, however, will have some amenities including trash dumpsters, a central water spigot, fire rings, and picnic tables. There are a few BLM campgrounds that actually do have hookups for electrical, water, and/or sewer.
Generally, all BLM land is open to dispersed camping as long as it’s not a developed area, a wilderness area, day use area, or trailhead, nor lands being leased to other organizations.
If you are on BLM land, and the land is not fenced and gated, and does not have any other posted signs preventing you from camping, you can camp your RV there. Generally, you are required to keep your vehicle on established roads, but you are allowed to travel off-road as long it’s for the purpose of reaching a campsite, and you do not do too much damage to plants, animal habitats, and other natural features.
The BLM prevents you from camping at a site within 200 feet from a body of water (river, lake, etc.)
Where to Find BLM Dispersed Camping
- The official BLM map (operated by the BLM itself) is located here: http://blm-egis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html ?appid=a6b1bc529b344e36a1d9d4d729bc03f7
Lands colored in yellow indicate BLM. Most of these lands are open to dispersed camping, however see, “BLM Lands Not Open to Dispersed Camping” below.
- You can also find several BLM maps in PDF for download here: https://www.blm.gov/maps
- FreeRoam is a very useful app for finding BLM and USFS lands (click here to learn more)
How Long Can You Camp on BLM Land?
The BLM maintains a general policy of 14-days maximum. Once you reach that maximum, they want you to move to another location at least 25 miles away. You cannot move back to the same location until after 28 days.
What if I don’t stay the full 14-days? Can I still come back?
The BLM does not clarify if that 14-day maximum refers to consecutive days, or any series of stays adding up to 14 days. However, the BLM rarely polices dispersed campers and only gets involved when complaints are filed. It’s unlikely for BLM officials to keep a watch over dispersed campers.
It’s common for RVers to stay well beyond the 14-day maximum and not be asked to leave by BLM officials. Generally, if you keep to yourself and respect the peace of others, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be asked to leave.
Will I Get Fined For Staying Longer Than 14 Days?
Unlikely. The BLM rarely patrols dispersed areas. Most patrols are limited to developed areas. If a BLM officer noticed you’ve been dispersed camping in the same area for longer than 14 days, they’d likely ask you to leave and not issue any kind of fine.
Rules for BLM Dispersed Camping
These are the official rules published by the Bureau of Land Management…
- Whether in a developed area or at a dispersed site, you may usually camp in an area for up to 14 days before having to move at least 25 miles from your original spot. You may not return to that area for 28 consecutive days.
- Choose sites that are already established.
- Camp at least 200 feet away from water sources.
- Use existing fire rings or camp stoves.
- Check current fire conditions.
- Dispose of human waste properly (away from water and in a 6” or deeper hole).
BLM Lands Not Open to Dispersed Camping
Some BLM lands are just small isolated patches located close to urban and suburban areas, and usually encompass small mountain peaks or rocky hills unsuitable for other development. These lands are available for public use, but most of these lands don’t have public roads to reach them. In some cases, these lands are surrounded by private lands, and hence they cannot be reached. You should always look for a “publicly maintained” road leading into a BLM area before driving your RV in.
Also note that the BLM owns some land located within the boundaries of incorporated cities. In these cases, there are often city ordinances that prohibit anyone from camping within city limits (except for RV parks and campgrounds), even if the land is controlled by the BLM. You will have to do your own research on these nearby cities to determine if they are indeed incorporated cities, and if they have any ordinances on the books prohibiting camping.
Areas that are fenced off and gated are generally not open to the public. These are often BLM lands that have been leased to companies for mining and oil drilling.
The BLM has designated several areas as “Wildnerness Areas” and are not open for camping. Established roads leading into these areas usually have a sign posted explaining what use is allowed.