The technical answer is, “No”.
However, the real world answer is “yes”, as long as your intention is to reach a particular campsite and as long you don’t destroy plants, natural features, or other natural habitats.
Can I Drive Anywhere on BLM Land?
BLM “public lands”, which are lands not otherwise designated for other purposes, are open for public use, with some limitations. When off-road vehicle use began reaching popularity in the late 1960s, efforts began to restrict their use on BLM lands to protect natural habitats.
The Bureau of Land Management established a set of rules specifically addressing off-road vehicles in response to Executive Order 11644, “Use of off-road vehicles on the public lands”, which was issued in February 8, 1972.
- Define “off road vehicle” as any “motorized vehicle either designed for, or capable of, “cross-country travel on or immediately over land, water, sand, snow, ice, marsh, swampland, or other natural terrain”. (Refer to BLM 8340.0-5 “Definitions”).
- Limit the use of off-road vehicles to only those areas and trails open to off-road use… “The operation of off-road vehicles is permitted on those areas and trails designated as open to off-road vehicle use.” (Refer to BLM 8341.1 “Regulations Governing Use”).
Your RV is Technically an Off-Road Vehicle
The definitions above is broad enough that it could theoretically include RVs or trailers as long as they are “capable of” traveling over such terrain. The difference lies in what their intended use is. If your goal is simply to reach a flat, solid clearing to set up camp, and you get there without doing too much damage to plants, animal habitats, or other natural features, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be cited for it. As long as you take great care to do minimal damage, and keep your RV on established roads for much of the time, it’s generally not a problem if you leave an established road for very short distances.
However, if your goal is to enjoy an afternoon of tearing up the countryside, you can expect to find BLM officials tracking you down. This is why the BLM began creating off-road vehicle recreation areas.
Don’t Drive Over the Plants
Any land that the BLM has set aside for a specific use is no longer, “public land”, that it is no longer open land. Therefore, from a technical standpoint, Executive Order 11644 forbids off-road driving on open lands.
However, Executive Order 11644 was not intended to address people driving RVs for the purpose of reaching a campsite. They were intended to address people riding dirt bikes, three-wheeled ATVs, and dune buggies for the purpose of joy riding all over the ecosystem. Hence, it could be argued that the spirit of Executive Order 11644 was not meant to include motorhomes, buses, or trailers.
But, the BLM does have additional rules that address the destruction of natural resources, which would include plants, natural features, and animal habitats…
§ 8365.1-5 Property and resources.
(a) On all public lands, unless otherwise authorized, no person shall;
(1) Willfully deface, disturb, remove or destroy any personal property, or structures, or any scientific, cultural, archaeological or historic resource, natural object or area;
(2) Willfully deface, remove or destroy plants or their parts, soil, rocks or minerals, or cave resources, except as permitted under paragraph (b) or (c) of this paragraph
(Read the full text of § 8365.1-5 here)
The Bottom Line
If you can assume that…
- Executive Order 11644 does not apply to boondockers driving RVs or towing trailers into open, public lands for the purpose of reaching a campsite, and
- Boondockers do not cause any significant damage to plants, animal habitats, or natural features, in the course of reaching a campsite…
…then it can be assumed that it’s permissible to drive an RV or tow a trailer off of the road.
State Law Trumps BLM Rules
The BLM rules allow for state laws and regulations to take precedence. These laws and regulations are generally with respect to seat belts, exhaust, noise, and licensing, and not about where you can operate a vehicle. But, you’ll want to know if the state you are located in has any additional rules of driving your vehicle off of roads. It’s highly unlikely, however, the State has a law enforcement official patrolling open, BLM lands.
BLM Officers Rarely Patrol Open Lands
Even if you did drive over some bushes or ran over a few rabbit holes, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be cited. BLM officers almost never patrol open lands. Their time is spent managing designated lands.
Wilderness Areas, Developed Campgrounds, and Other Designated BLM Lands
You cannot drive off-road on lands designated as, “Wilderness Area”. These are highly sensitive areas meant to be kept pristine.
Areas designated as “Campground” require that you drive only on established roads. Areas designated as “Recreation Area” often include OHV areas and will allow to drive off road, but make sure that the recreation area you are in has designated off-road areas.