No, you cannot drive anywhere on BLM land. However, yes, you are allowed to drive your vehicle off-road as long as you don’t cause any damage to plants, animal habitats, and natural features.
Can I Drive Anywhere on BLM Land?
The Bureau of Land Management maintains a series of regulations concerning driving vehicles off-road. In short, you are not to do so. You have to keep your vehicle on established roads and trails.
However, they will allow vehicles to travel over land as long as it doesn’t destroy plants, animal habitats, natural features, or leave deep ruts and scars into the ground. But, the BLM will only allow this for very short distances, usually to get your vehicle into a desired campsite, or to get off the road so as to not block the flow of traffic. They will not allow you to joy-ride across the land.
The BLM does operate several areas designated as “Off-Highway Vehicle Areas“. In these areas only, you are permitted to drive willy-nilly anywhere you want.
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.
BLM Rules for OHV Use
The Bureau of Land Management established a set of rules specifically addressing off-highway 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 are broad enough that they 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. 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 drive over the shoulder and on to open land.
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 OHV 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 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 across 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.