Yes, pretty much most of it is free to camp on. The places that cost money are mostly “developed recreation areas”, which is one of the four primary categories of land that the BLM manages. These areas are largely campgrounds that the BLM improved, by adding fire rings, picnic tables, pit toilets, trash cans, and even water faucets. Some of these developed campgrounds are free, but many others require a fee.
Is BLM Land Free to Camp On?
As much as 90% of BLM managed lands are free to camp on. But some of these lands come with restrictions…
You Cannot Drive Your Vehicle Off-Road
You must keep your car, van, or RV on established roads, dirt-roads, and trails. You cannot drive over plants, animals, natural habitats, or destroy archaeological remnants. If you see an idea camp site, but you cannot find any established access to that site, you are not allowed to create a new access to that area. You have to move on and find something else. Read more about this on our other article, “Can I Drive my RV Off-Road on BLM Land?”
These lands were created through the Wilderness Act of 1964. By law, no vehicles are allowed on these lands. Most Wilderness Areas can be reached by a dirt road, and there’s usually a parking area where you can unload your tent, sleeping bag, and backpack, and then hike the trails. Only tent camping is allowed on Wilderness Areas, and it’s free to camp on.
You cannot, however, camp in your vehicle or RV in the parking area. It’s strictly for parking only.
Some Wilderness Areas have a dirt road that splits through the middle of the area. Technically, the road itself is not part of the Wilderness Area, but remains BLM land. You can therefore, camp on the side of the road, as long as you’re not impeding the flow of traffic, or endangering yourself and other vehicles.
The BLM manages several national monuments, including Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah, and Mojave Trails National Monument in California, just to name a few. Some of these national monuments have restrictions on where camping is allowed and not allowed. Some will require you to obtain a camping permit first, by visiting a visitor center. National monuments also have developed campgrounds that will often require a fee.
Developed Recreation Areas
This is a term the BLM uses to refer to any area that they have made developments to. Usually, it is as simple as putting up a kiosk. Others may go on to include restrooms, paved campgrounds, wildlife viewing decks, fire rings, picnic tables, etc. Each developed recreation area comes with its own rules. Some areas do not allow camping, and these are usually “day-use” areas, like picnic grounds, viewing decks, and trailheads.
But otherwise, most recreation areas permit camping, and often times they are free. There are some developed campgrounds where you are required to pay a fee. None of the BLM campgrounds accept reservations. They are all first-come, first-serve.
The BLM leases out large tracts of land to businesses and other organizations for a variety of purposes, including drilling, logging, mining, and archaeological studies. Camping is not allowed on these lands. However, it can be difficult to determine if you’re camping on leased land. There are usually no fences nor gates. If you see a lot of large trucks going back and forth where you are camped, it may be worth a call to the local BLM field office, to find out if camping is permitted where you are.