There’s only one thing that’s better than car camping–and that’s car camping for free. And if you ask us, there’s no better place to car camp for free than Bureau of Land Management land, also referred to as “BLM land.”
We pulled this article together to aid you on your quest for free car camping. Below, we’ll break down everything you need to know about BLM land, including the history of the administrative agency, the difference between dispersed camping and established campgrounds, and our favorite tools for finding free camping on BLM land. We’ll also explain why all BLM land isn’t open to the public, and why certain BLM campgrounds actually do require fees–just so you aren’t surprised if you do stumble upon closed areas or pay-to-play campsites. Last but certainly not least, we’ll even throw in a few of our favorite gear recommendations to help you car camp on BLM land like a pro.
Long story short, if you like car camping, epic vistas, and low-cost living, it’s in your best interest to learn about what BLM land is—and how to find it. Without further ado, let’s dive in!
The Quick-and-Dirty Of BLM Camping: 5 Quick Facts
- The Bureau of Land Management administrates nearly one-tenth of the United States and much of that is open to public for camping!
- Dispersed camping is free, but some established campgrounds do require a fee.
- Developed campgrounds may have amenities, like pit toilets, picnic tables, and potable water, but dispersed campers should expect no such luxuries.
- Dispersed campers can stay up to 14 nights on BLM land within a 28-day period. Always check local laws.
- BYO… Everything! When you’re dispersed camping, you want to be entirely self-sufficient, so you should bring enough food, water, fuel, etc. You’ll also need to bring a human waste solution, too–either a WAG bag or a trowel, depending on your locale–so you can Leave No Trace.
What’s the Bureau of Land Management?
Originally founded in 1946, the Bureau of Land Management is responsible for over 245 million acres of land—approximately one-tenth of the land in the United States. While much of that land is perfect for car camping, the Bureau isn’t exclusively focused on outdoor recreation. Far from it. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) is the agency’s North Star, if you will, and it guides the BLM to tackle a double-sided mission: manage multi-use public land while simultaneously conserving resources for generations to come.
It’s a delicate, if not impossible, balancing act. On one hand, the Bureau administers public, multi-use land for logging, mining, and energy production. Over 30% of the nation’s minerals are found in BLM-designated soil, and many of these public lands are rich with fossil fuels. More recently, the Bureau has been exploring renewable resources and dedicating more time, energy, and acreage to solar, wind, and geothermal power projects—a cause any nature lover can get behind. It’s worth noting that these multi-use zones can be closed to the public, often for public safety reasons, so it’s important to keep an eye out for relevant signage while exploring BLM land.
On the conservation front, the Bureau of Land Management aims to preserve landscapes, natural resources, and the beauty that makes the American West our favorite place to road trip. These efforts are crowned by a 35-million-acre system of National Conservation Lands, which include National Monuments, Wild and Scenic Rivers, Wilderness Areas, and more. While National Conservation Lands represent a fraction of the Bureau’s acres under management, they’re often the target destination for road trippers due to their rich natural beauty and outdoor recreation potential.
Camping in BLM Land: Developed Campgrounds vs. Dispersed Camping
Unlike National Parks, State Parks, and private campgrounds, which almost always charge entry and overnight fees, most Bureau of Land Management land is open to the public for free. If you’re looking for free camping, you’re generally looking for dispersed camping opportunities. If you want amenities, though, like toilets and fire pits, you’ll want to visit a developed paid campground. Below, we’ll explain the difference between developed campgrounds and dispersed camping.
What are developed campgrounds on BLM Land?
Developed campgrounds on BLM land vary tremendously. Some are just like campgrounds in National or State Parks, with toilets, drinking water, etc. Others are more basic, without any amenities. Most are first-come, first-serve, and require fees—we recommend road-tripping with small bills or checks—although a handful can be reserved here.
What is dispersed camping on BLM land?
Some developed campgrounds on BLM land are free, but if you’re looking for the guaranteed free camping that makes road trippers swear by BLM land, then you’re on the hunt for dispersed camping.
As long as you’re camping away from established campgrounds, you’re dispersed camping. Some dispersed sites are marked, but oftentimes a fire ring or tire tracks might be the only sign that fellow campers have spent the night there before. Dispersed sites are everywhere: next to rivers, on top of desert mesas, alongside coastal bluffs. It’s a beautiful, raw, and cheap way to enjoy America’s natural beauty.
You can camp on any public BLM land, even mining claims, unless you see fences or signage that expresses otherwise. Be on the lookout for “no camping” signs and obey all closures—if we want to keep camping for free on BLM land, it pays to follow the rules, especially when they have to do with wildlife conservation.
Speaking of conservation, abide by Leave No Trace principles and always camp in existing sites to avoid impacting the wilderness more than necessary. To reduce long-term impacts, dispersed camping is allowed on most BLM land for up to 14 days. Once those 14 days are up, campers are expected to relocate at least 25 miles away.
4 Tools to Help You Find Free Car Camping on BLM Land
The Bureau of Land Management Website
Finding BLM land is a walk in the public park: just visit the Bureau of Land Management website here and select a location in the dropdown menu. Then, select “camping” from the activity options.
Your search will result in a list of public lands ranging from underdeveloped areas rife with dispersed camping to full-blown RV parks that unsurprisingly charge a pretty penny. The site is a great jump-off point for a road trip, as it also supplies you with GPS coordinates and detailed directions.
Again, while a vast majority of BLM land is free to the public, some developed campgrounds require a small fee. Others are donation-based to cover maintenance costs.
Publiclands.org’s interactive “Recreation Map” is another helpful tool—and a fun rabbit hole to explore for an hour or five. If you’re a car camper on a budget looking exclusively for BLM land, click “Filters” to see the full sidebar, then select “BLM Lands” under “Public Lands Access.” You can also click through additional amenities like “drinking water” or “wheelchair accessibility.” If you have a specific adventure in mind, you can toggle through activities like “off-highway vehicles,” “wildlife viewing,” “climbing,” and more.
Apps for Life on the Road: The Dyrt PRO and iOverlandr
When you’re on the road, it’s helpful to have campground data at your fingertips. iOverlandr is a free app that lets you browse through user-generated and road-tripper-reviewed campsites. You can search exclusively for free campsites, many of which are on BLM land. The Dyrt PRO is a paid app, but you can gain access to BLM maps that are extremely valuable when on the prowl for a free place to park.
Our Favorite Gear For Car Camping On BLM Land
Now that you’re no longer paying for expensive campsites, you’ve likely got a little more gear budget at your disposal! All jokes aside, here are a few gear recommendations we like to use while car camping on Bureau of Land Management land.
BLM-Worthy Sleep Setups: We’ve Got You Covered Better Than Any Rainfly
Sometimes, BLM “campsites” are nothing more than roadside pull-offs, making pitching a tent an unrealistic endeavor. As such, we always prefer to have a self-contained sleep setup inside our vehicle when camping on BLM land–or anywhere else, for that matter. Other benefits of camping in your car include but aren’t limited to:
- Your vehicle can withstand wind, rain, and snow better than any tent.
- Your vehicle is already paid for–no need to buy an expensive tent.
- You can’t stealth camp in a tent, but you can in your car.
- You can lock your car doors at night, providing peace of mind you simply can’t get in a tent.
- When you’re sleeping in a raised, self-contained vehicle, there’s no need to stress about critters and creepy-crawlies like snakes, scorpions, and spiders.
Now that we’ve successfully shredded tents to pieces–much like a hungry grizzly bear looking for a sleeping bag-sized snack–let’s talk about our favorite BLM sleep setup: the Luno Air Mattress.
Our award-winning air mattresses are the perfect solution for BLM-bound car campers looking for an easy-to-use, temporary, exceptionally durable, and extremely comfortable sleep setup. Setting up the Luno Air Mattress is quick and painless: just fold down your backseats, pop the mattress in the trunk, inflate it with the included electronic pump, and voila–you’re good to go, no tent pole-related temper tantrums required.
Available for SUVs and hatchbacks, trucks, and even the front cabs of popular van models, Luno mattresses are built for life on the backroads, and they help car campers turn everyday commuters into extraordinary adventure mobiles. Sleep better, adventure longer–that’s our motto.
Ever since we launched our first air mattresses five years ago, we’ve been expanding and fine-tuning our ecosystem of car camping organization gear and storage essentials. Why? Well, if you’ve ever car camped in a messy car, you’ve experienced the inevitable headaches that stem from misplaced headlamps, lost lighters, and general chaos. Here are a few of our favorite tools for staying organized on the road.
Luno Seatback Organizer
We call this bad boy the “nightstand” of car camping. This portable organization station snaps to your seatback in seconds, allowing for easy bedside access from your Luno Car Air Mattress. The organizer is jam-packed with nifty features, like a translucent headlamp pocket, water bottle holder, and zippered pockets for storing smaller, often misplaced items like wallets and keys.
Luno Gear & Shoe Storage Bags
We initially designed our Gear & Shoe Storage Bags to keep dirty, stinky hiking boots and trail shoes out of your sleeping area–we outfitted them with microfiber-lined magnets that snap to the exterior of your vehicle, and a mesh bottom panel that lets damp shoes air out and drip dry. However, our Gear & Shoe Storage Bags have since become one of the most versatile storage essentials in the Luno lineup. Now, we use them as trash and recycling receptacles, camp kitchen organizers, fishing wader caches, surf bootie and glove storage, art supply stockpiles, you name it.
Luno Cargo Hammock
The Cargo Hammock makes storage appear out of thin air. This netting shelf turns unused ceiling space into over 8.5 square feet of storage real estate, making it ideal for stashing bedding, clothes, and other camp gear. It also boasts a zippered pocket for organizing easy-to-lose essentials, and a see-through, multimedia pocket for phones and tablets that turns your adventure rig into a drive-in movie theater. Best of all, the Cargo Hammock converts from expanded Adventure Mode to a low-profile Compact Mode, so you can keep it installed no matter if you’re driving to BLM land or a board meeting.
Luno Gear Tote
We’re extremely excited about the launch of the Gear Tote | 50L, the newest addition to the Luno car camping accessory line. Crafted from retired and deadstock Luno mattresses, the upcycled Gear Tote is rugged, versatile, and as eco-friendly as it gets. Between the heavy-duty handles, durable fabric, and open-mouthed design, this gear hauler can carry damn near anything you can.
Clear Plastic Tubs
Chances are you already have some clear plastic tubs lying around the house, and they’re ideal for car camping gear storage. Not only do tubs allow you to consolidate and organize gear, but the clear plastic helps you keep an eye on everything, minimizing the chance you’ll have to tear apart your rig while hunting for a headlamp or a camp mug. Don’t have any tubs on hand? You can find ‘em at The Container Store, Target, etc. Don’t want to spend money on tubs? Milk crates can get the job done, too, although you have to be careful not to lose smaller items through the gaps.
Water Filtration and Storage: Hydrate or Die
While you may be used to camping with potable water on hand at National Parks and established campgrounds, that goes out the window when dispersed camping on BLM land. There are two methods to ensure you and your crew stay hydrated while camping on BLM land–bringing enough water and having a water filter–and we highly recommend you’re prepared to do both. Better to be safe than sorry.
5-Gallon Water Jug
No need to buy flimsy plastic jugs at the grocery store–just fill up these ultra-tough 5-gallon water jugs at home before you hit the road.
MSR Guardian Gravity Filter
Camping with a crew? Stay hydrated with this high-volume, gravity-powered filter from the backcountry brainiacs at MSR.
Camp Cooking: Two Stoves To Tackle Every Meal And MissionWe like to have two stoves in our car camping arsenal:
- A simmer-savvy two-burner like this one from Camp Chef for whipping up elaborate meals.
- A compact, ultra-fast boiler like this one from JetBoil for hot water, coffee, tea, and quick-and-easy meals like ramen or mac and cheese.
Looking for more gear? Check out our full line of Luno accessories here, read our latest educational content on the Luno journal, or subscribe to our monthly newsletter, where we regularly share our favorite car camping gear, tips, tricks, and more.
See You Out There!
We understand wanting to save money while camping. In fact, Luno was born on a snowboard camping trip in the winter of 2018, when our Founder, Pete Ducato, decided to crash in the back of his Subaru to save money on a hotel room. Since then, our popular Car Air Mattresses, #vanlife-friendly Front Cab Air Mattresses, new Truck Bed Air Mattresses, and ever-expanding line of accessories have helped thousands of car campers enjoy affordable and epic adventures on BLM land.
Whether you’re a longtime Luno user or are just learning about the brand now, thanks for stopping by the Luno Journal. We hope this breakdown of BLM land—and the tools we use to explore it—is helpful as you plan your next road trip.
Oh, and if you’re looking for more tips on how to find free car camping outside of BLM land, check out our comprehensive guide to finding free car camping, where we discuss camping everywhere from wilderness areas to Walmart parking lots.
Thanks again, and see you on the road!