Camping is fun, but camping for free? It’s even more fun. 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.
However, there are exceptions. The BLM manages paid campgrounds as well as multi-use zones (for mining, logging, energy development, etc.) that may be closed to the public. We’ll get into these distinctions below.
Regardless, if you’ve ever been frustrated on a road trip because you can’t find a free spot to camp for the night, it’s in your best interest to learn about what BLM land is—and how to find it.
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.
On the conservation front, the BLM 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
If you’re camping on BLM land, you have two options: developed campgrounds or 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 in 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 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 extremely cheap way to enjoy America’s natural beauty.
You can dispersed 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 the 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.
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 want road trip news, car camping gear releases, and adventure inspiration delivered to your inbox every month, sign up for our monthly newsletter here.
Thanks again, and see you on the road!