[Individual Undeveloped Campsites] [Guidelines for Use] [FREE Camping]
"to sustain the health, diversity and
productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present
and future generations."
- BLM mission
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for land, mineral, and wildlife management on millions of acres of US land. With over one-eighth of the US land mass under their control, the BLM also has plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities to offer.
The Bureau of Land Management areas include 34 National Wild and Scenic Rivers, 136 National Wilderness Areas, 9 National Historic Trails, 43 National Landmarks, 23 National Recreation Trails, and more. What does that mean for campers? Well, you can enjoy these natural wonders from 17 thousand campsites at over 400 different campgrounds, mostly in the western states.
Most campgrounds managed by the BLM are primitive, although you won't have to hike into the backcountry to get to them. The campsites will typically be a small clearing with a picnic table, fire ring, and may or may not offer some type of restroom or potable water source, so be sure to bring your own water.
BLM campgrounds are usually small with not many campsites and are available on a first come, first serve basis. You may not find a campground attendant, but rather an iron ranger, which is a collection box where you can deposit your camping fees, usually only $5-10 per night. Many of the campgrounds charge no fees.
The easiest way to find BLM campgrounds is at Recreation.Gov,
which allows you to search for outdoor activities on public lands,
including the national parks, national forests, and army corps of
engineer projects. From the results page, BLM campgrounds are listed
with a link to area descriptions and campground details.
Individual Undeveloped Campsites
Undeveloped campsites are found throughout the public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Such campsites are located more than 100 ft from streams, at roadside turnouts, near interesting rock formations, and at other desirable locations. Dispersed, undeveloped campsites are normally recognized by the presence of a fire ring. Such informal sites are popular with vehicle campers, jeepers, and hikers.
When asked why they prefer dispersed campsites, visitors cite the freedom to set up camp as they please, to camp with a large number of friends, to camp in an area where pets are allowed, or to camp without having to pay for facilities found at developed sites.
Dispersed Sites are Open to the Public
It is the general regulation of the Bureau of Land Management that undeveloped Federal lands under its administration are available to the public for camping and general recreation with the following provisions:
1. that camping at any one site is limited to 14 days per visit;
2. that users pack out their trash;
3. that users avoid camping within 100 feet of springs so that water is accessible to wildlife; and
4. that campfires not be left unattended.
Guidelines for Use
Our public lands are being "discovered" by an increasing number of visitors. As a consequence, many campsites are showing signs of deteriorations. You can increase the ability of dispersed sites to accommodate successive groups of campers by adopting a minimum-impact style of camping:
Camp at a previously used camp site, if possible.
Research studies have shown that the most rapid negative changes to soil and vegetation occur during the first few times a campsite is used. If it is necessary to camp at a previously unused location, minimum impact camping techniques can reduce such impacts.
Maintain the beauty of campsites by staying on existing travel routes.
Avoid driving, riding, or walking over areas where the vegetation is intact. Many of the most desirable undeveloped campsites are surrounded by networks of tracks. Over the years, the vegetation around these sites have been greatly reduced, and in some cases, soil erosion is very noticeable.
Do not put cans, bottles, or aluminum foil into a fire ring.
These items do not burn, and their presence will lead subsequent users of the site to build a new fire ring.
Avoid building new fire rings.
Redundant fire rings scar the natural beauty of sites and reduce the amount of space available for sleeping and cooking areas. If the site you select already has trash in the fire ring, please clean it out and place the trash in a bag for proper disposal.
Use only dead and down wood for campfires.
Both dead and live trees add to the scenic qualities of campsites. Leave them for the next visitors to enjoy and as habitat for desert animals.
Burn Campfire logs to ashes, then douse with water.
Do not smother a campfire with soil, as this will make it difficult for the next visitor to use the same fire ring. If you must leave a campsite before the fire burns all the wood, douse the fire with water before you are ready to leave camp, then stir it with a stick to make sure it is completely out.
Use a fire pan.
A fire pan is a metal tray or garbage can lid used to contain a campfire and prevent the fire from blackening the soil. Before breaking camp, it is a simple matter to transfer cold ashes into a plastic bag or other container for disposal at home. If you use a fire pan carefully, it is possible to leave a campsite with no scars or evidence of your use.
Dispose of human waste properly.
Solid body waste and urine should be buried in a hole six to twelve inches deep. The disposal site should be located well away from streams, campsites, and other use areas. Toilet paper should be placed in a small plastic bag and put into your camp trash bag.
Pack out your trash (and a little extra).
For years, public land managers have promoted the "pack-it-out" concept in an effort to foster a self-cleanup ethic among public land users. This program has generally been successful. Most people no longer leave or bury trash at campsites. While the pack-it-out program has reduced the amount of trash left by campers and day users on the public lands, it has not entirely eliminated unsightly trash. You can take an additional step by picking up trash left by less thoughtful people. This act helps maintain the scenic beauty of your public lands and frees land managers for other work. Think of that extra bag of trash you collect as your contribution to maintaining something you enjoy: undeveloped recreation sites on the public lands.
For more information on minimum impact techniques:
Leave No Trace
Free Camping is available in the western United States on the federal lands (public lands). The US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are the administrative agencies of these lands.
Both Agencies have developed campgrounds and heavily used recreation areas where they do charge fees. But there is a vast acreage with undeveloped camping areas that can be utilized by the general public with no fees. There are rules, however
You are not allowed to camp next to riparian areas.
To find these free camping areas:
1. Pick a State where you would like to camp. Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska are all public land states.
2. Pick a area within that state.
3. Go online at www.blm.gov
find a state directory and within that state find a regional office
for the BLM or a national forest for the Forest Service, near the
area you wish to camp. (For the Forest Service, click on the national
forest you selected and it will guide you to agency offices). You can
request information from these offices or visit them, in person, and
pick up information and ask questions.
Be sure to get a map that can guide you to the federal land.
Example 1: You wish to camp on the LaSal Mountains near Moab, Utah. Go to www.fs.fed.us. Click on Utah. Click on Manti-LaSal National Forest. Click on Moab Office "Map" or call or write to the address given for the Moab office.
Example 2: You wish to camp on the BLM in the red-rock country near Moab, Utah. Go to www.blm.gov. On the left side bar, click on Directory. Under state offices, click on Utah. Click on BLM Utah Field Offices. Click on Moab.
In most areas, on the public lands, you are allowed to ride horses, atv's and bicycles. Check with the local federal office to see if there are restrictions on these recreational activities and to get information on trails in the area.
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