Meraki Journey

Off the Beaten Path: Camping for Free on Public Land

Off the Beaten Path: Camping for Free on Public Land

With Labor Day passed, it might feel like summer is over. But just in case you want to squeeze in one more outdoor adventure, here’s how you can camp for free on public land.


How It Works

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees a total of more than 245 million acres of land across all 50 states. BLM is tasked with monitoring this land and protecting it as a wilderness. There are also many spots within BLM lands that are designated recreation areas for camping.

These areas, classified as “developed camping,” offer a pretty typical camping experience. The campgrounds are split into many sites which you can reserve for a fee. Developed camping gives you access to amenities like bathrooms, showers, running water, etc. and you might even be within a short distance of parking lots and ranger stations.

However, everything outside of these developed campgrounds is still managed by BLM. These huge swathes of public land are pretty much open game and with proper preparation anyone can camp there. This is what BLM refers to as “dispersed camping”.

Dispersed camping on BLM land is a lot like backcountry camping, with many of the same pros and cons. You’ll get to enjoy the solitude and immersion of sleeping out in nature. But you’ll also be sacrificing comforts like running water, electricity hookups and bathrooms. This is not glamping.


The Best Way to Camp on BLM Land

One of the best methods for finding dispersed camping is to drive through secondary routes and back roads in national forests and look for signs of previous use. Many national forests, parks and grasslands are surrounded by public land that is free and available for camping. Dispersed camping in these areas means you have access to all the same trails and natural wonders, without needing to use a hotel or a crowded public campground.


You can also check websites like, browse the BLM website or check in at a local ranger station and ask for recommendations.

Of course there’s still some regulations and restrictions on dispersed camping.


Tips for Camping on Public Land

  • BLM requires campers to limit themselves to 14 days within a 28 day period
  • Look for areas that have been used in the past. Signs of use include flattened underbrush and fire rings. BLM encourages people to limit the amount of human impact in wilderness regions, even on dispersed camping land.
  • Some regions prohibit making fires or might require a fire permit. Make sure to check local BLM regulations.
  • BLM land still has some areas that are off-limits to camping due to geography, environmental and wildlife concerns or a variety of other reasons. Make sure you’re using the most updated maps or checking in with a local ranger station before heading out.
  • Leave no trace: make sure to pack out all the trash, gear etc. you brought.

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