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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Camping on Uncle Sam's BLM lands

Courtesy -- public domain
RVers out West have a real treasure: Over an eighth of the total U.S. land mass is managed by Uncle Sam's Bureau of Land Management. An eight! And that eighth of the country (almost 250 million acres) all lies all within 12 western states. That's a lot of government managed land – and it's a great place to RV – oftentimes free of charge.

We often hear from folks 'back East' who want to know how they can come out and RV on BLM land. Here are some pointers to help you.

Where can I camp on BLM Land? In many areas the agency has "developed" campgrounds; many of these charge a fee. Don't expect these to be on a par with state campgrounds, or even National Park campgrounds. Often they just provide a site, maybe a picnic table, and a fire ring. A few do have water supplies.

For boondockers, the appeal of BLM land camping is in what the agency terms, "dispersed areas." These undeveloped areas are the ones that don't cost you anything to use, and take you away from the crowds.

What rules govern dispersed camping? Typically speaking, your stay in a dispersed area is limited to 14-days in a 28-day period. After your 14 days are up, you'll need to move along – outside of a 25-mile radius (although some regions extend this farther). Those 14-days aren't necessarily in a straight stretch: You might stay a week in one area, leave, return, and stay another week. Your 28-day "count" begins the first day of camping.

When you pick your camp site, in most areas you'll need to stay within 300 feet of a developed road. Another "distance" rule regards water: You aren't allowed to stay within 100 feet of a natural water source. We say "natural" when we refer to something like a lake or stream. However, in some areas the agency has developed man-made water sources for the benefit of wild life. In those cases you might be asked to stay a great deal farther away – in Utah, for example, you'll need to stay at least 900 feet away so as not to discourage critters from coming in for a drink.

Campfires? Sure, provided they're not otherwise prohibited by say, a burn ban. Of course, you need to tend your fire, keep it contained, and definitely put it out when you leave. Some BLM jurisdictions require a campfire permit, but these are free of charge.

How do you know what sort of rules apply to distances, campfire permits, and the "camp outside this radius" rules? The easiest thing to do is hit the Internet. Want to camp on BLM land in Nevada? Enter "Camping BLM Nevada" and you'll get a big start on what you're looking for.

What about useful camping services? In dispersed areas, the only "services" you'll find are places to camp. If you packed it in, you pack it out – that includes garbage and all forms of waste water, black and gray. Cellular signals can be "iffy" in some areas – so plan ahead.

How can I find BLM lands to camp on? We've included a map that shows which states have BLM lands. From there you can do a similar Internet search as we outlined earlier. You can purchase BLM "paper maps" at relatively low cost; in many instances you can locate the same information on the agency's web sites. Another great resource for locating BLM lands are Delorme State Atlases. These books show boundaries for BLM and other government lands.

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