Free Dispersed Camping on BLM Lands: The Complete Guide

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In our opinion, one of the best things about the United States is the huge amount of public lands that are available for recreation and conservation. In addition to the 85 million acres of National Parks lands and 188 million acres of National Forest lands, one in every 10 acres in the U.S. is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Much of this BLM land is open to the public and provides endless opportunities for outdoor recreation in some of the country’s most beautiful places.

Free dispersed camping is widely available throughout the nation’s BLM lands and is a great way to enjoy these incredible and wild places. In this guide we’ll cover everything you need to know about dispersed camping on BLM lands and provide some great resources to help you plan your next camping trip.

Keep reading to learn more about the best ways to experience your public lands.

BLM Dispersed Camping: The Complete Guide

Find Your Next Dispersed Campsite

Learn how to find the best campsite locations BEFORE you head out. No more showing up to crowded sites with all the good spots taken!

Easily identify camping areas
Find free camping on public land
Use offline apps to locate sites
Learn through video tutorials

What is Dispersed Camping?

Dispersed camping is broadly defined as setting up camp outside of developed or established campgrounds, most often on public lands. The vast majority of dispersed camping sites can be found in National Forests or on BLM lands. Another hallmark feature of dispersed camping is that it is FREE! Yes, that means no campground fees, permit fees, or entrance fees to be paid!

Dispersed campsites are generally located on or adjacent to roads and can be accessed by car. You’ll typically want a higher clearance vehicle or 4WD to reach the best sites, but that is certainly not required for all areas.

Read on to learn more everything you need to know about dispersed camping on beautiful BLM lands, including how to find sites, what to bring, and the rules and regulations you’ll want to be aware of.

Read More: What is Dispersed Camping?

Car camp set up with rooftop tent and pine trees in the background

Bureau of Land Management Dispersed Camping

The Bureau of Land Management is a federal agency that has a presence in all 50 states, although the majority of BLM lands can be found in the west. BLM lands are used for grazing, energy development, mineral extraction, conservation, and recreation. There are tons of great ways to recreate on BLM lands, including hiking, fishing, hunting, rafting, mountain biking, and OHV driving.

Of course, one of our favorite ways to enjoy BLM lands is free dispersed camping.

Generally speaking, most BLM areas that are open for recreation allow dispersed camping. There are some important exceptions to this, which we’ve outlined below. It’s a good idea to call the district office for the area you plan to visit to find out about any camping restrictions that may apply.

There are a few different types of BLM land, and camping permissions can vary between them.

  • Open Lands: As the name suggests, these areas are open to camping unless being used for other activities such as mining.
  • National Conservation Lands: These include National Monuments, Conservation Areas, Wilderness Areas, and anything with “scenic” or “historic” in its name. Typically, you can camp in most National Monuments (but not all). Scenic & Historic Trails and Wild & Scenic Rivers cover large areas and camping permissions will vary from place to place. You cannot drive a vehicle into Wilderness Areas, but you can camp along roads that run around the perimeter or through the area. Alternatively, hike-in camping is permitted in most Wilderness Areas.

Download Our FREE Dispersed Camping Cheat Sheet

Our free printable cheat sheet outlines how to find the perfect dispersed campsite for your next trip.

BLM Lands vs National Forests

If you’re not dispersed camping on Bureau of Land Management lands, chances are you’re in a National Forest. Most of America’s public lands are part of one of these two entities and these are the most common places to find a free campsite. However, there are some important differences between BLM lands and National Forest lands, which we’ve summarized below:

BLM Lands

  • Generally fewer rules on open lands
  • Mostly located in the western states
  • Often fewer recreation opportunities or developed facilities nearby

National Forest Lands

  • Tend to have a few more rules and restrictions
  • Located throughout the U.S.
  • Typically more developed facilities and recreation opportunities


  • Have limits on how long you can camp there
  • May have seasonal or permanent fire restrictions
  • Have lots of opportunities for free camping
  • Rely on visitors following Leave No Trace principles to keep them beautiful
Wild Willy's hot springs at sunset

How to Find Dispersed Campsites on BLM Lands

If you’ve read the previous sections, you’re likely starting to get an idea of where you can and can’t camp on BLM lands. To review, camping on open lands is usually allowed, given that the area is not being used for mineral extraction or other activities. Dispersed camping is also allowed in most Conservation Areas, such as National Monuments. Car camping and boondocking are not allowed in Wilderness Areas. Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s talk about how to go about finding your next campsite.

There are several ways to find free, dispersed camping on BLM lands and we often find that a combination of all the resources described below will yield the best results. The first step to finding a great campsite is to ensure that the BLM land you are interested in allows dispersed camping and that there are no closures or other restrictions in effect.

To do this, your best bet is to always reach out to the local district office which can provide you with the most up-to-date information.

Next, we like to utilize a combination of camping apps/websites, BLM maps, and Google Maps to find the best dispersed campsites. You can learn more about each of these resources below and also check out our handy summary here:

Steps to find dispersed campsites on BLM lands

  1. Contact the local district office to learn about any current dispersed camping regulations.
  2. Check your options for already established dispersed camping areas using camping apps/websites.
  3. Review the Interactive BLM Map to get a sense of where BLM land is located.
  4. Cross reference the BLM map with Google Maps satellite view to get a sense of where good dispersed campsites may be located.
  5. Drive to your campsite! Always come prepared to be flexible and adapt to the conditions you find when you arrive!

Find Your Next Dispersed Campsite

Learn how to find the best campsite locations BEFORE you head out. No more showing up to crowded sites with all the good spots taken!

Easily identify camping areas
Find free camping on public land
Use offline apps to locate sites
Learn through video tutorials

Camping Apps and Online Resources

There are three main websites/apps that we like to use when searching for dispersed camping on BLM lands, outlined below. These sites will provide you with information on a specific campsite rather than on a broader area. This is a good way to find a specific location, or just get some intel on what the area might be like.

  • – Our favorite resource for finding free camping in the US. Simply enter your desired location and filter through the results.
  • The Dyrt – An app that let’s you filter for free and dispersed campsites. The PRO version has lots of helpful features.
  • Campendium – A website and app that allows you to see user reviews for campsites and campgrounds across the country.

For a full review of camping apps and websites, check out this post.


The most helpful map for finding free dispersed campsites on BLM lands is the Interactive Recreational Opportunities Map. The most important feature is also the simplest, and that’s the one that allows you to see what’s BLM land and what’s not. Often BLM land is checkered between areas of private property, making it very important to get a good understanding of the boundaries. The Dyrt and other mapping apps like Gaia GPS also have features that can show you BLM boundaries.

When using the Recreational Opportunities Map, there is an option to filter for “Camping and Cabins.” This is a good place to start, as it will show you all developed campgrounds and some of the more established primitive sites. However, it doesn’t show every possible dispersed campsite, so just because it’s not marked on the map doesn’t mean you can’t camp there.

Another handy map is the Administrative Units Boundaries Map, which shows which areas are managed by which District Offices. This is a quick and useful way to find out who to contact when gathering information about a potential dispersed camping location. PDFs and an interactive map can be found here.

Finally, be sure to check out the BLM Map Gallery to find maps for specific regions and destinations.

The interactive BLM Recreational Opportunities Map. BLM land is yellow.
The interactive BLM Recreational Opportunities Map. BLM land is yellow. (Image courtesy of BLM).

Dispersed Camping Rules and Regulations

One of our favorite things about dispersed camping is the lack of rules, permits, and fees. For the most part, dispersed camping on BLM lands is very unrestricted. However, there are a few important rules that you’ll need to follow when enjoying these public lands:

  • Generally speaking, you cannot camp for more than 14 days in 28 day period
  • Campers are not allowed to leave property unattended for more than 10 days (12 months in Alaska)
  • Camp in existing sites to minimize environmental impacts
  • Pick a site where vegetation is absent
  • Check for current fire restrictions and learn about campfire safety before having a fire
  • Dispersed camping is not allowed near developed sites or close to water sources
  • Check with the appropriate district office to learn about any specific rules pertaining to the area you plan to visit
  • Always follow Leave No Trace guidelines (more on that below)

Leave No Trace Principles

As we’ve mentioned, dispersed campsites do not benefit from any of the services that are common at most developed campgrounds. This means no bathrooms, no trash pickup, and no campground host to ensure you campfire is completely out. Many BLM camping areas are very remote meaning there will be no one there to clean up after you.

Given those facts, we think the most important consideration when dispersed camping is to follow Leave No Trace principles.

This will minimize your impact and ensure your campsite can be enjoyed by future visitors. Here are the seven principles of Leave No Trace camping:

  • Plan Ahead & Prepare: Have an idea of where you’d like to camp and always be sure you are camping in an area that permits dispersed camping.
  • Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces: Never camp on fragile ground or create a new campsite.
  • Dispose of waste properly: Pack out all of your trash and bury human waste away from water sources. Ideally, carry out human waste or use a portable toilet.
  • Leave what you find: Never take anything from your campsite. Other than trash of course!
  • Minimize campfire impacts: Never create new fire rings and only have fires if permitted.
  • Respect Wildlife: Properly store food at all times and be aware of the area’s wildlife.
  • Be considerate of Other Visitors: Pack out your trash, don’t be loud, and leave your campsite in better condition than you found it.

You can read more about the seven principles of Leave No Trace camping here.

The BEST BLM Dispersed Campsites

Now that you know how to find dispersed campsites on BLM lands and what the rules are, let’s get to the fun part. We’re excited to share five of our favorite free dispersed BLM camping areas. We’re spreading the love and including sites in a variety of states, all of which offer unique recreational opportunities and fantastic scenery.

Wild Willy’s Hot Springs (California)


Wild Willy’s Hot Springs is a fun place to dispersed camp just down the hill from Mammoth, California. The entire region is full of secluded, natural hot springs that are great for a soak after a long day of skiing or hiking, with Wild Willy’s being one of the more popular spots. Dispersed camping is possible in the parking lot and on adjacent roads.

Read more about this campsite and others in our Mammoth Lakes Dispersed Camping post.

Wheeler Pass Road (Nevada)


There are tons of beautiful places for dispersed camping all along Wheeler Pass Road, starting just half a mile from the town of Pahrump and just 90 minutes from Las Vegas. The area has great views and is close to Mt. Charleston. Lower down, you’ll find larger spots suitable for big rigs and you’ll find plenty of small and medium sites as you climb higher towards the pass. Wheeler Pass Campground (really just a spacious pull out area) is another nice option about 10 miles up the road.

Read more about this campsite and others in our Las Vegas Dispersed Camping post.

Plamosa Road (Arizona)


The Plomosa Road dispersed camping area is situated on BLM land north of the town of Quartzsite, Arizona. This is desert camping at its finest and you can expect to enjoy some spectacular sunrises and sunsets from this free boondocking area. You’ll be close to some of the region’s best attractions here, including the spectacular Palm Canyon in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. A top pick of ours for Arizona dispersed camping!

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Utah)


Grand Staircase-Escalante is the largest BLM-managed National Monument. Sitting on over a million acres in southern Utah, the area is characterized by dramatic rock formations, vast canyons, and ancient history. Dispersed camping is allowed throughout the National Monument as long as you stick to roads and established pull outs (no off-roading). Harris Wash and Spencer Flat are great spots to set up camp.

Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness (Colorado)


Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness is part of the BLM-managed McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. It is a true hidden gem on Colorado’s Western Slope with wide open views of rugged canyons and the winding Colorado River. Dispersed camping is possible on Upper and Lower Black Ridge Access Roads and along BS Road to Knowles and Jones Canyons. This is a perfect basecamp for your hiking, mountain biking, trail running, or OHV adventures!

What to Bring Dispersed Camping on BLM Lands

Packing for your BLM dispersed camping trip means making sure you’re prepared to be self-sufficient since you won’t have the comforts of a developed campground to rely on. Top of mind when packing should be water storage, waste disposal, and a few items to increase your comfort and campsite swagger.

Dispersed Camping Checklist

Our dispersed camping checklist has everything you need.

Want to know the essentials for your next camping trip?

Our dispersed camping checklist has all the camping essentials plus specific items for dispersed camping.

While we’re sure you’ll already have the essentials like a great tentsleeping bags, and camp chairs,  below are a few essentials specifically for dispersed camping:

1. Water Storage Container

Most dispersed campsites you’ll find don’t have a reliable water source. You may occasionally camp next to a river or stream that might allow you to filter the water, but we certainly wouldn’t rely on it. Given that, you’ll want to come prepared with enough water to last your entire trip. This includes enough to fully extinguish a campfire as well!

For this, we highly recommend a large, durable water container. Generally speaking, the bigger the better, but you’ll want at least 5 gallons to start. You can check out our top pick for a great water storage container below:

Our Top Pick

Scepter Water Container for camping

Scepter Water Container

The Scepter Water Container holds 5 gallons of water and is incredibly durable. The cap makes it easy to pour into water bottles and it holds enough to last for most weekend camping trips.

2. Portable toilet

Properly disposing of human waste is a critical element of Leave No Trace camping and essential for minimizing your impact while dispersed camping. You won’t find any bathrooms out there, so having a plan before you arrive will make sure you’re camping responsibly and comfortably! At a minimum you’ll want a good trowel to dig a cat hole, but if you can avoid burying your waste that is even better.

A simple portable camp toilet will go a long ways to keep your campsite clean and avoid polluting any nearby waterways. Simple is better here, and we recommend the following option:

Our Top Pick

Reliance Luggable Loo

The Luggable Loo is a simple, yet effective portable toilet. The seat snaps on securely and the entire package is very durable. Perfect for dispersed camping.

3. Camp Blanket

Ok, time for a little comfort. There is no denying that dispersed camping doesn’t have all the luxuries of staying in a developed campground. One way to amp up the experience is to pack a cozy and durable blanket for around camp. This can keep you warm, make a nice picnic blanket, and is perfect for those nights when you can’t have a campfire.

Our top pick for camp blankets is the stylish and functional Rumpl Puffy Blanket. It comes in a variety of sizes, but all share the same durability and are incredibly warm.

Our Top Pick

Rumpl Puffy Blanket

The Rumpl Puffy Blanket is the coziest camp blanket around. Not only will it keep you warm around your campsite, but it is made of durable materials and packs down nice and small.

4. Cooler

A good cooler is the workhorse of your dispersed camping set-up. It keeps your drinks cold, helps keep animals from getting into your food, and even makes a decent work surface for preparing meals. Most coolers will keep ice for a day or so before you’re left with a watery mess to deal with. If you want to avoid that, we can’t recommend a Yeti cooler enough.

Yes, they are expensive. But you will thank yourself over and over for making the upfront investment when you still have a frosty cooler four days into your camping trip.

Our Top Pick

Yeti 45 Cooler

Yeti Tundra 45 Cooler

The Yeti Tundra 45 is simply the best cooler on the market. Incredibly durable and keeps ice frozen for days. If you’re looking for a great camping cooler, look no further.

5. Map of the area

It is very important to have a good understanding of where you are when dispersed camping. You need to know whether the land your on is public or private, where that dirt road leads, and which trails are in the area. For this, we highly recommend a GPS app on your smartphone that allows you to download maps for offline use.

While there are plenty of these apps available, Gaia GPS is by far the best of the bunch. The premium membership gets you tons of base maps (our favorite is the National Geographic Trails Illustrated) and lets you download them so you’ll always know where you are even without cell service:

Our Top Pick

Gaia GPS Premium

Gaia GPS is our go to app for offline navigation while camping, hiking, biking, and more. The map layers are detailed and offer tons of options that are sure to suit your needs. The ability to download maps for offline use makes it an essential tool for outdoor adventures.

Have a great trip!

That’s it! We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a great dispersed camping trip on the nation’s amazing BLM lands.

Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!

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