The Best Free BLM Camping in the American West
BLM is typically desert. It’s resting–often for free–your tent, van or RV on wide open spaces, far from civilization.
Except, when it’s not. The Bureau of Land Management traces its roots back to homesteading in the 1800s, when the government realized a need to manage acreage that, essentially, no one else wanted. At a time when the government was giving land away for free–any one over the age of 21, who hadn’t fought against the US government, and was willing to farm a hundred acres over five years or so could then have land deeded to them–these were the places no one claimed. It’s fitting that the spaces between the free land the given to these homesteaders would continue to remain free for the rest of us to enjoy.
On that note, it’s pertinent that we cover some basics on camping on BLM land, as well as national forests and all of the other beautiful natural areas we are so lucky to have at our disposal in this nation. “Leave No Trace” is a concept that states exactly that, leave the places we camp behind as pristine as they were when we arrived, or better, should the people before us not have done so. There are essentially seven principles behind it all. If you’re already familiar, you can jump right into the article, or filter things using the links above.
- Plan and prepare. It’s easier to be one with nature if you know what to expect. Bring bags to pack your trash and toilet paper out with you, and ideally your human waste as well. Understand the mighty power of fire and how to wield it safely before you’re miles from cell service and start lighting matches. Comprehend the reasons why it’s so important to not just go out carving your name into aspens and trashing our natural world. If you aren’t prepared to follow through with all of this, you certainly aren’t prepared to start making our wild and beautiful places your playground.
- Don’t be a trailblazer. Stick to existing roads, dirt or otherwise, and use existing camping spots. Much of the camping on BLM land is not in any type of official campground, with designated spots. Find areas that have already been cleared and used, rather than trying to camp on undisturbed dirt and vegetation. And definitely don’t knock down trees or or other plants, even wildflowers and grasses, to make a new spot.
- Pack out all of your trash, and others too if you can. Bring extra garbage bags, a sharp stick and some gloves you don’t mind getting filthy. Absolutely take everything with you that you brought in, don’t leave even beer caps or cigarette butts in campfire rings. If you want to be a real angel, pick up a full black garbage bag’s worth of other peoples’ trash in places where broken glass, empty bullet shells and Bud Light cans have been left behind by the ignorant.
- Leave what you find. Don’t collect souvenirs like shells and rocks, pine cones and flowers. Leave them for the next person to see and enjoy, and for nature to take back and regenerate itself into a healthy forest, desert or beach for the next generation.
- Understand fire. Always check local fire restrictions and rules. Wildfires are all too common anymore, and while they’re a natural part of our world, human interference has altered how they affect the landscape, making them wilder and more destructive than they would be if we’d live with the environment instead of trying to bend it to our will. Campfires should always be contained, you should have ample water and a shovel to put them out, and you should literally be able to place your hand on the burnt coals and hold it there theoretically indefinitely before walking away. I’ve seen fires start up, with the slightest wind, a day after the camper thought he put them out. Coals can smolder for days and days, starting a fire long after you’ve left, or in the middle of the night while you’re sleeping.
- Leave the animals alone. Look at them, from a distance. Use binoculars. Be peaceful and quiet. Don’t try and scare them, feed them at all or approach them. They’re wild, that’s the beauty of wildlife, so leave them that way. Feeding animals often leads to their death, one way or another.
- Be quiet. Most people come to nature for peace. Nobody wants to hear you blaring Maroon 5 or Nickelback or whatever you decided to put on the boombox this weekend. No one wants to hear you screaming and hollering at your wife because she got marshmallow goo on your North Face. Keep your distance from others when you can, and respect their right to a harmonious experience with all things green.
We’d also note that while camping on BLM land is free and awesome, there are other restrictions, which can vary, but essentially you have a 14-day limit camping in any one spot. The use of firearms, fireworks or even camp fires may not be allowed. Dirt roads leading to camping areas may cross washes (dry river beds where, should it rain–even hundreds of miles away–you and your rig may be washed away, your life brought to a sudden, choking halt), rocky terrain or other impasses for many vehicles. You can scout ahead by simply walking up any road you’re thinking of exploring, to make sure that you can at least turn around if things get sketchy.
Also note that many of the spots listed here are actual campgrounds, even if they are still free. The standard BLM campground typically includes a vault toilet (ie, an outhouse), picnic tables and a fire pit at each site, and real, designated spots, as opposed to dispersed camping, which is more or less undeveloped open spots available for camping. Nearly all of the free camping on BLM land is first come, first served.
12.2million acres of BLM land
Arizona has plenty of free BLM with good cell service.
The Grand Canyon State is rivaled only by Florida for most popular destination once the weather grows icy chill enough around the rest of the nation to make camping, even in an RV, less than pleasant. Unlike Florida, though, it is absolutely rampant with free BLM camping. Particularly in the southern and western swaths of the state, but not exclusively, endless saguaro-laden deserts where the temperature does everything it can to cooperate extend as far as the wheels can roll.
Many spots, like Saddle Mountain and Indian Bread Rocks, gain popularity simply by being conveniently located to I-10 as it cuts its four lanes through the countryside, while still more, such as Snyder Hill near Tucson, attract riffraff from all walks of life simply due to their proximity to a major metropolitan area. While some of these are beautiful, and admittedly convenient, they’re by no means the best that Arizona has to offer.
If it’s snowbirding you’re after, the Quartzite/Yuma/Lake Havasu triangle seems to be the hottest of spots for those who make their home one on wheels come winter’s bite. With the exception of Lake Havasu–with its London-inspired walkway along the lake and the actual London Bridge having been purchased by some gentleman with enough gaul and cash to do such a thing, have it shipped to Arizona, and then reconstructed–the towns are nothing to tweet home about. You will find likeminded rambling RVers galore here, so if community amongst your fellow roadsteaders is your goal, you’re not likely to find as much variety as you will here. If you want something out of the ordinary, something more than just a wide patch in the desert, Fortuna Pond outside of Yuma is just that. It’s several spots nestled up against cottonwood trees, all surrounding the small body of water for which it gets its name. You’ll be joined by a slew of fishermen and waterfowl alike, so weather you like to cast your reel or glass a heron, you’ll be in luck. Just don’t expect oodles of privacy.
Further south, and near our absolute favorite national monument in the entire nation, Darby Well Road (among other BLM areas) offers free camping not far from Organpipe National Monument. Ajo, Arizona, the closest town, is a quirky little place caught in the space between its Spanish history and the face of modern day America. It’s small, tiny even, but packs a big punch, and is exactly the type of place–not just another strip mall blur on some freeway to nowhere fast–that makes traveling the United States continue to offer up surprises. As facilities go, there are none. It should be noted that for the $20 or so it costs to camp in the national monument, that is absolutely worth the experience, but visually Darby Well isn’t much different–countless organ pipe cacti, saguaros, cholla and other spindly, poky flora abound, mountains in the distance, and sunsets to shake a lion’s tonsils for.
North and slightly east of all of this Southwestern Arizona winter hideaway, the oak-forested mountains surrounding the cute little town of Patagonia, Arizona are worth exploring, a different ecosystem than their Sonoran desert neighbors surrounding them. Cieneguita National Conservation Area, 30 minutes north of Patagonia, offers wide open desert camping in the similarly named national conservation area. Yuccas replace the taller cactus here, dirt roads dusting away the blue skies. While this may not sound like everyone’s dream location, it’s variety when compared to the rest of the state’s offerings makes it something to see, and Patagonia’s small town charm is a road less taken in this corner of the state.
Before we leave the southern warmth that comes with sticking to I-10 and below, one of the best, free places to camp in the thick of a saguaro forest, a truly “forest” mind you, is the Cactus Forest Campground near Marana, AZ. Across the freeway is Picacho Peak State Park, where a steep but relatively short hike up the mountains pays off with views of what seems like half of the state.
Mixing up the elevation and latitude completely, and moving north of the Grand Canyon, BLM land like that found in Badger Canyon foregoes spiny green near the Mexican border for canyonland orange nearer Utah. Camping near a steep canyon leading down to the Colorado River (this essentially is the Grand Canyon, though not officially part of the national park), with views of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, this is an exceptionally “out there” experience, one for which many specifically seek out BLM land in the first place.
Should you be less interested in the green of the Colorado River or cacti abundant throughout the state, and more curious about the strange creatures that crawl between these natural features, an hour south of bustling but still small enough Prescott, Arizona, free dispersed camping exists along Ghost Town Road near Congress, AZ. Javelinas roam the area, in addition to the usual desert suspects like jackrabbits, lizards and coyotes. A cemetery joins the campers on this road, and back in Congress, while the town has very little to offer, one of the gas stations is called the Superpumper, so that’s absolutely hilarious.
Top 5 BLM Camping Spots in Arizona
15.2million acres of BLM land.
California has plenty of free BLM with good cell service.
With the Golden State consuming nearly half of our western coastline, and holding a special place in American lore not only as the end of the American West, but in many ways the absolute embodiment of the concept, California holds a trove of BLM land, spread across what’s no doubt the most diverse of these United States. Deserts blanket the eastern side of the state, from the Mexican border north through Death Valley and beyond. The Sierra Nevada range is home to the highest point in the Lower 48, and we haven’t even touched on the volcanos, rainforests and Summer of Love temperate climes down the southern coast.
One of the most fabled free camping spots in the nation, shared around campfires and Instagram circles alike, Alabama Hills in the Eastern Sierras is a rubble boulder otherland, some place out of a B-movie sci-fi or old Western (it’s been the set for both, multiple times over). The Sierra’s Queen, Mount Whitney herself, forever sings her triangular, craggy prominence in the backdrop as nooks and crannies abundant create the type of endless camping that leaves you feeling solitude perpetual, yet still within a few minutes drive of a grocery store and everything else the US 395 highway town of Lone Pine, California has to offer. Not to mention venturing west, into the Sierras, where the Jeffrey pines smell of vanilla and the red firs tower gargantuan above your widening eyes.
Another star of the silver screen, Trona Pinnacles takes the Ralph Steadman surreality found in Alabama Hills and flips it gravity-upside-down, Dahli-esque on its head. We’ve heard stories of acid-trip filmmakers strolling through in furry outfits and simple endless starry skied nights with no one else in site alike. It’s the middle of the desert, a Tatooine-like experience, yet somehow cell service rings clear and true, so even if you prefer your wild open spaces with enough upload to get that perfect “sand and selfie”, you’ve come to the right place.
Continuing with the desert theme, as BLM tends to do, a not spectacular on its own spot sits just outside of Joshua Tree National Park. The magic of BLM land outside of Joshua Tree lies nearly completely in its ability to get you into the park itself almost immediately. Where the national park proper campgrounds fill up quickly, and cost money, spots both north and south of the park will raise your rent to absolutely free while leaving you a few easy miles to either of the park’s visitors centers. The southern location (GPS: 33.6745, -115.8019) is only 9 miles from Cottonwood Visitor Center. Otherwise, it’s a largely familiar desert to anyone who’s made the drive here from any direction, sage and sand with mountains ever in the distance. The northern location (GPS: 34.1716, -116.2291), though there are more than one, is a dry lake bed, prone to bursting blasts of frightening, if not downright dangerous, windstorms. Focus, people, you’re just outside of the magic of Joshua Tree without paying a dime, and this is BLM land, if not the poster child, the cool older brother role model.
Changing the scenery completely, but back on US 395, Chimney Creek rests over 5,000 feet up into the Sierras, a pine forested canyon of a place where isolation is significantly easier than the climb up to the campground. It’s also surrounded by Owens Peak Wilderness, almost guaranteeing your peace and quiet.
Meanwhile, Elkhorn Road in Carrizo Plain National Monument, particularly in the spring, is a painted wonder of wildflowers and raptors, a place to explore a national monument not oft-visited but only hours from the California coast and its bustling population.
Top 5 BLM Camping Spots in California
8.4million acres of BLM land.
Colorado has plenty of free BLM with good cell service.
Colorado is a state divided in half. East of I-25, that’s basically Kansas, for all intents and purposes. West of that interstate, though, the mountains rise and the high desert tapers them into the surrounding states, the farmland forever desecrating whatever the Great Plains once were left far behind in favor of an almost never-ending photo opportunity, the United States’ share of the Rocky Mountains quid pro quo given all to one state. Or, so sometimes it seems.
Where the mountains and deserts of the states surrounding Colorado have one or two regions that shine, Colorado’s Western Slope is riddled with enough free, gorgeous camping to occupy at least a summer, if not a lifetime. While free camping is abundant in the national forests of Colorado, we’ll let you find that national forest beauty on your own this time, and touch on some of the more unusual and out of the way BLM camping the state has to offer.
Near Dinosaur National Monument, in the northwestern corner, just before you reach Utah, Harper’s Corner Road pushes straight and uphill into the quiet that only those seeking the clouds can usually find. Aside from the striking sunsets posing long off in the desert’s distant horizon, and the national monument nearby, the road itself is a scenic drive. Good on the way in, and back out.
Due south, Canyon of the Ancients National Monument is one of the star parks of the Four Corners. With company like Hovenweep National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park and everything the nearby San Juan Mountains have to offer, that is no small feat. It’s perhaps due to all of the competition that Canyon of the Ancients, and its Cliff Camp BLM land (BLM Road 4725), finds its share of solitude. Oft described as well done off the beaten path, you’re almost guaranteed absolute silence if you hold your breath and stare either down into the crevices below or starborne into the sky.
Between these two spots, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a national park, flanked by the small city of Montrose, with all of the conveniences one might expect from a town way out in the mountains (they have a Target, which is saying something for such a place), and minutes outside of the park, sandwiched between it and town, is a free BLM camping area.
The twin towns of Salida and Buena Vista, both pronounced absolutely improperly by their locals (especially Boon-uh Vista), round out the best of the best in Colorado when it comes to BLM. Trending towns both situated along the Arkansas River (they pronounce it “Are Kansas”), with hot springs-seeping mountains in every direction, something out of California’s Eastern Sierras handbook, but much, much hipper, they offer the relaxation of getting away from it all combined perfectly with the “buds and brewery” attitude of better known metropolitan areas in the state alike. See below for more information on the best two spots to stay on either side of these towns.
Top 5 BLM Camping Spots in Colorado
11.9million acres of BLM land.
Idaho is a mixed bag when it comes to BLM with good cell service.
The Gem State is just that, not as popular a destination as its Pacific Northwest neighbors, carpets of green lain across big Rocky Mountains, and plenty of small towns worth exploring between trips up long dirt roads. It’s on the banks of the Snake and Salmon Rivers, and countless smaller creeks, that you’ll find the best BLM camping Idaho has to offer.
On the Snake, near the I-86 offshoot town of American Falls and the reservoir it’s created, Pipeline Campground is a vault toilet, horseshoe pit and boat ramp just below the American Falls Reservoir’s dam. Sites have do the picnic table and fire pit shuffle, and birds clamor to the water’s edge here. A long wooden dock extends into the river here, perfect for all of your Corona commercial filming needs, and otherwise it’s wide open spaces with the occasional willow tree growing tall along the rivers edge, and you can basically get close enough to back your bumper over the water if space is available.
Two hours west and south of Pipeline, Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir also offers up space for primitive camping, right along the shores of the reservoir for which it’s named. Coming from Boise or American Falls, you’ll pass through Twin Falls, Idaho, which has a great brewery and spectacular waterfall. Twenty minutes south of Salmon Falls you’ll find the town of Jackpot, Nevada, which is your closest restocking option, though the town is little more than a string of strip mall casinos. That a place named Salmon Falls rests on a reservoir, dam and all, is an oxymoron was not lost on us, though.
Heading North, leaving the Snake and flatter lands of Idaho behind, the Salmon River carves its way through the Rockies. Near the Seven Devils Mountains, a spectacular twisted rocky crown of a mountain range, Island Bar Recreation Site is wilderness accessible. Caribou sip from the Salmon River, several established spots rest near the water, and the mountain and conifers across the river reflect in its subtle flow, perfect for swimming in come summer’s heat. Nearby Riggins, ID has all of the watering holes you’ll need otherwise, for groceries and craft beer alike.
Thirty five minutes east of Craters of the Moon National Monument, Silver Creek’s North & South campgrounds offer paved spots, with covered picnic tables, grills and fire rings, along the slow flow of the Silver Creek itself. Craters of the Moon has its own, excellent campground, should you be willing to shell out the cash to stay within walking distance of the visitors center, and immediate access to the roads into the park, but if you don’t mind the commute, Silver Creek’s offering is outstanding as well.
Top 5 BLM Camping Spots in Idaho
For a little inspiration though…
8million acres of BLM land.
Montana has plenty of free BLM with good cell service.
They call Montana “Big Sky,” and we can see why, especially when you leave behind the coffee shop aromas of Missoula and perpetual wildlife machine of the mountains in Glacier National Park. The BLM land found in this state tends to be wide open spaces, with forested mountains in the distance.
Most of it rests on the western side of the state, between Bozeman and Missoula, the Wyoming border and well south of Glacier.
Gold Creek is the closest to all of the happening restaurants, river surfing and smokejumper allure of Missoula, yet still a healthy 45 minute drive down a Jeep-worthy dirt road. Just note that your clearance should be just as high as the plates full of happy hour nachos in town, since no one may be there to find you should things get sketchy with the potholes.
The gulches between Basin, Montana and Boulder, along I-15, provide that special sort of one nighter many a traveler loves about free camping, riverside parking near a forested hill, something closer to what one may imagine when they do conceive of the Pacific Northwest in their mind, than what you’ll find for many an hour once you cross that Washington border. Homestake Pass holds another such example, and while you may not be the only human camper for miles in these areas, no doubt the company you’ll meet from those interested in such rough and tumble, yet easily accessible spots, will help pass the time.
And finally, Carbella Recreation Site is about as close as you can come to Yellowstone while still camping on free BLM land (though give “Henrys Lake Boat Access” a Google, too, if you come into the park’s northwest entrance via Idaho.) Gardiner is a town worth–not to mention necessary–passing through as you head south from Carbella, too.
Top 4 BLM Camping Spots in Montana
48million acres of BLM land.
Nevada has plenty of free BLM with good cell service.
Home to more BLM than any other state, and many of the western states combined, Nevada is gorgeous in its own right, and equally drab at times. Love for the Loneliest Highway in America, Lake Tahoe and Great Basin not to be held in a diminutive light, the state at times feels so laden with ways to gamble–at times it feels like even the toilets have slot machines in them–that it can be easy to forget how spectacular the concept of far-reaching basin and range loneliness can be. If you’re looking for solitude, an escape from cell phone signals, and are keen on remembering to fill up the tank before you hit the desert backroads, the Silver State is waiting to take your hand.
Far enough outside of Vegas, but still in that tight little “V” which Nevada slips between the thighs of California and Arizona, spindly dirt passageways like Sand Mine Road and Logandale Trail nestle eager campers between tight canyons and along their cliffs as well, the type of place you shouldn’t be surprised were a donkey or two to come ’round the bend.
Along that Loneliest Highway, US 50, Sacramento Pass places you just outside of sleepy Baker and Great Basin National Park. While camping in the park is easy, and often without need of a reservation, this BLM spot can give you firsthand insight into how precious the water flowing down the park’s mountains can be, how they form small pools, and set you up perfectly for the juxtaposition that resides in the peaks you’ll drive toward and high deserts in between. Great Basin was originally a national monument, and the Lehman Caves for which that monument was created are not to be missed. Just make sure and reserve your spot a day in advance.
Twenty Mile Beach at Walter Lake, in the state’s southwest corner, provides an alternative to lakefront camping to the notorious Lake Mead. Or should you be a fan of Johnny Cash, Water Canyon Recreation Area near Winnemucca, NV is the type of campground that still provides rudimentary toilets, picnic tables and a fire ring but doesn’t ask you to pay for such things.
Top 5 BLM Camping Spots in Nevada
13.5million acres of BLM land.
Nevada has plenty of free BLM with good cell service.
The Land of Enchantment is a sparse one, oft-downtrodden and yet always seemingly struggling to prove itself amongst its fellow Southwestern neighbors. Colorado has the Rockies, Utah its orange arches and Arizona that big ol’ hole in the ground people so love to try and not fall into. Even Texas, to the east, holds some Lone Star reputation that New Mexico just can’t quite manage to muster.
Yet, it’s home to the Gila National Forest, and the Organ Mountains, both spectacles of nature worth seeing for days or weeks on end to truly appreciate for their depth of character and literal nature. Santa Fe, Taos, and even Las Cruces are worthwhile stops to explore what modern day chefs are doing with hatch chile peppers. Not to mention Hatch itself, this greasy restaurant full of Americana, memorabilia and that puzzling state between kitsch and reality, where human beings from around the Four Corners stand in long lines just for their chance to walk through the door and pay for food that will likely leave them finding any long drive afterward a weighty affair.
At the northern end of the state, Angel Peak will shake you up on the way in, but reward you with a campground experience, at no cost, high on a desert plateau. It’s prime territory to launch into the rest of what the area has to offer, from quirky Aztec, NM to happening Durango, CO (40 and 80 minutes away, respectively). If you’ve been too deep in the desert for too long, Farmington, NM has all of the big box stores for your stocking up delight, and you’re essentially in the heart of Ancient Puebloan society, so expect ample opportunities to find cliff dwellings and pithouses galore.
At the far southeastern corner of New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns National Park has no official campgrounds, and while the town of Carlsbad itself is rampant with okay RV parks, free camping at Fence Canyon puts you ten minutes outside of the park’s entrance. Bats erupting from the mouth of the cave’s entrance, a long slow walk through an underground glitter festival, and an elevator back up all make this unlikely national park something to see.
Not far off of I-40, with easy access to El Malpais National Monument, Joe Skeen Campground is another one of those, “Why did they put toilets and picnic tables here but don’t want me to pay?” type of BLM campgrounds. Or should you wish to visit Las Cruces and its Organ Mountains, which you should, Sierra Vista Campground is the way to go, though shred the concept of any tables or pre-dug holes in the ground for which one might poop. The Organ Mountains are easily a runner up for most stunning jagged crags erupting from this earth what may be found in the United States’ continental bunch, something like the Tetons, but desert.
Top 4 BLM Camping Spots in New Mexico
15.7million acres of BLM land.
Oregon is a mixed bag when it comes to BLM with good cell service.
Oregon is the coast, it’s all about the coast. But the Cascades are fabulous, as well, yes, Oregon is all about the Cascades. And the small towns. And the eastern side of the state’s high desert isn’t so bad either. And then there’s Portland…
The Beaver State has so much to love, and a general attitude toward not just getting outside, but existing in the outdoors, that is matched by few other places in the nation.
Should you want to camp directly on the ocean, you won’t find that in BLM land here. Instead, look into Oregon State Parks, as free camping on the beach, or anywhere on US 101 in Oregon, is extremely rare, despite the entire coastline being public land (should you want to hike the Oregon Coast Trail, though, plenty of tent camping spots are available.) Free camping on BLM land will put you a minimum of 45 minutes from the coast–specifically on BML Road 28 1 near Walton, OR. A trickling creek meanders between mossy rocks, a young forest climbing up and away from its banks. Hult Pond, fifty minutes north of there, is a little over an hour away, but as BLM land goes, the cream of the crop. Lakeside camping in a spectacular forest setting.
Outside of Ashland, Oregon, a favorite destination in the state, camping on Old Highway 99 puts you twenty minutes from Siskyou Mountain Park, Mt. Ashland Ski Area, and everything the town of Ashland itself has to offer.
Speaking of BLM land who’s primary draw is proximity to a cool city, Badlands Rock is a similar twenty minutes, this time east of Bend, OR. Don’t expect more than wide open, barren desert with a grove of trees here and there, but between bustling Bend, Lavalands, Newberry Volcanic National Monument and the Deschutes River running through it all, it’s a basecamp worth of note. That the Cascade Mountains’ many pointed gods, with names like Washington, Bachelor, Broken Top and Three Fingered Jack, all linger in the distance doesn’t hurt either. Further southeast of Bend, Green Mountain Campground is absolutely worth getting a bit deeper into the middle of nowhere for.
Top 5 BLM Camping Spots in Oregon
29.9million acres of BLM land.
Utah is a mixed bag when it comes to BLM with good cell service.
Easily the best BLM camping in the nation, Utah’s splendor shines in the magnificent, and seemingly non-stop, 360° scenery. While the entire state holds some amount of majesty, much of the best free BLM camping is interwoven with the five national parks that make up the majority of Southern Utah, giving you not only a chance to enjoy nature rent-free, but have a blast exploring the national parks, monuments, state parks and national forests that make up what may be the longest stretch of sheer beauty this country has to offer.
On the eastern side of this area, with Canyonlands and Arches National Parks only minutes away, happening, busy, off-roading Moab is home to Willow Springs Trail, where with a little effort, you can become a postcard, or a Chevy Like a Rock commercial.
South of Moab, monolith testaments to the epic natural history of this part of the country stand sentinel still and titan enormous above the ample free camping in Valley of the Gods. Come well-stocked, as the towns in this area have little to offer outside of gas station conveniences.
On the polar opposite end of the Mighty Five, the name given to Utah’s slew of national parks, Hurricane Ridge rests cliff side and expansive, where the sky and earth compete regularly for fairest maiden of them all. Under a half an hour to Zion National Park, the flagship of the Mighty Five you might say, and the fun little town of Springdale, UT. Nearby BLM camping at North Creek is worth a gander as well, if you want to shave off a few minutes of your drive into the park.
In the middle of it all, an hour outside of Capitol Reef National Park, and just next to Goblin State Park, Wild Horse Road lives up to the goblin concept, with tippy towering rocks capped in even larger boulders, straight out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon playing the backdrop. If it’s on your way, or if your way hasn’t been set just yet, follow Utah 95 south of Hanksville, all the way to Blanding, for one of the most spectacular roads you’ll ever experience, replete with free camping in a variety of forms.
Two hours north of Goblin State Park, beyond I-70, Wedge Overlook is absolutely worth a long getaway.
Leaving those parks behind, Utah’s northeastern corner, all along US 40, is a rainbow of red rock, twisted trees and antelope’s worth of worthy to check out as well, plus you’ll ditch the crowds that sift in like shells from the tide in the more popular southern side of the state as well. McCoy Flat and Green River Bridge are highlights when it comes to camping in this area.
Top 7 BLM Camping Spots in Utah
BLM: 0.4million acres of BLM land.
Washington tends to have limited cell service on its best BLM land.
While Washington west of the Cascade Mountains is a a carpet of emerald, moss dripping, snow-laden volcano peaks and rainforest coastline, Bureau of Land Management offerings all fall west of that divide, and Eastern Washington is a considerably more desert affair. Wildfires climb down through the forests, scattering across the dry vegetation between the high desert and mountains’ edge, threatening a multitude of small towns in their wake.
Camping on BLM land in Washington State, however, isn’t your typical Pacific Northwest high desert affair. Pastures nestled between hillsides, rivers surrounded by pine forests and the slow roll of green circling pristine lakes all await.
Some of the best BLM in the state is also the hardest to reach, found in Washington’s share of the Okanagan River valley. Both Chopaka Lake and Spectacle Lake offer free, lush camping along their small shores. Chopaka Lake in particular, with aspen groves and conifers alike growing into the distance and the Chopaka Mountain Wilderness Study Area residing just next door, where you can hike and explore to your heart’s content, without the interference of vehicles–including bicycles–smogging up the natural beauty. Bald and golden eagles soar over these foothills, mountain goats roam their cliff sides and wildflowers line colorful painted cliffs galore. Palmer Mountain, and its namesake lake, offer abundant opportunities for kayaking and fishing as well.
All of this wilderness will put you, as it should, far from modern conveniences though, with most places to fill up your tank, get a bite to eat and stock up on supplies being an hour away in Oroville, Washington, on the Canadian border. Not interested in an hourlong commute back to cell service and civilization?
Fifteen minutes up the Similkameen River from Oroville, riverfront camping can be had along its banks, including at designated spots like Miners Flat.
Five hours south, closer to the sprawling desert town of Yakima, Washington, BLM land begins to feel more like national forest camping, where free camping is available along Williams Creek as it makes its way over the rocks and banks up to Liberty Campground, a shady spot where the Cascades have not quite turned to desert just yet.
Toward the center of the high desert, a series of lakes offers dispersed BLM camping near the water’s edge. Picture rocky outcrops jutting elephant-like in the distance, you and your campsite sharing endless views–save the occasional riparian tree–from the water. Boat docks at both Twin Lakes and Coffeepot Lake make getting onto the water easy, and fishing is permitted with a license. Hunting is banned in the area, and traffic is minimal. Nearby Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area is only a scenic, thirty minute drive away.
Finally, south of Sprague and 40 minutes or so from Interstate 90, Rock Creek Recreation Site and Escure Ranch offers the type of camping that’ll leave you swimming your days away and drying your feet in the grass when you’re finished. If you do a little research, there’s even a known bald eagle nest that makes spotting our national bird as easy as, well, free camping.
As the western state with the least BLM land, Washington manages to provide more than your usual empty-spot-in-the-desert camping on this free public land.
Top 5 BLM Camping Spots in Washington
18.4million acres of BLM land.
Wyoming is a mixed bag when it comes to BLM with good cell service.
While many a seasoned traveler, and tourist-in-planning alike, will know Wyoming for national parks like Yellowstone and, even better, Grand Teton, or national forest camping in Bighorn National Forest, the Cowboy State has plenty of BLM as well, much of it with sweeping views of the basin and range, canyon and cliff by which the state is tattooed.
Free camping can be had all along White Mountain Road, outside of I-80’s Green River, Wyoming. While the town has a couple of gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores to stock up, sites appear along White Mountain Road within a few minutes of leaving town, and are a perfect example of Wyoming desert scenery. Rollings hills appear to be seasoned with salt and sagebrush, steeper escarpments interrupt the flow, as though ancient giants allowed their children to use the area as a personal sandbox. Rock formations rival the sky for most important visual on the horizon, and there is practically no shortage of space to find a previously established spot to camp.
Two hours east on I-90, north of Sinclair, Wyoming, Dugway Recreation Site offers designated spots, with a picnic table and a fire ring, plus vault toilets, but without the usual fee such amenities would conjure. Out your window, the North Platte River divides you from a chocolate black wall of rock and as night falls, the stars paint their epic eternal mural. Seminoe State Park, fifteen minutes from both Dugway and Sinclair, is centered around a lake and historical happenings in the area. A scenic route by the name of Byway 1 takes you from the state park to the small, fisherman’s community of Alcove, with a national wildlife refuge along the way.
Leaving I-90, and heading north two hours along US 191, following the actual Green River from the town of its name, Warren Bridge is a BLM campground, with additional free dispersed camping available beyond the sites, which includes a vault toilet for the low, low price of free. Pronghorn antelope give you their spaced-out gaze just before leaping to action at the mere twitch of your mustache, here, and wildlife abundant–particularly birds–rustle occasionally away the otherwise silence of the solitude this place tends to provide. At just over an hour from Jackson, Wyoming, it’s also the closest BLM spot to Grand Teton National Park. While staying at the free spots near Warren Bridge will cost you nothing, being in the campground itself will cost you $10.
Other places of note include Atlantic City, a working–but nearly ghost–town south of the Wind River Reservation, which has BLM camping perfectly poised to explore Atlantic City itself, as well as South Pass City. The two towns together barely share 50 residents, but are rich in history and even if that’s not your thing, should you roll in with a family of five, you’ve essentially increased the population by 10%. This BLM land does come at a price though, around $12.
Should you find your front bumper headed toward Yellowstone via Cody, Wyoming–a cowboy town famous for its rodeo, but which also features a museum largely centered around Buffalo Bill, but which also has an impressive display of raptors they nurture back to health–there is a roadside slice of BLM near the Buffalo Bill Dam, on the Shoshone River. Personally, the dam gives me the creeps, like all of the torture ever inflicted on the Native Americans is being holed up behind its wall, but on the other hand, Cody’s RV parks aren’t cheap. The drive from the dam to Yellowstone is every bit as beautiful as the park itself.
Top 3 BLM Camping Spots in Wyoming
- White Mountain Road, Green River, Wyoming
- Warren Bridge
- Dugway Recreation Site
- Atlantic City ($12 / night)
- Spirit Mountain Road, Cody, Wyoming (more for proximity than the actual camping here)
The expanses that are our collective BLM lands are far from the only free places to camp. National forests are also abundant throughout not only the American West, but the United States as a whole. Walmarts, Cabellas, Cracker Barrels and some gas stations are options, too. But for the most prevalent, often most beautiful, it’s a great American privilege that we have access to so much open land. Let’s all do our part to keep it that way by cleaning up after ourselves.