When my boyfriend and I were driving back from our epic weekend at Lake Powell, we could hardly resist spending a day in St. George. As avid climbers, the desert cliffs called our names. After a busy week, we were thrilled to spend the night car camping out among the Joshua trees on some of the best real estate in the country: our BLM land.
For two reformed dirt bags, camping on BLM land has been a way of life for both Kyle and myself. Waking up in beautiful places is a nice reminder that there are still wild places, and dirt roads that will lead you there. There are fewer places better to experience that sort of solitude than BLM land. Read on for your guide to BLM free campgrounds and conservation.
What is BLM Land?
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was established by President Truman in 1946 as an internal reorganization effort. The BLM was originally a conglomerate of the GLO and the U.S. Grazing Service, and is now responsible for the management of national lands. The calling card of the agency is “your public lands,” meaning that they are “owned by all Americans.” While there may be some gray area in this, the BLM tends to be the most relaxed with their rules and regulations. After our crazy trip to Zion, we were feeling ready for some low-traffic camping.
What Does the BLM Do?
According to this infographic produced by the BLM, they are responsible for managing over 1/10 of the nation’s surface area. They work with a diverse group of “users,” from ranchers who want to use public lands to graze their cattle, to oil and gas groups, and to climbers like us. They also do a ton of conservation work, helping to preserve and protect endangered plants and wildlife. The BLM prides itself on being “one of a handful of federal agencies that brings in more revenue than it spends.” With an annual economic output of $88 billion, we can hardly disagree.
Since much of the BLM’s land is dedicated wilderness, the camping can be fairly remote. This spot we found in the 63,500-acre Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Area just outside the Utah Hills had a fire ring and a sign—and nothing else but Joshua trees, desert scrub, and mountain views for miles.
Why Camp on BLM Land?
BLM camping areas are some of my favorite in the country. In many cases, you don’t need a permit or have to pay a fee. You can literally find a spot and settle in. In a world with increasing regulations and crowds, it feels refreshing to just be out there. The structure and management at national parks, for example, is critical. Without it, those places would be destroyed. That being said, having some freedom in spaces like this is also critical when you’re looking for solitude. Many BLM campsites offer free camping for up to 14 days. If we had the time, we could have settled on our spot for the next two weeks!
How Can I Protect BLM Land?
While BLM land is remote, there are still rules. The best way to preserve and protect BLM is to follow them. Some campsites charge a fee. If so, pay it. It’s usually no more than $10, a small price to pay for the preservation of public lands. If you stay for the allotted 14 days, the BLM asks that you move at least 25 miles from your original spot and not to return within 28 days. Please also camp at least 200 feet away from water and use sites that are already established, if possible.
There are almost no nationally-recognized rules for BLM land, so check on the specific regulations of the areas you are heading to before you go. Some areas have restrictions on photography and film, so please respect those rules as well. When camping, remember to keep the Leave No Trace principles in mind. Clean up any trash you make (and even some that you find!) before you go. Fully extinguish all fires before you leave, and when using the bathroom out-of-doors, please follow the standard ethics.
No time to camp? Walk your dog off-leash. Go hunting or fishing. Maybe an early morning swim? With so much public land at our disposal, we might as well use it. If you need some down time, find your local BLM-managed areas, and go experience your public lands.