When going camping, perhaps the most important thing to consider is where you want to pitch your tent, string up your hammock, or park your RV and settle in for the trip. The entire country is yours to explore – well, almost.
Most campers don’t want to stay somewhere wild and dangerous, and private campgrounds can cost quite a bit. If you are looking to take your nature vacation in a safe place without shelling out lots of money, you should consider BLM camping.
But what does “BLM” camping mean?
When referring to BLM camping, the “BLM” part is actually an acronym that stands for “Bureau of Land Management.” The Bureau of Land Management is a government organization that oversees public land and manages the property to use for recreation and conservation, keeping the areas safe and clean for both humans and animals. BLM camping is simply camping on these lands.
When you camp on BLM managed land, you get a range of camping experiences all over the United States and support the conservation of beautiful sites spread across the country.
Basic Facts About BLM Camping
If you do decide to go camping on BLM managed sites, then there are a few basic things that you should know before you hit the road. This will help your trip go smoothly and will prepare you for your experience.
1- There are three types of BLM campgrounds or permitted camping spots – established campgrounds, RV parks, and public land for dispersed camping.
2- There will be a small fee to camp at developed campgrounds. This fee will go toward the upkeep of the facilities you enjoy and to further development of land and amenities. The fee will vary by the campground you choose.
3- Most BLM campgrounds have a limit to how long you can stay, but the limit is typically generous. Many of these campgrounds allow you to stay for two weeks out of a month.
4- Some campgrounds are only seasonally available, so you should check whether the one that you plan to stay at will be open when you want to go. This is due to adverse weather conditions in the area.
5- You can reserve your spot at some of these BLM campsites, but others are rented out on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The Pros and Cons of BLM Camping
As is true of any campsite, there are pros and cons to camping out on BLM managed land. It is up to you to weigh the benefits against the drawbacks and decide what’s best for your situation.
6- You get a wide range of options for camping. Whether you will be in an RV, pitching a tent, or just throwing a sleeping bag on the ground under the stars, there’s a BLM site made for the camping experience you’ve always dreamed of having.
7- The fee that you pay is guaranteed to go toward the upkeep of the land that you stay on. Because it is government-owned, you know exactly where your money is going.
8- These parks and campgrounds are clean. When you go to a BLM campsite, you know that you will be staying somewhere clean. You might not know what to expect with a private campground, as the owners can do as little or as much maintenance as they want. BLM land is regularly maintained.
9- You’ll be paying your fees upfront, unlike the policy of paying at the end that some campgrounds have. You know exactly how much you will be spending to enjoy your stay so you can lose your financial worries after the initial fee.
10- Not every BLM campsite is made equal. Many have a variety of amenities such as restrooms, picnic areas, potable water, and hookups. However, some do not, leaving you with only a fire ring and the land itself. You may have to travel farther for the option of a more comfortable experience.
11- The varying fees, facilities, and availability of campgrounds across the country may leave you not knowing exactly what to expect. While there is information about each campground on the Bureau of Land Management site, it could be limited and things are always subject to change.
12- You are subject to federal law on BLM grounds. This means that controversial things that may be legal on a state level are still illegal to participate in on BLM managed campgrounds. Of course, this could be a benefit for some, but for those used to certain extra freedoms may feel restricted while camping on BLM managed sites.
13- There are limits on how long you can stay at a certain campground within one month, which may not exist on a privately-owned site. If you are looking to camp out long term, BLM campsites are not the best route for you.
BLM Campsite Locations
The Bureau of Land Management oversees public land meant for camping in several states all across the country. If you know which region you would like to take your nature retreat in (or your RV indoor paradise), then you should know where these sites can be found.
Many of the BLM campgrounds are located in the following states:
● North Dakota
● New Mexico
● South Dakota
There are plenty of recreational sites in the Eastern U.S. as well, but not all offer the option to camp. Minnesota and Wisconsin offer several public sites managed by the BLM, but you will need to research your camping options, as they vary by the site in these locations.
Tips for Camping on BLM Sites
When going camping anywhere, there are a few basic guidelines that you should follow. There are also some that are unique to certain BLM campgrounds, and you need to be prepared to follow the guidelines if you want to have a fun, safe, and exciting trip!
14- Build your campfire safely within designated fire rings and be sure to extinguish it completely before leaving the area. Never leave a fire unsupervised, and be sure that you are not building a fire during drought season in the area you are camping in.
15- In some BLM camping areas (mostly in the West), there are abandoned mines located in the area. Be mindful of mine shafts and give them a wide berth. You could get seriously injured if you fall into one. Never explore abandoned mines; this is unsafe. They’re abandoned for a reason.
16- Check the local weather forecast near the campsite before you plan your trip. During certain times of the year, it can be dangerous to camp there. Even if the area is not prone to tornadoes, hurricanes, mudslides, hail, snowstorms, etc., thunderstorms can put a real damper on your camping plans.
17- Always let people know exactly where you will be and for how long. Out in the wilderness, there are many potential dangers that could prevent you from getting safely back to your tent. While common sense can prevent a lot of this from happening, some events are unforeseen and they are no one’s fault. Just let your group or people at home know where you will be. If you don’t come back, they will be able to search for you or send for help. This can make the difference between life and death.
18- Respect local wildlife. Observe them from a distance, but avoid getting too near. Bears and wolves are part of the local wildlife in some camping areas. They usually do not attack campers unless provoked. Give them no reason to go after you.
19- Pack appropriately for the weather. An otherwise amazing camping trip can turn into a real nightmare if you are unprepared. In the desert, temperatures can soar during the day and plummet to below freezing at night. At a BLM campsite in this type of climate, pack for both hot and cold weather so you don’t get sick or, at the very least, uncomfortable.
20- Leave only your footprints behind. When you litter your campsite and leave garbage, plastic, and waste behind, not only are you being rude but you are also endangering the local animals and the planet. Do your part to save the planet and the critters who live on it – leave only your footprints when you pack up and go home.
Why BLM Camping Could Be the Right Choice for You
Now that you know all of the basics about BLM camping, you might be wondering whether it’s the right choice for you. To get your answer, ask yourself these questions:
● Am I willing to follow federal laws regardless of my state’s laws?
● Do I want to pay fees upfront?
● Where do I want to go?
● Am I willing to travel a long distance to get to a BLM-managed campground?
If you answered “yes” to all of these, then of course BLM camping is right for you! As long as you follow the rules and stay prepared for any challenges the environment may throw at you, then you will have an amazing time that you’ll look back on and cherish for the rest of your life.