How to Find Free Boondocking on BLM Land and Forest Area Land

Boondocking, also known as ‘dry camping’ without hookups is the practice of free camping and staying at locations or boondocks in your car, caravan or RV. A ‘boondock’ technically means a rural area or a rough and isolated countryside, but things have changed over the years. Locations such as Walmart, car parks and others have become increasingly popular.

One of the best and easiest ways to boondock is on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands. The Bureau manages various activities on US Public Lands, one of them being recreation. BLM lands comprise around 10% of the total available lands in the US. These are what the vast open lands are that you see when you fly across the country. The best part is, these lands do not need to be hundreds of miles in the desert; you can find areas as near or far to civilization as you want. It’s also quite easy to spot BLM lands to camp. Just go to their website and find your spot; it’s ridiculously easy to navigate.

Can You Camp for Free on BLM land?

There are rules for boondocking on BLM lands. Most of the available BLM lands allow you to camp without any charges for up to 14 days. After 14 days, you must move 25 miles away to another spot. Pretty easy right? You just need to find a land to drive to, get off the main road and onto a well-maintained dirt road. Then you set up camp for a couple of weeks move a bit farther away at the end of it.

One thing to note though, there are some BLM lands which are not free of cost and do charge a fee for camping. For example, Quartzsite, a town in Arizona, which is quite a popular RV spot during the winters, charges about $40 for a pass of two weeks. A six-month pass can cost roughly around $180.

There are also some BLM campgrounds which are not completely free, but they are quite rare. You can find such sites either through a simple search or on one of the numerous apps which contains info about all kinds of BLM lands. Most of these campsites are available on a first come, first serve basis. The fees usually range between five to ten dollars per night, which you need to deposit in an iron ranger (collection box).

This type of camping isn’t recommend for beginners. You should have some experience and certainly be comfortable traveling and being self sustaining your own setup. If you haven’t be sure to check out the complete A-Z Guide for RVer’s Here.  

Is it Legal to Shoot on BLM land?

The BLM website states that it provides opportunities to engage in shooting sports activities in an environmentally safe and sound manner in adherence to certain regulations.

What this means is that it is legal in most land which is managed by the BLM to engage in recreational shooting as long you follow federal, state and local rules and regulations. And this requires for all your guns, magazines and ammunition to be completely legal. Law enforcement or even BLM officers can come to check up on you during a range session.

Each BLM area might have some additional rules associated with them. A few suggestions for shooting in BLM lands are as follows–

  1. Use only public roads to get to BLM lands.
  2. Follow firearm safety rules. Select a safe backdrop and know what’s beyond your target.
  3. Don’t shoot too close to objects like campgrounds, buildings or other public occupied areas.
  4. Avoid shooting stuff which can leave behind any toxic debris like glass or electronics.
  5. Do not damage any plants.
  6. Do not leave any trace of trash or target remains. BLM lands are public lands for everyone to use.
  7. A range officer if you happen to be with a group. They can guide you like a real shooting range.
  8. Stay on designated routes as much as possible. Traveling cross country is not permitted outside of Off-Highway open area boundaries.
  9. Shooting from inside a vehicle is not permitted.
  10. It is illegal to destroy trees, signs, outbuildings and other objects on public and federal lands.
  11. Shooting is not allowed within 150 yards of residences, buildings or other occupied structure. Don’t shoot from across the road.

Now that you know that you can indeed shoot on BLM lands, the next question is what to shoot. A few simple solutions can be a combination of paper targets on stands, fruits or metal targets. Fruits or metal targets are always fun; you know when you’ve hit. It also saves you some trouble as metal doesn’t need to be reset, and fruit is decomposable.

Finding a spot to shoot on BLM lands can prove to be slightly tricky. Two best places to find shooting spots are the BLM website and online forums.

Online Forums seem like a simple enough solution to the problem. Simply search for the area you want online to see where members typically go for shooting. The problem here is that most people would want to keep such locations a secret so as not to share their special space which they found. Ask yourself, would you?

The second way is through the BLM website. Just scroll through the website till you find a map that spells ‘State Offices’. Next, you can click on your state, which will lead you to another map with even more breakdowns. Just look at the area closest to you, switch to google and type in that area and shooting. The first hit should give you what you’re looking for.

To be on the safe side, it’s always best to verify if you can shoot by calling the local field office.

What state has the most BLM land?

Alaska, in the US, has the most acres of BLM land. When you think of Alaska or the Last Frontier State, the amount of land that BLM manages would rarely come to anyone’s mind first up. However, with over 72 million acres of land of all types and categories, it is the largest BLM managed lands in the entire States. It is also the largest state in the United States, with over 365,210,000 acres of land available. But most of it is not occupied by men and it remains the least densely populated state. The BLM’s mission thus is to maintain the ecosystems and wildlife that road these large and cold lands.

Other states with large areas managed by BLM are the states of Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Idaho. Each of these has over 50% of their land that is public and managed by BLM.

Can You Camp for Free in a National Forest?

Camping in national forests of the US is either completely free or cheap. National Forests take up to 15% of the total land in the U.S. When we add this to the BLM lands mentioned earlier; you have a whopping 25% of land in the country dedicated to recreation. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) manages around 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands, most of which allow free camping. Visitors are allowed to set up their camp outside of a few designated areas, although providing camping is not completely prohibited in those areas.

Camping in national forests is termed as “dispersed camping,” which is different from “boondocking” explained in the earlier sections. Regardless of the names, they mean the same thing. Thus both the US Forest Service (USFS) as well as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the U.S. allow you to camp on public land for extended periods.

According to the USFS, “All National Forest lands are open to camping unless otherwise posted.” Thus, most of the national forest is available for camping, and it’s usually free. The rules usually state that dispersed camping must be done at least a mile away from campgrounds which are paid. Another thing to keep in mind is that some private properties can be nearby as well, so keep an eye out for ‘no trespassing’ signs.

Apart from most of the lands which are freely available, there are certain official campgrounds in the National Forest that do require a fee, usually a daily one. The fee you would pay will be around $5-$10. Also, most of these campgrounds do not have a dedicated host but have a self-payment station. So, you can just put your cash or check in an envelope put it in the slot provided.

You take a copy for yourself and put it on the windshields or the campsite to let passing ranges know that you’ve paid. There are numerous apps out there where you can get information regarding campgrounds. You can directly navigate to the USFS page to get info about the campground you want. One of the most popular apps available is Park Advisor.

Camping in National Forest is all about enjoying nature without any fuss from the outer world. Soaking in the wilderness, looking at the amazing scenery and getting away from all the noise of the world is an experience worth having.

But as much as you might want to enjoy free camping in the forests, there are several rules and regulations put up by the Forest Service that you need to keep in mind. But thankfully, these regulations are quite straightforward and easy to follow, so you don’t have to give up much of your enjoyment and satisfaction either.

  1. One of the most important ones is to leave no trace of your camping. The USFS asks that the campers respect the forests and keep them clean for everyone to enjoy equally. You should pack out any trash or residue you have.
  2. Shooting firearms and firecrackers are allowed to be used within the stipulated rules of the USFS.
  3. Any type of campfire must be completely extinguished and failing to maintain control of your campfire is strictly prohibited. Be sure to visit the website of the National Forest before your visit to check if fires are prohibited in the area due to any burn ban conditions. Keep note of any special restrictions before lighting your campsite.
  4. Though dispersed camping is free in most areas, some areas might charge a small fee for parking.
  5. Provided the lack of any toilet facilities, human waste should be buried in a hole dug at least 6 inches deep inside the ground.

One thing to keep in mind while camping in National Forests is the water and floods. Clean water is always going to be a challenge while camping and all natural water should  be purified before consuming. So be sure to bring plenty of water with you as well. And a good solar setup is obviously preferred over running a loud generator when around others in the open country.

Flooding might also occur due to heavy rainfall or snow melting. So do not park within 200 feet from lakes and streams.