Dispersed Camping On Federal Land
Did you know that you can camp for FREE on millions of acres of Federal Land in the U.S.?
If you are interested in camping, especially self-contained minimalist camping then you probably have questions about camping in National Forest or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. The fact is that these are PUBLIC lands. You OWN these lands and can utilize them for free!
One of these uses is camping, and specifically what is defined as "Dispersed Camping". This means camping in the woods or the desert in any area not prohibited by the local jurisdiction. A dispersed camping site is a gravel area in the desert or a cleared spot in the forest - basically anywhere someone has driven and/or camped before. In general, you must be off the main road and must not blaze a new trail across the wilderness.
GoneCamper about one-quarter mile down a side road in the National Forest
Dispersed camping is outside of established campgrounds. Usually the fee for these campgrounds is only $10.00 to $20.00 per night and includes basic facilities like a parking pad, a fire ring, picnic table and outhouse. Dispersed camping sites are free because NOTHING is provided. There are no facilities and no maintenance, which means you need to take care of yourself and clean up after yourself.
GoneCamper boondocking for FREE in the Coconino National Forest north of Payson, AZ
In some cases in heavily used areas you are required to camp ONLY in designated campsites. In other words, camp where people have camped before to avoid creating new roads so to minimize the impact on the area.
Obey the signs if designated sites are marked
Bob Wells has been camping for free for many years. In fact, he LIVES in his van on Federal land most of the year. He is the appointed Guru of the growing "van life" movement and he has a great YouTube channel where he shares tips, interviews and product reviews based on his experience and that of many other full-time campers.
Bob Wells free camping on Federal land in his full-time van home (Bob Wells photo)
Bob recently posted two videos that discuss dispersed camping. Whether you want to camp permanently like Bob, or just want to spend a week's vacation away from the crowds, I hope you agree that this information is invaluable. Video One discusses the wide range of dispersed camping options across the country.
Free (or very cheap) camping options by Bob Wells
Video Two features an interview with a BLM Ranger. The Ranger was invited to speak at the "Rubber Tramp Rendezvous" which Bob organizes each winter outside of Quartzsite, AZ - a prime wintering spot for snow birds in RV's.
Land use Q & A with a BLM Ranger at Quartzsite, AZ
I hope this information was helpful in explaining your rights and responsibilities when it comes to camping on Federal land. Much of this information also applies to state forest and even county forests in much of the U.S. Just check local ordinances and obey any signs pertaining to land use.
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