Can You Go Camping On State Land? (Read This First)

Can You Go Camping on State Land

All work and no play, they say, makes Jack a dull boy. Similarly, as much as you put in a lot of effort every day in your place of employment, you ought to take time out to relax.

And one way to do so today is by camping. You can go camping anywhere, even just outside your house, and you would still have a nice place.

However, if you prefer to be close to nature and away from other developed recreational facilities, you can do so on State land. It is also called or referred to as dispersed camping.

Yes, you can go camping on State land if you are ready to follow the camping limitation rules and regulations. Therefore, if your camping does not conflict with other authorized uses, or in places with restrictions to camping, and does not negatively affect wildlife species and natural resources, then you can go camping on State land.

As to what this article will help unravel, you will see the legality of camping on State land, the camping duration, if a car is allowed in it, whether it’s free, and the rules of State land camping. 

Is it Legal to Camp on State Land in the US?

Can You Go Camping on State Land

Camping on State land (dispersed camping) is legal in the United States. State lands are public and public lands open to the people.

Now, because State lands are not the property of a private person or business, it is safe to say it is the property of the government (which is the people).

Today, in the United States, 60.2% of lands are privately owned while 39.8% are publicly owned (with 27.1% being federal land and the rest state land). 

However, public lands are abundant to the west. 

Below are the kinds of public lands available within the country where you can go camping;

  • National Grasslands
  • National Forests
  • State Forests
  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • Wildlife Management Areas (WMA)

Although it is legal to set up camp in these areas on the list above, you should make arrangements before you go there.

Before going camping, check in with the ranger in the area if you can. Or rather, if the area has a website, you can source more information about the area.

When you are in the clear for camping, as you get there, remember to observe and heed the signs like “day use only,” “no trespassing,” or “no overnight parking.”

Certain areas may read “no camping” or “close to camping,” especially areas with sensitive vegetation or ecosystems.

Moreover, keep in mind that the location you will be choosing should be one that will leave a minimal impact in the given area. 

It will be best to look for a place someone else has used for camping. Usually, when you find a fire pit, it shows that you are not the first to use the area. 

And finally, treat the area with the utmost respect, this includes wildlife and plants.

How Long Are You Allowed to Camp on US State Land?

The way the duration of stay in the camping grounds works is to ensure that visitors obtain the best experience during their visit.

Usually, the standard stay duration on camping grounds is 14 to 16 days. And depending on the rules of the area, you may go to a different spot or leave the camping ground altogether.

However, most times, especially in areas of high demand, you can stay for 14 nights only and then leave for at least three days before returning for another camping trip.

Another thing that may help get you an extension on the duration of your stay is availability. 

If you are on camp and registered, the person in charge of the area may extend your stay by 14 nights.

Therefore, for a continuous stay, the maximum stay will be 28 nights, especially in parks.

As a camper in a park, you can stay a total of 56 nights within six months in any given park. It is a permission or privilege that you can enjoy as a registered camper.

Nevertheless, attempting to get around the 14 nights maximum or 56 nights duration of stay period will only speak terribly of you. 

And cause you to lose the trust of those around you, like the park manager.

Such actions may involve changing your name or that of your group, using multiple profiles, and making several reservations for spots in the park.

However, if you make reservations that are not following the maximum duration of stay policy required on State land, this will happen;

  • They will approach you to decide which reservations we are to cancel to bring you back to the standard requirement for all State land.
  • You will also get refunds for the reservation you paid for, and they will help you see how to use your time limit.
  • As long as it is for this reason above, cancellation fees will always apply.

Can You Car Camp on State Land?

Yes, you can car camp on State land. However, if you plan on doing so, I suggest where it is best, which are the areas under the Bureau of Land Management.

The lands under the BLM are one-tenth of all the lands in the United States, with the majority found in the western par6t of the country.

The BLM aims to achieve these two things;

  • A goal to administer multi-use land (for logging, mining, and energy generation)
  • Conservation for future use.

Over 35 million acres of National conservation lands are totally under the watch of the BLM. 

However, the total land under the BLM’s management is 245 million acres.

Furthermore, the National Conservation Land’s breathtaking beauty and outdoor recreation make it best for car campers. 

Since, at times, it carries National monuments or wild and scenic rivers.

If you also want a hunting-for-free car camping experience, you are interested in dispersed camping, which is camping outside of the already established campgrounds.

To encourage car campers to leave no trace of their camping, BLM limits the duration of stay to 14 days.

Therefore, you must move for at least 25 miles before setting up camp again.

Rules for Dispersed Car Camping

  1. Ensure you do not leave any property or trash at the end of camping. And do not cut live trees for firewood; only use loose sticks and branches or fallen trees as firewood.
  2. For defecation, dig a 6 inches deep hole at least 200 feet away from the water source, and when you are through the hole with dirt.
  3. If a campfire ring is already in place, reuse it. But you can build a new one if the rock is no longer there and the pit is closed.
  4. It would be best to build a campfire about 100 feet away from both water and trails and should not be at or above the treeline.
  5. Remember that on BLM land, you must move at least 25 miles from your camping spot after 14 days.

The table shows the difference between dispersed and designated camping (backcountry camping).

Designated CampingDispersed Camping
They have lean-tos and shelters.It involves setting up camp in the wild with no one around.
Have outhouses to cater to backpackers.It is spooky and adventurous.
There are usually multiple tent sites around.You can camp and leave no trace behind. 
You can reserve a campsite in advance.No reservations before the time.

Is Camping on State Land Free?

Compared to National parks, State parks are far less strict regarding rules. The camping is free, and sometimes, you may not even need a permit.

For instance, as long as you stay 150 feet away from a water source, road, and trail, you can camp below 3,500 feet in Catskills State Park in New York.

Although in Michigan State parks, the rule is somewhat stricter. Here, camping is on designated campgrounds alone.

Even though you can camp for free, you should call the rangers and tell them you will be around or even give them the license plate number when you call.

That way, they can be of assistance should anything happen to you within this period. And they would not be worried about seeing your car parked there for days.

Although BLM land is usually the first choice for free camping, BLM manages established campgrounds and some charge fees for amenities such as toilets and drinking water.

Rules for Camping on US State Lands

Below are the rules and guidelines for camping on US State lands;

#1. Rules on Camp Selection

  1. Camp should be 150 feet away from a trail, road, spring, stream, or other water body.
  2. You should get a permit if it is a group of 10 or more persons or if you are staying more than three days in the same spot.
  3. You will get Lean-tos on a first-come, first-serve principle, and you should share with other campers since you have no exclusive use for it.
  4. You are not to store personal properties on State land.

#2. Rules on Campfire

  1. When building a firepit, it should be on an already existing one.
  2. When you see an area saying “No Fires,” do not build a fire.
  3. Do not go cutting down but use fallen trees for firewood.
  4. Put off the fire with water and ensure your ashes are cool before leaving.
Josh Matthews

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