For Love of the Land
One of the aspects of driving through Utah we really enjoyed was the ease in which we found unique and free camp-sites. On my guest post/interview on Captain and Clark’s website I named Utah one of my highlights from all the time I’ve spent travelling for this very reason. I’ve also mentioned our camping experience in passing on these posts:
Gooseberry Mesa Mountain Biking
Red Canyon Mountain Biking
Glen Canyon NRA
I like adventure and when adventure can be hard to find I like some uncertainty, uniqueness and potential for amazement. RV parks don’t offer adventure or amazement; they offer showers, internet access, electricity, cable TV and holes for dumping your sewage into. RV parks and organised camp sites are useful at times but Utah has something else to offer; something free, and amazing and beautiful.
It should be noted that the states of Colorado (in part) and certainly Nevada are said to have the same free camping opportunities as Utah, we’re just more experienced with Utah.
If you’ve read this far, thank-you. You also should have gathered that I love camping for free in Utah. The open use land and the camp-site opportunities are one of the reasons which make Utah my favourite US state!
What follows is intended as purely practical information for anyone wanting to camp for free in Utah (Or Nevada/Colorado). If you’re not about to do so you can safely skim to the bottom and comment on your favourite camping experience – I’d love to hear them.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) looks after land which is not privately owned and not managed by the National Park Service or the National Forest Service. The parks (National parks, state parks and national monuments) only allow camping in their designated sites and require fees. However national forests and BLM lands give you the choice of either staying in a ‘fee’ site, or finding a primitive camp-site to setup camp for free. Del of Del’s Journey (check out his website for more details), an ex BLM ranger for Colorado and extensive camper/traveller notes that in Utah’s rural areas it is normally safe to assume that land is BLM land unless it is specifically marked ‘no trespassing’ to indicate it as private.
Once you’ve found a piece of BLM land you should follow a few basic guidelines to ensure the land remains pure and enjoyable for ever.
- Camp in areas which have been previously used for camping (previously disturbed) – often indicated by a fire ring
- Leave no trace that you were ever there
BLM also have some rules:
- Camping at any one site is limited to 14 days per visit
- Pack out what you pack in
- Avoid camping within 200 ft. of any water source
- Do not leave campfires unattended
Note that some areas have specific rules (Particularly regarding fires, sometimes solid human waste can be buried otherwise chemical toilets are required, some areas are off-limits). To be on the safe side you should contact the local BLM office before camping.
Where We Camped
Below are a few of the places we camped at which we could remember and provide directions to. These are places to camp which are not designated or only very loosely designated. They are awesome by being free and how they offer up a little adventure, a certain amount of uncertainty, beauty and potentially even a sense of freedom and peace. They’re not an alternative to an RV park and should not be approached as such; I list the directions but can give no guarantees as to what you will find. Excited?
- Zion National Park – free camp-site nearby:
We stayed about a 15 minute drive away from the entrance to Zion National Park, at the junction of Grafton Road and the start of the Smithsonian Butte Scenic Byway.
From Rockville heading away from the main Zion National Park entrance turn left off Main Street onto Bridge Road (keep your eyes peeled for this turn, both the road and the sign are small and we missed it the first few times!). There is a bridge over the river and then you turn right onto Grafton Road. Drive along Grafton Road and you will come to a T intersection, right will take you to the ghost town of Grafton, and left will take you along the Smithsonian Butte Scenic Byway (up crybaby hill). Turn left down the Smithsonian Butte Scenic Byway and immediately on your left is a small pull-out with space for a few campers. Further along the Smithsonian Butte Scenic Byway you will find additional sites on your right but we tended to stay here as it was closer to Zion.
- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area – free camp-site:
We stayed in the White Canyon area just off the main highway 95 in a pull-out with nice views of the Canyon. This was a useful camp-site for us as a place to stop on our way to Mesa Verde National Park, however in itself it didn’t have much to offer and if you’re looking to enjoy Glen Canyon NRA there are probably better spots further west.
From Hanksville take highway 95 for about 40 minutes and you will enter into the White Canyon region of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Just as you begin to see glimpses of the Dirty Devil River you will see a pull-out on the right hand side of the road. This is the spot we camped at.
- Islands in the Sky (Canyonlands National Park) – free camp-site:
We stayed at a free camp-site 10 minutes drive from the entrance to the Islands in the Sky region of Canyonlands National Park.
From highway 191 turn onto highway 313 heading towards the Islands in the Sky region of Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park. Drive about 15 minutes and then turn right onto Mineral Canyon Road. Not far along this road we found a sandy road/driveway on the left that had previously disturbed land within a few hundred yards of Mineral Canyon Road where people before us had camped and we camped also.
- Needles (Canyonlands National Park) – free camp-site:
We stayed at a camp-site pretty close to the Needles entrance to Canyonlands National Park.
Heading towards the Needles entrance of Canyonlands National Park there is a dirt road on the right called Lockhart Basin Road. Along this road there is a turn-off on your right which has primitive camp-sites. Note that we found it took us slightly longer than we expected from the map to reach the camping area, however we were driving in the dark…
- Arches National Park – free camp-site:
We stayed at a camp-site about a 15 minute drive from the entrance of Arches National Park.
Take highway 191 north from Moab and drive past the right turn-off to Arches National Park. You will also pass the highway 313 road on the left. Further along you will see a mine in the cliff on the left and then there will be a road on the right called Willow Springs Trail. Take the next right which is unnamed. Drive along this unsealed road until you come to a gate, pass through the gate and further along you will see previously disturbed land on the left sheltered from one direction by a rocky hill/mound – this is where we camped.
Where have you camped? Where do you love camping?