Free Camping near Zion National Park in Utah

Free Camping Zion National Park

This is a complete blog and video guide to FREE camping on BLM land near Zion National Park in Utah. There are free camping opportunities to the east and to the west of the Park – this guide focus on the west side of the Park.

Hurricane Cliffs Free Camping
Hurricane Cliffs Free Camping on BLM land

In this guide, you will find maps with directions, updates on road conditions, locations of most campsites, and availability of amenities such as cell coverage, water, and toilets,

About Zion National Park and BLM land

Zion National Park is almost surrounded by BLM land and National Forests. The St George Field Office manages the BLM land west of Zion.

Zion Surrounds Map
Zion Area Map
BLM UTAH Districts
BLM UTAH Districts (source https://www.blm.gov/)

The BLM District office is in Cedar City – it manages four field stations including St George Field Office. St George Phone: (435) 688-3200

St. George BLM Field Office
St. George BLM Field Office (source https://www.blm.gov/)

Maps and Directions

I highly recommend the Avenza Maps App!

Unfortunately, at this time there are no Motor Vehicle Use Maps for the area west of Zion National Park. Google Maps and Google Earth are your best friends for this area!

For directions I suggest you download the Zion National Park map for Avenza.

There is very little information about the Zion area BLM camping online except for one document regarding Smithsonian Butte camping – https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/upload/blm_camping_south.pdf

To see the boundaries of the BLM land where you are camping, refer to the Interactive BLM Utah map

You can also use phone apps as described in another article

Camping inside or near Zion National Park

Zion National Park has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon. The Lava Point Campground is about 80 minutes from the South Entrance along the Kolob Terrace Road.

There are many private campgrounds in nearby towns.

Video footage of the FREE camping areas

I am working on a series of driving and drone videos to show what it’s like to camp for free near Zion NP!

Links will be posted as soon as these are available.

Recommended FREE Camping Areas on BLM land nearest to Zion NP

Dispersed camping is allowed on public land for a period not to exceed 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period. The 28 day period begins when a camper initially occupies a specific location on public lands. The 14-day limit may be reached either through a number of separate visits or through 14 days of continuous overnight occupation during the 28 day period.

After the 14th day of occupation, the camper must move outside of a 25 mile radius of the previous location until the 29th day since the initial occupation.

As shown on the map below, there are five well-known FREE camping areas within an easy drive from Zion NP. Of these, Smithsonian Butte is now off-limits for the casual camper (reasons described below). The others are:

  • N Kolob Terrace Rd – many sites on both sides of the road near North Creek
  • Hurricane Cliffs (Sheep Bridge Rd) – East – thirteen designated campsites on the west side of Sheep Rd
  • Hurricane Cliffs (Sheep Bridge Rd) – South – twelve designated campsites on the west side of Sheep Rd but further away from Zion NP
  • Hurricane Cliffs (La Verkin Overlook Rd) – West – eight designated campsites close to Virgin Dam and nearby trails
Zion National Par - Free Camping Map
Zion National Park – Free Camping Map (west) – Click to enlarge

NOTE – What about the very popular Smithsonian Butte National Back Country Byway? It is close to Zion NP but you cannot camp within 1/2 mile on either side of the road! Read the Rules. This makes practical camping not feasible for Zion visits, especially with terrible road conditions and steepness.

Smithsonian Butte National Back Country Byway
Smithsonian Butte National Back Country Byway – note the steep climb in the distance

There are a few free camp spots to the east of Zion. Those will be covered in a future guide.

Free Camping in the N Kolob Terrace Rd area

If you plan to spend a lot of time in Zion and are looking for minimum dirt road driving, then you should consider this area. N Kolob Terrace Rd is tarmac.

N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping Zion
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping Zion – Click to enlarge

In the map above, you see three sets of campsites – the first batch is to the right after about a mile, then a few sites towards the mesa on the left after about 1.6 miles followed by the North Creek area camping just before 2 miles.

The dirt roads towards the mesa are very bad but short! You can find secluded spots there.

The creek area has many sites but the vegetation keeps them relatively private. On busy nights there are lots of RVs in there and you may have to deal with close neighbors and noise.

Having some shade in summer (with a cool stream) is certainly a plus for the creek area!

N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping 2
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping – at North Creek
North Creek Camping near Zion
North Creek Camping near Zion
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping 3
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping – Mesa (west) side
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping 4
N Kolob Terrace Rd Camping – East side after 1 mile

About potable water and toilets – as shown on the map you can either drive to La Verkin (Maverik fuel with a free dump station) or the first bus stop in Springdale (water).

Verizon has very spotty (if any) LTE service at these campsites.

Free water at Springdale Bus Stop
Free water at Springdale Bus Stop

Free Camping in the Hurricane Cliffs (Sheep Bridge Rd) East Area

To escape the crowds you can head south on Sheep Bridge Rd out of Virgin for 1.75 miles. The dirt road is washboard at times but very doable in all vehicles.

But be warned – on mountain bike event weekends the place gets crazy busy and dusty!

Hurricane Cliffs East Campsites Map
Hurricane Cliffs East Campsites Map – Click to enlarge

Do stop at the information board after a mile to read the rules and look at the camping maps.

Hurricane Cliffs Camping Info
Hurricane Cliffs Camping Info

The first camping area is to the right (after 1.75 miles) and you MUST camp in one of the 9 designated sites.

Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 39-48
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 39-48 – Click to enlarge

There are 4 more sites a short drive further south. These sites are larger and I often see more than one RV in each site – just be considerate and give your neighbors plenty of space or move along.

Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 36-38
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 36-38 – Click to enlarge

About potable water and toilets – as shown on the map you can either drive to La Verkin (Maverik fuel with free dump station) or the first bus stop in Springdale (water).

Verizon has very good LTE service at these campsites.

Free Camping in the Hurricane Cliffs (Sheep Bridge Rd) South Area

Many will say this area is too far from Zion (4.25 miles to SR 9) and I agree but the sites are far apart and with easy access to SR 59 (0.65 miles) and the city of Hurricane.

Hurricane Cliffs South Campsites Map
Hurricane Cliffs South Campsites Map – Click to enlarge

The information board is at the entrance to Sheep Bridge Rd after the turn from SR 59. Please stop to read the rules and look at the camping maps.

Camping Hurricane Cliffs South Info
Camping Hurricane Cliffs South Info – Click to enlarge

After only 0.65 miles of washboard dirt road, turn left into the designated camping area.

Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 9 -12
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 9 -12 – Click to enlarge
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 6 - 8
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 6 – 8 – Click to enlarge
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 1 - 5
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 1 – 5 – Click to enlarge

About potable water and toilets – as shown on the map you can either drive to La Verkin (Maverik fuel with a free dump station) or the first bus stop in Springdale (water).

Verizon has very good LTE service at these campsites.

Free Camping in the Hurricane Cliffs (La Verkin Overlook Rd) Area

This area is perfect if you plan to explore Zion National Park and want to be closer to towns with affordable gas and supplies. The dirt roads are bad but short!

Please camp in designated campsites only – there’s a lot of illegal camping here which ruins the areas closed for regeneration.

Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 49-56
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 49-56 – Click to enlarge

Note the red ? in the upper left corner. I see RVs camped there all the time but the location is marginal and not a designated site! Basically on the BLM line so be careful.

Sites 50, 51 and 52 are large and shared by many RVs! Spacing and privacy can be an issue.

Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 49-54
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 49-54 – Click to enlarge
Hurricane Cliffs Campsite 53
Hurricane Cliffs Campsite 53 – Click to enlarge
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 55-56
Hurricane Cliffs Campsites 55-56 – Click to enlarge

About potable water and toilets – as shown on the map you can either drive to La Verkin (Maverik fuel with a free dump station) or the first bus stop in Springdale (water).

Verizon has very good LTE service at these campsites.

Precise Campsite Locations and Recommendations

If you want GPS waypoints and my personal recommendations for free campsites, please consider becoming a Patron (Supporter) of my work for a small monthly contribution!

https://www.patreon.com/letseeamerica

The reasons are:

Many travelers want dispersed camping to remain “secret”. In their opinion, these free locations will become overrun with campers if one discloses too much information.

I disagree! Let me explain.

I understand the visitation impact of COVID-19 on Public Lands. We are told to go outside and enjoy nature as a safer alternative to indoor activities. The result is obvious – there are more folks camping and there are more thrash and land damage to deal with.

Popular dispersed camping areas are near capacity on most nights – leading to frustration for full-timers who depend on free camping in order to travel on low budgets.

The truth is – information about dispersed campsites are freely available. There are phone apps showing locations, many websites do the same and Rangers will gladly share tips about where to camp for free in their Districts!

So the issue is not about sharing dispersed campsite locations with the public. It’s happening already.

In my opinion the REAL challenges are:

1. Education – how do we educate the general camping public about the importance of camping etiquette on Public Lands?

2. Spacing – how do we get folks to spread out and explore locations further away from the major access roads and crowds?

3. Amenities – how do we convince the Public Land authorities to provide more toilets, potable water, and trash bins?

My Contribution

I share general information about dispersed camping to the public because I believe it is educational (at the very least it helps to prevent illegal camping and it helps with spacing when folks know where more campsites are located).

To further assist with spacing, I do not share the locations of my favorite campsites or recommendations with the general public. I am trying to prevent people from rushing to the same few free campsites (the very best ones) around the country. This information is only available to my patrons.

Free Camping on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land

BLM Land Camping

Understanding your options for free camping on BLM land is a key requirement for budget-minded and secluded travel across the Western States of America.

Unlike National Forests (another popular free camping option), BLM boundaries can be much more challenging to figure out! It is not uncommon to find “private – no entry” signs on land that appears to be public (depending on the map you’re looking at). There are even internet reports of harassment from local landowners when campers are clearly on BLM land!

It is really up to each camper to thoroughly research each BLM District in question. When in doubt, please visit or call the nearest BLM District office for clarification.

COVID-19 Challenges – Policies are different in every state. Please the BLM website for updated information. https://www.blm.gov/locations

In this article, I offer tips and ideas to help you navigate the basics of free camping on BLM lands!

What is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)?

Simply put, it is an Agency within the Department of the Interior responsible for administering public lands as shown in the diagram below.

The diagram also shows the States where BLM operates (including all the Eastern States) as well as two websites – one for information and one for booking.

BLM Organization
BLM Organization

Where does BLM operate?

Nationwide as shown above but in terms of camping, most of the opportunities are west of the Mississippi River.

The image below illustrates the distribution of BLM land quite clearly.

Bureau of Land Management Map
Bureau of Land Management Map (Source – Department of the Interior)

How to find BLM Campgrounds and sites?

There are mainly three styles of camping on BLM land –

  1. Campgrounds – developed camping areas with amenities of some kind! Most are fee-based. Many (most?) are first-come-first-serve, meaning you choose an available campsite and pay a nightly fee. Some sites can be pre-booked online (link below).
  2. Dispersed – Mostly free and without amenities. You scout the BLM land and set up camp away from developed campgrounds. BUT, dispersed camping does not mean you can set up camp anywhere you want. There are basic rules for each particular land (you can generally stay free for 14 days per month).
  3. Managed Dispersed – In popular locations, the rangers may mark or number the dispersed sites in order to manage crowds and land erosion. You can only camp in those marked sites.

To find developed campgrounds, you have two options:

  1. Use the search box on the BLM website. Go Here to Search for BLM Camping.
  2. Use a third-party website (See my list of recommended sites for FREE camping.
BLM Camping Search
BLM Website Camping Search

To book a reservable site in a developed campground, Go Here to Book Using Recreation.gov

Recreationgov Booking
Recreation.gov Booking website

Experienced campers often go straight to Recreation.gov because they know what they are looking for and how to navigate this useful site! I will write a future article to share tips and tricks!

To find dispersed campsites you have several options:

1. Third-party websites (mentioned above) are your best friends. The dispersed campsites listed on their maps often have fire rings and you can expect those sites to comply with local rules (such as distance from water sources, etc). Unfortunately, when sites are easy to find and listed everywhere they tend to get busy!

Two notes of caution:

a) third-party websites are often inaccurate because they depend on input from the public. This works great in most cases but sometimes folks camp illegally (knowingly or not) and then share the locations! Or they mess up the GPS waypoints!

b) directions and road conditions may change! Study your GPS, know the off-road capabilities of your vehicle, and do not overestimate your driving skills.

Many full-time road warriors use free dispersed camping and their Youtube videos are fun and informative if you’re interested. I provide detailed information on this website and on my Youtube channel – Lets-See-America

2. To avoid the crowds, experienced gypsies do their own research using Google Maps and Google Earth to scout for new dispersed camp spots in advance. To avoid getting into trouble with rangers, they educate themselves with land boundaries and local rules. If you want to do the same, please adhere to “Leave-no-Trace” principles and do not unintentionally “develop” new campsites.

3. Visit or call local BLM District Offices and talk to the Rangers! They will explain the local rules and direct you to approved dispersed camping areas.

Arriving on BLM lands

Many areas have signs next to the highway indicating the start or end of Public Lands. Look for this signage:

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Logo
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Logo

Recreation areas may have information boards indicating allowed activities and camping rules.

BLM Information booth at Hurricane Cliffs in Utah

Here is what I do after arrival:

  1. I do my best to arrive before 4 pm in a new area. Searching for a site after dark is no fun.
  2. I study my paper and/or online maps to ensure I stay within the BLM boundaries.
  3. I look for information boards (see image above). Those are really helpful but rare!
  4. I pick an unoccupied site using basic common sense (away from other campers for example)
  5. I clean the site – broken glass, trash, etc. You do not want to ruin your tires or cut yourself during your stay.
  6. I walk the neighborhood just to see who is near and what escapes routes I have in case of emergencies or danger. I generally park my vehicle pointing towards the road for a faster getaway!

Finally, read or watch my BLM camping posts and become a Patreon!

I stay mostly on free Public Lands and write often about my experiences! These articles are sorted by State.

I provide clear directions with accurate GPS coordinates and post photos, video, and drone (aerial) video of each location.

If you want my personal tips and opinions, please become of Patreon of my work! For a small monthly contribution you help fund my research expenses and you gain access to exclusive information about travel destinations such as the best (or worst) sites in a particular BLM area!

Patreon Page – Lets-See-America

Free Camping in Florida – The Ultimate Guide – Bureau of Land Management (BLM Land) – Part 2

BLM Website Search

When you arrive in Florida after camping on BLM Land in the Western part of the USA, you may find the free camping opportunities confusing and rather disappointing. In fact, some folks still think free camping in Florida is a myth! Well, BLM Land camping in Florida is non-existent. But you have plenty of other opportunities to explore.

While talking about camping in Florida, there is no need to discuss BLM in-depth but I want to point out a few important things just as a comparison to the public land management in Florida.

What is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)?

Simply put, it is an Agency within the Department of the Interior responsible for administering public lands as shown in the diagram below.

The diagram also shows the States where BLM operates (including all the Eastern States) as well as two websites – one for information and one for booking.

BLM Organization
BLM Organization

Where does BLM operate?

Nationwide as shown above but in terms of camping, most of the opportunities are west of the Mississippi River.

The image below illustrates the distribution of BLM land quite clearly.

Bureau of Land Management Map
Bureau of Land Management Map (Source – Department of the Interior)

How to find BLM Campgrounds and sites?

There are mainly two types of BLM camping styles –

  • Campgrounds – developed camping areas with amenities of some kind! Most are fee-based. Many (most?) are first-come-first-serve, meaning you choose an available campsite and pay a nightly fee. Some sites can be pre-booked online (link below)
  • Dispersed – Mostly free. You scout the BLM land and set up camp away from developed campgrounds. As long as you follow the rules for that particular land you can generally stay free for 14 days.

To find developed campgrounds, you have two options:

BLM Camping Search
BLM Website Camping Search

To book a reservable site in a developed campground, Go Here to Book Using Recreation.gov

Recreationgov Booking
Recreation.gov Booking website

Experienced campers often go straight to Recreation.gov because they know what they are looking for and how to navigate this useful site! I will write a future article to share tips and tricks!

To find dispersed campsites, the third-party websites mentioned above are your best friends. The dispersed campsites listed on their maps often have fire rings and you can expect these sites to comply with local rules (such as distance from water sources, etc). Unfortunately, when sites are easy to find and listed everywhere they tend to get busy!

Many full-time road warriors use free dispersed camping and their Youtube videos are fun and informative if you’re interested. Some say they have not paid for camping in 5 or more years!

To avoid the crowds, experienced gypsies do their own research using Google Maps and Google Earth to scout for new dispersed camp spots in advance. To avoid getting into trouble with rangers, they educate themselves with land boundaries and local rules. If you want to do the same, please adhere to “Leave-no-Trace” principles and don’t unintentionally “develop” new campsites.

BLM areas have this signage:

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Logo
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Logo

Return to Part 1 of this series

Continue to Part 3 – US Army Corps of Engineers Camping in Florida