Be sure to bring: Well, everything, often including potable water, and always a good map.
You’re on your own: Check BLM websites or offices for directions and weather conditions.
Shhh! The Bureau of Land Management is the country’s biggest camping secret. It oversees 245 million acres of fresh-air opportunities, or a whopping 40 percent of all U.S. public property—an astounding array of beauty, from tumbling waters to Mars-like deserts, skyscraping summits, and mysterious canyons. In most of those, campsites are primitive, free, and readily available—just roll up and pop the tent. Camping doesn’t get any easier, cheaper, or less crowded. In fact, you could argue that BLM should stand for “Beautiful Lands for Moi.”
• It’s only 17 miles from Sin City, but you’d never know Las Vegas exists: The warm sandstone cliffs of Red Rock Canyon (pictured; on.doi.gov/3AjpQ8) are a world unto themselves, with seriously beautiful desert day hikes, secret troves of rock art, and more climbing routes than you could scale in a lifetime. Camping $15; campground closes May 31 for the summer; call 702/515-5350 for fall reopening.
• Mountain bikers recognize Utah’s Sand Flats as the spot for access to the legendary Slickrock Trail ($5 per vehicle; on.doi.gov/erDOtJ). But savvy outdoor lovers know it as some of the best car camping in the West—with quick access to civilization in nearby Moab too. Camping $10; discovermoab.com/sandflats.htm