Fall is here, and it’s time for nomads, rubber tramps, vagabonds, and vandwellers to start planning for winter. One possibility for folks who want to live cheaply and escape the worst of the cold rain and snow is spending the winter camping in one of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Long-term Visitor Areas. Each of these areas is commonly called an LTVA.
An LTVA is a large plot of public land set aside by a BLM ranger district for long-term camping. According to the BLM’s brochure “Long-term Camping on Public Lands,” all of the LTVAs are located in
the Arizona and California deserts…along the lower Colorado River.
(If you do decide to spend the winter in an LTVA, be sure to read my blog post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert.”)
LTVAs are administered by BLM field offices in Yuma, AZ; Palm Springs, CA; and El Centro, CA. In all, there are seven LTVAs: Hot Springs (in California, Latitude/Longitude: 32.76734444, -115.2703056) , Tamarisk (in California, Latitude/Longitude: 32.70812222, -115.1271), Pilot Knob (in California, Latitude/Longitude: 32.74273889, -114.7554806), Mule Mountain, Midland (in California, Latitude/Longitude: 33.7296, -114.661), La Posa (in Arizona, divided into La Posa North and La Posa South, Latitude/Longitude: 33.65165, -114.2169), and Imperial Dam (in Arizona, Latitude/Longitude: 32.901256, -114.495431).
Camping in a LTVA is not free, but it is less expensive than any RV park I’ve ever heard of. Most LTVAs do offer some amenities. Amenities vary by location, but may include trash receptacles, running water, dump stations, and restrooms. Where trash receptacles and dump stations are available,
[g]arbage and sewage [including grey water] must be transported by visitors to the nearest disposal site,
according to the BLM brochure.
It is important to note that no LTVA is a developed campground. LTVAs offer open desert camping with the possibility of the few amenities mentioned above. Potential LTVA campers should research each area to find the one that best suits individual needs. For example, while both LTVAs at La Posa and Imperial Dam offer restroom facilities,
[c]ampers must be 100% self-contained for waste and gray water in order to utilize [Midland LTVA] since vault toilets are not provided.
The BLM brochure mentioned before states,
[s]ince only minimum facilities are available at most of the sites, visitors should plan to arrive in a self-contained camping unit. Self-contained units are those with a permanently affixed wastewater holding tank of a 10-gallon minimum capacity.
Furthermore, in the supplementary rules governing everyone who enters an LTVA at any time of year,
BLM does not consider port-a-potty systems, systems that utilize portable holding tanks, or permanent holding tanks of less than 10-gallon capacity, to be self-contained.
Can someone in a rig without a minimum 10 gallon wastewater holding tank stay at an LTVA? Yes, but only at Mule Mountain, Imperial Dam, or La Posa. For example, La Posa LTVA has 10 ADA accessible pit toilets available for public use. Folks dwelling in rigs that are not self-contained are required to camp
within 500 feet of a vault toilet or rest room.
Campers can get either a long-term or short-term permit for access to the LTVAS.
The cost of the LTVA long-term permit is $180. According to the BLM informational webpage dedicated to the La Posa LTVA, the long-term permit
allows use of…LTVAs continuously from September 15 to April 15…or for any length of time between those two dates.
For folks who don’t want to stay at a LTVA for quite so long, there is also short-term permit which costs $40. According to the aforementioned website, this permit
allows use of…LTVAs for any 14 consecutive day period from September 15 to April 15…The short-visit permit may be renewed an unlimited number of times for the cost of the permit.
Please note, the BLM website specifies
[b]ecause LTVAs are special permit areas and not developed campgrounds, the Golden Eagle, Golden Age, Golden Access Passports, and America the Beautiful Pass discounts DO NOT apply to LTVA permit fees.
This means you will NOT be able to use your Golden Age/Senior Pass or Golden Access/Access Pass to get half off the price of a camping permit at a LTVA. Nor will any other pass get you any other sort of discount at an LTVA. If you want to stay at an LTVA, you have to pay full price.
A BLM webpage about LTVAs says,
Campers may obtain permits at LTVA host entrance stations, or by contacting…[the overseeing] BLM offices in Arizona and southern California. Permits are not available through the mail.
The contact information for the aforementioned BLM offices are given at the end of this post.
Both the long and short-term permits are valid in any of the LTVAs. Permit holders can move from one LTVA to another without paying any additional fees. Be sure you really want to camp at a LTVA before you lay your money down because according the Long-term Visitor Area Supplementary Rules, the BLM will not refund permit fees. Permit holders cannot reassign or transfer a permit.
Also according to the LTVA Supplementary Rules, when the long or short-term permit is purchased, the permit-holder is issued permit decals. A decal must go on the windshield (“bottom right hand corner”) of each transportation vehicle. Each permit allows for two secondary vehicles to be used within the LTVA. A decal must also be placed “in a clearly visible location” on the camping unit.
The rules also say that rigs in any LTVS should be parked no more than 15 feet from any other “dwelling unit.” No rig or campsite in an LTVA should be left unoccupied for more than five days unless a BLM officer has given permission. Finally, all wheeled vehicles must remain mobile during a stay at a LTVA. “Wheels must remain on all wheeled vehicles.” However, trailers and pickup campers may be set “on jacks manufactured for that purpose.”
Other rules deal with wood and campfire. Campfires are allowed, but must be in compliance of all local, state, and federal rules. That means if there is a fire ban in the area, you won’t be able to enjoy a campfire. Neither are you are allowed to collect firewood nor possess native firewood within LTVAs. This means you must purchase firewood in the nearest town (or sometimes from the camp host) if you want to enjoy a campfire.
The BLM “Long-term Camping…” brochure mentioned above explains why certain sites were chosen for the LTVAs.
The areas designated as Long-Term Visitor Areas were chosen because of their past popularity with winter visitors and because access roads have been developed and facilities are available nearby.
That brochure is also a great resource for seeing the location of each LTVA and the amenities offered each one.
The information I’ve shared today was accurate as far as I could tell when I was writing this post. Blaize Sun is not responsible for any out-of-date information posted on the internet. To double check the information shared in this post, you can call, write, or email the BLM field offices in charge of each LTVA directly.
The Yuma Field Office oversees La Posa LTVA and Imperial Dam LTVA.
Phone: (928) 317-3200
Address: Yuma Field Office
7341 E. 30th St., Suite A
Yuma, AZ 85365
The El Centro Field Office oversees Hot Springs LTVA, Tamarisk LTVA, and Pilot Knob LTVA.
Address: El Centro Field Office
1661 S. 4th Street
El Centro, CA 92243
The Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office oversees Mule Mountain LTVA. All of the official websites concerning Mule Mountain LTVA seemed to be down when I was researching this post. PLEASE contact The Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office before setting out for Mule Mountain LTVA.
Address: Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office
1201 Bird Center Dr.
Palm Springs, CA 92262
I took the photos in this post.