Inaccessible State and Federal Public Lands

Landlocked Across the West

In partnership with

How Big is the Problem?

As GPS technology has empowered individual hunters and anglers to locate even the tiniest parcels of public land, there has been growing concern about areas that could be open to the public but are entirely surrounded by private land. Inaccessible state and federal lands represent lost opportunities for Americans to pursue the outdoor recreation we love. So, we wanted to know exactly how big the landlocked problem really is and to identify collaborative solutions to help open more land in the West.

State Lands

As Western territories achieved statehood, the federal government granted each lands from the public estate, with the intention that they serve as a source of revenue to fund public institutions such as schools.
These state trust lands were arbitrarily selected according to where they fell in a grid—new states received one or more designated sections in each six-by-six mile, 36-section townships—resulting in island-like parcels of state lands surrounded by private holdings.

Federal Lands

Landlocked federal lands in the West have resulted from two primary causes. First, in order to subsidize the construction of railroads across the continent, Congress granted railroad companies alternating sections of land on either side of the tracks, breaking the landscape into a checkerboard pattern of public and private lands. Because most state trespass laws do not allow “corner crossing” from one public parcel to another, all such sections are inaccessible without the permission of the adjacent landowners.

Breakdown of landlocked acreage per state

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State By State

Landlocked Hotspot

  • Colorado

    Colorado stands apart from other states when it comes to access to its trust lands. In cooperation with the State Land Board, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has made a commendable effort to improve this situation by leasing 558,000 acres of state lands for sportsmen’s access, and more can be done to open trust lands to the public. State policy currently does not allow the public to use or cross 2.22 million acres of trust lands for any activity, including hunting and fishing. This further prevents sportsmen and women from reaching another 18,000 acres of federal public lands that would otherwise be accessible if Colorado’s state trust lands were open to the public. What’s more, 435,000 acres of trust lands across the state sit surrounded on all sides by private property and – unless steps were taken to establish access – still could not be entered without the permission of adjacent landowners even if these lands were opened for recreation by the state.



  • Southeast Montana

    Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Region 7 is a mule deer hunter’s paradise—but it also contains a disproportionately high percentage of landlocked lands. From the shores of Fort Peck Lake to the Tongue and Powder Rivers, more than 898,000 acres of public land within Region 7 are not accessible, unless permission is granted from an adjacent private landowner. Other sub-regions throughout the West, including eastern Wyoming and northern Nevada, contain similarly high concentrations of landlocked lands. Unlocking these areas’ inaccessible public lands would both expand hunting opportunities and benefit small-town economies.

    Total Landlocked
    Federal Acreage
    Overall Total Acres
    of Federal Land
    Region 7

LWCF: The Key To Unlocking Public Lands

Help Unlock Public Lands:
Send a Message to Your Lawmakers Now

If policymakers are serious about improving state and federal public land access for hunting and fishing, they need to provide full and dedicated annual funding of $900 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Since 1964, the LWCF has opened more than 5 million acres of public land, invested more than $16 billion in conservation and outdoor recreation, established new public fishing areas, unlocked previously inaccessible public lands, and enabled the strategic acquisition of additional public lands for the benefit of hunters, anglers, and everyone who enjoys the outdoors.

Although the Land and Water Conservation Fund is the single most powerful tool for opening landlocked public lands and connecting even more Americans to their best days afield, more than $20 billion in oil and gas royalty funds have been diverted away from the program. Permanent authorization for LWCF to live on—a big win for public lands advocates this year—would be undermined significantly without funding to fulfill the promise of the program.

Download The Landlocked Report

Download The State Report

Download a .pdf of the full onX-TRCP report for a detailed analysis of the State landlocked lands problem and what it will take to solve it.

Download Last Year's Federal Report

The 2018 Report focused on federal landlocked public lands. You can read the enitre report by downloading below.

Download Here

We are committed to opening new access for hunters and anglers in cooperation with private landowners and state and federal agencies.


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