Photo Credit: Mike East
Stop guessing, start planning, and use this guide on where to Camp in Colorado.
Camping in Colorado is a must-do if you consider yourself a lover of the outdoors and epic outdoor adventures. Colorado really does have it all. So, where to start? There are so many options, from State and National Parks to dispersed camping on free public lands. Here we will make sense of these options and give you an overview of where to camp in Colorado.
Know Before You Go Camping In Colorado
–Traffic/Crowds: Colorado is getting busy, word got out about how wonderful it is. Colorado has turned from a quiet mountain state to a fully metropolitan spanning from Pueblo to Fort Collins. Expect traffic on I-25 as it passes through Colorado Springs North/South all the way up to Wyoming.
Leaving Denver and heading west on I-70 over the Rockies towards Grand Junction and Utah, traffic gets tough. Travelers bottleneck while heading over the pass (in both directions) as they enter the Eisenhower Tunnel. A good way to avoid this is to travel on “non-peak” travel days like the middle of the week. Weekends are busy.
–Wildlife/Bears: Colorado is home to all sorts of wildlife, from Deer and Elk to Mountain Lions and Black Bears. People I meet who pass through are concerned about Grizzly Bears, but rest easy, there are no Grizzlies in Colorado. While we do have lots of bears, they are Black Bears. Black Bears are not necessarily aggressive, they are curious and hungry, so they find themselves in all sorts of predicaments.
It’s not uncommon to have stories of bears lending up in cities, inside your car, or rummaging coolers for food. Keep your distance and lock up your food! There’s also plenty of mountain lions. They have been known to grab a couple of small dogs each year, so don’t go let your 12lb pooch wander off.
–Gun laws: People like to travel with protection from the unknowns, that understandable, and in relation to this its good to know that Colorado is a state that recognizes your Concealed Carry permit.
Per Colorado.gov: “In accordance with Colorado law(C.R.S. 18-12-213) the State of Colorado will recognize a valid concealed carry permit issued by another state only if all of the following criteria are met: The issuing state recognizes/honors a Colorado permit (CHP). The permit holder is a resident of the issuing state.” With that said, do your research in advance about where to camp in Colorado, each area has different rules and it’s your responsibility to know before you go!
–Weather At Elevation: For locals, it’s generally well known, in the changing of seasons, weather can turn from beautiful to downright dangerous IN A MATTER OF MINUTES at elevation. From sunny weather to rain, large hail to heavy snow, these changes occur very quickly. It’s important to keep this in mind and have a supply kit with blankets, jackets, food, and vehicle recovery gear with you when you head into the mountains. Many out of towners end up stuck in bad weather they were not prepared for.
–Off-Road Recovery: Speaking of off-road recovery, many of the public land opportunities are located by navigating poorly labeled Forest Service roads or old mining roads. While these roads can be epic to traverse on your way to a camping or hiking area, they can also be unpredictable in their condition depending on the time of year. It’s easy to end up in an area where you can’t turn around or get stuck.
When looking at where to camp in Colorado, It’s important to have a couple of basic recovery options like a small or collapsing shovel, a quality tow strap (so a passerby can yank you out) or something like the Maxtrax Boards are always helpful. If you have none of those, at a minimum, use a vehicle with decent ground clearance and 4WD/AWD. It doesn’t need to be anything lifted or custom, heck, most Colorado, and use a Subaru Outback and can get to 99% of the state. For a list of 5 Top Off-Road Recover Gear, check this out.
Colorado State Parks
Colorado has some really great state parks…..and some not so great state parks. Colorado’s state parks are much like other states where you have a mix of tent sites, RV sites, and powered spots for both! Booking in advance is highly recommended. Locals in Colorado are into the outdoor lifestyle just like you. Many campsites within 4 hours of Denver will be booked at least a week in advance. Some many months in advance.
Our favorite State Parks
State Forest State Park: Our favorite (and it’s not very busy!) is State Forest State Park. This park is located in Northern Colorado tucked between Fort Collins and Walden in the mountains. This park is an excellent viewing spot for mature Moose. Additionally, there’s an awesome hike that takes you up a mountain to a hidden Alpine Lake (Lake Agnes) with an island in the middle, it’s very cool. Parking is good, traffic and crowds are low and it’s close enough to (but still far enough) Denver that it can be accomplished in a day trip.
Colorado’s National Parks
Colorado is home to several National Parks that make the countries top destination list every year. Each of these below is epic and deserves a trip if you head out this way. While they all offer some camping at the National Park, often they are busy and camping spots are booked out well in advance.
**Pro Tip: Call the day before or the morning of your trip and often they can put you in a canceled spot that someone had reserved but ended up canceling on. It doesn’t always work but I’ve had some decent luck with this. Additionally, there is always some public land near the National Park you can camp on in a dispersed setting, and it’s free! If you don’t know how to find these spots, check out our article here on how to locate free public camping areas.
Rocky Mountain National Park: RMNP is home to some of the most iconic photos of Colorado, it really encompasses all that Colorado is known for. Epic views in all directions, mega landscapes, and tons of wildlife and up-close encounters with Rocky Mountain Elks.
If you’re looking to stay near Colorado Springs, the following locations are great. Even more so, if you really want to make the most of your trip to Colorado Springs, you MUST check out this awesome write-up by our friend Chelsea over at HerLifeAdventures! It covers it all, at a minimum, saves it for later reading, it’s that good.
Great Sand Dunes National Park: Great Sand Dunes NP is so cool. It’s a vast, picturesque sea of sand dunes tucked up against a mountain range. In the Spring, the snow-capped mountains melt, and the snowmelt runs down the mountains and creates a river running off the mountains and through the sand dunes.
There’s nowhere else on earth, I know of, that in one spot you can see a Mountain, sand dunes and a river altogether, it’s truly very cool. Camping here is limited to a single campground (Pinon Flats Campground) on the park which has about 90 spots, only a few have hookups, this campground is often booked in advance. However, you can find free public land camping in all directions around the park and some private hotels and campgrounds in the neighboring town.
Mesa Verde National Park:
Another very cool park. Mesa Verde NP is the preserved cliff dwellings and artifacts of the Ancestral Pueblo People who lived there for over 700 years back from 600 to 1300 CE. Camping on site is the Morefield Campground with 267 sites but with only 15 having full RV hookups.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: Black Canyon is often overlooked as an NP in Colorado, but it’s just as incredible as the others. This breathtaking canyon was carved through 2 million years of the Gunnison River and wind and weathering. Black Canyon NP has two designated campgrounds, The South Rim Campground and the North Rim Campground. South Rim CG has 88 sites, 23 of which have hookups. North Rim CG has only 13 sites, none of which have any hookups.
BLM and Forest Service Lands Camping In Colorado:
Colorado has endless free camping opportunities. From National Forests to BLM Land, the camping opportunities are vast. Locating them can be easy if you know where to look. I recommend grabbing the Campendium App (Apple App Store) or the Ultimate Campgrounds App (App Store Apple and Google Play) are both great for travelers who need on-demand amping opportunities. With these apps, you can filter by paid, or price range, or Free public land areas. It’s a lifesaver!
Some links to some of the more well known public lands in Colorado:
Each of these listed above has endless camping and outdoor recreation opportunities!
Welp, my work here is done, you have the info, the links, just pack up and hit the road. If you are feeling overwhelmed about the trip and what to bring, check out these handy tips here at Family Camping Tips and Tricks. There are so many places to enjoy in America, if you love the outdoors, put Colorado on your bucket list!