Pearl Lake State Park
Distance from Denver: 3 hours, 30 minutes 182 minutesColorado is home to 42 State Parks so its highly likely that you havent visited most of them, even if youve spent a lot of time outdoors. Exhibit A: This lakeside park north of Steamboat Springs, which offers serene wilderness and water activities like wakeless boating and trout fishing in the 167 acre reservoir. Its a bit of a drive to get here from Denver, but you dont need to worry about setting up a tent if you opt for one of their yurts which sleep up to six people and have electricity and heat . If youre new to camping or just want a slightly easier set up on arrival, this $90/night option is ideal.
Guanella Pass Georgetown Co
You may have driven this past on the way to Mt. Bierstadt, but you may not have known that it provides dozens of fantastic car camping spots. The drive is about an hour from Denver and it provides a great opportunity to stop in Georgetown for breakfast on the way in or out. Bighorn sheep are abundant, so keep you eyes on the hills!
*Note: Be aware of seasonal closings of Guanella Pass. CDOT closes the road in November and typically opens back up in late-May.
Stop 1: Car Camp At Angel Of Shavano
Salida is one of the most outdoorsy towns in Colorado. Car camping is plentiful, and Angel of Shavano, at the base of Mt. Shavano , is one of the best spots. Its under-the-radar campsites are surrounded by aspens right along the Arkansas River. The Colorado Trail starts here, too, so the hiking options are plentiful.
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Angel Of Shavano Campground
Angel of Shavano is one of the most beautiful campgrounds in the country not just Colorado.
We like it because its something of a secret. It has just 20 campsites so it never feels very busy and is almost always peaceful.
The campground is nestled in between two stunning ridges. The famous Colorado Trail passes nearby for biking.
If you have the stamina, take in the hike along Mount Shavano trail .
For fishing, North Forks reservoir is the spot to be but it usually requires 4×4 to reach.
Learn more about Angel of Shavano Campground.
Stop 1: Check Black Canyon Of The Gunnison Off Your Bucket List
The least-visited national park in the country, Black Canyon of the Gunnison plunges up to 2,700 feet and stretches for 42 miles. Its epic and something you have to see at least once in your life. Chasm View on the North Rim of the canyon is one of the most breathtaking vantage points. If you plan to linger, Morrow Point Boat Tours offers a 1.5-hour ride through the canyon for a different perspective.
Bonus: Car Camp in Gunnison
Black Canyon is well worth the detour, even for a quick view, but if you want to take it slow, there are a few car camping options within the park as well as dispersed camping right outside the southern entrance. Or, drive a little further east toward Salida and set up camp at Curecanti National Recreation Area, which has three reservoirs, including the states largest body of water. The rangers here host stargazing events with the Gunnison Valley Observatory in summer.
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What Are Dispersed / Primitive Campsites
Dispersed camping means camping away from a developed campground. Youre literally dispersed in the wilderness!
Dispersed camping is free, and doesnt require reservations. Usually the spots are secluded and quiet.
There isnt typically access to trash cans, drinking water, or showers. You need to bring all your own supplies, and carry out everything you carry in.
Twin Lakes And Chaffee County Road 399
If youve got a high clearance vehicle, head down County Road 399 outside of Twin Lakes. Continue 2 miles past the junction with Highway 82 for some exceptional camping.
What I love most about this area are the beautiful rocky peaks. Youll be nestled close to some of Colorados best 14ers, amazing fishing, and a few 4WD adventures.
Head up to the end of the road for the start of Grizzly Peak, the highest 13er in Colorado. Take the alternate fork in the road to explore old mining ruins and beautiful mountain views.
Local Tip: There is endless free camping along the Leadville to Salida corridor. Check out Caffee County Road 390 for more spots.
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Peep The Aspens With Free Camping Near Kenosha Pass
Kenosha Pass, located off of the 285, is one of Colorados best aspen viewing spots. The camping along Michigan Creek Road is open year-round .
The road slowly makes its way up towards Kenosha Pass, where it eventually turns into a Jeep Trail .
You can climb the northeast face of Mt Guyot from the top, join up with the Colorado Trail, or just admire the view.
Most SUVs can make it to a majority of the camping, however, keep in mind that Michigan Creek Road is meant for high-clearance vehicles. This is one of the best free campsites in Colorado for fall camping enthusiasts.
Highway 67 Platte River Deckers Co
Highway 67, along the Platte River has an abundance of car camping spots for some very casual weekend camping. This area is great for fly fishing, or those just hoping to do a little tubing. Spots fill up FAST as proximity to Denver make these locations extremely easy to get to.
*Note: Highway 67 is the most casual spot on the list, but that can also make it the most crowded.
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Granite Tent Campground Gunnison National Forest
While accessible by car, this campground is a tent-only campground with a whopping 6 sites available, making it the smallest Colorado car camping destination on our list. All of the campsites are first-come, first-served, and although theres no water available onsite, there is one restroom as well as firewood for sale. This campground is unique in that it provides legitimate backcountry access while still allowing visitors to camp from the comfort of their vehicles.
If you or your family are interested in seeing the wilder side of Coloradowhitewater rapids, epic, untouched mountain views, native Cutthroat Troutthen this campground is for you. Located at the lower end of Taylor Canyon, Granite Canyon campground provides excellent backcountry hiking, fishing, and rafting opportunities for those with the gusto to get there!
Stop : Find Bison At Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge
On your way out of town, its worth taking a small detour to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. The largest urban wildlife refuge in the country is a sight to see with its 15,000 acres and more than 300 speciesincluding bison and eaglesset against the Denver skyline.
Bonus: Catch a Show at Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre
People plan entire trips around concerts at Red Rocks. If youre one of them, know that you can car camp at Bear Creek Lake Camp, which has a walking trail that leads to the venue. You can reserve the campsite online to guarantee a spot . Plus, it has electricity and showers.n entire trips around concerts at Red Rocks. If youre one of them, know that you can car camp at Bear Creek Lake Camp, which has a walking trail that leads to the venue. You can reserve the campsite online to guarantee a spot . Plus, it has electricity and showers.
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North Arapaho And South Arapaho Peak Traverse
Alpine meadows, tundra and lakes, two summits, and Colorado’s largest glacier? All of this and more can be yours for the low, low price of a ten-ish-mile out-and-back accessed from Nederland’s Rainbow Lakes or Fourth of July trailhead. Pack up your personal locator beacon and as much water as you can carry to bag these summits, either from the west side of the Continental Divide via Columbine Lake or the Devil’s Thumb trailhead near Fraser. The west-side traverse is closer to 25 miles, so while this hike can be done on one of Colorado’s arctic-length summer days, the pro move is to reserve a campsite through the United States Forest Service and arrange for drop-off at a trailhead west of the divide and pick-up at a trailhead east of the divide.
Horsetooth Reservoir South Bay
Why you should camp here: Fort Collins backyard reservoir is perfect for stay-cations and some low-key camping fun.
- Reservations accepted: Yes
- Campsite type: Tents, RVs, Boat-in
- RV hookups: Yes
Horsetooth Reservoirs South Bay Campground offers over 150 campsites perfect for any adventure. There are even 15 campsites you can only reach via boat. The boat-in sites are in small inlets or shores along the reservoir and there are only 2 sites per inlet, and 1 per shore. Talk about privacy!
Horsetooth can be crowded in the summer, but its hard to beat a quick getaway like this one! I wouldnt recommend camping here if you are looking for peace and isolation since Horsetooth is so close to town. But if youre from around the area and just looking for some easy camping fun, or youre taking the kiddos out for the first time, then this campground is perfect!
Family-friendly and with plenty of amenities, space, and options, theres something for everyone here. One great perk of camping near town, you can always just pop in for some great food or the local breweries such as Odell and New Belgium for some post-outdoor activity brews.
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Campers With Kids Will Also Like
KENOSHA PASS CAMPGROUNDNearest town: Jefferson
Obsessed with the Colorado Trail? Just below the summit of Kenosha Pass sit 30 car-accessible sites, mere steps from the iconic path. Thick aspen groves and stands of lodgepole pines provide privacy there are picnic tables, fire rings, drinking water, and vault toilets. You need only hike a mile or so southwest beyond the campsite to discover sweeping views of the South Park basin. Along the way, kids will love spotting the lean-tos that have sprouted up along the footpath. $18 , Recreation.gov
LAKEVIEW CAMPGROUND Nearest town: Leadville
This bundle of 59 campsites sits above Twin Lakes and is situated on the southeast flank of Mt. Elbert, Colorados highest mountain at 14,433 feet, making it an ideal launching pad for an early morning start. For kids , the dirt road connecting the campsites is great for mountain biking. $19, Recreation.gov
COLLEGIATE PEAKS CAMPGROUNDNearest town: Buena Vista
Choose between the mountainous areas creekside and forested options, all reachable by car. Whichever you choose, youll have plenty of room to roam because the 56 sites are nicely spaced. The quietest spots are near Middle Cottonwood Creek, which drowns out the sound of cars chugging up Cottonwood Pass. Children will love boulder-hopping and playing in the shallow waters of the creek. $20, Recreation.gov
PINEWOOD RESERVOIR CAMPGROUND Nearest town: Loveland
TURQUOISE LAKE Nearest town: Leadville
What You Need To Know About Free Camping In Colorado
Here in the great mountain state of Colorado, we are absolutely spoiled with free camping. Dispersed, free camping in Colorado can be found nearly anywhere.
Most National Forest Land has plenty of established free campsites for your enjoyment. This means that there are countless options if you know where to look.
If youre not ready to dive into dispersed camping in Colorado, you can check out some of the best campgrounds in Colorado that offer up a variety of different amenities. Some even take advanced reservations.
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South Platte Rampart Range Road
Why you should go: One of the easiest dispersed camping areas to access from the Denver/Colorado Springs area
- Reservations accepted: No
- Best seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall
- Campsite type: Tent, RV
- RV hookups: No
Rock climbers in Colorado are no strangers to the region of Pike National Forest known as the South Platte. Popular crags such as Turkey Rocks, Sheep Nose, and Thunder Butte are within an hours drive from Denver or Colorado Springs.
Its easy access also makes it a go-to spot for locals looking for last-minute free campgrounds in Colorado. Its great if youre a late camper, but it does mean that it can get crowded the easy access is both a blessing and a curse. Youll have the best luck finding privacy if you visit during the week or on non-peak-travel weekends.
From Highway 67/Rampart Range Road you can access Turkey Rocks, and other OHV trailhead areas where you can camp to avoid the crowds on the main road. Some roads are rougher than others, but any vehicle with decent clearance will be able to travel them.
Favorite Camping Spots Near Denver
Its no mystery that Colorados Front Range has some of the best backcountry in the states, but what about those weekends when youre just looking to get out of the city, roll out your sleeping bag, and bundle up with a few friends around a campfire? Well theres plenty of that, too. There are several state parks and national forests within an hour of Denver, and each of them has the right campground for you and your crew. Whether youre looking for a forest hideaway or something with a view of the city, whether youd like to relax by the lake or lumber along hiking trails or drop a line in a fishing hole, one of these campgrounds has just what youre looking for.
In Pikes National Forest, Buffalo Campground is a quiet hideaway with access to hiking and mountain biking, but its an intriguing area for car campers as well. Though the campground proper boasts only two car/tent sites, free backcountry campsites are located nearby, and the areas lumpy rock formations are calling for exploration.
Dillon Reservoir west of Denver has plenty of aquatic real estate for fishing, boating or just hanging out on the shore, and one of its nicest adjacent campgrounds is Prospector. With over 100 car/tent sites, it is huge, and a clearcut of pine beetle-ridden trees in years past created wide open views of the surrounding mountains. Reservations recommended.
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Best Free Camping Incolorado
While the Western United States are filled with seemingly endless opportunities to find beautiful, free camping, few states do it quite as well as Colorado.
From desert cliff-dwelling to the Rocky Mountains’ abundance of forests, and beyond to the Front Range including Denver and Fort Collins, finding free a free place to camp is not just about saving a buck it’s about living within the most splendid scenery the state has to offer.
Dispersed camping in the Centennial State is downright prolific throughout the dozen or so national forests and grasslands within the state’s borders. Are you looking for camping spots near Steamboat Springs? Forest roads and mountain passes galore await. Need beautiful free camping near Denver? Idaho Springs is only about a half-hour from town, yet filled with places to go mountain biking, tent camping, or enjoy your national forest.
See a map of all free camping in Colorado.
Stop : Trek Around St Marys Glacier
You could take your time and stop for lunch at one of the restaurants on the water on Grand Lake, or make haste and take a 30-minute detour to St. Marys Glacier, near Idaho Springs. Its one of Colorados most hikeable glaciers. Make sure youre properly outfitted with good hiking gearespecially boots with solid traction and maybe traction
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Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Located just thirty miles from Denver, Golden Gate Canyon State Park is an oasis of Rocky Mountain nature porn: aspen-rimmed meadows, verdant forests, jagged peaks, all crisscrossed by a well-maintained network of hiking trails. Also inside the park are two large campgrounds Reverend’s Ridge and Aspen Meadows with scores of tent sites , allowing for multi-day escapes from Denver’s concrete jungle. While you won’t reach the level of isolation you’d find by backpacking farther out, Golden Gate Canyon is still a great option for car campers who want a break from the bustle of the city without having to drive too far. Reservations get snapped up quickly here, so book early.
- 92 Crawford Gulch Rd.,Golden,80403Map
Trinidad Lake State Park
Explore the pinion-juniper forest and sandstone canyons of Trinidad Lake on 10 miles of hiking and biking trails, where exposed rock marks one of the best examples in the world of the K-T Boundary between Mesozoic and Cenozoic geologic eras. Waterskiing, jet skiing and fishing for trout, bass, catfish and walleye are popular, while just outside the park you can take a historical tour on the Santa Fe Trail and the Highway of Legends Scenic Byway.
Walk to the water from the small tent campground on the south shore or set up your RV or tent 150 feet above the lake at Carpios Ridge Campground for a commanding view across the prairie to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
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Stop : Stock Up In The City
Courtesy Topo Designs
Home to thousands of weekend warriors, Denver is loaded with outdoor retailers. Get any last-minute supplies at Wilderness Exchange, where you can find killer deals on consignment base layers, tents, daypacks, hiking polesanything you need. REI has a store in the city, too. And, you can go to the flagship of the outworld-favorite Topo Designs, in RiNothey have a repair program to rehab your Topo gear when it gets worn out. From there, make a stop at Nooch for vegan trail snacks like mushroom jerky and smores supplies. And for beer, Craft Alley stocks tons of locally made options sold in crowlers filled fresh from the breweries.