Backcountry Camping In Colorado
The backcountry refers to places that are more difficult to get to and are further separated from society. You cant just drive there, park, and camp. Youll need to hike, ski, or trek in a ways. The backcountry can be a lot more difficult when camping with kids, but absolutely doable. Below, were sharing both our favorite kid friendly backpacking location in Colorado as well as an amazing backcountry hut you can hike into.
Area : Michigan Creek Road Near Jefferson Colorado
Head north into the mountains from Jefferson, Colorado along County Road 35, and then take a right onto County Road 54 to reach the Michigan and French Creek areas. There is a formal campground and significant numbers of dispersed campsites scattered along the roads, with more located a short hike into the forest. This area is off the beaten track so it is not as busy as some of the other Colorado dispersed camping options on this list.
The Best Camping In Colorado
Lets just be honest: you probably couldnt go wrong picking from any camping spots in Colorado on a map while blindfolded. But the sites weve featured below best highlight all that this beautiful state has to offer, spread from north to south and featuring all the best of Colorado: majestic peaks, clear lakes, verdant forests, and expansive valleys.
Many campgrounds in Colorado have drive-in convenience amenities like bathrooms and water, as well as easy access to activities like hiking, biking, fishing, and more. Weve included all the details youll need to decide where to go camping in Colorado on your next outdoor adventure.
- Note: while weve included many drive-up sites, some may require 4-wheel drive capability or require a short hike between the car and the site. Weve also noted which campgrounds can accomodate RVs. Curious to try out RV life? You can rent an RV from someone who owns one on RVShare! Theyve got everything from pull-behind trailers to luxurious Class As, for a fraction of the price of buying your own. You may never camp without an RV again. You can pick one up absolutely anywhere, there are tons of available RVs in Colorado!
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Jackson Road Dispersed Camping Pagosa Springs
Situated eight miles from downtown Pagosa Springs in the beautiful San Juan National Forest.
Wild turkeys and various other wildlife roam the forests here, and offer plenty of gorgeous hiking trails.
Why do we love it?
These sites are surprisingly level compared to other campgrounds on this list. Theyre also made from gravel so it should be an easy place for RV campers to shack up.
Youll find a nice mix of nature and small-town charm here, with Pagosa Springs being about 5-10 minutes away.
Enjoy the solitude of nature with the convenience of modern society!
- Max Stay: 14 days, every 21 days
Top Things to do Nearby
- Walk Through Pagosa Springs Pagaso Springs is a quaint town with hot springs in which to relax, an opportunity to float in the San Juan River, and tons of events like a hot air ballooning festival.
- Picnic at Yamaguchi Park Throw down a blanket and eat lunch in this beautiful park inside Pagosa Springs. It offers some recreational activities, and a playground for the kids.
- Immerse Yourself in San Juan National Forest Covers 1.8 million acres of pine forest. Youll find endless outdoor activities and plenty of opportunities to see wildlife in this unspoiled nature.
For more information on RV camping in Jackson Road Dispersed Campground visit HERE.
Colorado is one of the wildest states left in the lower 48. Its epic nature offers plenty of opportunities for free RV camping.
Last Updated on by Aaron Richardson
Dispersed Camping Rules & Regulations
One of our favorite things about dispersed camping in Colorado is the lack of permits, reservations, and other requirements youll often find at developed campgrounds. However, that doesnt mean there arent important rules you should always following when dispersed camping.
It is best to check current regulations with the relevant USFS or BLM office, but you should plan on adhering to the following as outlined by the USFS:
- Do not camp in areas near trailheads, picnic areas, or developed campgrounds.
- Keep your campsite small.
- Practice Leave No Trace principles more on that below!
Leave No Trace Principles & Dispersed Camping
One of the most important considerations when dispersed camping is to follow Leave No Trace principles. This will minimize your impact and ensure your campsite can be enjoyed by future visitors. Here are the seven principles of Leave Not Trace camping:
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Gordon Gulch Dispersed Camping Site Nederland
National Forest System Road 226, also known as Gordon Gulch is located five miles north of Nederland. This area is easy to get to and from Boulder and Denver, which makes it perfect for weekend trips.
There are 15 numbered, designated campsites scattered along with the road system. You want to pitch your tent in one of those spots .
Take extra precautions when driving around this area as snow and mud may be around for the entire year.
- Best seasons : Summer, Fall
- Map coordinates :2F6X+GW Nederland, Colorado, USA
Be Courteous To Others In The Outdoors
Keep your noise to a minimum while dispersed camping in Colorado so that others can enjoy the sound of the outdoors. Keep party sizes small, usually six or less where possible. Be courteous to others who you may come across, and leave your campsite in a good condition for the next group who comes to visit.
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Madden Peak Road Dispersed Camping
Location: 37.3476, -108.2016
About:Madden Peak Road Dispersed Camping is located near Hesperus, Colo., and is an excellent location for camping near San Juan National Forest. San Juan National Forest is the home of Chimney Rock, which has played a critical role in Native American history.
Amenities: All vehicle types can easily access Madden Peak Road dispersed camping. Sites do have fire rings. You might even see some cows nearby, as the site sits near cattle grazing areas.
American Girl Mine: Winterhaven California
American Girl Mine is another free camping site we visit regularly. If you like wide open spaces, desert landscapes and the RV community, this site is for you!
The site is easy to access for almost all types of RVs, making it a great intro to boondocking if youre a newbie. The campsite offers no amenities. Its true dry-camping, so make sure you bring water, food, and power!
Yuma, Arizona is about 15 miles away and has all the shopping youll need. There are many grocery stores . But, driving back to the campsite, you have to cross Californias agriculture check point.
Dont Just Take Our Word: Hollora on Campendium says, We picked a spot not too far in as we were unsure of how the road or area would be. It was awesome. The spot had a rock fire ring too. Short ride to refill water and dispose of trash. Lots to see and do in the desert! The are train tracks near by but they run mostly during the day.
GPS & more details or watch the video below!
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Free Camping In Colorado
Free camping is easy to come by, as long as you know where to look. National forests hold most of the free camping in Colorado, followed up by BLM land .
Camping for free is generally referred to as dispersed camping, which is camping in approved areas other than campgrounds. The best part about dispersed camping, aside from the cost, is the privacy. Campsites are often wider apart than in a campground. And sites are usually right next to the road, so its perfect for car camping.
The downside to dispersed camping is a lack of amenities. You are not going to have running water or restrooms nearby. If you need a little bit of luxury, consider renting an RV around Denver before you head out.
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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What Are Dispersed Campsites
Dispersed camping is camping anywhere in National Forest or Bureau of Land Management land OUTSIDE of a designated campground. In other words, dispersed camping is car camping on public land where you essentially choose your own campsite, often further away from other people and without amenities like a bathroom, picnic tables, or a clearly numbered site.
Dispersed camping doesnt mean setting up camp wherever you want these campsites are usually sites that are used over and over again by campers each year, and are often marked by a fire ring and located just off the dirt road.
Dispersed camping is still car camping, just away from established campgrounds and common amenities. If, on the other hand, you want to hike off into the woods and find your own campsite, wed call that backpacking. In that case, youll need to hike in with everything you need on your back, and follow state rules for building a fire outside of an established fire pit.
When dispersed camping on public land, you can stay up to 14 days in a single location within a 30-day period. Youll then need to move at least 3 miles away to a new site, for up to 14 more days.
You can camp up to 28 days in a 60-day period anywhere in a National Forest, but will need to leave that particular area for at least a week but with 11 National Forests in Colorado, there are plenty of options!
Keep Fido Away From Wildlife
Colorado is a super dog-friendly state and camping with your furry friend is a great way to get outside. However, dont let your dog chase wildlife. Wild animals burn precious energy and your dog tramples the wilderness. Also, pick up their poop and toss it in your trash.
Related: Hiking and Backpacking with a Dog
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Going To The Bathroom While Dispersed Camping
There is no outhouse at a dispersed campsite. You will need to prepare to pee outside terrifying, I know. The only difficult part comes with number two you will need to bring a small hand shovel to dig a cathole to bury your poo. Pick a spot away from the campsite, trail, and other places people will likely walk. Dig the hole 8 inches deep and 4 inches wide, at least 200 feet from any lakers, streams, or other bodies of water.
Do your business and bury the results in the hole, packing down the soil firmly with the back of the shovel. If you are camping above the treeline, you will need to pack out your poo it will not decompose in the extreme mountain conditions found at that altitude. I highly recommend double bagging it just to be safe.
Best Dispersed Camping In Colorado
Depending on the time of year, campsites outside of Durango and Grand Junction offer a little more heat and are best enjoyed in the shoulder seasons of Fall and Spring, when golden aspens light up the mountainsides and brilliant fields of wildflowers rush through the valleys, respectively. All summer long, the stretch of highway connecting Leadville to Salida is home to a new national monument celebrating the Arkansas River. Further north, wilderness less explored can be had outside of Dinosaur National Monument and all through the Medicine Bow National Forest. Or skip right to the cream of the crop and set your GPS to Crested Butte’s many, many stunning options for dispersed camping.
Just remember that this type of free camping isn’t exactly a right, and it is up to each and every one of us to take care of our public lands to ensure that they remain not only wild and beautiful but open to the public for camping. Practice Leave No Trace, and always pack out everything you bring in, don’t try and create new spots, use those that have already been established, and if you can, leave the site better than you found it.
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Some Of My Favorite Areas For Dispersed Camping In Colorado
Over the past five years I have stumbled upon some great locations for dispersed camping. Thse six areas have a large number of camping sites, but be warned as they get busy on the weekend. Your best bet at finding a quiet area is to go exploring yourself along some national forest and BLM roads in the public lands nearest you.
How Exactly Does Dispersed Camping In Colorado Work
If you have only camped in a campground before it is normal to wonder how this works. Essentially, dispersed camping is a first-come, first-serve system on most National Forest and Bureau of Land Management public lands. In most areas, you can spend up to 14 days and nights in one location before you have to move. Keep in mind that most state and national parks are much busier and require a permit for dispersed camping if they allow it at all.
Dispersed campsites have no standard check-in and check-out time, but they are usually much busier during the weekends. Sites in busy areas will usually fill up by Friday afternoon and stay busy through Sunday. However, it is pretty easy to find a weekend site for dispersed camping in Colorado. Go early if you want to be sure to snag a spot, and have a backup plan in case your preferred area is full.
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Do I Need To Make Advanced Reservations To Camp In Colorado
Yes. Absolutely. Camping in Colorado is one of the most popular things to do for visitors and locals alike. If you plan on staying at campgrounds, youll want to make advanced reservations as soon as possible. This is especially true if you are camping over a holiday.
There are a lot of first-come-first-serve campgrounds in Colorado. These places typically fill up quickly, so get there as soon as check-in is allowed if you can. All dispersed camping in Colorado is on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Please Respect The Places You Find On The Outbound
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don’t damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!
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Visitor Center: Natchez Mississippi
I knowa visitor center isnt the first thing that comes to mind when youre thinking beautiful, free camping! But, trust us with this. The Natchez Visitor Center is an awesome free camping site that sits atop a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.
The site is a short walk to the heart of historic Downtown Natchez. Restaurants and art galleries line the streets. The visitor center also acts as the southern gateway to the Natchez Trace Trail.
Let us not forget to mention, this free camping site provides free water and free electricity!!! You cant beat the price.
For a detailed look at the site and exact GPS coordinates look here OR watch the video below to get the vibe!
Dont Just Take Our Word: Gasgirl on Campendium says, We couldnt believe that a visitors center would have electrical hookups and be free so we stopped by to check it out. The center is beautiful, informational and well worth the stop even if you dont stay over night. The lady at the front desk said we were more than welcome and she informed us that there was a free dump station, 24 hour bathrooms and a security guard on over night.
Permits And Fees Required For Dispersed Camping Near Colorado Springs
The biggest benefit of dispersed camping is quite obvious its the kind of camping that is almost always completely free and which typically requires no fees or permits of any kind.
Camping in this part of Colorado is no different. At the time of writing, pitching a tent in any of the zones described in this article required no special permits. Nevertheless, its always a good idea to contact the local field office or just do a quick online search before actually heading to your area of choice.
Camping or parking in any of the USFS or BLM lands included in this article requires no fees either. For the most up-to-date information on this topic, give the Pikes Peak Ranger District a call.
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About Camping In Colorado
Camping is one of the most budget-friendly ways to visit Colorado. In fact, some of the best places to stay in Colorado are actually campsites. You can easily camp while road tripping in Colorado to make the most of your mountain adventure. As a Colorado local of over 12 years, camping in Colorado has long been one of my favorite past times.
In this guide to camping in Colorado youll find:
- Frequently asked questions about camping in Colorado
- Information about free camping in Colorado
- Tips for camping responsibly and safely
- Additional planning resources for your Colorado vacay