Colorado Dispersed Camping Rules And Regulations
As mentioned above, its extremely important to respect our public lands.
Although national forests and BLM land have slightly different dispersed camping rules, one important rule pertains to both always follow the Leave No Trace principles.
These basically boil down to disturbing the land as little as possible. Leave your campsite even cleaner than when you found it. Properly dispose of human waste . Avoid off-limits or environmentally-sensitive areas.
Like much of the American West, wildfire season in Colorado is brutal. Always check on current fire restrictions and please be very careful with campfires almost 85% of wildfires are started by humans.
Finally, respect all dispersed camping stay limits. In most national forests and BLM land, this is limited to 14 or 16 days in the same location .
Estes Park Koa Holiday
Located near the town of Estes Park this KOA is a perfect launching pad for adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park. A campground with all the amenities, a short distance from the eclectic downtown experience of Estes Park this could be your perfect destination.
- Closest town: Estes Park
- Specs: 54 RV sites, 26 tent sites, 15 cabins, full hookups for tent and RV available, water, flush toilets, electricity, open May to October 16
- Amenities: Showers, dog walk, laundry, tent-area bathhouse, free in-town shuttle, basketball court, playground
- Recreation: Biking, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, shopping, wildlife viewing
This fully equipped, modern RV park has everything you need to set up your RV or trailer for a day, a week or longer in exploring nearby Estes Park ,and the spectacular scenery of Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Closest town: Estes Park
- Specs: 110 full hookup sites, 22 river shore sites, showers, water, open May 1 to October 15
- Amenities: Laundry, playground, clubhouse, propane, Wi-Fi, cable TV
- Recreation: Fishing, hiking, close access to biking, horseback riding, hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Reservations: call to book 794-7857
- Address: 815 Riverside Drive, Estes Park, CO 80517
- Directions: From Estes Park go .1 mile on East Elkhorn Avenue. Turn left on U.S. Highway 36, go 1.5 miles. Turn left on Marys Lake Road, go .3 miles. Turn left on Riverside Drive, go .3 miles, turn left .1 mile, turn right the campground will be on the left.
Rocky Mountain National Park Campgrounds
The first step in planning your perfect camping trip in Rocky Mountain National Park is to understand a bit about the geography of the park. RMNP sits in the northern Front Range and is generally divided in half by the continental divide.
On the east side of the park, the main hub of activity is the town of Estes Park, while on the west side youll find Grand Lake. Connecting the east and west side of the park is Trail Ridge Road, a spectacular drive that is a highlight for many visitors RMNP trip.
Generally speaking, the east side of Rocky Mountain is more frequently visited, as it is much closer to Denver and the rest of the Front Range.
Youll find good camping options on both sides of the park, and weve generally broken down your options geographically so that you have a good sense of what is available depending on which part of the park you want to explore.
Check out the map below to get a general sense of where the developed campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park are located.
In addition to the overview map shown above weve also created an interactive map with all of the campgrounds included in this guide displayed.
Campgrounds with a green tent icon are the developed campgrounds within the park, the blue camper trailer icon represents RV campgrounds near the park, and finally the red tent icon represents car camping options near RMNP.
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How To Get A Campsite In Rocky Mountain
Most campgrounds in the park accept reservations. If youre hoping to reserve something, click over to Recreation.gov to find a site. Reservations open up six months in advance of the first day of your reservation. Youll want to sign in and pick out your site in advance so that you can be ready to hit reserve as soon as the clock strikes 10 a.m. EST.
Some campgrounds in the park are first-come, first-served and fill by early afternoon.
If the registration kiosk is not staffed when you arrive, grab an envelope and then proceed into the campground to find an available site. The sites that are available will not have a tag on the post, and youll want to choose one of those. If you see an empty campsite that still has a paper stub on the post, it likely is still paid for and occupied by someone elseso dont set up there!
After finding a suitable site, immediately fill out the envelope and insert payment, put the stub on the post for your site, and drop the envelope in the slot at the registration kiosk.
To choose your ideal campground, take a look at the in-park options below:
Do I Really Have To Go Back Home
Yes, even this step is optional, because if youre on vacationwho wants the trip to end? Its okay, you can start planning yournext trip!
Want to plan the trip back? Get the reverse directions for aRocky Mountain National Park to Denver drive in an RV, or go to the main page to plan a new road trip.
Looking for ideas for more destinations within driving distance of Denver? Try searching for places within 2 hours of Denver.
You can also compare the travel time if youre flying or drivingby calculating the distance from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park. Or get a full Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park flight plan.
Dont forget about exploring your own hometown with a staycation.You can also find some cool day trips or get away for a weekend.Maybe try typing in a faraway location like London, Hong Kong,or Sydney, and get inspired for your dream trip around the world.
And if you know Denver well, please help your fellowtravelers and answer their questions about Denver!
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Elk Meadow Lodge And Rv Park
Elk Meadow Lodge & RV Park has resort-like amenities and is suitable for families. This campground has 7 cabins, more than 40 tent sites, and 169 RV sites which have full hookups. Furthermore, this campground has a playground, outdoor swimming pool, showers, mini-golf, hot tub, horseshoes, and many more.
Best For Being Close To Estes Park:
Estes Park KOA Holiday
5 Minutes from Estes Park
16 Minutes from Rocky Mountain National Park Entrance
Camp Sites: 24 Tent sites and more than 50 RV spots
Why it is Family Friendly: As one of the larger campgrounds in the area, there are many amenities including a playground, basketball court, dog park, and game room and it is only 5 minutes to downtown Estes Park for dining and shopping. Many of the tent sites also have a shade pavilion over the picnic table.
How to Book:
34 Minutes from Estes Park
31 Minutes into Rocky Mountain National Park
Camp Sites: 153 Tent and RV sites, No hookups and generator use limited. 13 Group sites.
Why it is Family Friendly: Glacier Basin Campground is an excellent choice for anyone looking to camp within Rocky Mountain National Park. Youve got hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing within minutes. It is especially great for families traveling together or large groups with 13 reservable group campsites. Because of the high elevation and limited trees, the views are incredible.
How to Book:
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How To Find Even More Free Camping In Colorado
The 15+ free campsites above are far from the only places for free camping in Colorado. In fact, countless popular dispersed campsites didnt make my list. Here are a few tips to find even more:
- USFS This interactive Colorado dispersed camping map, straight from the USFS, is perhaps the most useful online resource to find dispersed campsites around the state.
- Online Maps Paired with the map above, Google Maps satellite view is super helpful to find potential campsites. I also like Gaia GPS and FreeRoam.app, both of which allow you to turn on USFS and BLM land layers to clearly see their boundaries.
- Apps & Websites User-generated campsite review apps and websites are a great way to find potential dispersed campsites near you, although I wouldnt rely solely on these as they miss a lot of spots and sometimes provide inaccurate/outdated information.
- Ranger Station If possible, always stop by the nearest ranger station for the latest info on closures and road conditions. Rangers are always happy to share dispersed camping recommendations and typically have the most up-to-date knowledge on accessibility .
- YouTube Although the search algorithm seems to promote popular videos rather than those closest to your actual search terms, a deep dive with YouTube using popular keywords such as best dispersed camping in Colorado or free camping in San Juan National Forest can point you in the direction of even more promising spots.
Cub Creek Primitive Campground
If youre the back to nature type, this primitive camping area is for you. It is a pack-it-in, pack-it-out area with no trash receptacles, toilets or other amenities. The views, particularly in early morning, late evening and under starlit skies are spectacular.
- Closest town: Estes Park
- Specs: 2.2 miles from Cub Lake trailhead, water must be treated, toilet at the trailhead, open year-round
- Amenities: None, this is primitive camping
- Recreation: Hiking, photography, fishing
- Reservations: Backcountry permit is required, registration tag must be placed on your vehicle dashboard at the parking area
- Address: Cub Lake Trail, Estes Park, CO 80517
- Directions: From Estes Park take East Elkhorn Avenue .1 mile, turn left on U.S. Highway 36, go 3.8 miles. Turn left on Bear Lake Road, go 1.3 miles. Turn right on Moraine Park Road, go .5 miles. Turn left on Fern Lake Road, go 1.5 miles, stay on Fern Lake Road and turn right, go .7 miles to the campground.
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Technical Climbing Bivouac In Rmnp
The final backcountry camping experience that is possible in RMNP is for climbers needing to bivouac prior to/during a climb of one of the parks many climbing routes. The NPS defines a bivouac as an open air, temporary encampment. If youre not sure what a climbing bivvy is, it is probably not for you!
If you are looking to bivouac before climbing in RMNP, youll need to get a technical climbing wilderness permit. These limit group sizes to four climbers and have limits on the number of permits issued for various zones throughout the park.
For a complete list of regulations related to pets check out the Rocky Mountain National Park website here.
Our Top 11 Rocky Mountain National Park Boondocking Spots
Rocky Mountain National Park has over 100 peaks, hiking trails of more than 350 miles, and about 147 lakes that you need to explore for you to exhaust the major sceneries there. The park is open 24/7 and it would be beautiful if you wake up to a mountain sunrise. There are many Rocky Mountain national boondocking spots around the park but the following are the best and most of them are located in Estes Park:
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Rocky Mountain National Park Hiking Trail #9 Dream Lake Trail
Dream Lake Trail is 3.2 kilometers with an elevation gain of 130 meters hence rated as easy. It features a lake and best used between April and November mainly for hiking and snowshoeing.
Length: 2.0 mi
Kid friendly, Hiking, Snowshoeing, Forest, Lake, Partially paved, Views, Wildflowers, Wildlife, Fee, No dogs
What To Bring Camping In Rocky Mountain National Park
Preparing for your Rocky Mountain National Park camping trip involves more than deciding which campground best fits your needs. There is also the important job of making sure you have all the right gear youll need to ensure a great trip.
Were sure youll already have the essentials like a great tent, sleeping bags, and camp chairs, but below are some of our favorite items specifically for camping in RMNP:
- Coleman Camping Stove This camping classic is perfect cooking up campsite dinners.
- Portable water container These portable water containers are a lifesaver.
- Cooler A good cooler makes any camping trip better. We cant recommend Yeti enough!
- Rocky Mountain National Park Map An essential for any trip, a good map is a must.
- Even better than paper maps, we like to use the Gaia GPS app on our phone. You can download maps for every National Park at a fraction of the cost. Get 20% off your Gaia subscription here.
- RMNP Guidebook A good guidebook will provide insights and information to help you plan your perfect trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. We like this hiking guide.
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How To Find Exact Dispersed Camping Boundaries
The trickiest part about dispersed camping is finding out exactly where its legal to camp. National Forest boundaries are not clearly marked from the road.
Our #1 tip is to talk to a local park ranger. They can give you the best lay of the land, road conditions, and any special considerations that need to be taken into account.
Aside from that, the USDA offers this helpful map which accurately labels the National Forest boundaries in Colorado.
Longs Peak Campground On The East Side
The only first-come, first-served Rocky Mountain National Park campgrounds in the park, Longs Peak Campground, has 26 sites and charges $26 per night. It is located at 9,500 feet in a pine forest. Because of the high altitude of the campground, pack warm clothing for the mornings and evenings.
Keep in mind that this is on the eastern side of the parks perimeter, south of the main entrance. Take Highway 7 nine miles south of the town of Estes Park to get there. This is a campground that accepts just tents and can be used as a basecamp by climbers preparing to tackle Longs Peak, the parks tallest peak at 14,259 feet.
Are you prepared to camp at a high altitude? Due to the fact that Longs Peak Campground is 9,405 feet above sea level! Most people who come here to camp also do so in order to climb the magnificent Longs Peak, which is about as impressive as it gets. Because the temperature can quickly fluctuate and it is never too warm at this level, bring thick clothing. Enjoy yourself and luck!
Campsite Area: Up to 8 guests per site Up to 6 vehicles
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Soldier Meadows Gerlach Nevada
Dispersed camping in the Soldier Meadows area, about 20 minutes north of Gerlach on County Road 34, is managed by the BLM as part of the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Additionally, the area is highly geothermal, which lends to multiple primitive hot springs pools.
The two larger pools are privately owned, but for a small fee can be used by visitors. Since all-natural hot springs can vary in temperature significantly throughout the year, be sure to use caution before taking a plunge.
This is a remote, rugged area in northwestern Nevada, and vehicles that have a high clearance are recommended.
Allenspark/ski Road Dispersed Camping
Distance to Estes Park: 18 milesRestrooms: NoWater: No, but may be drawn from Rock CreekCrowds: ModerateMap
Outside of the small town of Allenspark on the Peak to Peak Highway is a lovely dispersed camping area along Ski Rd/CR 107. Youll be less than 20 miles from Estes Park here and also have easy access to many of the areas popular trailheads, including St. Vrain Mountain.
The road is generally passable for most vehicles at the beginning, so this makes a great place for those hoping to dispersed camp without the hassles of a rough road. Of course, the further back you head, the rougher the road gets and the less busy the campsites get.
This is one of our favorite places for dispersed camping near Estes Park.
To get here, head to the town of Allenspark and then head west along Ski Road. The road crosses private property for the first few miles before entering Roosevelt National Forest, where dispersed camping is permitted. There are no services here so be sure to practice Leave No Trace camping.
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What To Pack For Your Visit To The The Great Smoky Mountains
1. Hiking gear to help with the hiking experience in the Great Smoky Mountains boondocking sites.
2. Epi Pen for people with bee allergy as wasps are especially aggressive in the fall.
3. Food to help boost energy during adventures as there are no restaurants within The Great Smoky Mountains Park.
4. A rain jacket for wet days.
5. Adequate drinking water to keep hydrated during the Great Smoky Mountains.
6. Different clothing layers for different weather changes.
7. Headlamp or spotlight to see at night.
8. Sunglasses and sun hats to help protect yourself from the sun.
9. A map.
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Camping On Bureau Of Land Management Areas In Colorado
The Bureau of Land Management is run by the US Department of the Interior. Dispersed camping on Colorado BLM land follows the same rules as that of the National Forest.
There are at least 69 BLM camping locations on BLM land in Colorado.
Here are just a few of the places to check out:
BLM campsites range wildly. Some come equipped with vault toilets or trash services others will have fire rings only. You should never expect a BLM campground to be fully serviced. Thats why reading reviews can be so important!
Before committing to a dispersed camping site, we recommend stopping by one of the forest service offices nearby. The rangers there can give you the most up-to date information about the area.
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