Colorado

13 Beautiful & Free Camping Spots in Colorado

by Daniell LaFleur

Guanella Pass in autumn // Photo: Mike Ralston, Getty Images

Colorado is filled with surprises, including a shocking amount of places to camp for absolutely free.

But it can be a little hard to know exactly where those sites are. So before you start driving around checking to see if you can find a fee sign or camp host, scroll down to check out this list of the best free campgrounds in Colorado from all corners of the state.

With over 23 million acres of public lands in Colorado, you can bet there are plenty of choices for free camping. There’s public land spread across the state’s various landscapes, including the Rocky Mountains, high desert, and sprawling grasslands. Most of the best free campgrounds in Colorado are on National Forest or BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land.

Happy camping!

Most free campground areas do not offer bathrooms, clean water pumps, or trash dump areas (this is also known as dispersed or primitive camping. So it’s important to come prepared and follow Leave No Trace principles.

 

1. Browns Canyon National Monument

browns canyon national monument
Photo: Getty Images

Why you should camp here: World-class fishing, views of the Rocky Mountains, and relaxation for days

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, small RV
  • RV hookups: No

Browns Canyon is a relatively new National Monument in Colorado; it was one of the designations in 2015’s Antiquities Act. Between Buena Vista and Salida, Browns Canyon is on a Gold Medal Water section of the Arkansas River.

Fishing and rafting the Arkansas River from Browns Canyon are very popular. You can easily find outfitters and guides for both activities in Buena Vista or Salida. Out of the water, Buena Vista is home to the Collegiate Peak range of 14er summit trails (trails to summit mountains more than 14,000 feet high,) and Salida has epic mountain biking trails.

2. Escalante Canyon, Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area

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Why you should camp here: An amazing hideaway in the canyons of the Western Slope Desert

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV
  • RV hookups: No

South of Grand Junction lies a massive plot of BLM land known as Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. And if you’re looking to find peace and quiet in a canyon, Escalante Canyon won’t disappoint. The location has fabulous views, especially at night.

“I have yet to find another location that has better star gazing than Escalante! The canyon walls block out light pollution and just simply create a stunning nighttime view.” – Writer 

Activities here include hiking, swimming in the pools that form in the bottom of the canyon during high-water season, mountain biking, and rock climbing. The hiking trails and climbing routes here are very underdeveloped and should be approached with caution and experience, so either get a guide or go with someone who knows the routes well. It’s extremely hot here in the summer, so come prepared with plenty of water.

3. King Creek Trailhead 131

Why you should camp here: With rarely crowded trails, it’s one of the best free campgrounds in Colorado for remote backcountry camping

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tent
  • RV hookups: No

West of Kremmling, King Mountain Recreation Area is no secret among hunters, but seems to be unknown to most others. There are only a few spots camping spots here, but it’s never hard to find an open one — that’s how uncrowded this area is.

King Mountain Recreation Area offers 12,000 acres of land to explore with plenty of trails, including a summit trail up King Mountain. Hiking, horseback riding, and hunting are all popular activities here. If you’re willing to drive deep into the backcountry searching for a place to yourself, you’ll find it at King Mountain.

4. Jouflas Campground

Why you should camp here: World-class OHV trails, hiking, and mountain biking in Colorado’s high desert

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV
  • RV hookups: No

Colorado’s Western Slope Desert is an epicenter of activity for athletes of all types – mountain bikers, hikers, rock climbers, rafters, and OHV riders all know this area well. The campground is near the border with Utah, so it’s a great spot for roadtrippers exploring the west.

Jouflas Campground is a part of Rabbit Valley Motorized Area in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. This is one of the few free campgrounds on BLM land that have sites with fire grates, picnic tables, and restroom facilities, but there are only eight sites, so try not to arrive too late at night.

5. North Sand Hills – Sage Campground

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Why you should camp here: The only sand dunes in Colorado where OHV riding is allowed

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV
  • RV hookups: No

If you thought the Great Sand Dunes in Alamosa were the only sand dunes in Colorado, think again: North Sand Hills is maintained by the BLM, and is largely unknown due to its location. Locals flock to these dunes for OHV riding (and some good ol’ fun in the sand.) It’s the only area in Colorado where OHV riding is allowed on the dunes.

East of the small town called Cowdrey, North Sand Hills Park offers spectacular views of the dunes with the Medicine Bow Range in the background. Trails connect the park with Routt National Forest and the not-so-cleverly named State Forest State Park, where you can often see wild moose.

6. Loch Lomond

Why you should camp here: Primitive camping with mountain views off a 4×4 trail near alpine lakes

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer
  • Campsite type: Tent
  • RV hookups: No

Loch Lomond is the first of five lakes you see at the end of this 4×4 road near Idaho Springs. You don’t need an off-road vehicle to drive up this road, but having 4WD and decent clearance doesn’t hurt.

This area connects to the Continental Divide Scenic Trail, making this a popular hiking and mountain biking area. And if you like fishing, don’t miss out on a chance to catch rainbow trout or loudmouth bass. The rocky drive up the road is off-putting to more casual campers, so it’s pretty easy to find a private spot.

7. Mount Herman Road

Photo: Daniell LaFleur

Why you should camp here: Easily accessible and near CO’s South Platte River, with dozens of hiking and OHV trails

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tent
  • RV hookups: No

North of Colorado Springs is a small town called Monument, known as one of the gateways to Pike National Forest. As a former resident of the Monument area, I personally explored Mount Herman Road at least once a week and always found something new.

Camping on Mount Herman Road isn’t as popular as it is on other forest service roads around the state. Most campers hike a bit off the road to set up camp, and there no room for an RV or pop-up camper unless you go further into Pike National Forest.

Mount Herman Road doesn’t just take you up to its namesake summit, but to an entire network of forest service roads. Park here for a few nights while you explore the entire Pike National Forest, or just spend a night after a day of epic hiking. There’s a designated shooting range near the bottom of the road, so pay attention to signs and be sure to not stop to hike in that area.

8. Forest Service Road 585

Photo: Daniell LaFleur

Why you should camp here: Use as a home-base to explore the Silverton/Ouray area of S.W. Colorado

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV
  • RV hookups: No

There are a few designated campgrounds along Forest Service Road, like Anvil and South Mineral Campgrounds, which typically fill up quickly (maybe because they have actual pit toilets.) So if all the campgrounds are full, or you want more privacy, just pull off and camp wherever you can find a spot along the 585 road. It’s easy to notice the “designated” spots. It’s always best to use one of those sites instead of creating a new one to lessen your impact on the area.

Some pull-offs are just on the side of the road, but others have small trails to clearings behind trees and brush for more privacy. With as busy as this road can get in the peak travel season, the tucked-away spots are a gem.

At the very end of the road is a large campground and the trailhead to Ice Lake Basin. This trail is a must-do if you have time. It’s difficult, but the views are well worth the effort. Silverton is very popular for OHV-riding in summer snd backcountry skiing in the winter, and the incredible man-made ice climbing park in Ouray is a short drive away.

9. Unaweep Canyon

Unaweep Canyon free camping colorado
Photo: Getty Images

Why you should camp here: A granite canyon and pine forests in the Western Slope desert

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tent
  • RV hookups: No

Unaweep Canyon is unique in many ways. Not only are there steep, granite cliffs thousands of feet tall in the middle of a sandstone desert, but it’s the only canyon in the world with two streams flowing in opposite directions from either end. Unaweep’s high elevation makes the area a bit cooler, so it’s a great spot to camp in the middle of summer.

While many climbers have never heard of Unaweep, the areas has some of the U.S. best granite climbing outside of Yosemite National Park.  You can also drive into Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area through Unaweep, and Colorado’s budding wine country isn’t too far, either. it’s one of the best free campgrounds in Colorado for people who plan to do a few different activities while on the road.

10. Pingree Park Road

Pingree Park Road free camping colorado
Photo: Getty Images

Why you should camp here: Easy access to Northern Colorado’s favorite trails, cliffs, and whitewater rafting

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV
  • RV hookups: No

Well-known to Fort Collins natives,  Pingree Park Road is the closest free campground to the Cache La Poudre Canyon. Many sites up here are large enough for groups, so it’s popular with Colorado State University students.

While Pingree Park Road camping might not provide the best views, it does provide easy access to the many trails in the area. Trails such as Browns Lake, Little Beaver Creek, and Emmaline Lake are worth checking out if you have extra time. It’s also a popular spot to camp for people rafting or kayaking the Cache La Poudre River. In fact, Pingree Park Road is popular with nearly everyone – it’s one of the best free campgrounds in Colorado.

11. Guanella Pass

guanella pass free camping colorado
Photo: Sean Board, Getty Images

Why you should camp here: Easy access to high-alpine bouldering and Denver’s favorite 14ers

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer
  • Campsite type: Tent
  • RV hookups: No

Near Georgetown, Guanella Pass is a common overnight stop for hikers before getting an early start on Mount Bierstadt or Evans. You’re allowed to dispersed camp off the road, but space is limited. But if you’re up there to hike or climb the next day, you probably won’t mind the lack of space.

Just a short distance from Denver, Guanella Pass is a local hot spot for bouldering, and you can easily drive to Georgetown for some pizza and coffee afterward.

“I can personally tell you that after a day of hiking Mount Bierstadt and Evans in the rain and swampy conditions, Mountainbuzz Cafe & Pizzeria will bring you back to life!” – Writer

12. South Platte, Rampart Range Road

Photo: Daniell LaFleur

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 hour’s drive from Denver or Colorado Springs.

It’s easy access also makes it a go-to spot for locals looking for last-minute free campgrounds in Colorado. It’s great if you’re a late camper, but it does mean that it can get crowded – the easy access is both a blessing and a curse. You’ll 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.

13. Mount Zirkel Wilderness

Photo: Daniell LaFleur

Why you should go: Hike through Northern Colorado’s Sawtooth and Sierra Madre Mountain Ranges

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, small RV
  • RV hookups: No

Mount Zirkel Wilderness covers just under 160,000 acres of dramatic Northern Colorado landscape. Between the rightly named Sawtooth Range, Mount Zirkel, the Continental Divide Trail section, and more than 70 lakes, this area is a hiker’s paradise.

If you’re looking to explore the Steamboat Springs area, there’s no more picturesque home base than Mount Zirkel. Activities in the area include world-class mountain biking, hiking and backpacking, hunting, and fishing in the many streams in the area. As the name suggests, Steamboat is also home to a few hot springs.

Leave No Trace While Primitive Camping

  • Be prepared with plenty of trash bags. If you have a long drive home, I recommend putting the bags in a designated bin so your car doesn’t smell the whole way home.
  • Come with all the water you think you will need for your trip, and then some. Cooking and cleaning dishes always seems to use more water than you think. Bring a water filter if there’s fresh water (lake, stream, etc.) near where you’ll be camping.
  • Don’t clean your dishes in a fresh water source. Bring along a bucket, designated jug, or something like the Primus Campfire Utility Bag to contain and dispose of grey water properly.
  • Bring Wag Bags to carry out waste. Human waste is unnatural to all ecosystems, but especially to drier, more sensitive ecosystems, since it doesn’t break down as fast as it does in a forest.
  • “Know before you go.” Do some research on the location and become familiar with any seasonal rules or fire bans. Fire bans are all around Colorado in the summer months. If you can have a campfire, only purchase firewood from a local source. Don’t bring firewood from your hometown. This helps stop the spread of invasive insect populations.
  • Leave it cleaner than you found it: you can pick up and carry out trash, even if it’s not yours. Keeping the free campgrounds in Colorado clean and clear helps ensure they’re available for years to come.

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