Camping in Colorado for Boondockers

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By Mary Anderson

There isn’t anything quite like a summer in Colorado. The lanes of I-70 become flooded by cars piled with roof racks, bike racks, kayaks and canoes as everyone makes the exciting commute to a weekend vacation in the backcountry. But where exactly do you go? Colorado is home to 11 national forests. While there are many developed campgrounds throughout that can be reserved for $10-$30, there isn’t any reason you can’t find a killer spot for free.

Dispersed camping in national forests is always free. But please note: these sites offer no amenities and no ranger to look after you. Make sure you know what you’re doing and practice proper camping etiquette. Leave no trace. Pack out what you pack in. And be responsible with your fires (most areas are still under a fire ban). Click here to learn more about dispersed camping guidelines. The following ideas will help you start planning your next adventure.

1.    Stillwater Pass, Arapaho National Forest
Located near Grand Lake, Stillwater Pass is the largest campground in Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest. The site sits at 8,781 feet in elevation, featuring 129 sites and tons of activities in close proximity. A short 18-minute drive takes you to the Kawuneeche Visitor Center on the least busy west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. You’re also only 15 minutes from kayaking, boating and fishing on Grand Lake.

Directions

2.    West Magnolia, Arapaho National Forest
Primarily a hiking and mountain biking destination, West Magnolia Campground is located near Nederland. The trailhead offers eight miles to hike, bike and horseback ride just west of the Peak to Peak Highway. However, be cautious, the road to the campsite could be washed out, making it difficult for cars without four-wheel drive to make it through.

Directions

3.    Tarryall, Pike National Forest
Tarryall, residing in the northern part of South Park, has three campgrounds to choose from: Tarryall ReservoirSpruce Grove Campground and Tarryall Campground. Although there are tons of spots between these three destinations, the place is very popular in the summer. Be prepared to get there early or spend some time searching. Also keep in mind: fires are banned from the reservoir sites. Take in the surrounding area by hiking, fishing and gawking at the incredible views. 

Directions

Photo Neill Pieper

Photo Neill Pieper

4.    Twin Lakes View, San Isabel National Forest
Located near Leadville, Twin Lakes View Campground is just east of the South Mount Elbert Trailhead. Sitting at 9,703 feet in elevation, the sites feature a fire ring and breathtaking peak views. There are tons of hiking trails in addition to fishing at nearby Twin Lakes. Or, head into Leadville to check out some of their unique summer activities

Directions

5.    ANYWHERE YOU WANT (kind of)
While the list thus far has included all designated dispersed campgrounds, there are tons of options for undesignated spots in our national forests. According to the U.S. Forest Service, “when camping in non-designated areas, the general rule is to be 100 feet from any road, trail or water source.” But, be sure to pay attention to signs indicating private property or unsafe camping areas.

For more information on camping in the Rocky Mountain Region, click here.