15 Super Cool Places to Camp in Colorado from Outside jversteegh

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I’ve been hiking and camping in Colorado for more than 25 years, but last summer, I went on one of the most delicious backcountry overnights I’ve ever done, literally.

The gist? I met up with a group of outdoor experts, including Stephen Starks, aka “The Mountain Chef”, at the Fourth of July Trailhead, near Boulder, Colorado. There, we strapped on packs to haul 4.4 miles up and over the Continental Divide’s Arapaho Pass to Caribou Lake—an alpine oasis at 11,147 feet. Our goal? To test a bunch of gear and cook good food in the field.

I was stoked to tag along for two reasons: first, to hike and camp with other gear junkies who love being outside as much as I do; second, the trip’s head honcho scored a coveted backcountry permit for the Indian Peaks Wilderness, providing immediate access to this stunning (but popular) 74,000-acre chunk of Rocky Mountains in my backyard.

Rough weather didn’t keep the author and his crew from setting up camp or prepping for dinner at Caribou Lake. (Photo: Joshua Berman)

Because Caribou Lake sits in the exposed shadow of the Divide, it experiences rapid, severe weather swings, or in other words, becomes prime gear-testing ground. And unsurprisingly, as we crested the pass, horizontal hail and wind slammed us from the west. We descended to the lake, found our camp spot, slung off our packs, and pitched our tents.

Hungry backcountry gear testers dishing up a noodle dinner at their campsite by Caribou Lake. (Photo: Joshua Berman)

Just as we kicked back for happy hour, a slushy hail storm rolled in. So, we scooped handfuls of ice from the seats of camp chairs and plopped them into cocktails, then Starks whipped out new MSR stoves and cook kits and began frying up Korean BBQ, followed by hot pots piled with vegetables, noodles, and sizzled strips of salty meat.Within 15 minutes, the sky cleared up into a blood-red sunset, and we stood chatting, munching, and slurping to an alpenglow show, before crashing for the night and descending the next day. (For the record: the gear held up and The Mountain Chef’s cuisine was as stellar as the views.) It was bliss.

Camping in Colorado: With Hundreds of Options, These Are Some of the Best

Outside’s digital editor Jake Stern snaps a photo of his friends whipping up a quick sunset meal at a backcountry campsite in Great Sand Dunes National Park. (Photo: Jake Stern)

Beyond burly backpacking overnights, Colorado has lots of other cool ways to catch Zzzs outdoors, including at trailheads and in fancy tents. Below, I’ve highlighted some notable and new places for camping in Colorado, broken down by type, from supported campgrounds to dispersed options, and more. Some of these spots are free and first-come, first-served, some require months of planning just to snag a reservation. But pick any one of these (mostly) off-grid gems and you won’t go wrong.

My bottom line? It doesn’t matter whether I’m camping with my kids, buddies, solo, or with other outdoor pros testing pots and pans in a hail storm—as long as I’m sleeping outside, I’m set.

Dispersed Camping

The author drove his high-clearance, 4WD Sprinter Adventure Wagon to one of the dispersed camping sites along Gross Reservoir’s Winiger Ridge. (Photo: Joshua Berman)

In Colorado, dispersed camping, a.k.a. primitive campsites are usually interspersed along dirt roads in public lands, outside of designated campgrounds. Opt for these options for solitude and the best stargazing around. Just don’t forget your own drinking water or filter, follow Leave No Trace Principles and pack out your trash, and know how to responsibly poop in the woods, please and thanks.

Pawnee Buttes

There are numerous primitive campsites with established fire rings near the Pawnee Buttes Trailhead. (Photo: Adam Roy)

Location: Pawnee National Grasslands, northeast of Ault in Eastern Colorado

Just 13 miles shy of the Wyoming border in northeastern Colorado, the Pawnee Buttes is part of Pawnee National Grasslands. Dispersed camping is allowed on the Pawnee National Grassland year-round and there are numerous primitive campsites off the network of dirt roads that are a short drive from the Pawnee Buttes Trailhead. Per usual for dispersed camping, there aren’t facilities at any of these sites, but you’ll find a bathroom and shelters at the official trailhead.

East Pawnee Butte via Pawnee Buttes Trail (Photo: Courtesy Gaia GPS)

The Cost: Free
Book It: First-come, first-served; get details here
Don’t Miss: The main reason to drive up here is to hike the Pawnee Buttes Trail, a short but inspiring 4.4-mile out and back walk to two enormous sand and rock formations rising up from the plains. Note: It’s completely exposed to the elements, and summer temperatures easily reach 90-100°F, but early morning, spring, and fall are perfect times to visit, and camping near the trailhead gives you immediate sunrise and sunset options when it’s not as hot and bright.

Gross Reservoir / Winiger Ridge

Hot chocolate brewing near Gross Reservoir along Winiger Ridge. (Photo: Joshua Berman)

Location: West of Boulder, Front Range, Colorado

This chunk of White River National Forest only a few miles west of Boulder is accessible by high clearance 4WD only and offers a handful of free, dispersed camping spots, mostly along a ridge above Gross Reservoir. There is a vault toilet at Forsythe Canyon Trailhead, but none at the campsites, which are marked with numbered posts. Although this is technically still dispersed camping, you must find an available designated site and can’t just post up anywhere. National Forest System Road 359, which provides access, is open from mid-May through mid-November during a typical year.

Forsythe Canyon Trail (Photo: Courtesy Gaia GPS)

The Cost: Free
Book It: First-come, first-served; get details here
Don’t Miss: The reservoir itself is open for regular and ice fishing, canoeing, and SUP (but no swimming allowed).

Bear River Developed Campsites in Flat Tops Wilderness Area

Post up in the Flat Tops Wilderness area for the best in backcountry solitude. (Photo: Karen Desjardin/Getty)

Location: Near Yampa, in north-central Colorado

There are 30 designated dispersed campsites along the Bear River Corridor, which is the main eastern entrance road to Stillwater Reservoir and the Flat Tops Wilderness (Forest Service Road 900). You’ll find these spots with superb views along the road between several established Forest Service campgrounds, as well as a string of lakes and trailheads. Each site has a picnic table and fire grate and a numbered post.

Stillwater Reservoir via North Derby and Hooper Lake (Photo: Courtesy Gaia GPS)

The Cost: Free
Book It: First-come, first-served; get details here
Don’t Miss: The Flat Tops Wilderness spans the Routt National Forest and White River National Forest, with elevations ranging from 7,640 to 12,354 feet. It’s the third-largest Wilderness area in Colorado. Check out the 7-mile out and back hike to Keener Lake from Stillwater Reservoir.

Camping at Trailheads

Most Colorado trailheads don’t permit camping, but there are a handful where it’s legal to stay overnight. (Photo: Joshua Berman)

The following trails allow primitive camping either in or near trailhead parking lots, providing optimal early-morning access to stunning hiking trails. Usually it’s explicitly prohibited to camp at most trailheads in Colorado, but here are a couple of interesting exceptions.

Sheep Creek Hot Springs

There are a couple of primitive, flat areas near Sheep Creek Hot Springs trailhead where overnight camping is allowed. (Photo: Joshua Berman)

Location: East of Durango, southwest Colorado

Okay, let’s clear this up right from the start: there are no hot springs, just some warmish algae covered spots on the Piedra River, at the bottom of this short trail into San Juan National Forest (at least, that’s what I found when I hiked and camped here in 2022). That said, it’s still a lovely walk in the woods and you can sleep outside around here. The Sheep Creek Hot Springs Trail descends a few hundred feet to the confluence of Sheep Creek and the Piedra River, then heads upstream along the latter over a flat, mossy, other-worldly forested river bank. There are backcountry campsites down there too, as well as a few car camping spots at the trailhead, all primitive with nothing but a fire ring and some downed logs to sit on.

Piedra River Hot Springs via Sheep Creek and Poison Ivy (Photo: Courtesy Gaia GPS)

The Cost: Free
Book It: First-come, first-served; get details here
Don’t Miss: Trout fishing on the Piedra River. Plus, check out Chimney Rock National Monument and the town of Pagosa Springs nearby, where you will indeed find incredible hot springs, plus some lovely shops and restaurants.

Picture Canyon

Picture Canyon picnic area in Comanche National Grassland, where you can relax for lunch before exploring the area (Photo: Joshua Berman)

Location: Comanche National Grassland, Southeast Colorado

This lonely, remote corner of the state doesn’t get as many visitors as mountainous destinations, making it all the more reason to visit. Archeologists estimate this area has been inhabited for over 12,000 years. Evidence includes projectile points, stone tools, charred bones, and rock shelter sites. There are 13 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails throughout this section of Comanche National Grassland. Dispersed camping is permitted in Picture Canyon, both in the picnic area by the parking lot, and along several dirt roads in the area. Campers may only use existing fire rings and park in designated areas, but there are a number of obvious spots to choose from with flat spots for tents and established fire pits.

The Cost: Free
Book It: First-come, first-served; get details here
Don’t Miss: The variety of habitat makes this a first-rate birding spot to view Eastern Phoebe, Scaled quail, Bullock’s oriole, eagles, burrowing owls, towhees, wrens, sparrows, grosbeaks, and more. You’ll want to hike to local examples of rock art, although much of it has been vandalized; there’s an interesting crack cave near an old homestead, about a mile’s walk in.

Best National Park/Monument Campgrounds

A sunrise hike across Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, San Luis Valley, Colorado (Photo: Joshua Berman)

Many campers plan their entire Colorado trip around visits to the five national parks (this includes Amache National Historical Site, which was designated a national park in February 2024) and nine national monuments distributed throughout the state, most of which maintain and manage some pretty cool campgrounds. Here are a few of my favorites.

Aspenglen Campground

Aspenglen is one of four official campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Photo: Joshua Berman)

Location: Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park

One of the smaller, more remote-feeling campgrounds inside Rocky Mountain National Park, Aspenglen is located on the east side of the park, about a five-minute drive from the Fall River Entrance. The campground has four tight loops with 51 sites for tents and RVs up to 30 feet, including 10 tent-only sites. Its facilities are wheelchair-accessible, and picnic tables, grills, fire rings, and tent pads are provided by the National Park Service (NPS). Flush toilets, drinking water, dishwashing sinks, food lockers, campfire programs, an amphitheater, and a riding stable are also available. Leashed pets are permitted in the campground, but don’t forget they’re not allowed on any national park trails.

Deer Mountain (Photo: Courtesy Gaia GPS)

The Cost: $26 per night; campers must also purchase a vehicle day pass (or have an annual NPS pass)
Book It: Reserve here; note that this campground fills up quickly when spots open up to six months in advance
Don’t Miss: Check out Horseshoe Park, the best place to see elk and bighorn sheep, as well as the 6-mile out-and-back Deer Mountain Trail, a singletrack day hike with epic views of Longs Peak, both of which are accessible from the campground. The Lawn Lake Trailhead is also a short drive away and is a strenuous 12.5 mile out-and-back hike up to the pristine high-alpine lake (which has a primitive campsite requiring an overnight permit).

Saddlehorn Campground

Dawn breaking at Saddlehorn Campground (Photo: Joshua Berman)

Location: Colorado National Monument, near Fruita

Most Coloradans drive by Colorado National Monument on their way to Utah, never realizing that some canyons and rock features they seek exist just south of the interstate here. The monument protects 32 square miles of rock ridges and plateaus on the northern end of the Uncompahgre Uplift. Saddlehorn Campground, which is inside the National Monument, near the Visitor Center, is perched 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, with stunning panoramic views over the valley, including the towns of Fruita and Grand Junction.

The Cost: $22 per night, plus park entrance
Book It: Reserve here; available up to six months in advance
Don’t Miss: During summer months, the campground hosts ranger-led campfire programs and guided walks. In winter, you can cross-country ski the monument’s trail system. Mountain biking and dogs are prohibited within the monument, but you can take a spin or bring your pup to most of the surrounding BLM land, worry-free. Additionally, campers may have the opportunity to join the Grand Junction astronomy club, which occasionally sets up telescopes at the campground for stargazing sessions.

Piñon Flats Campground

At Piñon Flats Campground, snag a site on the outer loop for direct views of the dunes. (Photo: Joshua Berman)

Location: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, San Luis Valley, Colorado

Piñon Flats is the official campground inside the national park, located at the base of the 30-square-mile dune field, across the creek. Piñon Flats has 88 campsites, plus a section for big groups. It’s important to note you can’t collect firewood inside the national park, but the camp store, visitors center, and the Oasis store and restaurant (just outside of the park) all sell locally sourced firewood. Piñon Flats campground has two loops of sites in a piñon-juniper woodland, some with privacy. Note that all sites are small, most can only accommodate one tent, and it can be a bit noisy in the mornings and evenings, as generators are allowed from 7A.M.–8P.M. But sunrise access to the dunes makes it worth it.

Pinyon Flats Campground via Overlook Trail (Photo: Courtesy Gaia GPS)

The Cost: $20 per night (group sites are $65-80 per night for up to 40 people), plus park entrance
Book It: Loop 1 is open year-round; the rest of the campground is open from late spring to early fall. Reservations are recommended and accepted for Loop 2 from mid-May to mid-September.
Don’t Miss: Most visitors spend a day exploring the dunes, hiking to any of the nearby shifting high points. If Medano Creek, the waterway that runs below the dunes, is flowing above ground (usually in late May and June), plan on some high-mountain “beach” time, splashing in the shallow water.

Unique Full-Service Campgrounds

Campfire Ranch founder Sam Degenhard, in his welcome hut. He offers free firewood and rental tents, stoves, and other gear if you need it. (Photo: Courtesy Campfire Ranch on the Taylor)

These special spots sit on the camping spectrum, somewhere between forest service campgrounds and fancy glamping. They come in different sizes, with the biggest ones operating more like mini villages than remote nature experiences, but it’s that character that makes these worth visiting—especially for family reunions with large groups.

Campfire Ranch on the Taylor

Fly fishing on the Taylor River (Photo: Courtesy Campfire Ranch on the Taylor)

Location: Near Crested Butte, central Colorado

Campfire Ranch has several locations, including “on the Taylor,” where they offer tent, car, and van camping. They have onsite rental camping gear from leading outdoor brands and an “Adventure Concierge” that connects guests with local outfitters and activities. It’s located halfway between Crested Butte and Gunnison, about 15 minutes away from either outpost, and is surrounded by hundreds of miles of singletrack trails for day hikes, mountain biking, and trail runs.

The Cost: Ranges from $67 per night for campsites to $130 per night for their “micro cabin”
Book It: Season runs mid-May to early October. Most reservations can be made only 14 days in advance, though for 3+ campsites or for large groups you can reserve up to 6 months before your stay.
Don’t Miss: The Taylor Canyon is home to the gold-medal fishing waters of the Taylor River and decent whitewater for rafting and kayaking. Venture east to Taylor Park to enjoy one of Colorado’s most stunning high-alpine valleys for more fishing, boating, hiking, and off-roading adventures.

Sun Outdoors Rocky Mountain

You can rent a vintage Airstream at Sun Outdoors Rocky Mountain (Photo: Joshua Berman)

Location: Granby, Colorado

This huge collection of accommodations near the Colorado River, just across the road from Granby, is especially nice if you’re traveling with children or older folks. You can all stay comfortably at camping and non-camping accommodations, including RV hookups, tent sites, Airstream trailers, and covered Conestoga wagons. There are on-site amenities like a big pool, hot tubs, restaurant and bar, playgrounds, recreation center, arcade, and more. When I last stayed here with my mother and children, I was able to head out early for a long hike in Indian Peaks Wilderness, knowing that my family had plenty to do on Sun Outdoors’ campus. Pro tip: rent a golf cart to get around for added fun.

The Cost: Summer rates for tent spots start at $67 per night, Airstream and wagons start at $155. Book early, especially for summer weekends.
Book It: Reserve here
Don’t Miss: Day hike in Rocky Mountain National Park or Indian Peaks Wilderness, both to the east; soak at Hot Sulphur Springs, just to the west; or visit State Forest State Park, an hour to the north.

Dolores River RV Resort

This campground sits along on the 241-mile Dolores River, a tributary of the Colorado River. (Photo: Adventure_Photo/iStock/Getty)

Location: Dolores, Four Corners Region, southwest Colorado

This river-side oasis in southwest Colorado is the perfect stopover between Four Corners and the San Juan Mountains, and it also operates like a micro-village. Most adventurers use this location as a basecamp, as it’s uniquely situated between destinations with awesome, 360-degree outdoor access. Stay in one of 78 tent or RV sites, or in a tepee, yurt, cabin, vintage trailer, or covered Conestoga wagon. All guests can use the community bathhouses, laundry machines, and a large common recreation hall, and enjoy grub from food trucks, as well as scheduled music and social events.

The Cost: Tent and RV sites begin at $29 per night, and glamping options like a covered wagon start at $62 per night
Book It: Reserve here
Don’t Miss: Check out Petroglyph Point Trail, a 2.5-mile loop, in Mesa Verde National Park. A little closer, just drive up Highway 145 which follows the Dolores River upstream toward the San Juans and Telluride. There are ample spots to pull off and explore, or head into the little town of Dolores and walk the Dolores River Trail.

Yurt and Wall Tent Camping

Stargazing at Rustic Rook Resort. Many of Colorado’s yurt and wall tent options are located in certified “Dark Sky” areas. (Photo: Alvaro Sanchez)

Yurts and wall tents feature sturdy, semi-permanent structures like wooden frames and tent platforms, providing a comfortable shelter in a rustic, natural setting. Tent material is typically thick, waterproof canvas, and you’re often sleeping on an actual bed, as opposed to the ground.

Rustic Rook Resort

One of the tents you can stay in at Rustic Rook Resort (Photo: Annette Ostrander-Fenske)

Location: Near Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, in San Luis Valley, Colorado

Just off the approach road to the national park, this new camping compound offers furnished tents, upcycled grain bins (a.k.a. repurposed farm silos) with stargazing loft domes, plus a few vintage RVs. Rustic Rook is a family owned and operated business and has a handful of fully furnished platform tents with wood burning stoves (five have in-tent plumbing, guests at the rest use a community bath house). Rustic Rook serves fresh, pre-adventure breakfast burritos each morning and s’mores around the campfire at night.

The Cost: $160-$330 per night
Book It: Reserve here
Don’t Miss: In addition to the nearby national park, the San Luis Valley has an eclectic and alluring list of attractions, including a UFO Watchtower, Colorado Gators Reptile Park, and Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa.

Dunes Desert Camp

Dunes Desert Camp’s wall tents make for ultra comfy nights outside. (Photo: Courtesy Dunes Desert Camp)

Location: Near Mosca and Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, in San Luis Valley, Colorado

This 320-acre private property in San Luis Valley has luxury safari tents with views of the surrounding valley and Sangre de Cristo mountains. The owner, Chris Mahoney, spent 14 years guiding safaris in Africa, so he’s well versed in luxury camping and works with Narrow Ridge Outdoors to arrange guided hiking, biking, climbing, horseback riding, rafting, and 4WD tours. The tents are cozy and carpeted and have private stargazing porches. Plus, there’s a communal fire pit for grilling up tasty meals after a long day of adventuring.

The Cost: Safari tents from $250 per night, campsites from $50 per night
Book It: Reserve here
Don’t Miss: Plan to hike around Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve early, so the sand isn’t so hot. Plus, you’ll experience the post-dawn light show on the dunes. Other area activities outside of the park include taking the short hike to Zapata Falls, birding at Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, and visiting the mountain town of Crestone.

Mudita Camel’s Yurt

True to its name, there’s camels (yes, camels!) in addition to camping at this high-desert property in San Luis Valley (Photo: Joshua Berman)

Location: South of Alamosa, in San Luis Valley, Colorado

I found this gem on Hipcamp—a solid resource for unique campsite reservations. Mudita Camel’s Yurt is a 35-acre, high-desert property in Trujillo Canyon surrounded by public lands and national forest in a striking and remote corner of the San Luis Valley. And, boy, does it deliver as advertised: a homey yurt next to a herd of photogenic camels that the owners take care of. Why camels? This herd is tangentially related to the now extinct Camelops that once roamed this valley, mingling with wooly mammoths and other Ice Age creatures, up until about 13,000 years ago. The yurt sleeps up to four, you can bring your pets, and your hosts may or may not be making soaps and other products from camel milk when you visit. Ask for a farm tour.

Elk Creek Trail (Photo: Courtesy Gaia GPS)

The Cost: $137 per night
Book It: Reserve here
Don’t Miss: Ride the narrow gauge Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, which follows the high passes between Antonito, Colorado and Chama, New Mexico. There’s also hiking in the Southern San Juan mountains (try Elk Creek Trail, a 3-mile out and back to incredible high-alpine meadows). After your train ride or hike, feast on the enormous platters at Dos Hermanas Mexican-American Steakhouse (on Main Street in Antonito).

CampV

If you opt for a glamping experience at CampV, ask about the “Stargazing and Snuggles” experience (Photo: Carly Salter)

Location: Naturita, in Western Colorado

This unique, under-visited part of western Colorado, west of Telluride, is on the site of a repurposed abandoned mining community. CampV’s mission is to “combine art, history, architecture, design, outdoor recreation, and unique spaces,” and the result is quite unique as far as outdoor stays go. Crash the night in one of the fully furnished Airstreams, a Lotus Belle or safari tent, a historic restored luxe cabin, or at the primitive riverfront campsites. There are RV hookup sites as well.

Shamrock (Y-11) (Photo: Courtesy Trailforks)

The Cost: Tent sites from $30 per night, glamping options from $155, cabins from $185
Book It: Reserve here
Don’t Miss: CampV offers an on-site “Stargazing and Snuggles” experience in an old, empty water tank, where they’ll set you up with blankets, a fire, and hot drinks, and a chance to enjoy the certified Dark Sky above. You can also hike or bike the 4.1 mile out-and-back Shamrock Trail to the confluence of the San Miguel and Dolores River.

Snow Mountain Ranch Yurts

Yurt village at YMCA of the Rockies, Snow Mountain Ranch (Photo: Joshua Berman)

Location: Near Winter Park and Granby, Colorado

This is one of Colorado’s best family destinations, run by YMCA of the Rockies at Snow Mountain Ranch. It’s a massive 5,000-acre affair with lodges, cabins, campgrounds, and yes, a yurt village. Each yurt sleeps six guests via one queen bed and two bunk beds, and has a tent pad, picnic table, and fire pit outside. Available from June to October, yurt amenities include a public bathhouse with hot showers and flush toilets, and a dish-cleaning area.

The Cost: $140 per night
Book It: Reservations open the first Wednesday of January each year and fill up quickly for summer
Don’t Miss: There is an enormous menu of on-site activities right on site, both indoor and outdoor; my kids’ favorites are roller skating and the climbing wall. The craft center is also a big hit, not to mention, the campus has playgrounds, tubing hills (in both summer and winter), horseback riding, and a pool. You’re also not far from the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. In winter, use the on-site nordic ski trail system, or head to Granby Ranch, a smaller, less crowded ski area minutes away.

The author, Joshua Berman, backpacking in the Rawah Wilderness, in northern Colorado (Photo: Joshua Berman)

Joshua Berman is a teacher, wilderness instructor, writer, and former wildland firefighter, who has been camping and hiking in Colorado for 20 years. He is the author of seven books, including Moon Colorado Camping and Moon Colorado Hiking, and a contributor to The Denver Post travel column, “Around Colorado.”

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