Ample Free Camping in Colorado’s National Forests
From forested deserts to snowcapped peaks, the Centennial State has nearly unlimited options for free camping, even in the height of summer.
What would you say if someone told you there is a boondocking paradise, in the mountains, smack dab in the middle of America? Alpine lakes reflecting afternoon spring clouds, frigid rivers cutting through the summer heat, and strokes of yellow Aspens slashing through the autumn pines…all of this and a multitude of hip cities, cute small towns and more outdoor activities than you can shake a ski pole at is waiting in colorful Colorado.
The best news of all? You can travel nearly the entire state and camp for free.
Let’s begin our journey from the southwestern corner of the state, where the ancient Puebloans carved cities into the sides of cliffs and modern-day Durangoans craft some of the finest beers in the state in between rafting trips through town. If you’d like a place to call basecamp between the two, Madden Peak Road has free boondocking with a side of cell service and is about twenty minutes east of the park and another thirty to Durango. Even closer to Mesa Verde, County Road 34 is practically across the street from the national park.
Heading north, along the treacherously thrilling Red Mountain Pass, aka the Million Dollar Highway, toward Silverton, a slew of spots just west of town like Sultan Camping Area, Anvil Camping Area and Sultan Creek offer free camping with gorgeous views only a few minutes to the town of Silverton, Colorado.
Continue your pilgrimage to the other side of this stretch of mountains where trendy and expensive Telluride will charge you $5 for an iced coffee, but places like Last Dollar Road will at least save you the nightly rent payment. If you’re brave, and have a small setup, Alta Lakes is a massively popular spot.
It’s hard not to recommend the trek into Crested Butte, a postcard of a town surrounded by sheer beauty and touting itself as the Wildflower Capital of Colorado. Nearly endless camping is available along the Slate River, from the absolutely phenomenal (if hard to reach) site at the end of the road to the “pay if you want” Oh Be Joyful campground that even supplies picnic tables and fire pits.
As beautiful as that stretch of BLM land is, it’s hard to beat Washington Gulch for big rainbow, wide-open meadows and the perfect view of the actual Crested Butte.
If your journey leads you farther west to the Grand Junction, check out the expansive high desert views of Escalante Canyon Road on your way. Once in town, get away from it all in the shadows of Miracle Rock or stick a little closer to the action along 25 Road.
In the center of the state, US 285 runs through some of the most charming small towns. While their population is low, they more than make up for it in nearly every other aspect, from elevation to a number of breweries and restaurants to hiking, biking, and rafting, to name a few.
Starting in Salida, you can camp absolutely free in a canyon only a few minutes from a town where rarely does a summer moment pass when a host of tubes are floating the river running through town.
If you’re lucky enough to get one of the mountain’s edge sites looking over Twin Lakes and up Independence Pass, South Mount Elbert‘s views are hard to beat anywhere in these United States, and the general store (which basically is town) is an experience all unto itself.
Finally, get as high as you can in Colorado by boondocking along County Road 48 just outside of Leadville, Colorado, elevation 10,152 feet above sea level.
Heading north to the Front Range and the region surrounding Rocky Mountain National Park, Winter Park’s Vasquez Ridge is a lush woodland reminiscent of the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest and an easy drive back into this popular ski town without all of the pomp and circumstance of places like Breckenridge and Aspen.
Closer to Rocky Mountain National Park’s western entrance, Stillwater Pass near Grand Lake can accommodate rigs of all sizes and sets you up for an early attack on the park proper if you’re looking for a first come first serve free dispersed campsite right in Rocky Mountain National Park.
On the eastern side of the park, West Magnolia (though a mixed bag at times), sets you up for views of the Indian Peaks and within a decent scoot to Nederland, where the hippiest of bands and trippiest of tourists can be found in troves.
And the best news about all of these spots? Even on a busy summer weekend, the boondocking options are so unlimited you’re almost guaranteed to find a place to camp, regardless of what part of Colorado you end up exploring.