Where To Go Camping in Colorado
The Mountain West is home to arguably the best camping in the US, and Colorado is the standard-bearer for outdoor adventure in the region. The Gateway to the Rockies is synonymous with the Great Outdoors, showcasing something for everyone to love.
There are ample opportunities all over the state for established campgrounds, RV parks, and dispersed campsites. RVs, tents, travel trailers, vans, everything is at home in nature, and will find a spot they love.
Best Times to Go Camping in Colorado
Colorado follows a fairly traditional camping season, with most campsites opening up some time in late May to early June and shutting down sometime in September. While there are some sites open in early May and don’t close until October or November, plan on camping in the summer months.
Summertime here is definitely the best time to camp, both in terms of available amenities and weather, as well as seasonal road access to nearly anywhere. While early fall is usually pleasant, the elevation means that early-season snow is likely, making peak-bagging more difficult.
Colorado summers are warm and dry, but the higher elevations tend to have milder weather. For example, while Denver sees an average high of 92 degrees in July, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) only has a July high-temperature average of 69 degrees F. It’s for this reason that many campgrounds are closed in May, as the cooler, higher elevations still have snow on the ground.
Summer also means plenty of crowds in the popular national parks. Travelers looking to avoid crowds should consider national forests or some of the less-trafficked national parks like Mesa Verde and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The crowds thin out by early to mid-fall, so travelers willing to wait it out won’t contend with the same numbers in the parks.
RMNP (and much of Colorado, in general) is beautiful in the fall. The high elevations see a mesmerizing early-season showing of colors, so grabbing a campsite in Rocky Mountain is worth it for late-season campers. Late September and early October are both excellent times of year to see the leaves change, though expect overnight lows to be around freezing.
Spring operates in a fairly similar manner to fall, with cold temperatures sticking around throughout the entire season. While you can do some free camping in spring, and there are certain year-round campgrounds, amenities, and options for traditional campsites will be limited. For reference, the lowest point in the entire state is at 3,315 feet, so late-season snow is a given.
Winter camping in the state is really only for the hardcore adventurer. The warmest city in the state on average, La Junta, still has a January average low of 16 degrees F. For those wanting to gear up and go winter camping, Colorado is a beautiful place to do it, but it’s best left to those who really know what they’re doing.
National Park Service Sites in Colorado
Colorado has 17 National Park Service (NPS) sites, and eight of them have camping. While there are four national parks here, Rocky Mountain is far and away the most popular, with almost 4.5 million visitors in 2021.
Mesa Verde and Great Sand Dunes, during that same year, hovered in the neighborhood of half a million visitors. Black Canyon of the Gunnison is routinely the least visited of the four national parks in Colorado, so consider that if you’re trying to enjoy nature and dodge crowds.
Visitors heading to Browns Canyon National Monument and Canyon of the Ancients National Monument may be confused not seeing them on this list. Though they’re national monuments, they aren’t actually run by the NPS.
While the National Park Service runs the majority of national monuments, there are several federal entities that can administer them. Browns Canyon and Canyon of the Ancients, in this case, are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Colorado National Monument
- Curecanti National Recreation Area
- Dinosaur National Monument
- Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
- Hovenweep National Monument
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
National Forests in Colorado
Colorado is tied with Oregon for the second-most national forests, and 21% of the entire state is national forest land. Both states have 12 national forests, with California in first place at 20. While most of the Manti-La Sal National Forest is in Utah, there’s a small section of it (with some established campgrounds) in western Colorado.
- Arapaho National Forest
- Grand Mesa National Forest
- Gunnison National Forest
- Pike National Forest
- Rio Grande National Forest
- Roosevelt National Forest
- Routt National Forest
- San Isabel National Forest
- San Juan National Forest
- Uncompahgre National Forest
- White River National Forest
- Manti-La Sal National Forest (shared with Utah)
Best Free Camping in Colorado
Just over one-third of Colorado is federal land. The United States Forest Service (USFS) and its national forests account for 60% of that land. The Bureau of Land Management accounts for 35%, meaning almost all federal land in Colorado is fair game for free camping.
It’s worth noting that almost all the free camping in Colorado is located west of Denver. While the eastern half of the state on the Great Plains has a few options for camping, they’re few and far between compared to the western section. On these eastern plains, your best bet for dispersed camping is the national grasslands, Pawnee and Comanche.
Some of the most popular spots for free camping include Escalante Canyon in the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, Jouflas Campground in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, and Loch Lomond near Idaho Springs.
Colorado State and Public Parks
Colorado has 42 state parks. Though you can’t camp in all of them, you can camp in 34 of them. With a wide range of options throughout the state, there’s likely a state park near you, no matter where you’re visiting. Of the 34 with camping, these 10 should be on your list of sights to see.
- Cherry Creek State Park
- Golden Gate Canyon State Park
- Chatfield State Park
- St. Vrain State Park
- Eleven Mile State Park
- State Forest State Park
- Rifle Gap State Park
- Staunton State Park
- Steamboat Lake State Park
- Lake Pueblo State Park
RV Resorts and Unique Stays
Colorado, though synonymous with rugged outdoor adventure, is anything but short on comfort. Not looking to spend all your time in a tent? These six spots are great for the comfort-oriented and anyone looking for exciting stays with beautiful views.
- The Views RV Park & Campground
- Sun Outdoors Rocky Mountains
- Alpen Rose RV Park
- Winding River Resort
- Royal Gorge RV Resort & Cabins
- Palisade Basecamp RV Resort
The Centennial State has everything a traveler could want and then some. With a robust network of parks and forests, it’s easy to camp in this state regularly and see something new each time.