The Ultimate Guide to Camping in Colorado

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Camping in Colorado.

For many people, spending time outdoors means heading for the mountains. Going camping in Colorado means plenty of that and much more. Besides the Rocky Mountains, the vast state is also blessed with gorgeous lakes, wide-open plains, and even sand dunes.

Where can you go camping in Colorado? Let’s find out!

Where Can You Go Camping in Colorado?

There’s a lot to see and many different ways to experience Colorado’s exceptional natural beauty. If you’re the kind of camper who likes to rough it with little or no amenities, you’re in good shape. If you prefer a few more comforts, that’s no problem, either. There are various camping options in Colorado, including state parks, federal lands, and private campgrounds. We’ll break them down for you.

State Parks

State parks are a great place to land throughout the state. In fact, there are 41 of them scattered across Colorado, offering more than 4,000 campsites. Amenities vary from location to location. Some have full electrical and sewer hookups, while others are more primitive. 

At the very least, you can expect picnic tables and fire rings at Colorado state parks, as well as flush toilets and showers. There are often boat ramps, laundry facilities, and a dump station if there’s no sewer. You don’t have to make a reservation, but it’s a good idea. You can reserve a spot up to six months in advance.

Federal Lands

Federal lands are another popular option, and we’re not just talking about Colorado’s national parks. Camping on federal lands in Colorado can mean taking advantage of other resources like properties the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service manage. Incredibly, the Forest Service alone manages around 14 million acres in Colorado, including 11 national forests and two national grassland preserves, plus 8.3 million acres of BLM land. 

Amenities on these federal lands can be similar to what you find at state parks. Boondockers looking for a more remote, self-sufficient experience can explore free camping sites the BLM manages. Before you hit the road, you can explore these properties online, and reserve a spot that way, too.

Private Campgrounds

Camping is a big business in Colorado, so private campgrounds are another option. Some are just as rustic as public campgrounds, while others offer more luxuries. If you want a more pampered experience or extras like swimming pools and playgrounds, private campgrounds might be the way to go. 

There are thousands of private campgrounds in Colorado, and it can be tricky to sort through them. Websites or apps that offer campgrounds and reviews, such as Allstays or The Dyrt, can help steer you to the right place.

Couple camping in Colorado.

4 Tips for Camping in Colorado

Before you head out to experience Colorado’s breathtaking outdoors, there are some things to keep in mind. Here are a few of them.

1. Check If You Need a Permit

While camping in Colorado is usually just as straightforward as anywhere else, sometimes, you need permits or passes for your campsite. You might need passes or permits to visit a particular area or camp inside a national park. 

Get all necessary papers in order before arriving at a campsite. Do your homework online and read what’s posted at a campground’s entrance to ensure you have what you need to camp there legally. 

2. Know Your Wildlife Etiquette

Keep an eye out for wild animals, especially bears. Never feed wild animals, and keep your food and trash locked up securely. You might want to camp at campgrounds with provided bear boxes. 

Show respect for wildlife and maintain a safe distance from them. You can find plenty of helpful information online about how to safely interact with wildlife based on the regions you’ll be visiting. 

3. Make Your Reservations Early

It’s no secret that camping in Colorado is tremendously popular. Because of such high demand, it’s wise to make campground reservations several months in advance if possible. Some popular resorts and campgrounds are booking a year out, so plan your trip as soon as possible. 

4. Dress for Changeable Weather

You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again: Dress in layers to prepare for sudden temperature changes. A day in Colorado can start sunny or mild and drop dangerously into extreme temperatures. Or vice versa – a cool morning can turn sweltering without notice. Be smart with a flexible wardrobe.

Woman backpacking through Colorado.

The Best Campgrounds in Colorado

With so many great destinations, it’s hard to narrow a list of campgrounds down to just a few. For many reasons, however, these are the ones we consider to be the best.

Garden of the Gods RV Resort

Location: 704 West Colorado Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO 80904

About: This private campground in the shadow of Pikes Peak offers full hookups and extras like a game room, laundry room, and a hot tub. There are pull-thru sites as well as Wi-Fi, and a camp store. You can also rent bicycles. Pets are welcome but must be kept on a leash.

Cost: $24.99 and up (fall/winter), $34.99 and up (spring/summer)

Things to Do Nearby: It’s at the doorstep of Pikes Peak as well as the Garden of the Gods Nature Center. This unique park has hiking trails to explore 13,000 acres of remarkable natural sandstone formations and mountain landscape. It’s also conveniently close to attractions and retail opportunities in Colorado Springs.

Campsite in the mountains.

Dakota Terraces Campground

Location: Dakota Terraces Campground Rd, Ridgway, CO 81432

About: Dakota Terraces Campground is south of Montrose in Ridgway State Park in the southwestern part of the state. It’s in the only section of the park that’s open to RVs year-round. There are fantastic mountain views here, and it’s also close to the lake and beach. 

A few campsites have full hookups, but most have electrical hookups only, and there’s a dump station by the campground entrance. There are also three yurts for rent that can accommodate up to six people. (Each has twin-size bunks and two queen-size futons.)

Cost: $36 – $41 (summer) and $26 (winter)

Things to Do Nearby: The closest town is Ouray, which is 15 miles away. Fishing, boating, and four-wheeling are popular here, and so is wildlife watching. Skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling are predominant in the colder months, although camping in Colorado might not be your first thought during the winter!

Winding River Resort

Location: 1447 Co Rd 491, Grand Lake, CO 80447

About: Near the headwaters of the Colorado River, this ranch-style resort borders the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Winding River sits on the site of an old logging camp and has a family-fun atmosphere. Activities include hayrides, ice cream socials, and an animal farm. 

There are spacious RV sites in addition to tent sites and cabins for rent. Horseback riding is big here on the forest trails, with multiple guided trips scheduled every day. Other facilities include showers, restrooms, and laundry. A camp store carries camping and fishing supplies and some grocery items.

Cost: $50 and up/$75 for full hookups

Things to Do Nearby: The big attractions here are the national park and the Arapaho National Forest. In addition, Colorado’s largest lake is right here, too, with incredible opportunities for water sports and scenic boat rides. Grand Lake Brewing Company offers a chance to sip a craft beer at 8,369 feet.

Couple enjoying their vacation camping in Colorado.

Zapata Falls Campground

Location: Highway 150, Mosca, CO 81146

About: Colorado isn’t all mountains. In the south-central part of the state lies the Great Sand Dunes. Zapata Falls, a primitive Bureau of Land Management campground, is a great home base for exploring this unique region. Don’t expect any amenities other than pit toilets and fire rings. Do expect amazing views of the dune field and valley. It’s open year-round, and you can reserve spaces on a first-come, first-served basis.

Cost: $11/night

Things to Do Nearby: The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is just 12 miles up State Highway 150. Sand sledding and sandboarding are big here as well as more conventional hiking and backpacking. Closer to home, the namesake waterfalls, with a 30-foot cascade, are just a half-mile hike from the trailhead.

Pinon Flats Campground

Location: Great Sand Dunes NP&P, 11999 CO-150, Mosca, CO 81146

About: Staying at Pinon Flats Campground is like having a front-row seat to the world’s tallest dunes. It’s a National Park Service facility inside the park itself.

There are no hookups, but there are 88 sites, some of which can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet. You’ll also enjoy restrooms with sinks, flush toilets, a dishwashing sink, and water spigots, but no showers. Each site has a fire grate and a picnic table. Some are shaded, and some are in the open. You can relax and enjoy rustic camping in colorado.

Cost: $20/night

Things to Do Nearby: In the summer, you may want to cool off with a swim in Madano Creek. Then, at night, the dark skies are conducive for stargazing (as well as watching out for UFOs). And off-roaders may want to try and navigate the Madano Pass Primitive Road.

Elk Meadow RV Resort

Location: 1665 CO-66, Estes Park, CO 80517

About: Elk Meadow has a lot going for it, starting with its tremendous location. It’s just a mile from the east entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park in a low-lying spot with gorgeous mountain views. The resort has 169 full-service RV sites that can handle coaches up to 75 feet long. Extras include a swimming pool, a laundry facility, and three bathhouses.

You can spend spare time with miniature golf or horseshoes while the kids enjoy the playground. During the summer, there’s live music inside the lodge on weekends.

Cost: $75 and up

Things to Do Nearby: Visit the park and experience a rise in elevation from around 8,000 feet to 14,529. Keep an eye out for the elk that give the place its name. Rafting on the Colorado River is an adrenaline rush. A visit to quaint downtown Estes Park, with its shops and galleries, is a great way to unwind.

Man and woman camping in Colorado mountains.

Dolores River Campground

Location: 18680 CO-145, Dolores, CO 81323

About: The Dolores River runs right through this private campground, offering the chance to go fly fishing. There’s also a fishing pond on the premises and 100 RV spots by the river that are shaded by cottonwoods. Needless to say, it’s a cool spot in the summer. There are full hookups here and large pull-through sites—bonus points for clean bathrooms and showers, as well as Wi-Fi and good connectivity.

Cost: $44 and up

Things to Do Nearby: The San Juan Skyway is a scenic loop that goes through Dolores and covers 235 miles of southwestern Colorado. It would take a couple of days to see the entire scenic byway. From here, though, you drive in either direction to take in some fantastic scenery. Telluride is a great day trip, as well.

Enjoy Amazing Camping in Colorado 

Going camping in Colorado means different things for everyone. Thankfully, there are enough options to suit everyone’s preferences. Campgrounds of all kinds stretch across the massive state, each with its own advantages. 

What’s your favorite place to go camping in Colorado?

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