Spending the night under the stars is a must-do Colorado activity. Unlike other states, there is ample free camping in Colorado. In this guide, we’ll cover some of the best dispersed camping in Colorado and how to get there.
I’ve lived in the great Centennial State for over a decade. Throughout the years, I’ve enjoyed free camping across the state. As a full-time freelance writer for the outdoors, I can give you the inside scoop on all of the best free camping in Colorado.
About this Guide to Free Camping in Colorado
Before you pitch your tent, there are a few things you need to know about camping in Colorado. We’ll cover everything you need to know to choose the best free campsites in Colorado. Highlights of this guide include:
- How to find free camping
- What is dispersed camping?
- Amazing free camping in Colorado
- Quick tips for camping in Colorado
- Additional Colorado travel resources
How to Find Free Camping in Colorado
Those free camping websites you find are often disappointing and they never really deliver you the best free camping out there. It’s no secret that finding free camping in Colorado takes a little bit of research.
Don’t worry though, if you want to learn the secret to finding free campsites, I’ve got you covered with a comprehensive course to free camping in Colorado.
You’ll get my secret sauce to scoring excellent free campsites throughout the US. I’ve used this step-by-step proven method to find g-o-r-g-e-o-u-s dispersed camp sites all over Colorado and beyond.
What is Dispersed Camping?
All free camping in Colorado is dispersed camping. This means there are no amenities. You are expected to pack it in, pack it out, and practice Leave No Trace.
Only embark on a dispersed camping adventure if you know how to properly dig a hole and poop in the woods (unless you have a self-contained camper). Pack out all of your toilet paper and pick up dog waste before you leave.
You’ll also want to make sure you bring enough water for the time you’re at camp. Don’t forget a trash bag (pack out ALL trash and store it in your car when you’re sleeping to avoid unwanted animal encounters).
Lastly, only stay in previously established sites. This ensures that no new campsites are created, which leads to more human impact on the environment.
Map of the Best Free Camping in Colorado
Below is a super useful map that you can use to find the best spots for free camping in Colorado.
Where in Colorado Can You Camp for Free?
There are many places where you can camp for free in Colorado. Some good spots include:
- San Luis Lakes Campground (Hooper, CO)
- Madden Peak Road Dispersed Camping (Hesperus, CO)
- Sacred White Shell Mountain Dispersed Camping (Mosca, CO)
- Railroad View Parking Area (Twin Lakes, CO)
- Chalk Creek Dispersed Camping (Leadville, CO)
- Hughes Meadow Dispersed Camping (Buena Vista, CO)
- Washington Gulch Designated Dispersed Campsite #39 (Crested Butte, CO)
Is it Legal to Camp Anywhere in Colorado?
No, you cannot camp anywhere you like in Colorado. In fact, about 54% of the land in the state is private property.
So, you would need permission to camp in these places. And within these public lands, you can only camp in specific, designated areas.
Can you Camp in Colorado Without a Permit?
It really depends on where you plan to go camping. For most major campgrounds and state/national parks in Colorado, you will need to reserve a campsite in advance and pay a fee to camp there.
Additionally, some places may ask you to get a backcountry permit to go backpacking/enjoy dispersed camping.
The Best Free Camping in Colorado
One of the best parts about living in Colorado is the amazing selection of free camping. Below you’ll find some amazing free camping in Colorado. Each area contains a general description along with nearby attractions.
1. Jones Pass Near Highway 40
Best visited from July through early September, this high alpine camping experience has a lot on offer. Just 40 minutes from Denver along Highway 40 you’ll find yourself immersed in a sea of wildflowers and picture-perfect mountain scenery.
If you have even the slightest amount of clearance (at least an SUV) you can crawl your way to the top of the pass and hike up directly to the famous Continental Divide Trail.
2. Priest Lake Near Telluride
Located within the Uncompahgre National Forest and around a 20-minute drive from Telluride, Priest Lake features some of the best free camping in Colorado.
And while you can no longer camp anywhere you like, there are 9 dispersed campsites for you to choose from. Many overlook Priest Lake which is beautiful but not great for swimming.
Now, these campsites are each designated by a fire ring and a picnic table, with a vault toilet on-site.
You also don’t have to worry about bumping into your neighbor since these sites are not located right on top of one another.
That being said, the area can get crowded with day trippers during the summer. Thankfully, though, many of those people leave well before the sun goes down.
However, you can try nearby Lizard Head Pass if this is an issue for you.
To access this site. turn onto Priest Lake Road from Highway 145 and drive for about 12.5 miles. And while the road is a bit rough, you could manage it with a traditional vehicle. Just go slow.
Local Tip: Opt for a walk in-site and not a drive-in site since they are a bit more secluded. Trailers and RVs are also not allowed.
3. Alta Lakes Near Telluride
Drive through a nearby ghost town to reach the famous Alta Lakes – a well-known free camping spot in Colorado. Here you’ll find a few lakes where you can pitch your tent.
There are three separate lakes with several dispersed campsites. There are pit toilets nearby (please use them) which is a rarity among dispersed camping in Colorado.
To reach Alta Lakes, head south on CO 145 toward Lizard Head Pass. Just before you reach the Ophir Pass turnoff, you’ll see a sign for Alta Lakes. Turn left here.
Eventually, you’ll reach a spooky ghost town that was abandoned after mining exploits in the area didn’t pan out. Turn right at the town until you get to the loop road that makes it around the lakes.
High clearance vehicles are recommended to reach the lakes, although a hybrid SUV can go make it if you take it slow.
Local Tip: Keep in mind that this area sees HEAVY use and it’s not uncommon for spaces to be full well before the weekend.
4. Devil’s Head in Rampart Range
Devil’s Head has been a camping haunt of mine for nearly a decade. This area is mostly known for ATVing, dirt biking, and climbing, but there’s plenty of fun car camping to be had.
Located just southwest of Castle Rock, Devil’s Head has some of the best hikes near Denver (Devil’s Head Lookout), excellent trad and sport climbing, and features some of the best warm-weather camping in the state.
Head along Rampart Range Road and snag a free camp spot. This area is well-known, and the gate closes in winter, so check recent conditions and head out early to get the best spots.
5. Washington Gulch near Crested Butte
Nestled within the Gunnison National Forest, dispersed camping is permitted for 14 days at a time when using designated sites.
So, some of the best dispersed camping in Colorado can be found along Washington Gulch Road. Just use caution when driving on this road because while it is well-maintained it is definitely unpaved.
Now, you can only camp at designated sites. But, you can enjoy 40+ scenic spots that offer stellar views of Mount Crested Butte or that sit near a local stream.
Plus, there are sites here that are perfect for anyone a big rig. Just try and travel for a couple of miles after turning onto Washington Gulch Road.
Local Tip: Other places to enjoy free camping in Colorado that are sort of nearby include Paradise Divide and Kebler Pass.
6. Blue River South of Breckenridge
If you’re looking for free places to camp near Breckenridge, then head to the Blue Lakes area. Head south on Highway 9 to find a variety of free camping.
Keep in mind, many of these spots require high-clearance, 4WD vehicles since they head up old mining roads. Check out the Jeep Road up to Crystal Lake, the roads around the Mohawk Lakes Trailhead, Spruce Creek Trailhead, and the Kite Lake area (closer to Alma).
7. The Lost Creek Wilderness
The Lost Creek Wilderness is home to some of the best camping in Colorado while the snow still hangs up high. These low elevation camping areas are great during the spring and fall.
Hit up the area surrounding Segment 3 and 4 of the Colorado Trail (along Wellington Lake Road and Stony Pass Road) you’ll find an array of camping suitable for tents and some smaller campers.
Lost Creek Wilderness is a hiker’s paradise, thanks in part to being closed to mountain bikers. There’s a lot of beautiful wooded scenery and rocky outcrops to explore.
8. Tarryall Road
For a quick outing right near Colorado Springs, check out Tarryall Road. The lower elevation makes this area an excellent spot to go camping in Colorado during the shoulder seasons.
Can’t find a spot? Simply pick a dirt road along Tarryall Road. you’ll find numerous dispersed campsites along the way.
9. Twin Lakes and Chaffee County Road 399
If you’ve got a high clearance vehicle, head down County Road 399 outside of Twin Lakes. Continue 2 miles past the junction with Highway 82 (prior to this is private land) for some exceptional camping.
What I love most about this area are the beautiful rocky peaks. You’ll be nestled close to some of Colorado’s best 14ers, amazing fishing, and a few 4WD adventures.
Head up to the end of the road for the start of Grizzly Peak, the highest 13er in Colorado. Take the alternate fork in the road to explore old mining ruins and beautiful mountain views.
Local Tip: There is endless free camping along the Leadville to Salida corridor. Check out Caffee County Road 390 for more spots.
10. Shavano Wildlife Management Area Near Salida
Perfect for free BLM camping in Colorado, this spot is well-located near Mount Shavano and features a wide array of spots that are perfect for boondockers.
Roads are also well-maintained so you can definitely get your RV here from Poncha Springs or Salida.
Just use Highway 50 and turn north onto Country Road 250. Continue until you hit the Shavano Wildlife Management Area and you should be able to find some sites.
There are also tons of side roads that branch off the main road that you can use to find secluded spots. Most are fine for big vehicles but definitely check the road out first before you drive down it.
I also love that while this area can get crowded, there are so many places to free camp that you never feel like you are surrounded by people.
Local Tip: The road gets rougher, steeper, curvier, and narrower after the initial mile so be careful. This place is also perfect for RVs since spots are big and level. Not a lot of shade though and tons of cactus in the area.
11. Forest Road 788 in Gunnison
For sweeping views of the San Juans and easy access to Crested Butte and beyond, camp along Forest Road 788. This uber-remote area offers plenty of solitutde and beautiful views. Seriously, this area is one of the most scenic spots in Colorado.
Nearby hiking, mountain biking, and scenic drives make Forest Road 788 an amazing spot to find dispersed camping in Colorado for the weekend. You’ll be spoilt for choice with activities.
12. Buena Vista and Cottonwood Pass
Cottonwood Pass has been a long-time favorite place of mine to find Boondocking in Colorado. The front (eastern) half of the road is paved, while the road turns to dirt on the backside of the pass.
Along this scenic stretch of tarmac, you’ll find several first-come-first-serve free campgrounds. Alternatively, you can pull off on one of the many dirt roads to snag a hidden free campsite.
These roads stay closed for part of the year, so come with a sense of adventure if you’re traveling between Labor Day and Memorial Day. Once the road turns to dirt, there are several options for camping along pullouts and other dirt roads.
13. Williams Fork Reservoir
Hidden away near Granby, Williams Fork Reservoir offers a unique free camping in Colorado experience.
See, this reservoir is not actually public property and is privately owned by Denver Water.
And while there are plenty of places to free camp, spots near the “West Boat Ramp” are pretty rad.
Sure, this place technically doesn’t have free camping since you have to camp at a designated site, but it feels like it with stunning lake views and a ton of privacy.
Just remember that you can only free camp for a maximum of 14 days at a time. You also cannot go swimming and will need plenty of bug spray in the summer when mosquitos inundate the area.
Local Tip: You can stop by after a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park since this place is only about an hour from the Grand Lake Entrance.
14. Kebler Pass
The stretch of road that connects Aspen to Crested Butte is some of the most scenic free camping in Colorado. Here you’ll find a variety of endless free camping.
This area is a must-see spot for fall, thanks to the enormous groves of aspens that line the pass. Home to some of the best fall hikes in Colorado, you’ll want to put this incredibly scenic drive on your list.
15. Molas Pass in the San Juans
I stumbled upon Molas Pass when I first moved to Colorado nearly 12 years ago. This happy accident led to the discovery of incredible dispersed camping in Colorado.
The route to Molas Pass takes the Million Dollar Highway, one of the most scenic drives in Colorado. Camp amongst picture-perfect peaks of the San Juans with their signature red tops.
Check out Lime Creek Road, Forest Road 584, and County Road 33 for a selection of free camp spots. Keep in mind camping is somewhat limited, so do your homework before heading out.
Local Tip: If you’d rather pay for a site, then check out Molas Campground, one of the best campgrounds in Colorado.
16. Halfmoon Road Near Leadville
Take Highway 24 south out of Copper Leadville. Just outside of Leadville make your way along Halfmoon Road. This is also home to the trailheads for both Mount Massive and Mount Elbert, Colorado’s tallest peak.
Halfmoon Road is bursting with free camping opportunities. What I love the most about camping here is that there’s plenty of room for larger groups and campers.
Almost all of the camping has plenty of space and privacy. Go on a nearby hike (aside from some of the easiest Colorado 14ers you can check out Emerald Lake), head into town for some grub, or just relax with friends at camp.
17. Red Feather Lakes
For free camping in Colorado’s northern wilderness, head to the Red Feather Lakes area. There is a variety of first-come-first-serve free campgrounds as well as paid campgrounds in the area.
Located west of Greeley, this lesser-trafficked area skips the nonsense traffic on I-70 and gives you plenty of peace and quiet. Free camping takes a little bit of effort here, so come with a higher clearance vehicle.
Check out the roads along Lost Lake, Creedmore Lake, and the areas surrounding Bellair Lake Campground for plenty of dispersed camping options.
18. Hartman Rocks
If you like mountain biking or rock climbing, you’ll love the free camping at Hartman Rocks Recreation Area near Gunnison. As the name suggests, this area is full of climbing routes, and you can literally camp right underneath some of the walls. It also offers 45 miles of single track, so it’s truly a playground for mountain bikers as well. The draw here is definitely the recreation opportunities, but the landscape is absolutely gorgeous, too.
Hartman Rocks is on BLM land and has 50 designated dispersed camping sites. It is super popular, so this is not the place for dispered camping in Colorado if you want to be alone, although you can find some sites that are more spread out.
You’ll also find a few port-a-potties throughout the area, but that’s about it for amenities. The dirt roads are a little rough, so 4WD and high clearance is recommended to navigate them.
19. Sacred White Shell Mountain
Sacred White Shell Mountain is a gem of free camping in Colorado. Located way down south in the San Luis Valley, this BLM land is the perfect place to set up camp if you want to explore Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s only about a 15 min drive from this camping area to the entrance of the National Park, yet it still feels secluded and uncrowded.
You’ll find plenty of dispersed sites with space to spread out along Lake Como Road. Just be aware that this starts as an easily passable dirt road, but eventually becomes super rocky and requires high-clearance 4WD, so stop at one of the earlier sites if your vehicle can’t handle that.
This area also makes a great base camp if you want to summit the 14er of Blanca Peak. Even if you don’t hike the peak, you can appreciate the beautiful views of Mount Blanca from your campsite.
Quick Tips for Free Camping in Colorado
There are a few things you should know before you go camping in Colorado. For starters, if you plan on going dispersed camping in Colorado, be prepared. You’ll want to bring a trash bag for ALL of your trash, all of your water, and a proper backcountry bathroom kit.
Additionally, keep the following in mind when you go camping in Colorado:
Check for road closures and fire bans. Conditions change constantly in Colorado, so be sure to check before you head out.
Be prepared. If you’re camping in the alpine, storms typically roll in every afternoon. Don’t get caught and be prepared. Stay off of ridgelines or summits in a storm.
Acclimatize properly. Altitude adjustment can be a little rough so take your time if you’re arriving from out of town.
Don’t chop live trees. It’s not only illegal, but it makes for a smoky mess. Instead, forage for fallen trees or branches you can snap. Bring your own firewood only if it’s been locally sourced to prevent the spread of plant disease.
Stay in designated spots only. Don’t create a new campsite. Use what’s already established to avoid trampling pristine nature.
Now you’ve got the inside scoop about dispersed camping in Colorado. This exclusive local guide gives you a complete look at some of the most amazing dispersed camping in Colorado. So pitch your tent and happy camping!
Additional Colorado Outdoor Adventure Resources
Looking for more Colorado adventures? I’ve got a blog for that. Check out these amazing Colorado getaway resources:
- Colorado’s Best Backpacking Trails
- The Most Scenic Hikes in Colorado for Your Bucket List
- Incredible Colorado Hot Springs You Can’t Miss
- The Ultimate List of Colorado Road Trip Destinations