Free Camping In Colorado


Free camping is easy to come by, as long as you know where to look.

Twin Lakes Dispersed Campsite

National forests hold most of the free camping in Colorado, followed up by BLM land (Borough of Land Management). Free camping is generally referred to as dispersed camping, which is camping in approved areas other than campgrounds.

The best part about dispersed camping, aside from the cost, is the privacy. Campsites are often wider apart than in a campground. And sites are usually right next to the road.

The downside to dispersed camping is a lack of amenities. You are not going to have running water or restrooms nearby.

How To Find A Campsite

Campsites are generally marked by a fire ring, and located on county and forest access roads.

Flat Tops Byway Fire Ring

Always use a pre-existing site if available and leave no trace.

Survey

When driving around Colorado, look for signs that let you know you’re entering a national forest. Then any county/forest service roads could potentially allow dispersed camping. Regulations vary and are sometimes marked.

San Isabel National Forest

Some highways signal national forest access with brown signs stating just that. From the national forest access signs, it’s usually a few miles back to the forest, where free camping could be allowed. A map or info station is commonly at the beginning, letting you know the rules.

Routt National Forest Access Sign

Guessing which roads contain dispersed camping can lead to wasted time and gas, but you could also find some cool stuff. It’s usually no more than 5-10 minutes before you know if camping exists.

Research

Find campsites ahead of time and know where you’re going. One of the best tools for finding potential campsites are Motor Vehicle Use Maps by the U.S. Forest Service. Google is another useful tool.

Read over Best Camping In Colorado for a few dispersed camping gems.

For a larger list of dispersed camping/campgrounds, check out Where To Camp In Colorado.

Freecampsites.net also has a nice list of free campgrounds in Colorado and around the U.S.

Motor Vehicle Use Maps

These are large-PDF’s made available from the Forest Service.

Motor Vehicle Use Map Sample

Many, but not all, of these maps show where dispersed camping is permitted. Roads with dots on either side represent free campsites. Each map has a legend.

It’s best to download them for an easier time viewing, and so you have them with you if bring a computer on the road. I haven’t tried viewing them on a cell phone, but they are very large and it would be a headache.

To Print – (a small section) Open the map (in Adobe Acrobat Reader) and find the area you need to print. Go to File, Print and under Pages to Print, select More Options, and Current view. Next under Page Sizing & Handling choose Fit. Select Orientation and then Print.

Tip – Bring up the location in Google Maps too, so you can get more street names and info.

National Forests Grasslands Map

11 National Forests and 2 Grasslands.

National Forests

Arapaho: Shows dispersed camping
Clear Creek – Loveland Pass, Empire, Georgetown, Idaho Springs
Sulphur North – Grand Lake, Granby
Sulphur South – Hot Sulphur Springs, Fraser, Winter Park

Grand Mesa: Shows dispersed camping
Grand Mesa Division – Cedaredge, Collbran

Gunnison: Shows dispersed camping
Paonia – Paonia, Crawford
Gunnison North – Crested Butte
Gunnison South – Almont, Pitkin, Gunnison, Lake City

Pike: Does not show dispersed camping
Pikes Peak – Monument, Colorado Springs
South Platte East – Bailey, Deckers
South Platte East Inset – Deckers
South Platte West – Grant
South Park East – Lake George
South Park West – Alma, Fairplay, Hartsel

Rio Grande: Shows dispersed camping
Conejos Peak East – Alamosa
Conejos Peak West – Monte Vista, Alamosa
Divide East – Saguache, Creede, South Fork, Del Norte, Monte Vista
Divide West – Creede
Saguache East – Poncha Springs
Saguache West – Poncha Springs

Roosevelt: Shows dispersed camping
Boulder – Boulder, Nederland
Canyon Lakes North – Red Feather Lakes
Canyon Lakes South – Fort Collins, Loveland
Canyon Lakes Errata 1 – Walden
Canyon Lakes Errata 2 – Fort Collins

Routt: Shows dispersed camping
Hahns Peak/Bear Ears – Hahns Peak, Clark, Steamboat Springs
Hahns Peak/Bear Ears Inset – Hahns Peak
Parks – Clark, Steamboat Springs, Walden
Parks Inset – Steamboat Springs
Yampa – Steamboat Springs, Oak Creek, Yampa

San Isabel: Does not show dispersed camping
Leadville – Leadville, Buena Vista
Salida – Buena Vista, Poncha Springs, Salida
San Carlos North – Cañon City
San Carlos South – Walsenburg

San Juan: Shows dispersed camping
Columbine – Silverton, Durango, Bayfield
Columbine Back – Silverton, Durango, Bayfield
Columbine Beaver Meadows Sauls Creek – Bayfield
Columbine HD Mountains and Lakes – Bayfield
Columbine – Lakes Area – Bayfield, Durango
Mancos & Cortez – Dolores, Cortez, Mancos
Pagosa – Pagosa Springs

Uncompahgre: Shows dispersed camping
Plateau Division – Grand Junction Delta, Montrose
Mountain Division – Telluride, Ridgway, Ouray, Silverton, Lake City

White River: Shows dispersed camping
Aspen & Sopris – Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Redstone, Aspen
Dillon – Keystone, Dillon, Silverthorne, Frisco, Breckenridge
Eagle & Holy Cross East – Edwards, Avon, Minturn, Red Cliff
Eagle & Holy Cross West – Eagle
Flat Tops (Blanco, Eagle, Rifle) – Meeker
Rifle – Rifle

Grasslands

Comanche: Does not show dispersed camping
Comanche East – La Junta
Comanche East Inset – La Junta
Comanche West – Springfield, Trinidad

Pawnee: Shows dispersed camping
Pawnee East – Sterling
Pawnee West – Fort Collins, Greeley

Dispersed Camping Checklist

Without the amenities of a campground, you’ll probably need a few more things.

Car Camping Checklist

  • Tent, rod, stakes, pad or tarp
  • Sleeping bag and pad
  • Fire supplies – tinder, sticks, logs, matches/lighter
  • Flashlights
  • T.P. – backcountry rule is to bury it or pack it out
  • Gardening Trowel – small shovel good for preparing the fire pit & digging holes
  • Food and Water

Read over 20 Car Camping Essentials for a complete gear checklist.

National Lands Colorado Map

National Lands Map: Red = Forests, Yellow = BLM, Green = Parks, Brown = Monuments & Historic Sites, Light Green = Grasslands, Pink=Indian Reservation

Please share any other methods for finding free camping.


Comments

  1. avatar says

    We are a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community.
    Your website offered us with valuable info to work on.
    You’ve done an impressive job and our entire community will be thankful to you.

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  2. avatarJulie Ann says

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for the helpful post! Also wanted to let you know that the U.S. Forest Service now has a Motor Vehicle Use Maps app for iPhone and iPad users. I haven’t used it yet, but am hoping it will be useful on our next trip.

    Julie Ann

    • avatarMatt says

      That’s sounds awesome. I wonder if you need an internet or phone connection to run it.

      The National Forest website sent me to avenza.com/pdf-maps. It looks like they may have one for Droid too. Maybe I’ll try it out.

  3. avatarCadence says

    Thanks for this helpful info! We’re heading to CO from Boston to celebrate our 10th anniversary and we want to do some backcountry camping but don’t want to wander aimlessly until we find a great place and end up staying somewhere subpar. This has been a very helpful guide!

      • avatarCadence says

        We are back from our trip and thanks to your help we found an AMAZING campsite (for free – of course)! We decided on the Buena Vista area and camped at over 11,000ft on the Cottonwood Pass. Beautiful spot by a creek/river with mountain views and of course surrounded by lodgepole pines.
        I’d attach a few pictures here but I don’t know how :(
        Anyway, thanks again for this blog!!!!
        Cadence

        • avatarMatt says

          Hey Cadence, glad to hear you had an amazing time. Thanks for the feedback, we added a way to upload one picture to a comment, so maybe next time you can share it with us. Enjoy your summer!

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