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Can I Sleep In My Car At A Trailhead

Can I Sleep Overnight In My Car At A Trailhead in Colorado?

For many hikers and outdoor enthusiasts in Colorado, starting an adventure at dawn often means arriving at the trailhead the night before. But when hotels are miles away or simply not in the budget, many ask, “Can I sleep in my car at the trailhead?” It is not easy to find the answer online.

Let’s delve into the rules, etiquette, and safety measures for overnight stays in your vehicle at Colorado’s trailheads.

Table of Contents

Understanding the Rules

First and foremost, it’s important to recognize that regulations vary depending on the location and managing authority of the trailhead. In Colorado, many trailheads fall under the jurisdiction of different entities such as the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), national parks, or state parks. 

Each has its own set of rules regarding overnight stays:

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land

BLM Land

Generally, car camping is allowed everywhere on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management unless specifically prohibited. Look for posted signage or check the agency’s website before settling in for the night.

National Forests

The Forest Service regulates land more carefully than the BLM. While most roadways are open to car campers, you must find a pull-off, parking spot, or campsite off the main road. Most trailheads, visitor centers, and recreation areas also have “No Camping” signs that includes sleeping in your car overnight (see below).

National and State Parks

These areas are more regulated. Sleeping in your car is typically only allowed in designated campgrounds. Always check for specific park regulations before planning to sleep at a trailhead.

Local/County Parks

Rules can vary widely; some may not permit overnight parking at all. It’s essential to verify with local park authorities or websites.

Potential Penalties

If you are caught sleeping in your car where it is not allowed, the consequences can range from being asked to leave to receiving a ticket or fine. Repeat offenses can result in harsher penalties, including bans or even jail time. It’s always best to err on the side of caution.

Tips for Finding Legal Car Camping Spots

If you want to make sure you are camping legally, check out these ideas and best practices for finding legal and beautiful car camping spots in Colorado (and other states too!).

  1. Scout Out BLM Land or National Forests:

    • These public lands often allow dispersed camping, including sleeping in your car. Always check for any specific restrictions.
  2. Use a Campsite Locator App or Website:

    • Tools like iOverlander or can help you find legal and safe places to sleep in your car.
  3. Walmart Parking Lots:

    • Many Walmart stores allow overnight parking. Call ahead to confirm.
  4. Truck Stops or Rest Areas:

    • These can be good options for a quick overnight stop. Check the specific rules for each location as some may have time limits.
  5. Consider a Campground:

    • While this may require a small fee, campgrounds offer amenities like showers and toilets, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re in a designated spot.

Leave No Trace Principles

When car camping, always follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment:

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare: Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Park your car on established surfaces.
  • Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack out all trash and waste.
  • Leave What You Find: Preserve the past and avoid damaging plants and trees.
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts: Use a camp stove instead of a campfire.
  • Respect Wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance and never feed them.
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.

Learn more by checking out our Leave No Trace Tips page with more helpful practices.

Conclusion: Car Camping at Trailheads

Car camping at trailheads can be a convenient and enjoyable way to start your outdoor adventures, but it’s crucial to know and follow the rules of the area. The important thing to remember:

  • BLM land is usually safe for car camping unless a sign says otherwise.
  • You can sleep in your car overnight on national forest land anywhere unless a sign says “No Camping” or “Day Use Only” or it is a permit-only area.
  • National and State Parks typically only allow camping in designated campgrounds
  • Local parks and land varies dramatically and usually requires research.

By understanding the regulations and planning ahead, you can ensure a legal and hassle-free experience. Always remember to respect the environment and leave no trace.

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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