Chaffee County Road 390 Dispersed Camping: The Ultimate Guide
Clear Creek Canyon is a great place for dispersed camping near Buena Vista and Leadville, Colorado. Chaffee County Road 390 runs from Clear Creek Reservoir to the ghost towns of Vicksburg, Winfield, multiple 14er trailheads, and beyond. There are more than 60 good dispersed camping spots along the full length of the road, in addition to a first-come, first-serve campground near the Reservoir. Whether you need to spend the night and acclimatize before climbing Mount Belford or Huron Peak, or you just want to enjoy the Reservoir, visit the ghost towns, and do some hiking, County Road 390 is the spot for you.
Dig in to our comprehensive guide to Chaffee County Road 390 dispersed camping opportunities near Buena Vista, Colorado.
County Road 390 Dispersed Camping Fast Facts
Chaffee County Road 390 Dispersed Camping Guide
Click on a topic area below to learn more about dispersed camping available along Chaffee County Road 390 near Buena Vista, Colorado. Have a question or thought to share? Leave a comment at the bottom of the page.
Area Description and Map
Chaffee County Road 390 runs from Clear Creek Reservoir, along Clear Creek, up to the ghost town of Winfield and beyond. It leads to trailheads for four 14ers: Huron Peak, Missouri Mountain, Mt Belford, and Mt Oxford. There are dozens of good dispersed camping sites along the road, including a few spectacular spots on rock outcroppings in the middle of the canyon.
Camping is available along all the roads with “390” in their name in the Leadville Ranger District Motor Vehicle Use Map below prepared by the US Forest Service. There is also a large campground, managed by the state with first-come, first-serve sites if you prefer developed campgrounds. It is located just past the Clear Creek Reservoir. They also have drinking water and restroom facilities you can use while dispersed camping nearby.
More camping is available on the roads beyond Winfield, however 4WD and high clearance is required to reach these backcountry sites.
Remember: Campsites are found, not made. Use pre-existing campsites rather than creating new ones, and camp at least 200 feet from Halfmoon Creek and other water sources to protect riparian areas.
When dispersed camping, you are on your own. Cell phone service is not guaranteed, and there are no bathrooms, water, or facilities. Planning ahead and bringing along the right gear is the secret to having a safe and successful camping trip. Here are three key considerations:
Check the Weather Forecast
Know before you go! Research the weather forecast for your trip several days before you go and plan accordingly by bringing the proper clothing and gear. If the weather looks particularly bad, consider rescheduling if possible. Visit the National Weather Service forecast page for County Road 390 below:
Pack the Right Gear
Self-sufficiency is essential while dispersed camping. You must provide all of your own supplies and gear, including firewood, fuel, food, water, and toilet paper (an easy thing to forget!). Start with the ten essentials, add camping basics like your tent, sleeping bag and pad, and remember everything you need for cooking, cleaning, and free time around camp. Check out my complete dispersed camping packing list for more info.
Research Local Conditions
Many local counties, towns, ranger districts, and national forests have their regulations and restrictions – especially regarding fire bans and rules. You can find info on current restrictions for the Leadville Ranger District and San Isabel National Forest below. Always abide by fire bans and restrictions – violations create a risk of wildfires. In many areas, violating a fire ban is a criminal act with severe penalties.
Chaffee County Road 390 is accessible by most 2WD vehicles with reasonable clearance. Go slow and take your time. Once on public land, you can drive until you find a campsite along the road that meets your needs. Do not create new campsites – this increases recreational impacts and leads to permits, reservations, and other regulations to manage the damage. The road gets rougher beyond the Winfield Ghost Town site.
Start in Leadville and head south on Harrison Ave toward E 6th St. Turn right onto E 6th St and proceed for about 1 mile. Then, make a left onto US-24 W and follow it for approximately 20 miles. Turn right onto County Road 390. After you pass a National Forest sign, you will start to see dispersed camping sites and pull-off’s on both sides of the road.
From Buena Vista:
Begin in Buena Vista and head north on US-24 E toward W Main St. Continue on US-24 E for roughly 23 miles until you reach County Road 390. Turn left and proceed for about 2 miles. After you pass a National Forest sign, you will start to see dispersed camping sites and pull-off’s on both sides of the road.
When looking for campsites, here are a few tips to find the best spot:
1. Get there early for the best options.
The best spots are taken earlier in the afternoon. Arrive in the morning or on a weekday to get the prime sites with the best views.
2. Look for campfire rings and clearings:
These are the tell-tale signs that you’ve found a potential campsite. Some are small, just large enough for one vehicle, others are massive.
3. Don’t pick the first site you see:
It is tempting to settle and snag something quick. I recommend making a list of options and then picking the best overall.
4. Only use pre-established campsites:
County Road 390 already has hundreds of campsites. Do not create new spots as this increases impacts on the environment.
5. Do not drive off approved roads and routes:
Trampling alpine meadows and grasses can cause long-term damage. Stick to established roads and do not go off-roading.
6. Respect private property rights:
This area is intermixed with private property parcels. Respect landowner rights by staying on public land and public roadways.
Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics
Dispersed camping provides a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural world. While it offers solitude and adventure, it also comes with the responsibility to protect and preserve the environment. Adopting Leave No Trace (LNT) principles is crucial for ensuring that these wild spaces remain unspoiled for future generations. Below are some essential Leave No Trace tips tailored specifically for dispersed camping along Chaffee County Road 390 and similar remote areas.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Research Regulations: Before you go, familiarize yourself with any local rules and guidelines. Some areas might have restrictions on campfires, or special guidelines to protect local wildlife.
- Prepare for Self-Sufficiency: Dispersed camping means no amenities. Ensure you have all necessary gear and supplies, including emergency and first-aid kits.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Site Selection: Choose a site that is at least 200 feet from water bodies and trails. The area should be free of vegetation and not in a meadow.
- Minimize Impact: Stick to existing trails and campsites whenever possible. Do not create new trails or clearing areas for your tent.
Dispose of Waste Properly
- Pack It In, Pack It Out: Carry out all trash, leftover food, and litter. Do not bury or burn them.
- Human Waste: If no restrooms are available, dig a small hole at least 6 to 8 inches deep and at least 200 feet from any water source to dispose of human waste. Cover it when done.
Leave What You Find
- Preserve Nature: Do not pick plants, disturb wildlife, or remove rocks and other natural objects.
- Cultural Respect: If you come across any historical or cultural sites, admire them from a distance. Do not touch or take any artifacts.
Minimize Campfire Impact
- Check Fire Restrictions: Always know the current fire danger levels and restrictions.
- Fire Pits: Use established fire rings if available. If not, practice mound fires or use a fire pan to minimize impact.
- Food Storage: Store food and trash securely to avoid attracting wildlife to your site.
- Safe Observation: Observe animals from a distance and never feed them.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Noise Levels: Keep the noise level down to maintain the natural acoustic environment.
- Privacy: Keep a respectful distance from other campers. If you happen to camp near others, respect their need for solitude.
Safety Info and Tips
Safety should always be a priority when camping in remote areas. Dispersed camping along Chaffee County Road 390 presents its own set of challenges and hazards, but with proper precautions, you can mitigate risks and fully enjoy your outdoor adventure. Here are some safety tips broken down into three main categories:
- Be Bear Aware: Store food and scented items in bear-resistant containers or hang them from a tree at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet away from the trunk.
- Maintain Distance: If you encounter wildlife, keep a safe distance and do not attempt to feed or approach them.
- Stay Informed: Know the common wildlife in the area and how to react appropriately if you encounter them. For example, different responses are needed for moose, bear, or mountain lions.
- Check Fire Bans and Restrictions: Always check current fire danger levels and whether fire bans are in effect for the area.
- Safe Campfire Practices: Use existing fire rings if available. Keep fires small and never leave them unattended. Fully extinguish the fire before leaving.
- Emergency Equipment: Carry a small fire extinguisher, shovel, and extra water to quickly put out any accidental fires.
- Emergency Contacts: Make sure to have a list of emergency numbers, including the nearest ranger station. In many remote areas, cell service may be limited, so consider alternative communication methods.
- First Aid Kit: Carry a well-stocked first aid kit and know the basics of first aid. Include specific items like antihistamines for allergic reactions or a snakebite kit, depending on the area’s risks.
- Tell Someone: Always let someone know your plans, including when you expect to return. Provide them with a map or GPS coordinates of your intended campsite.
By staying prepared and informed, you can tackle most challenges that may come your way. This not only ensures your safety but also contributes to a more enjoyable and rewarding dispersed camping experience along Halfmoon Road. Learn more by reading our complete mountain safety guide.
Things to Do Nearby
There’s a ton of things to see and do in this area near Leadville and Buena Vista, Colorado. Here are some of my top suggestions for nearby attractions and trails.
GO FOR A HIKE:
There are lots of short options for day hikes in the area. You can simply hike along the forest road or check out one of the options below:
- Hope Pass Trail – 5.4 miles – 2,644 feet of gain
- Lake Ann Trail – 7.2 miles – 1,374 feet of gain
- North Fork Clear Creek Trail – 4.1 miles – 285 feet of gain
- The Colorado Trail – Segment 12
CLIMB A 14ER:
Halfmoon Road 130 is located near several 14,000-foot peaks you can hike or climb. These are the closest and easiest 14ers to your locations:
EXPLORE A MOUNTAIN TOWN:
You have several charming mountain towns within a 30-minute drive. Take an afternoon to explore them, grab a bite to eat, or visit the Saloon.
- Leadville, Colorado
- Buena Vista, Colorado
- Salida, Colorado
DRIVE UP A MOUNTAIN PASS:
If you want spectacular views without the climb, consider driving up one of the major mountain passes in the area:
FISH AT AN ALPINE LAKE:
If you are an angler at heart and want to catch some trout, you are in luck! There are lots of great lakes and creeks nearby (remember to get a fishing license in town first).
- Turquoise Lake
- Twin Lakes
- Clear Creek Reservoir
Amenities and Facilities
There are no formal amenities or facilities along Chaffee County Road 390. You are on your own. Pack your own water, firewood, food, and other essentials. However, if you run out of something or forgot it at home, there are some nearby stores and towns where you can get water and other supplies:
Nearest Gas Station:
Love’s County Store: 115 Harrison Ave, Buena Vista, CO 81211 – 30 minutes away
Nearest Grocery Store:
City Market: 438 US-24, Buena Vista, CO 81211 – 32 minutes away
Buena Vista, Colorado – 30 minutes away
St. Vincent Health – 37 minutes away
There are no garbage drop-offs or dump spots at this dispersed camping area. You must pack out all of your trash and take it home with you. Do not throw away trash at commercial properties, you may be stopped and ticketed potentially if caught on camera.
Looking for more information about Forest Road 130 and dispersed camping in Colorado? Check out these helpful websites and resources. If you have suggestions for resources to add to the list, leave them in a comment below and we might add them in an update.
- Dispersed Camping Near Colorado’s 14ers – The Next Summit
- Dispersed Camping Regulations for Leadville Ranger District – United States Forest Service
- Motor Vehicle Use Map for the Leadville Ranger District – United States Forest Service
- The Leave No Trace 7 Principles – National Park Service
- How to Pick the Perfect Dispersed Campsite – The Next Summit
- Get Back to Nature With Colorado Camping Basics – Colorado Tourism Office
- Altitude Sickness 101 Guide for Preventing and Treating AMS – The Next Summit
Frequently Asked Questions
Don’t see your question addressed in our FAQ section? Leave a comment below at the end of the guide and we will get you an answer as soon as we can with more information. You can also email us your question at email@example.com.
Q: Is dispersed camping allowed in Colorado?
A: Yes, dispersed camping is allowed in many areas throughout Colorado, particularly in National Forests and Bureau of Land Management lands. However, it’s essential to check specific rules and regulations for the area you plan to visit, as some places may have restrictions or seasonal closures.
Q: Where are you allowed to disperse camp in Colorado?
A: Dispersed camping is typically permitted in most National Forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. Some other public lands may also allow dispersed camping. Always consult with the managing agency of the land you’re interested in to confirm where dispersed camping is allowed and what rules apply.
Q: Is dispersed camping free along County Road 390?
A: Generally, dispersed camping along County Road 390 and similar forest roads is free. However, some areas may require a permit or have other associated costs, such as recreation passes for adjacent areas. It’s advisable to check with the local ranger station for the most up-to-date information.
Q: What should I know about dispersed camping in Colorado?
A: Dispersed camping in Colorado is a back-to-basics experience, often without amenities like restrooms or water sources. You’ll need to be self-sufficient and prepared to adhere to Leave No Trace principles. Additionally, be aware of weather conditions, wildfire risks, and local wildlife. Always check local regulations before setting out, including fire bans and other safety concerns.
Q: How long can you disperse camp along Chaffee County Road 390?
A: The length of time you can stay at a dispersed campsite along Chaffee County Road 390 may vary depending on local regulations. Generally, the maximum stay is 14 days in a 30-day period for most National Forest lands in Colorado. After the 14-day period, campers are usually required to move at least three miles from the original campsite. Always confirm the specific duration allowed with the local land management agency.
Join 4,000+ other subscribers and receive mountain news updates, route guides, gear reviews, and other articles in our twice-monthly email newsletter.