Dispersed Camping Near 14ers | A Guide to the Best Way to Camp
There are many ways to camp in Colorado’s public lands. Many people think first of family camping in campgrounds, popular in state and national parks. However, campgrounds involve fighting for a spot, permits & fees, loud neighbors and strict rules. Backcountry camping in the wilderness avoids almost all these problems… but requires a long trek into the wilderness to find a spot. Dispersed camping is the perfect compromise: one-off sites available without a fee or reservation throughout the state. Dispersed camping near 14ers is a great way to get close to your trailhead the night before while camping for free in solitude. Here’s what you should know about Colorado dispersed camping.
What is Dispersed Camping?
Dispersed camping is usually defined as car camping (driving up to a campsite) in a dispersed area outside of a formal campground. In Colorado, most dispersed camping is located on US Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management land. It’s rare to find dispersed camping on county, state or national parks. Because there are no services, you have to think ahead with dispersed camping and bring everything you need. From gallons of water for drinking and cleaning, to supplies for using the restroom, it’s up to you to provide and pack out your waste. However, there are many benefits…
RELATED: WHERE TO FIND FREE CAMPLING IN COLORADO
Why is Colorado Dispersed Camping So Great?
Dispersed camping is far more rugged and adventurous than campground-camping. The excitement starts with finding a site, which isn’t an obvious task. You’ve got to judge the location and view, campfire ring quality, wood and water supply, slope and more. With so many sites to choose from though, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. If it’s a quick overnight, you can pull off to the side of the road. If you’re looking for a long-weekend of solitude, you can hike a few hundred feet from the road to quickly find peace and quiet. Enjoy a night around the campfire with all the wood you’ll ever need, without any crying babies or barking dogs to disrupt you. All of this of course is 100% free – that’s perhaps the single best part about it!
How to find Dispersed Camping Locations
There are a lot of good places online to find dispersed camping spots. First, check the National Forest Websites for recommendations. You can choose a specific forest below to see their Dispersed Camping information.
-Arapahoe & Roosevelt NF
-White River NF
-Gunnison National Forest NF
-Pike & San Isabel NF
-Rio Grande NF
-San Juan NF
-Grand Mesa NF
-Medicine-Bow & Routt NF
There are many other good online sources. Pick a National Forest near you or a 14er you want to climb and search online for dispersed camping locations. You’ll find numerous reports and blogs with ideas to get started with.
Practice Leave no Trace Ethics While Dispersed Camping
As dispersed campsites don’t usually provide restrooms, water or a place to leave trash, it’s more important than ever to follow good Leave No Trace outdoor ethics. Here are a few tips and guidelines to make sure you leave your campsite for others in as good or better shape than you found it.
- Research current conditions and policies (fire bans, access, etc.) before hand
- Campsites are found, not made. Stay 200 feet from water. Don’t dig trenches or platforms.
- Campfires – limit to existing rings & keep them small. Put fires out cold. Don’t pick wood near tree line.
- Dispose of waste properly and pack it out. Bury human waste at least 200 feet from creeks & lakes.
- Leave What You Find: Don’t remove natural or archaeological finds – leave them for others to enjoy.
- Be courteous of others, keep dogs controlled, stay off trails, stay reasonably quiet
- Don’t feed wildlife, store food in cars overnight, leash dogs and stay a safe distance from wildlife.
RELATED READ: PRACTICING LEAVE NO TRACE ON 14ERS
Dispersed Camping Near 14ers – My Favorites
When it comes to dispersed camping near 14ers you have many, many options. Here are some of my top favorite locations to consider for your next 14er trip.
Chaffee County Road 390
This 2WD accessible road leads to five 14ers (Mt Belford, Mt Oxford, Missouri Mountain, Huron & La Plata Peak). You’ll start to see dispersed camping sites on your left about 4 miles in after passing a large ranch. If you have a 4WD vehicle, keep going past Winfield to find the best sites located further on. Get here before Friday morning if you want a good spot.
Forest Road 851 Near Quandary Peak
Most people hiking Quandary stop and park at the main trailhead or the lower trailhead just off the highway. It’s a little secret that if you keep driving past the trailhead, you’ll drive past a dozen or so great dispersed camping sites just a short hike away from the trailhead. This is a great way to come in the night before and camp, either for Quandary or Fletcher, Atlantic, Pacific or other 13ers.
NOTE: This road is no longer open to dispersed camping during the summer (June 20-ish through September 20-ish) due to the Quandary Peak parking regulations. Learn more here.
Forest Road 110 Near Mt Elbert & Mt Massive
Nestled between the state’s two tallest mountains is a gorgeous little valley filled to the brim with camping opportunities. Just a 20 minute drive from Leadville, this is a treasure trove of dispersed camping near 14ers. This is also a very busy area, and if you cannot find a good dispersed campsite you may end up having to pay at one of three established campgrounds.
Lake Como Road Near Blanca Peak & Little Bear Peak
This is my one dispersed camping area located on Bureau of Land Management land. The long Lake Como Road provides numerous camping sites as you go from desert to scrubland and finally forest as your rise in elevation. With 2WD you can’t get far. A 4WD vehicle will get you further, but only a modified vehicle can make it all the way to the lakes. Keep in mind that wood on this stretch of road is scarce. Bring some with you if you hope to have a fire.
Forest Road 222 Near Mt Shavano & Tabachue Peak
My last area is below the Angel of Shavano and provides a lot of different types of area to camp in. Like the Lake Como Road, it starts in desert scrubland, however it continues far above treeline. If you keep driving past the Mt Shavano trailhead you’ll go through some beautiful aspen-filled meadows. This is a busy area so come early and have a plan B in mind if things are full. This area offers gorgeous dispersed camping near 14ers.
Colorado Dispersed Camping Near 14ers: Your Thoughts?
These five recommendations are just a few of the hundreds of different areas that offer great camping opportunities. Do you know of any dispersed camping near 14ers that’s especially worthwhile? Share your own recommendations in a comment below!
Alex 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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