Most organized campgrounds in Colorado charge fees, whether they are public or private. The best way to find free camping in Colorado is to take advantage of dispersed camping opportunities in the state. On most land owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or US Forest Service (USFS) you can drive or hike to any previously established campsite and camp free of charge, on a first-come, first-serve basis. It’s a great way to find free camping in Colorado. Here’s some advice if you are new to dispersed camping, along with eleven amazing areas for finding free camping in Colorado.
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Help Preserve Free Camping in Colorado by Respecting the Land
Many of these areas are seeing increased traffic as Colorado grows and more visitors come to explore the rocky mountains. If you take advantage of free camping in Colorado, follow these simple steps to minimize your impact, leave no trace, and protect the peaks we love for future generations:
- Plan Ahead: Find several backup locations and check local regulations like fire restrictions.
- Pack it Out: Collect and carry out all your garbage. Disperse dirty dishwater over a wide area.
- Respect Wildlife: Keep food stored securely in a vehicle. Give plenty of wildlife space.
- Minimize Fire Impact: Only use existing fire rings. Keep fires small or skip them entirely.
- Camp in Existing Site: Do not create new campsites. Move on if an area is completely full.
- Be Courteous: Give other groups space and keep your noise down. Be a good neighbor.
The Best Free Camping in Colorado: My 11 Recommendations
Based on my experience, research online, and discussions with friends, I’ve put together seventeen great opportunities for free camping in Colorado. I’ve included some key details for each suggestion, including directions, what kind of camping you’ll find, and a link to get more information. If you have any suggestions or feedback to share, add a comment at the end of the blog to share it with us!
1. Halfmoon Creek Road - Roadside Dispersed Campsites -Near Leadville, Colorado
This Forest Road splits off from Highway 24 just south of Leadville, leading to the trailheads for Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, the state’s two tallest peaks. Most sites are along or near the creek, in a forested valley in the shadow of massive mountains. There are dozens of free dispersed campsites along the road and several campsites with fees. These are a solid backup plan in case the dispersed campsites are full. This road closes in winter and usually melts out by early June. The weather is cool year-round and there are no amenities, so be prepared.
Directions: Heading south on HWY 24 from Leadville, take a right onto County Road 300. Continue less than a mile and take a left onto County Road 11. After around 1 mile, take a right to remain on County Road 11. Continue driving along the road for several miles and start looking for dispersed sites for the next 3 miles. The road is accessible to 2WD vehicles once the snow has melted.
2. McCullough Gulch - Hike-In Dispersed Campsites - Near Breckenridge, Colorado
If you want free camping in Colorado you can only access by hiking, I have you covered. McCullough Gulch near Breckenridge is a quiet area mostly frequented by locals. Once you hike into the area, there are a variety of dispersed campsites. There are great spots near several unmanned lake just below the tree line, along with plenty of lower elevation sites in the forests below. There are several great 13ers you can climb nearby, like Atlantic and Pacific Peak, in addition to Quandary Peak, an easy 14er. The easiest way to get here is to take a shuttle from Breckenridge, as parking is limited and reservations are required.
Directions: Heading south on HWY 6 from Breckenridge, drive approximately 7 miles. Turn right on Blue Lakes road. Drive past the Quandary Peak Lower Trailhead and take a right onto McCullough Gulch Road. Follow the road until you reach a fork and park on the side. NOTE: Parking requires a reservation. Consider taking the shuttle from Breckenridge instead.
3. Guanella Pass Pull-Offs - Roadside Designated Campsites - Near Georgetown, Colorado
Guanella Pass used to allow completely unregulated dispersed camping, but due to the number of visitors coming and their increasing impact there are now designated campsites. As you approach the pass crest you will pass many designated pull-offs, each with a campsite nearby. These are the only locations where dispersed camping is allowed on Guanella Pass. They fill up very quickly on weekends, so you might have better luck on a weekday. There are 1-2 nearby campsites as well, however they are also quite busy during the summer. If you are lucky enough to snag a site, this is a great way to spend the night before climbing Mount Bierstadt.
Directions: Take I-70 to Georgetown, Colorado. Follow the signs and take Argentine St south, taking a slight left in town onto Brownell Street, followed by a left onto Seventh Street. After several blocks, take a right onto Rose Street. Follow this south out of town, taking a left at a T-section to turn onto the Guanella Pass Road. Follow the road for several miles and begin looking for pull-offs with campsite signs after passing the Hydroelectric Power Station.
4. Lake Como Road - Roadside Campsites - Near Alamosa, Colorado
The San Luis Valley is a high-altitude desert, with miles of flat plains and sagebrush surrounded by alpine peaks. Spending a night here below the stars, where the mountains shield the area from obtrusive lights from afar, is one of the best stargazing opportunities in Colorado. The road leaves the highway and is accessible to most vehicles up to around 8,800 feet. Along this full length are dozens of pull-off sites ideal for camping under the stars. This area can get hot during the day in summer, and there is no shade or amenities, so make sure you pack plenty of sunscreen and bring your own water and firewood.
Directions: From Alamosa, Head easy on State HWY 160 and drive 14.5 miles. Take a left onto CO-150 N. Drive for 3.2 miles, then take a right onto Lake Como Road. There are sites along the full length of the road, but most vehicles can only make it 3-4 miles at most before it gets too rough. Don’t overcommit.
5. Mount Shavano Trailhead Area - Roadside Campsites - Near Salida, Colorado
If you’ve climbed Mount Shavano, you likely saw the plethora of campsites along the road leading to the main trailhead. There are also dozens more sites if you continue past it, including some gorgeous areas in meadows surrounded by aspen trees. This area gets busy during the summer, so I don’t recommend it if you are looking for solitude. However, it is easy to access and has so many sites that you probably won’t have any issue finding a site unless you arrive late in the evening. It’s an excellent way to find free camping in Colorado the night before attempting to climb Mount Shavano.
Directions: From Poncha Springs, head north on HWY 284. Take a left onto County Road 140, and drive approximately 1 mile. Take a right onto County Road 250. Drive for several miles, sites will begin to appear on both sides of the road. When you reach a fork, take a right onto County Road 152 and follow it to the trailhead. Continue past the trailhead to find more camping along Roads 252B and 254.
6. Willow Creek Trailhead Area - Roadside Campsites - Near Crestone, Colorado
There is a short, rough road that takes you from the small town of Crestone up to the Willow Creek Trailhead. As it passes through a stretch of BLM land there are a small number of dispersed campsites, maybe 15-20 in total. There are not many backup options, but if you get here early or on a weekday you should have a pretty good shot at securing one. The close location to town helps with supply runs, and it provides easy access to climb several 14ers, including Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak, via the Willow Lake trailhead just a mile down the road. Note that no camping is allowed at the trailhead, and the policy is actively enforced.
If you are looking for free camping in Colorado near alpine lakes and waterfalls, consider backpacking up to Willow Lake itself. It has amazing free campsites just below the lake, right near the tree line.
Directions: From Crestone, take E Galena Avenue out of town. Follow it for approximately one mile, until you see a sign that says you are now on public land. Watch for campsites on both sides of the road after this point until just short of the Willow Lake trailhead 1.3 miles ahead.
7. Winfield Ghost Town - Roadside Campsites - Near Buena Vista, Colorado
Winfield was once a thriving community for thousands of gold and silver miners. Today, only a few cabins remain, still owned by descendants of the town’s early settlers. The area is full of free camping opportunities in two main areas. First, as you approach Winfield, there are dozens of dispersed camping sites along several miles of Forest Road 390. These are great if you are going to climb Mount Belford, Oxford, or Missouri Mountain.
Then at Winfield itself, if you continue across the creek, there is a large field where you can park and camp for up to 14 days at a time. There are more sites along the road as it leads south. Camping near Winfield is ideal if you plan to climb Huron Peak to the south or La Plata Peak to the north. Personally, this is my favorite spot to find free camping in Colorado.
Directions: From Buena Vista, head north on HWY 24. Take a left onto Forest Road 390. Drive for approximately 3 miles until you see signs that you are on public land. There are campsites on both sides of the road from this point onward. Once you reach the Winfield townsite, take a left at the fork of the road to find more free camping.
8. Lost Creek Wilderness - Hike-In Dispersed Campsites - Near Bailey, Colorado
Lost Creek is a gem hidden close to Denver, less than a two hour drive away. Once you leave your car at the trailhead and begin backpacking into the wilderness, you enter a world of rocky spires and cliffs, red boulders and sculptures, and a river that repeatedly disappears underground through rocky caverns and caves.
There are several loop trails that make excellent 2-4 day backpacking trips. This is one of the best ways to spend a long weekend near Denver, with lots of wildlife to see and very few other people on the trail. Campsites were generally easy to find, with lots of freshwater access close by and high-quality campfire rings to use for free camping in Colorado.
Directions: There are several trailheads for Lost Creek Wilderness. The closest from Denver is the Brookside-McCurdy Trailhead. Take 285 south from Denver until you reach Bailey, Colorado. Take a left onto County Road 64A, followed by a right onto County Road 64. Follow it 1.5 miles until you reach the trailhead.
9. Grizzly Gulch Trailhead Area - Roadside Campsites - 4WD - Near Lake City, Colorado
This area is home to the trailhead for Redcloud Peak as well as the world-famous Alpine Loop, which traverses several high passes in the San Juans. Dispersed campsites are common along the road beyond this point, and some people camp at the trailhead itself. The road to the trailhead requires 4WD and good clearance, along with some steel nerve. You will need to drive around blind corners with no shoulder and a several hundred-foot drop-off to your left, so don’t do this if you do not have significant 4WD experience. Wood is scare up near the tree line so I also recommend getting some in Lake City beforehand.
There aren’t many easily accessible opportunities for free camping in Colorado around Lake City, but this is likely your best option.
Directions: From Lake City: Head south out of town on CO-149 South. After 2.5 miles, take a right onto County Road 30. After approximately 12 miles the road will get tighter and tougher and 4WD becomes necessary. Proceed with caution until you reach the trailhead 4 miles further.
10. The Chicago Basin - Hike-In Dispersed Campsites - Near Silverton, Colorado
The Chicago Basin is the hardest-to-reach free camping in Colorado on this list. This alpine valley is home to 4 of the most challenging and isolated fourteeners in the state. Most people begin their trip with a ride along the Silverton-Durango railroad, which stops at the Needleton Flag Stop about 10 miles from the Basin. If you choose to hike the full distance, you’re looking at a 30+ mile round-trip hike. Make your reservations in advance, as the train usually sells out during busy times of the year. As the Chicago Basin continues to get busier, please help protect access to this pristine area by following leave no trace practices during your visit.
Directions: The Chicago Basin can be reached most easily by taking the Silverton-Durango Railway. Click here for information. The trailhead for an entire hike in is the Purgatory Creek Trailhead. Take Hwy 550 north from Durango or south from Silverton. At the Purgatory Resort, turn onto Tacoma Drive until you come to the trailhead, which is a large gravel lot.
11. De Beque, Colorado OHV Area - Roadside Campsites - 4WD - Near De Beque, Colorado
This area on the western slope is just a 5-10 minute drive off Interstate-70. The 4WD roads just beyond the town are on BLM land and have dozens of good campsites. The area isn’t very populated, and the site isn’t well known, so there are almost sure to be available spots if you stop by. The sounds from the interstate might be a little annoying, but you cannot beat the price of $0.
It’s close to the town of DeBeque, so you can pick up provisions, including water and firewood, close by. Be sure to check the local fire restrictions, as this area is known to get dry, especially during late summer and early fall. There are many more places for free camping in Colorado if you follow the roads deeper into the backcountry, but you will need to have supplies to be self-reliant.
Directions: On I-70, take the exit for De Beque, Colorado. Take Roan Creek Road into town, and turn left on 4th Street. Take a left onto Denver Avenue. Then take a right onto W 2nd St. In one-quarter mile, turn right onto V 2/10 Road. Follow the road for 1-2 miles. When it becomes curvy, you should see pull-off sites on both sides of the road.
Tips for Dispersed and Free Camping in Colorado
Dispersed camping isn’t as simple as staying at a campground with reservations and amenities. Here are a few things to remember to make the most of your first dispersed camping trip. It’s the best way to find free camping spots in Colorado.
- Bring more water than you think you need. A rule-of-thumb is to bring 2 gallons of water per person per day. This is enough for drinking, food prep, cleaning, and other needs. I recommend buying some 2-5 gallon water containers online, which make it easy to bring your own from home instead of buying tons of plastic bottles or jugs.
- Get there early to find a spot. The busier the location, the sooner you need to arrive. On busy weekends in the summer, that may be noon, or even the night before you actually need the spot. During spring and fall, and during the week, it is usually easier to find an open site. Also be courteous, if you arrive late when others are asleep, don’t setup camp too close to others, and keep your lights pointed down and your voices quiet.
- Don’t forget toilet paper and a small shovel or hand trowel. This one should be obvious as to the reason why. Always go to the bathroom at least 250 feet away from any bodies of water, like creeks or lakes. Free camping in Colorado is increasingly threatened by water pollution due to human waste.
- Use pre-existing campsites. These areas are already heavily trafficked and the number of sites in most areas is already at capacity. Additional sites lead to increase noise, liter, erosion, and habitat loss. Only stay in a pre-existing campsite. Look for open, cleared areas with no vegetation and a pre-existing rock or metal fire ring. Never build a new campfire ring.
Free Camping in Colorado: FAQ
Here are some answers to questions related to free camping in Colorado that I get asked repeatedly. They should provide some more information and context about dispersed camping, camping for free in Colorado, and where it is allowed.
Q1: Is it legal to camp anywhere in Colorado?
A: No, it is not legal to camp anywhere. 54% of Colorado land is private property, where permission is required to camp. On the remaining public land, you are allowed to camp in certain areas, including some Forest Service land and most Bureau of Land management land. There are additional campsites located on local, state and federal property. When in doubt, do not set up a campsite unless you are certain it is legal to camp there.
Q2: Can you camp in Colorado Without a Permit?
A: In most cases you do not need any official permits to camp in Colorado, with some exceptions. Many campgrounds require a reservation in advance, while others permit first-come, first-serve camping. If you want to camp in one of the National Park backcountry areas, a permit is usually required. This includes Rocky Mountain, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
Q3: Can you still camp on BLM land in Colorado?
A: You can legally dispersed camp on the vast majority of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. Unless any area has signs that say “Camping Closed” you can safely assume that camping is allowed. To avoid unnecessary impact, always find an existing site instead of clearing a new one whenever possible. Some local offices have extra restrictions, so call your local BLM office if you have questions about free camping in Colorado on BLM land.
Q4: Is there dispersed camping in Colorado?
A: Dispersed camping is allowed on most BLM land in Colorado. The Forest Service also allows dispersed camping on most of its land, except for official recreation sites and where special regulations are in place. Most USFS roads in the mountains have numerous dispersed camping sites along their sides, especially between 6,000 and 9,000 feet in elevation. These are the best opportunities for free camping in Colorado. You can also camp anywhere in any of the state’s Wilderness Areas (pick a spot at least 200 feet from the water).
Free Camping in Colorado: Now You Know!
Finding free camping in Colorado takes a bit of skill and luck, but the experience is worth the effort. Once you know what to look for, it actually becomes somewhat easy to find free camping in the mountains. Just scout out some forest roads in less busy areas, and you will quickly stumble upon some dispersed campsites (if you are on USFS or BLM land). Thank you in advance for following leave no trace practices on your next camp out. Safe travel on the trail!
Free Camping in Colorado: Additional Resources and Information
These websites and directories were helpful while I wrote and researched opportunities for free camping in Colorado for this article. If you have any resources we should add, leave a comment below with your suggestions, and we might add them in our next article update.