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Dispersed Campsite

The Comprehensive Guide to Picking the Perfect Dispersed Campsite

Dispersed camping, setting up your camp outside of designated campgrounds, offers a unique, immersive outdoor experience, connecting you with the heartbeat of nature itself. But it’s more than just picking a dispersed campsite and pitching a tent; the responsibility of selecting the right camping site is crucial to your safety, comfort, and overall camping experience. This comprehensive guide will navigate you through all the factors you should consider when choosing your perfect dispersed camping site.

Table of Contents

Understanding Dispersed Camping

Before we dive into the factors influencing the selection of a campsite, it’s important to understand what dispersed camping is and what it entails. Unlike traditional camping in designated campgrounds with amenities like bathrooms, fire rings, and picnic tables, dispersed camping means staying in self-contained, undeveloped areas. It’s a practice that requires you to be self-sufficient, prepared, and deeply respectful of the environment.

Read my Introduction to Colorado Dispersed Camping

Recognizing and Finding a Dispersed Campsite

Before embarking on your dispersed camping journey, it’s important to understand what a typical dispersed campsite looks like and how to find one. Unlike established campgrounds, dispersed campsites won’t have a reception, neatly marked plots, picnic tables, or restroom facilities. Instead, they are simple, undeveloped sites with a minimal impact on the surrounding environment.

You’ll find dispersed campsites often off Forest Service (USFS) or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) roads, in areas where camping is permitted. To identify potential campsites, look for clear, flat areas with evidence of previous use like a fire ring, cleared ground, or a parking area. Just remember, just because it looks like a site, it doesn’t mean it’s legal to camp there. Always check the local guidelines and signs to ensure you’re in a permitted area.

In general, locating a dispersed campsite requires a little more effort, as they are often tucked away off the beaten path. You can start by researching online or consulting with local USFS or BLM offices. They often have maps that can guide you to approved dispersed camping areas.

Dispersed Campsites in Colorado

Where to Find Dispersed Campsites in Colorado

In Colorado, some popular areas for dispersed camping include:

  • Pike National Forest: This area offers a large number of dispersed camping sites, especially along the Tarryall Creek and South Platte River.
  • San Isabel National Forest: Along County Road 390, several dispersed camping spots offer scenic views and fishing opportunities.
  • Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests: Guanella Pass, located within these forests, has several dispersed campsites.
  • BLM land near Crested Butte: Kebler Pass and Washington Gulch are two areas on BLM land near Crested Butte popular among dispersed campers.

Remember, while these are popular spots, there are countless hidden gems all across Colorado and the U.S. where you can find your own little corner of the wild.

Accessibility: Striking the Balance

Your journey to the perfect campsite begins with accessibility. Striking a balance between solitude and convenience can make all the difference. Here are key factors to consider:

  1. Roads and Trails: Ensure your chosen site is easily reachable by your vehicle, keeping in mind ground clearance and road conditions. For backpackers, your site should be close enough to a trail but far enough to ensure some privacy and minimal impact on the trail itself.

  2. Safety and Services: While you want solitude, consider how far you are from emergency services or ranger stations. Being completely isolated might not be beneficial in case of emergencies.

Water Sources: The Lifelines of the Wild

One of the most critical factors to consider while camping is the availability of a reliable water source. However, it’s more complex than just locating the nearest river or lake:

  1. Hydration and Cooking: Besides the obvious need for drinking water, you’ll require water for cooking and cleaning. Always have a water treatment method at hand to ensure it’s safe to consume.

  2. Stay Safe and Considerate: To prevent contamination of the water source and protect local wildlife’s access, it’s crucial to camp at least 200 feet away from any water body.

Fire Pits and Firewood: The Heart of the Campsite

When it comes to campfires, it’s all about resource availability and safety:

  1. Existing Fire Rings: To reduce environmental impact, it’s best to opt for sites with existing fire rings or pits. They’re generally safer and prevent the unnecessary scarring of more ground.

  2. Firewood Availability: Ensure the vicinity has enough dead, downed wood for your fires. However, remember to gather wood responsibly and avoid cutting live trees.

Dispersed Campsites

Site Selection: Factors to Consider

Beyond the initial factors, there are a few more considerations that should come into play:

  1. Terrain: Inspect the lay of the land. You’ll want a level site to set up your tent, and to avoid water logging in case of rain. Consider wind direction and sun exposure as well.

  2. Wildlife Awareness: Be aware of signs of wildlife, like tracks, scat or nearby nests or dens. Setting up camp in the middle of a wildlife thoroughfare or near a den could lead to unwanted encounters.

Safety First: Mitigating Risks

Keeping safety at the forefront, there are certain potential risks to keep in mind:

  1. Check for Hazardous Trees: Look up and around. Dead trees or even dead branches (known as widow-makers) can fall without warning. Ensure your site is clear of such hazards.

  2. Weather Awareness: Be aware of the weather forecast, and the site’s exposure to elements. A beautiful riverside site can quickly become dangerous in a sudden rainstorm if it results in a flash flood.

Leave No Trace: A Camper's Promise

One of the cardinal rules of dispersed camping is to ‘leave no trace.’ This philosophy is essential for preserving the environment:

  1. Use Existing Sites: Use sites that show signs of previous use to minimize your environmental impact.

  2. Pack Out What You Pack In: Leave your campsite as you found it. This means packing out all trash and human waste.

  3. Respect Wildlife and Others: Maintain a safe distance from wildlife, keep your noise levels down, and respect other visitors’ experiences.

Dispersed Camping Guidelines: BLM and USFS Rules

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) provide essential dispersed camping guidelines:

  1. Camp at least 200 feet from any water source.
  2. Limit your stay to 14 days within any 30-day period.
  3. Pack out all trash and human waste.
  4. Keep fires small and always extinguish them completely.

Colorado Dispersed Campsites: Now You Know

In conclusion, dispersed camping is not just about a deep connection with nature, but also about respecting its integrity. As we embrace the principles of responsible camping, we ensure the preservation of these wonderful spaces for future generations to enjoy. So prepare thoroughly, camp responsibly, and let the adventure begin! Happy camping!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A: The beauty of dispersed camping is that the “best” spot truly depends on your personal preferences. Colorado has an abundance of beautiful natural spaces perfect for dispersed camping. Some popular areas include Pike National Forest, San Isabel National Forest, and BLM lands near Crested Butte, such as Kebler Pass and Washington Gulch.

A: You can find dispersed camping sites in Colorado by consulting maps and information provided by local USFS or BLM offices, or by researching online. Websites and apps that focus on outdoor activities often have user-submitted information about dispersed camping locations. Keep in mind that some areas may require permits, and always verify that the site you’ve selected is on land where camping is allowed.

A: Yes, Colorado offers ample opportunities for dispersed camping, particularly on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). Always check local regulations and any potential fire restrictions before you set up camp.

A: There are several great apps that can help you find dispersed camping sites in Colorado. Some popular ones include The Dyrt, iOverlander, and Campendium. These apps provide user-submitted information about different camping spots, including photos, reviews, and details about amenities and access.

A: Generally, dispersed camping does not require a permit in Colorado. However, this can vary depending on the location and the land management agency. In some popular or sensitive areas, a permit may be required. Always check the specific regulations of the area you plan to camp in.

A: Most of the time, dispersed camping is free. This is part of its appeal to many outdoor enthusiasts. However, there may be some areas where fees or permits are required, especially in high-traffic or sensitive environmental areas. Always verify the rules and regulations of your chosen camping area to avoid surprises.


A: Generally, dispersed camping does not require a permit in Colorado. However, this can vary depending on the location and the land management agency. In some popular or sensitive areas, a permit may be required. Always check the specific regulations of the area you plan to camp in.

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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2 Responses

  1. Great help! leave no trace. Choose a campsite that’s in line with Leave No Trace principles, meaning you should camp on durable surfaces, pack out all your trash, and minimize your impact on the environment.

  2. Thanks for explaining how finding a campsite that gives you that genuine camping experience is essential. My friend wants to invest in an RV for his outdoor escapades. I think looking for a perfect motorhome park where he can secure water and food is a good start.

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