Buena Vista is arguably one of Colorado’s best mountain towns. Not only does it have great beer and cool vibes, it is perfectly situated for exploring some of the region’s most beautiful wilderness, including the spectacular Collegiate Peaks and the pristine Arkansas River. Even better, the area surrounding Buena Vista is teeming with excellent places to camp, especially for those who appreciate the freedom and solitude that comes with dispersed camping. Whether you’re looking for an easy place to pitch your tent close to town or a remote alpine lake campsite, you can find it near BV. Keep reading and check out the map below to find your perfect dispersed campsite near beautiful Buena Vista, Colorado!
In this Post…
- The Basics
- The 10 Best Dispersed Camping Areas Near Buena Vista, CO
- Cottonwood Pass (Highway 306)
- Clear Creek Reservoir (County Road 390)
- Turtle Rock & Elephant Rock Campgrounds
- Baldwin Lake
- Brown’s Creek Trail (Forest Road 272)
- North Cottonwood Road (County Road 365)
- Fourmile Travel Management Area
- Hancock Lakes/Alpine Tunnel
- Mount Shavano and Tabequache Peak/Blanks Gulch Trailhead (Forest Road 252)
- Pomeroy Lakes (County Road 297)
When to Camp Near Buena Vista
The best time for dispersed camping in the Buena Vista area is from June through October. Many of the roads leading to the high elevation camping areas will be impassable due to snow until at least June most years. On the other hand, it is usually possible to camp at the lower elevations throughout most of May. June, July, and August are gorgeous months to camp near Buena Vista, although afternoon thunderstorms are common and can be dangerous in the high mountains. Fall is also a wonderful time, as you’ll enjoy breathtaking foliage and fewer crowds. However, be prepared for very chilly nights and the possibility of snow, especially as you enter late September and October.
What to Bring
Preparing for your Buena Vista camping trip involves more than deciding which campsite best fits your needs. There is also the important job of making sure you have all the right gear you’ll need to ensure a great trip.
- Coleman Camping Stove – This classic piece of gear is perfect for cooking up deluxe campsite dinners.
- Portable water container – These portable water containers are a lifesaver, especially as some camping areas do not have water available.
- Cooler – Keeping food and drinks cool is essential when camping, particularly in the hot afternoon sun. We can’t recommend Yeti enough!
- Bug Spray– The mosquitos can be pretty nasty in the summer months, but good bug repellent makes a huge difference.
- Portable Toilet– Even if there are vault toilets near your campsite, you might prefer this clean, private, and convenient option. It’s a great way to ensure you leave no trace! Also, don’t forget to pack TP!
Permits and Fees
At of the time of writing, permits were not required to camp at any of the locations included in this post. As some area grow in popularity, permit systems could be implemented. It’s a good idea to do a quick internet search or check with the local field office before setting out.
Fees are not required to park or camp at any of the BLM or Forest Service lands included in this post.
Seasonal fire restrictions and fire bans are common in the wilderness areas surrounding Buena Vista. It’s important to check for the latest restrictions before heading out on your camping trip. This website has a comprehensive list of links to all current fire information in the state of Colorado, including USFS and BLM areas. You can also contact the appropriate field office for the area in which you’ll be camping.
Pets are welcome at all of the dispersed camping areas included in this post. Pets should be kept leashed and under control at all times, especially in areas where wildlife could be present. Remember to pack out pet waste and ensure that pets are protected from extreme temperatures.
- Elevation: Many of the dispersed camping areas near Buena Vista are at 9,000 feet or higher. Stay hydrated and bring a sturdy tent and warm gear to be prepared for the elements.
- Cell Phone Service: Reception is spotty at best in most of the dispersed camping areas near BV. Assume you won’t have service and plan accordingly (download maps ahead of time, let other know where you’re going and when you’ll be back, etc).
- Access: Not all of the dispersed campsites described in this post can be accessed with a low-clearance vehicle. Use caution when navigating rugged dirt roads and don’t attempt anything that makes you uncomfortable.
- All of these dispersed campsites are first-come, first-served. Many fill up quickly on summer weekends- you may need to get there on a Thursday and/or arrive early in the morning to secure a site.
- Wildlife: Store all food, trash, and other scented items in your car to avoid attracting bears and other wildlife.
- Leave No Trace so that others can enjoy these beautiful places, too.
The 10 Best Dispersed Camping Areas Near Buena Vista, Colorado
Cottonwood Pass (Highway 306)
Distance to Buena Vista: 6-10 miles
Water: No, although sites on the south side of the road may have creek access.
Cottonwood Pass is a favorite dispersed camping destination for locals and visitors alike, due to its proximity to downtown Buena Vista as well as the Cottonwood Hot Springs. If that weren’t enough, the mountain scenery is magnificent. The camping area is close to lots of great hiking, including the Colorado Trail. While many of the sites lack total privacy, the area feels peaceful and remote. To reach Cottonwood Pass, simply follow Main Street west until it becomes State Highway 306. Continue for about 5 miles, and you’ll begin to see campsites on both sides of the road just after passing the hot springs and entering the San Isabel National Forest. There are also sites on the other side of the pass in the Gunnison National Forest. The road is paved and can accommodate most rigs.
Clear Creek Reservoir (County Road 390)
Distance to Buena Vista: 17 miles
Restrooms: Vault toilet near the lake.
Water: No potable water, but water can be filtered from Clear Creek.
There are lots of great dispersed campsites near the beautiful Clear Creek Reservoir, which is located about halfway between Leadville and Buena Vista. A primitive campground near the lake offers 20 free sites with room for RVs, while those seeking more solitude can find great dispersed sites along Clear Creek. To reach the dispersed sites, continue west on County Road 390 past the reservoir for a few more miles. Pay close attention to signage, as some of the area is private property and therefore not suitable for camping. The area has tons of great hiking, fishing, and 4WD opportunities, plus there are some very cool ghost towns to explore nearby. The road to access the campsites can be a bit rugged at times, but most passenger vehicles should be able to navigate it.
If you’re looking for dispersed camping near Leadville, CO, be sure to check out our guide here.
Turtle Rock & Elephant Rock Campgrounds
Distance to Buena Vista: 3 miles
Restrooms: Vault toilet at Turtle Rock Campground
Both of these primitive campgrounds are located on BLM land just north of Buena Vista. While they offer more of a typical campground experience than true dispersed camping, they are simple, free, and have beautiful views. Elephant Rock Campground is the smaller of the two options, with just 10 campsites. It is situated right next to the Arkansas River, making it a great place for rafters. Turtle Rock Campground is just down the road from Elephant, and it has over two dozen sites to choose from, as well as vault toilets (bring your own TP). Campers may stay up to 14 days at either campground. To reach the Elephant Rock Campground from Buena Vista, simply head north on Colorado Ave (which becomes Co Rd 371) for about three miles past town until you see the camping area on your left. To reach Turtle Rock Campground, take Co Rd 371 north out of town the same way, but then turn right on Co Rd 375 and continue for about a mile. You’ll need to contend with some pretty rugged dirt roads to reach either campsite so it is not recommended for low-clearance vehicles.
Distance to Buena Vista: 23 miles
Water: No potable water, but water can be filtered from the lakes.
Baldwin Lake is actually comprised of two alpine lakes that are situated at the base of one of Colorado’s great 14er’s, Mt. Antero. This is an absolutely beautiful place to camp, but getting there is a serious challenge. The road to the lakes holds snow until at least June most years, and it is extremely rugged. Only ATV’s and well-equipped 4WD vehicles should attempt it! To reach Baldwin Lake, head west on County Road 162 from the town of Nathrop and continue for about 12 miles until you reach Forest Road 277. Take a left and follow the road uphill for a few more miles. Before reaching the lakes, you’ll pass a meadow with a few nice campsites. If you choose to camp at the lakes, make sure to set up at least 100 feet from the shoreline.
Brown’s Creek Trail (Forest Road 272)
Distance to Buena Vista: 18 miles
Restrooms: Yes, at trailhead.
The Brown’s Creek Trail is one of the most beautiful hikes in the area, featuring pine forests, waterfalls, and wide open views. Camping nearby gives you easy access to this great trail and also allows you to fully immerse yourself in the incredible landscape. To reach this dispersed camping area from Buena Vista, take Highway 285 south past Nathrop until you see Co Rd 270. Head west on Co Rd 270, which will turn into Forest Road 272. Continue for about 6 miles on a well-maintained dirt road, keeping left when the road forks. You’ll see a few dispersed sites before reaching the trailhead. These are a bit less scenic, but they can be good options for larger rigs, as the road gets a bit narrower and more rugged past the trailhead. To reach the remaining sites, keep heading south past the trailhead. To minimize environmental degradation in this high use area, it’s important to camp only on established sites and park only on bare, compacted areas. Keep in mind that camping is not permitted at the actual trailhead.
North Cottonwood Road (County Road 365)
Distance to Buena Vista: 7-10 miles
This dispersed camping area checks nearly all of the “perfect campsite” boxes. It is close to town and trailheads, it’s accessible for most vehicles, and it’s quiet and beautiful. Co Rd 365 makes a great basecamp for hikers. They can hop on the Colorado Trail or enter the stunning Collegiate Peaks Wilderness via the North Cottonwood Trail. To get there from Buena Vista, take Co Rd 306 west for 2.5 miles, then turn right on Co Rd 361. Head north on Co Rd 361 for another 2.5 miles until you see Co Rd 365 on your left. This road extends west for a little under 4 miles until it ends at the North Cottonwood Trailhead. There are several dispersed campsites located along the road leading to the trailhead.
Fourmile Travel Management Area
Distance to Buena Vista: Varies
The Fourmile Travel Management Area is made up of 100,000 acres of Forest Service and BLM lands surrounding Buena Vista. There are many places to camp within the Fourmile area, including developed campgrounds and the Turtle and Elephant Rock camping areas. Additionally, there are plenty of dispersed campsites located throughout the Fourmile Travel Management Area. County Road 376 has good sites, as does 376A (Dorman’s Delight), and 305/305A (Shield’s Gulch). Make sure to look closely at the map ahead of time, as some roads are accessible by 4×4 vehicles only. Most of the dirt roads in the Fourmile TMA are fairly rough, but passable for a majority of vehicles. It can get packed and rowdy at times in this area, but it’s large enough that those seeking peace and quiet can find it if they search a bit. Keep in mind that camping is not permitted at trailheads.
Hancock Lakes/Alpine Tunnel
Distance to Buena Vista: 27 miles
Water: No potable water, but possible to filter from the lake or nearby stream.
Both history buffs and nature lovers will find tons to love at these dispersed camping sites. On the way up to Hancock Lakes, you’ll first pass through St. Elmo, one of Colorado’s most storied ghost towns, and then to the site of the since-gone mining town of Hancock. The nearby Alpine Tunnel is a historic vestige of the Denver, South Park, and Pacific railroad. To get there from Buena Vista, head south on Highway 285 for 7 miles. Near Nathrop, look for Co Rd 162 and follow that west for about 15 miles until it intersects with Forest Road 295. Follow FR 295 south for 5 miles to reach the townsite of Hancock. There are some dispersed campsites here, or you can continue up the road towards the Alpine Tunnel trailhead, keeping an eye out for additional campsites along the way. If you want to camp at the lakes, continue for another mile past the trailhead. To camp at the lakes, you’ll need to park in the parking area and carry your gear to a campsite. Additionally, you cannot camp within 100 feet of the shoreline. Be advised that the road gets increasingly rugged as you make your way up to Hancock Lakes, and only 4×4 vehicles should attempt the final stretch. Also keep in mind that this area is at a very high elevation, and campers should be prepared for extreme weather.
Mount Shavano and Tabequache Peak/Blanks Gulch Trailhead (Forest Road 252)
Distance to Buena Vista: 32 miles
Restrooms: Yes, at trailhead.
Water: No potable water, but possible to filter from the nearby stream.
Hikers will love this dispersed camping area, as it provides quick access to the Colorado Trail as well two of Colorado’s most beautiful 14er’s. There are numerous camping opportunities along Forest Road 252 ranging from streamside sites to campsites tucked into a cow pasture. To get there, head south from Buena Vista along 285 towards Poncha Springs. Take Co Rd 240 west to reach Co Rd 250. Follow Co Rd 250 until it forks. Take the left fork, which will become Forest Road 252. Once you’re on FR 252, keep an eye out for campsites. If you can’t find an open site before the trailhead, continue past it and look for some additional sites on the left hand side of the road. This area can get quite busy on weekends and the streamside sites fill up very quickly.
Pomeroy Lakes (County Road 297)
Distance to Buena Vista: 25 miles
Water: No potable water, but possible to filter from the lakes.
Those willing to put in a little effort will be richly rewarded at Pomeroy Lakes. This dispersed camping area is not easy to get to- Co Rd 297 is very rugged and only suited for OHV’s and high clearance 4WD vehicles. Additionally, those wanting to camp near the lake will need to walk the final quarter mile from the parking area. However, if you’re looking for the kind of pristine beauty and tranquility that only a high alpine lake can deliver, you’ll find it at Pomeroy Lakes. Anglers will also appreciate the excellent fishing opportunities at this uncrowded and well-stocked lake. To get there from Buena Vista, head south on Highway 285 for 7 miles. Near Nathrop, look for Co Rd 162 (Chalk Creek Dr) and follow that west for about 15 miles until it intersects with Forest Road 295. Turn left/south on FR 295 and continue for a little over 3 miles until it intersects with FR 297. Take another left and follow FR 297 to the Pomeroy Lakes Parking area (you’ll see a few dispersed campsites on the way up). Remember that camping is not permitted within 100 feet of the shoreline and be sure to come prepared for high-elevation weather conditions.
Have a great trip!
We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan your Buena Vista dispersed camping trip, and we know you’ll find the perfect campsite for your upcoming adventure! Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!
And if you’re looking to explore more of this beautiful region, be sure to check out these other dispersed camping posts: