The BEST Colorado Dispersed Camping: Everything you need to know

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Colorado is home to some of the finest wilderness and outdoor recreation in the world. The stunning Rocky Mountains serve as your backdrop for exploring this incredible State and all it has to offer. Luckily, much of the state is preserved as public land, providing ample opportunity for free, dispersed camping in Colorado.

Whether you’re looking to set-up camp in the high mountains, on the Western Slope, or even on the Eastern Plains, there is likely to be a great option for you.

We’ve created this Colorado dispersed camping guide to help you navigate through the various regulations and rules and find your perfect campsite.

Let’s get started.

Colorado Dispersed Camping Guide

Download Our FREE Dispersed Camping Cheat Sheet

Our free printable cheat sheet outlines how to find the perfect dispersed campsite for your next trip.

The Basics

The following sections contains all the critical information you need to plan a dispersed camping trip in Colorado. This includes where you can camp, how to find potential campsites, what to bring and more.

This is the essential information before you head out!

Where is dispersed camping allowed in Colorado?

The first step is planning a Colorado dispersed camping trip is to understand exactly where dispersed camping is permitted. In Colorado, there are several public agencies that allow dispersed camping on land they control. The two largest of these are the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Find additional details on dispersed camping on USFS and BLM land in Colorado below:

US Forest Service Dispersed Camping in Colorado (USFS)

The USFS manages millions of acres across 11 distinct National Forests in Colorado. These are home to some of our favorite dispersed camping areas. All of these national forests permit dispersed camping within their boundaries and they all feature tons of great recreational opportunities. These forests are always our first choice for dispersed camping in Colorado, and we’ve provided additional information on each one below.

Each of Colorado’s 11 National Forests are listed below along with a link to the dispersed camping guidelines for that area:

The map below shows where each of Colorado’s National Forests are located and is a helpful resource when planning your trip:

Colorado dispersed camping map
USFS map showing Colorado’s National Forests.

Bureau of Land Management Dispersed Camping in Colorado (BLM)

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the other major public land owner in Colorado that permits dispersed camping. The BLM manages over 8.3 million acres of land in Colorado, with much of it located on the Western Slope. There is more nuance around dispersed camping on BLM given that much of it is leased for oil and gas uses, cattle grazing, and other uses. However, large swaths of BLM land in Colorado are open to dispersed camping, making this a good option when searching for a campsite.

The BLM has four administrative offices in Colorado, and we always recommend reaching out to them if you’re not clear whether dispersed camping is permitted in a specific area or not:

In addition, you can find a good overview of BLM dispersed camping rules here.

Map of BLM lands in Colorado
BLM land in Colorado is shaded yellow on the map. Map credit Bureau of Land Management

Colorado National Grasslands Dispersed Camping

Finally, Colorado has two National Grasslands that generally permit free, dispersed camping. These areas present a great opportunity to camp in some of Colorado’s less visited public lands and experience the beauty of the State’s eastern plains.

Information on camping in Colorado’s two National Grasslands are provided at the links below for both Pawnee and Comanche National Grasslands:

How to find dispersed camping in Colorado

Finding a free, dispersed campsite in Colorado is relatively straightforward if you know what you are looking for. Our first recommendation is to use the destination specific dispersed camping guides we’ve created that are included in the next section.

There are also numerous resources available ranging from online apps, USFS resources, and of course our website! You’ll also want to be prepared to navigate forest service roads and read USFS maps, both of which should be fairly straightforward.

When searching for a good dispersed campsite in Colorado ourselves, we prefer to use a combination of several online apps/websites along with publically available USFS/BLM maps.

Our favorite resources are below:

  • Freecampsites.net – Our go to resource for finding free camping in the US. Simply enter your desired location and filter through the results.
  • The Dyrt – An app that let’s you filter for free and dispersed campsites.
  • Campendium – A website and app that allows you to see user reviews for campsites and campgrounds across the country.

Check out our Dispersed Camping App guide here for more information on how to use apps to find dispersed camping in Colorado.

While these apps and websites are a good starting place the best resource for finding dispersed camping is often reaching out directly to the relevant USFS Ranger District or BLM Office in the area you’d like to camp to inquire on camping locations.

Looking to find more dispersed campsites? Check out The Dyrt PRO to get campsite reviews, offline maps, and the best map layers for finding public dispersed camping!

Our Top Camping App – The Dyrt PRO

The Dyrt PRO

Looking to find more free, dispersed camping?

The Dyrt PRO is our favorite resource for planning your trip. Use the custom map layers to find public land, download offline maps, and navigate to your perfect dispersed campsite. Highly recommended!

Finally, the single best resource to finding dispersed camping in Colorado is to use the Motor Vehicle Use Maps published by the USFS to identify dispersed camping areas. These maps are published by the Forest Service and display the entire network of forest service roads in a given National Forest. Most of the MVUMs for Colorado’s National Forests denote that dispersed camping is permitted along a specific road by showing two dots on either side of it.

In addition to the map itself, there are often tables that provide additional context on dispersed camping.

Links to some relevant MVUMs for dispersed camping in Colorado are linked below:

Motor Vehicle Use Map showing dispersed camping in Colorado
The MVUM example above shows the dispersed camping symbol, highlighted in yellow.

We often have a motor vehicle use map open in one tab and Google Maps satellite view in the other to help find dispersed campsites. You can cross reference the two and often see areas that have established campsites in Google Maps.

Dispersed Camping Rules & Regulations

One of our favorite things about dispersed camping in Colorado is the lack of permits, reservations, and other requirements you’ll often find at developed campgrounds. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t important rules you should always following when dispersed camping.

It is best to check current regulations with the relevant USFS or BLM office, but you should plan on adhering to the following as outlined by the USFS:

  • Do not camp in areas near trailheads, picnic areas, or developed campgrounds.
  • Keep your campsite small.
  • Use existing sites and fire rings when available.
  • Pick a site where vegetation is absent.
  • Do not camp within 200 feet of a water source.
  • Dispersed camping is generally limited to 14 days within any continuous 30 day period.
  • Only have a campfire if it is permitted, and always be sure it is completely extinguished.
  • Practice Leave No Trace principles – more on that below!

Leave No Trace Principles & Dispersed Camping

One of the most important considerations when dispersed camping is to follow Leave No Trace principles. This will minimize your impact and ensure your campsite can be enjoyed by future visitors. Here are the seven principles of Leave Not Trace camping:

  • Plan Ahead & Prepare: Have an idea of where you’d like to camp and always be sure you are camping in an area that permits dispersed camping.
  • Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces: Never camp on fragile ground or create a new campsite.
  • Dispose of waste properly: Pack out all of your trash and bury human waste away from water sources. Ideally, carry out human waste or use a portable toilet.
  • Leave what you find: Never take anything from your campsite. Other than trash of course!
  • Minimize campfire impacts: Never create new fire rings and only have fires if permitted.
  • Respect Wildlife: Properly store food at all times and be aware of the area’s wildlife.
  • Be considerate of Other Visitors: Pack out your trash, don’t be loud, and leave your campsite in better condition than you found it.

You can read more about the seven principles of Leave No Trace camping here.

Dispersed Camping Checklist

Our dispersed camping checklist has everything you need.

Want to know the essentials for your next camping trip?

Our dispersed camping checklist has all the camping essentials plus specific items for dispersed camping.

The Best Dispersed Camping in Colorado

Now that you’ve got some good background we’ve put together the following list of some of our favorite destinations for dispersed camping in Colorado. In addition, the map below gives an overview of each area along with a link to a more in-depth guide for that specific region of Colorado.

Our favorite Colorado dispersed camping areas include:

Southwest, Colorado Dispersed Camping

The San Juan mountains make for some of Colorado’s most impressive scenery and you’ll find an abundance of public land in this part of the State. In addition to the beautiful wilderness there are also plenty of great towns worth exploring. The southwest gets our vote for the top dispersed camping destination in Colorado. Here are the relevant dispersed camping guides along with a few of our favorite campsites:

  • Telluride: The Telluride area has tons of excellent dispersed camping options. Be sure to check out Alta Lakes!
  • Lake City: The wilderness around Lake City is perfect for finding a bit of solitude.
  • Silverton: Big views and great campsites are the highlight of dispersed camping near Silverton.
  • Durango: A southwest road trip isn’t complete without a stop in Durango.

Our favorite dispersed campsites in the area include:

Alta Lakes – Telluride Area

Restrooms: Yes
Water: 
No, but can be filtered from the lake. 
Crowds: 
Busy
Managed by: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest
Map

Alta Lakes lives up to its reputation as one of the most beautiful places in Colorado, and a night under the stars here is an unforgettable experience. There are about 20 dispersed campsites in the area surrounding the lakes. Most sites are pretty well spaced out, allowing for privacy and spectacular alpine views. There are some additional sites located along the road up to the lakes.

Although it’s just over a dozen miles from Telluride, it takes close to an hour to reach the camping area on the narrow, rugged road. Keep an eye out for historic buildings at the Alta Townsite on the way up. Due to the conditions of the road, it’s best only attempted by 4WD vehicles and not recommended for RVs and trailers.

Kendall Camping Area – Silverton area

Restrooms: Yes
Water: 
No
Crowds: 
Busy
Managed by: San Juan National Forest
Map

Located close to town along the famous Million Dollar Highway, this camping area is perfectly positioned for those wanting to explore the greater Silverton area. Tucked in the trees along the banks of Mineral Creek, it is a lovely place to pitch your tent or park your RV.

The area feels a bit like a campground, as the sites are pretty close together and there are vault toilets available. Be advised that this is a very popular area, meaning that sites can be hard to come by on summer and fall weekends.

It’s advisable to pack in drinking water, as the creek may contain significant concentrations of lead or other byproducts from the mining operations upstream. Sites are large enough to accommodate most rigs, and the road in is bumpy but accessible for all vehicles.

A dirt road near Telluride

Central Mountains Dispersed Camping

Colorado’s central mountains are home to some of the most popular outdoor destinations in the State. You’ll enjoy bustling mountain towns, easy access from Denver, and tons of areas to explore. The diversity of dispersed camping options in the area is truly astounding, with our favorites highlighted below:

  • Aspen: Take in the glitz and glam of Aspen from your free campsite!
  • Glenwood Springs: A great low-key mountain town, Glenwood Springs is a worthwhile destination.
  • Leadville: The highest incorporated town in North America has some great dispersed camping nearby.
  • Buena Vista: A mellow river town with tons of surrounding wilderness to explore.
  • Breckenridge: A classic mining town turned ski mecca, be sure to look for campsites on Boreas Pass.

A few of our favorite dispersed campsites in Colorado’s Central Mountains include:

County Road 48 near Turquoise Lake – Leadville Area

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No
Crowds: 
Busy
Map

County Road 48 just south of Turquoise Lake is the closest dispersed camping area to Leadville, Colorado. This is a popular camping area, so expect neighbors and be sure to leave no trace if you do camp here. You’ll be well located to explore Turquoise Lake as well as the Mt. Massive Wilderness Area. Views of Mt. Elbert from the camping area are also stunning.

To reach the dispersed camping area here head west on 6th Street from central Leadville until it dead ends into County Road 4. Turn north on County Road 4 and continue until you get to the junction with County Road 48. Proceed a short distance on CR48 to find the dispersed camping area, with sites on both sides of the road.

The road is gravel and should be passable by most vehicles and rigs.

Cottonwood Pass (Highway 306) – Buena Vista Area

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No, although sites on the south side of the road may have creek access. 
Crowds: 
Moderate
Map

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 in Buena Vista 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.

Boreas Pass Dispersed Camping – Breckenridge Area

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No
Crowds: 
Busy
Map

Boreas Pass offers some stunning dispersed camping near the town of Breckenridge. This beautiful mountain pass connects Breckenridge with the town of Como and features some of the best views of the Tenmile Range in the area. You’ll find tons of dispersed campsites all along the route, so don’t be discouraged if the first few sites are taken.

This is also one of the most convenient camping areas for visiting Breckenridge, as you’ll only be a few miles from the downtown.

Getting to Boreas Pass couldn’t be easier. Simply head to the south end of town and then turn left of Boreas Pass Road/County Road 10. Continue for several miles before campsites begin to appear on both sides of the road. There are no facilities along Boreas Pass, so come prepared with everything you need and be sure to practice Leave No Trace camping.

Dispersed camping on Boreas Pass
View from Boreas Pass, a great place to find dispersed camping near Breckenridge.

Colorado’s Northern Mountains

The northern part of Colorado has some great camping destinations that are a bit less visited than the more central options. We always love a good trip up to Steamboat, exploring Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes, or doing some mountain biking in Winter Park. Here are our top dispersed camping guides:

  • Steamboat Springs: Rabbit Ears pass has tons of camping and Steamboat has a unique Western vibe to it.
  • Winter Park: Great camping combined with excellent mountain biking and hiking.
  • Estes Park: Explore RMNP from your free campsite just outside the park boundaries.

A few of our favorite dispersed campsites in the area include:

Buffalo Pass – Steamboat Springs Area

Restrooms: No, although vault toilets are available at Buffalo Pass trailhead
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Busy
Map

Buffalo Pass is the closest and most popular dispersed camping area near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and for good reason. You’ll have easy access to Steamboat from here, and the sites themselves are secluded and offer beautiful views of the surrounding wilderness. The Buffalo Pass trailhead is nearby and offers access to miles of hiking and biking trails as well.

To get here from Steamboat, head north out of town on Highway 36 before turning right on Routt County Road 38, signed for Buffalo Pass. Continue on 38 as it winds it’s way uphill until you reach the Buffalo Pass parking lot and the developed Dry Lake Campground.

Keep driving another half mile or so before the first dispersed campsites begin to appear along the road. You’ll continue to find great sites for the next several miles, so don’t fret if the first campsites you come across are full.

Keep in mind that the road gets progressively rougher the further back you go, so those with an RV or trailer will need to take one of the first sites or look elsewhere.

Jones Pass Road Dispersed Camping – Winter Park Area

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No, although you may be able to pull water from the nearby creek.
Crowds:
 Busy
Map

Jones Pass Road is located on the south side of Berthoud Pass and makes for a stunning dispersed camping area near Winter Park. You’ll enjoy stunning views and relatively easy access here, making this a great camping option.

You’ll need to drive a bit past the Henderson mine before camping is permitted, but then you’ll find several sites on both sides of the road.

The lower down campsites are reachable by most vehicles, but the further up you travel the higher the need for 4WD. Some of the campsites above treeline are simply spectacular. Nearby you’ll find the Butler Gulch trailhead which features a beautiful hike.

Dispersed camping near Winter Park

Dispersed Camping on Colorado’s Front Range

Finally, for those coming from Colorado’s Front Range and looking for an easy weekend of camping with a short drive check out some of the dispersed sites near Colorado’s major cities. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can be setting up camp after getting off work in the big city!

  • Fort Collins: A fun college town with plenty of adjacent wilderness.
  • Colorado Springs: Pikes Peak watches over town and you’ll find good camping within 30 minutes of downtown.
  • Denver: A quick camping trip from Denver is the perfect summer escape for city dwellers.

Here are a few of our favorite sites:

Rampart Range Road – near Woodland Park and Colorado Springs

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No
Crowds:
 Moderate
Map

The Rampart Range Road camping area is located northwest of Colorado Springs and accessed via the town of Woodland Park. It is about a 45 minute drive from downtown Colorado Springs to get to this dispersed camping area. Most sites along the road enjoy excellent views and there are even a few fire rings available for your use.

To get here, take Highway 24 to Woodland Park and then drive through town until you’re on Rampart Range Road. Take a right on Loy Creek Road before turning right again on Forest Service Road 300. Campsites start just past the Rainbow Gulch trailhead.

The road is rough in places, though there are reports of passenger vehicles making it up here.

Guanella Pass Dispersed Camping – close to Denver

Restrooms: No
Water: 
No, although you may be able to pull water from Geneva Creek.
Crowds:
 Busy
Map

Guanella Pass offers a popular place for dispersed camping near Denver. The regulations have changed over the years and you are no longer permitted to camp directly along Guanella Pass, instead having to stay in one of the designated dispersed sites along Geneva Creek Road/FR 119.

There are between 30-40 designated dispersed campsites along the road, and the further back you get the more quiet and secluded you can expect your site to be. This is a great place to camp before climbing Mt. Bierstadt or exploring the beautiful drive along Guanella Pass.

For more details, check out our Guanella Pass Camping Guide here.

View from a dispersed campsite along Guanella Pass

Looking to find more dispersed campsites? Check out The Dyrt PRO to get campsite reviews, offline maps, and the best map layers for finding public dispersed camping!

Our Top Camping App – The Dyrt PRO

The Dyrt PRO

Looking to find more free, dispersed camping?

The Dyrt PRO is our favorite resource for planning your trip. Use the custom map layers to find public land, download offline maps, and navigate to your perfect dispersed campsite. Highly recommended!

Have a great trip!

That’s it!

We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a Colorado 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!

Don’t forget to check out some of our other state specific dispersed camping guides below:

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