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

 

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, 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:

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. Each of these National Forests is listed below along with a link to the dispersed camping guidelines for that area:

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. The BLM has four administrative offices in Colorado:

Each of these Districts allows dispersed camping and 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:

 

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.

Additionally, we always recommend reaching out to the Ranger District or BLM office in the area where you are hoping to dispersed camp. These offices will be able to provide you with the most up-to-date dispersed camping information, make recommendations, and give you all the intel you’ll need.

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. 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:

These maps show the entire road network in National Forests, and dispersed camping is signified by two dots on either side of the road as shown on the example 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.

 

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.

Our favorite Colorado dispersed camping areas include:

Southwest, Colorado

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:

  • 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.

A dirt road near Telluride

 

Central Mountains

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

 

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.

Dispersed camping near Winter Park

 

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.

View from a dispersed campsite along Guanella Pass

 

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!

 

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