Crested Butte is one of Colorado’s most iconic mountain towns. The arching summit of Mt. Crested Butte is the perfect backdrop to this adventure town, which offers some of the best summer mountain biking and hiking that the state has to offer.
The town is surrounded by vast amounts of wilderness, consisting largely of publicly owned National Forest. That makes Crested Butte the perfect destination for free, dispersed camping. However, new regulations in recent years have sought to address some of the negative impacts that unchecked dispersed camping has had on the area.
We’ve got all the details on these regulations, where you can and cannot camp near Crested Butte, and the top sites for legal dispersed camping in the area.
Let’s get started.
Crested Butte Dispersed Camping Guide
- The Basics
- The Best Dispersed Camping Areas Near Crested Butte
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The following sections contain all the must know information you need to plan a successful dispersed camping trip near Crested Butte, Colorado. This includes everything from where camping is permitted, the best time to go, what to bring, campfire regulations, and more.
This is the essential info before you head out!
Where is/isn’t dispersed camping permitted near Crested Butte
As a response to increasing pressure on the natural environment and the town itself, new regulations were put into place regarding dispersed camping in the immediate vicinity of Crested Butte. You can find detailed information on the USFS Gunnison Ranger District website, but the gist of these new regulations is below:
- Dispersed camping is now only permitted in designated dispersed campsites in the areas surrounding Crested Butte.
- These designated campsites are all identified by a signpost with a camping icon and numbered site.
- These sites are still free, first-come, first-served campsites.
- The maximum stay limit is 14-days.
- The drainages/valley where these new rules apply include:
- Slate River Road #734
- Washington Gulch Road #811
- Brush Creek Road #738
- Cement Creek Road #740
- Gothic Road #317
- Kebler Pass Road #12 / Irwin Lake Road #826
Please be sure to abide by these regulations! The Forest Service put significant effort into thoughtful camping regulations that allow for designed dispersed camping while still keeping the forest open to all.
For a helpful map showing these designated dispersed camping sites/areas check out the map below from the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Alliance:
When to Dispersed Camp Near Crested Butte
Crested Butte is a summer camping destination. The exact window will largely be determined by the previous winter’s snow fall, but you can generally plan on being able to pitch your tent between June – September.
The higher elevation sites may not be snow free until July some years, but by June many of the campsites are ready to go. Outside of those months camping may still be possible, but you’ll need to come prepared for snow and cold weather.
July and August tend to be the most crowded times to camp in the area as the trails are typically snow free and the town is bustling with visitors and tourists. If you’re coming during those peak months, be sure to arrive early or even try to get there on a weekday when you’ll have a much better chance of securing a free campsite.
For those with a bit of flexibility September can be a wonderful time to plan a dispersed camping trip near Crested Butte. You’ll find the town and trails much less crowded and have your pick of camping areas.
What to Bring
As you’ll read below, most of the dispersed campsites near Crested Butte and a ways from town and lack the services you’d expect at a developed campground. As such, you’ll need to come prepared to be self-sufficient.
- Map: A good map is essential to making sure you are on public land, exploring the area, and learning more about your surroundings. We recommend this National Geographic version for a good overview of the area.
- Coleman Camping Stove – This classic piece of gear is perfect for cooking up deluxe campsite dinners.
- Portable water container – Most of the camping areas included in this guide do not have dependable water access. As such, a portable water container is essential.
- Cooler – Keeping food and drinks cool is critical when camping. We can’t recommend Yeti enough!
Our dispersed camping checklist has everything you need.
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Our dispersed camping checklist has all the camping essentials plus specific items for dispersed camping.
Permits, Fees, and Campfires
One of our favorite things about dispersed camping is the lack of need for any permits or fees to be paid. Dispersed camping near Crested Butte is no different, with no permits required.
For all of the campsites in this guide we always recommend contacting the relevant USFS office where the campsite is located to confirm current conditions, camping options, and any closures. Contact information is below:
Although there are no permits required, when it comes to campfires you must follow all regulations and fire restrictions. At the designed dispersed campsites near Crested Butte that means that all fires must be fully contained within the provided metal fire ring.
You’ll want to check current conditions or potential restrictions here.
We can’t stress this enough as being a responsible forest user is essential to preventing wildfires and preserving our incredible forests!
Download Our FREE Dispersed Camping Cheat Sheet
Our free printable cheat sheet outlines how to find the perfect dispersed campsite for your next trip.
Leave No Trace Dispersed Camping near Crested Butte
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 No 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.
Dispersed Camping Near Crested Butte
The following section includes our top sites for dispersed camping near Crested Butte. This includes descriptions of all of the designated dispersed camping regions surrounding the town as so you can pick the campsite that is best for you.
In addition, our Crested Butte dispersed camping map below gives an overview of each site’s location with a full description included in the following section. Enjoy!
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Slate River Road Designated Sites
Distance to Crested Butte: 7 miles to first campsite
Restrooms: Pit toilet available at start of camping area
Water: No, may be able to filter from the river
Slate River Road, also known as Forest Service Road 734, heads northwest out of Crested Butte up a long and beautiful valley. This is one of the most popular spots for dispersed camping in the area, and was thus a no brainer to have been included in the designed dispersed campsite regulations.
There are a total of 43 designed campsites along Slate River Road, most of which are easily accessible by passenger vehicles. You’ll also find some larger sites that are good for vans/trailers near the start of road where there is also a pit toilet available. There is no potable water available, although many of the sites have access to the Slate River, which can be filtered.
In addition to the roadside campsites, there are also several walk-in sites with direct river access.
At the base of the road you’ll find the popular Upper/Lower trail loops, which are a good beginner/intermediate mountain biking ride in addition to being a popular hiking destination close to town.
Washington Gulch Road Designates Sites
Distance to Crested Butte: 6 miles to first campsite
Restrooms: Pit toilet available at NF entrance
Washington Gulch is one basin east of Slate River Road and doesn’t see quite the same number of campers compared to the more popular camping areas near Crested Butte. The 48 designated campsites here are all relatively close together, so this is a good place to set-up camp if you don’t mind having a few neighbors.
The road is in passable by most vehicles, especially for the first few miles. There is an offshoot of the main road just after entering the National Forest (Slide Rock Road/811.3A1) that does have a few sites that are better suited to 4WD vehicles.
There is a pit toilet shortly after entering the National Forest that is easy to access from the cluster of sites at the base of the road, but there is no potable water source.
If you really want to escape the crowds and get a secluded site, aim for Washington Gulch site 47, which sits all on its own a few miles up the road.
Please note the video below pre-dates the designated dispersed camping rules, but it should give you a good sense of what the road and area is like:
Brush Creek Road Designated Sites
Distance to Crested Butte: 7 miles
Restrooms: Pit toilet available at beginning of camping area
Brush Creek is one of the more difficult to access designated dispersed camping areas near Crested Butte. Located east of town along Brush Creek Road (FSR 738), there are a total of 22 designed sites here. The vast majority of those will require a 4WD vehicle to access, although there are a handful that are suitable for passenger vehicles or larger rigs.
As with all the designed dispersed sites you’ll find a pit toilet near the start of the national forest land where camping is permitted.
We recommend Brush Creek for anyone with a 4×4 vehicle who is looking for a less crowded camping experience.
Cement Creek Road Designated Sites
Distance to Crested Butte: 10 miles
Cement Creek is the first designated dispersed camping area you’ll pass when driving into Crested Butte from Gunnison. You’ll reach the turnoff for Cement Creek Road a few miles prior to reaching Crested Butte on Highway 135.
As with Brush Creek , this is a smaller camping area with 28 designated sites. There is a good mix of 4WD access campsites along with several that a passenger vehicle can reach. As you’d expect, the further back you head the rougher the road gets. It is important to note that there is no bathroom for any of the campsites along Cement Creek Road.
We like Cement Creek for the easy access to several trailheads along the road, making this a very convenient place to spend a few days hiking or biking in the National Forest.
Gothic Road Designated Sites (no camping 6/15 – 8/15)
Distance to Crested Butte: 10 miles
Restrooms: Pit toilets at the start of the road
Gothic Road was probably the most popular place for dispersed camping near Crested Butte prior to the new regulations being put in place, with easy access to popular trails such as the 401 trail and the West Maroon Pass trailhead. As such, it now has the strictest regulations, with NO camping permitted outside of the developed Gothic Campground between June 15th – August 15th. Outside so of those dates, there are 15 designated dispersed sites in the corridor.
While the camping regulations certainly restrict the amount of campers along Gothic Road, we highly recommend making a late-summer or early-fall trip to camp in one of the designated sites along the road. This is one of our all time favorite dispersed camping destinations with unbeatable views and trail access.
There are two pit toilets available at the beginning of Gothic Road, one near the Judd Falls trailhead and the other just before reaching the developed campground.
Kebler Pass Road Designated Sites
Distance to Crested Butte: 6 miles
Restrooms: Two pit toilets along route
Kebler Pass, located west of Crested Butte, has 36 designated dispersed campsites and is very convenient if being close to town is important to you. You’ll drive through CB on your way to the camping area, which is a great opportunity to stock up on supplies. The majority of the sites along Kebler Pass Road are well suited for tent campers with passenger vehicles, although there are a handful of 4×4 accessed sites up Forest Service Road 885.
Several of the campsites are also located up Irwin Lake Road (FSR 826), one of the main branches off of Kebler Pass.
There is a pit toilet right when entering the national forest as well as one further up, right before you pass the developed Lake Irwin Campground.
If you’re looking for somewhere scenic to dispersed camp in the fall, Kebler Pass is one of our top picks in the entire state. The aspens are incredible!
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Have a great trip!
That’s it! We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a great dispersed camping trip near Crested Butte.
Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!