Denver is Colorado’s hub of activity and a must visit on any trip to the area. The backdrop for this great city is the beautiful Rocky Mountains, which offer nearly endless opportunities to explore. One of our favorite ways to experience the area is the plan a free dispersed camping trip near Denver.
Although you won’t find any dispersed camping directly adjacent to Denver, there are tons of camping opportunities within 50 miles of the City. That means that in under 1 hour from downtown, you could be pitching your tent for an unforgettable night of camping.
We’ve created this guide to simply the process of finding dispersed camping near Denver, and have included our seven favorite campsites.
Let’s dive in.
Denver, CO Dispersed Camping Guide
- The Basics
- The Best Dispersed Camping Areas Near Denver
The following sections contain all the must know information you need to plan a successful dispersed camping trip near Denver, Colorado. This includes everything from when to camp to what to bring.
This is the essential info before you head out!
When to Dispersed Camp Near Denver
Camping season for most of the dispersed camping near Denver generally runs during the peak summer months of June, July, and August. For some of the lower elevation camping areas in this guide (Buffalo Creek, Kenosha Pass) you’ll likely be able to enjoy a camping trip during May and September as well.
For those who are tent camping, you can expect cold nights on the edges of the season and should also be prepared to still encounter snow in some areas, especially at the higher elevation campsites. If you’re camping in a trailer or RV you can likely extend the season a bit longer, although that is highly variable depending on the year.
What to Bring
Coming prepared to your dispersed camping trip is essential. You won’t have any of the amenities of a developed campground to rely on, so be sure you are prepared to be self-sufficient.
- 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!
- 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
One of our favorite things about dispersed camping is the lack of need for any permits or fees to be paid. Dispersed camping in the areas near Denver described below is no different, and none of the dispersed camping areas in this guide require a permit or have any associated fees.
However, it is always a good idea to do a quick internet search or check with the local field office before setting out.
For the most up to date information on camping in the Denver area, your best bet is to contact the following ranger districts:
- Clear Creek Ranger District (Guanella Pass, Jones Pass Road, Kingston Peak, Bill Moore Lake)
- South Platte Ranger District (Buffalo Creek, Kenosha Pass)
- Boulder Ranger District (Gordon Gulch)
Seasonal fire restrictions and fire bans are very common in the mountains surrounding Denver. As such, it is critical that you check and obey any and all fire restrictions.
Be sure to check the Colorado Fire Information page before setting out.
If you are able to have a campfire, be sure to completely put it out prior to going to sleep or leaving you campground for any amount of time!
Pets are welcome at all of the dispersed camping areas included in this guide. Pets should be kept under control at all times, especially in areas where wildlife could be present or when you have other campers nearby.
Remember to pack out pet waste.
- Environmental Impact: Given their close proximity to Denver, many of the camping areas in this guide are extremely popular. As such, it is important to leave your campsite in better condition than you found it. We’ve seen many popular camping areas closed across Colorado as a result of the impacts of a few bad campers. Please always practice Leave No Trace camping.
- Access: We’ve done our best to describe the road conditions you can expect when heading to each of the areas described in this post. Many, though not all, of the campsites included in this guide require 4WD reach them.
- 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.
Dispersed Camping Near Denver, CO
The following list contains the 7 best sites for dispersed camping near Denver, Colorado. If you’re looking for additional camping opportunities in the area, your best bet is to use the Motor Vehicle Use Maps for the ranger districts in the Denver area. They contain detailed maps on where dispersed camping is allowed.
In addition, our Denver dispersed camping map below gives an overview of each site’s location with a full description included in the following section. Enjoy!
Distance to Denver: 60 miles (1 hour)
Water: No, although you may be able to pull water from Geneva Creek.
Geneva 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.
You can get here by either taking I-70 through Georgetown or US-285 through Grant, but either way you’ll want to arrive early to secure a spot.
Given the popularity and proximity to Denver, please be sure to pack out all of your trash and practice Leave No Trace principles here.
Distance to Denver: 50 miles (1 hour)
Water: No, although you may be able to pull water from the nearby creek.
Jones Pass Road sits near the base of Berthoud Pass, just outside of the town of Empire. The stunning views and relatively easy access make this a popular destination for dispersed camping near Denver. 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.
To get to Jones Pass from Denver head up I-70 to the town of Empire. Continue through town to the first hairpin turn along Berthoud Pass where you’ll turn off onto Jones Pass Road. It is several miles past this turnoff that campsites begin to appear.
Distance to Denver: 50 miles (1.25 hours)
The Gordon Gulch Dispersed Camping Area offers 15 free campsites just outside the fun and funky town of Nederland, CO and within 1.25 hours of Denver. Situated just east of the famous Peak to Peak Highway, this network of Forest Service roads provides a good option for dispersed camping.
This is a popular area given the proximity to Boulder and Denver, but if you’re able to snag a site you’ll enjoy easy access to Nederland as well as the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area.
It is important to remember that there are no services at Gordon Gulch, so not only will you need to be self reliant, but you also have a responsibility to leave your campsite better than you found it when camping here.
Heading from Gordon Gulch up to Rocky Mountain National Park? Check out our guide to dispersed camping near Estes Park for more great campsite options!
Distance to Denver: 48 miles (1.5 hours)
Kingston Peak Road is situated north of the town of Idaho Springs and offers great dispersed camping near Denver for those with 4WD and a sense of adventure. The road here has spectacular views of several 14ers as well as easy access to James Peak and Kingston Peak.
This is a very rough road, so 4WD and high-clearance is mandatory if your hoping to camp here. Most of the sites along Kingston Peak Road are above treeline, so come prepared for high winds and lots of exposure. There is no water or other facilities in the area.
Distance to Denver: 50 miles (1.75 hours)
Water: No, but may be drawn from the lake.
Bill Moore Lake is a popular off roading destination just north of Empire that provides some excellent dispersed camping. The road isn’t for the faint of heart and you’ll definitely need high clearance to make the drive, but you’ll be rewarded with beautiful lakeside camping opportunities.
Expect crowds to be driving through on the weekends, although most are just on day trips and won’t spend the night. There are also ample camping opportunities on the way up to the lake, so if you see something that looks good we recommend snagging a spot.
To get here, head up I-70 from Denver and get off at the Empire exit. Take a right on Main St/North Empire Road and take that all the way to the lake. For the ambitious drivers out there, consider completing the entire Empire Loop as part of your trip.
Distance to Denver: 50 miles (1 hours)
Restrooms: No, although nearby trailheads have vault toilets.
The Buffalo Creek Recreation Area is a very popular dispersed camping location near Denver. You’ll have easy access to the Colorado Trail, Wellington Lake, and tons of other hikes in this area, all within 1 hour of Denver. As such, expect it to be busy on weekends and you’ll need to arrive early to secure a site.
Forest Service Road 550 is where the dispersed campsites are located, and you’ll need to camp in the specifically designated sites. Those are marked with a tent-sign, so you know camping is permitted. Please do not camp outside of these areas as you may end up with a ticket!
Given the popularity of Buffalo Creek it is very important to practice Leave No Trace camping.
Distance to Denver: 65 miles (1.25 hours)
Restrooms: No, although nearby trailheads have vault toilets.
Kenosha Pass offer stunning views of the South Park Basin and easy access to the Colorado Trail, making this an excellent destination for dispersed camping. Dispersed camping is permitted on both sides of the pass along Forest Service Roads 126, 126.A, 811, and 811.a.
Camp only at designated dispersed campsites, which will be indicated with a tent symbol. Most of the dispersed campsites at Kenosha Pass require a high clearance vehicle to reach, although there are a few close to the highway that are reachable in a standard vehicle.
The opportunities for hiking and mountain biking are nearly endless here with access to both Lost Creek Wilderness as well as a beautiful section of the Colorado Trail. Be sure to pack out all your trash as the area is very popular and experiences tons of use.
Have a great trip!
We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a dispersed camping trip near Denver, 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!
Looking for other great dispersed camping in Colorado? Be sure to check out our other guides below: