Durango is one of Southwest Colorado’s true gems. This outdoorsy college town offers tons to do for the outdoor adventurer with mountain biking, hiking, rafting, and countless other activities all within a short drive of town. For those hoping to enjoy some of the surrounding wilderness you’ll find tons of great dispersed camping near Durango to take advantage of.
We’ve put together this Durango dispersed camping guide to help you see your best options for camping and navigate the sometimes difficult process of finding a free campsite in the area.
Keep reading to learn about our nine favorite dispersed campsites near Durango, Colorado!
Durango Dispersed Camping Guide
- The Basics
- The Best Dispersed Camping Areas Near Durango
The following sections contain all the basic information you need to plan a free, dispersed camping trip near Durango, Colorado. Everything from when to camp, what to bring, and how to get there.
This is the essential info before you head out!
For more information check out our complete guide to dispersed camping in Colorado here.
When to Camp Near Durango
Durango is located at a modest elevation of just over 6,500′ above sea-level. However, don’t let that deceive you as many of the dispersed camping areas in this guide are located at 9,000′ of higher. That means camping is generally only recommended during the summer months from May – September.
Several of the sites off of Highway 160 are located at a lower elevation and dispersed camping will be much easier in those locations earlier or later in the year. Be sure to check the most up to date conditions with the relevant San Juan National Forest Ranger District before heading out.
What to Bring
Many of the dispersed campsites near Durango in this guide are quite remote with very few services in close proximity. Thus, you’ll want to be sure you’ve 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 map to cover the area around Durango.
- Coleman Camping Stove – This classic piece of gear is perfect for cooking up deluxe campsite dinners.
- Portable water container – None of the camping areas included in this guide 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!
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 near Durango is no different, and none of the dispersed camping areas in this guide require a permit or have any associated fees.
However, be aware that regulations often change, campsites close, and the Forest Services makes changes to camping rules. As such, it is best to check with the San Juan National Forest Ranger District to confirm your plans.
Seasonal fire restrictions and fire bans are very common in the wilderness areas surrounding Durango. It is critical that you check and obey any and all fire restrictions. This part of Colorado has seen extreme drought conditions which only increases the risk of wildfire.
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!
- Environmental Impact: Dispersed camping near Durango has become extremely popular over the past few years. We’ve seen some very popular camping areas inundated with campers setting up where they shouldn’t, leaving trash, and not properly disposing of waste. That makes it essential to minimize your impact, practice Leave No Trace principles, and always leave your campsite in better shape than you found it.
- 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. There are camping areas for both low-clearance as well as high-clearance vehicles included in this guide, so be sure to choose one that meets your needs!
- 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 Durango
The following guide contains the 9 best dispersed camping areas surrounding Durango, Colorado.
For more ideas, we recommend checking out the Motor Vehicle Use Maps for both the Columbine and Dolores Range Districts in San Juan National Forest.
These helpful maps show all of the Forest Service Roads that permit dispersed camping, including a few we chose not to include. Areas open to dispersed camping are marked with two dots on either side of a given roadway.
In addition, the map below gives an overview of each dispersed camping areas’ location with a full description included in the following section.
Planning a Southwest Colorado road trip? Be sure to check out our other dispersed camping guides in the area:
Barnes Mountain Boondock
Distance to Durango: 12 miles
Typically opening after Memorial Day, the Barnes Mountain Boondock site provides excellent dispersed camping near Durango. Located just past the Animas Overlook, this section of FR 171 offers dispersed camping for several miles, making finding a suitable spot relatively easy.
The further back along the road you head the more secluded the sites get. There are some larger pull outs earlier on that will be your best bet if pulling a trailer or driving a larger rig.
To get to the Barnes Mountain dispersed camping area from Durango you’ll head north on Junction Street which turns into FR 171. Continue past the developed Junction Creek Campground and the Animas Overlook. Once past the overlook, dispersed camping is permitted.
Forest Service Road 599
Distance to Durango: 11 miles
Forest Service Road 599 is located northeast of town in the San Juan National Forest and offers basic dispersed camping near Durango. The sites aren’t large and the road can be rough, but you’ll find several good sites that won’t have the crowds of other camping options in the area.
When you turn off of Highway 240 be aware that the first mile or so is all private property. You’ll see many ‘No Camping’ signs along this stretch, so please be sure to continue until you are in the National Forest and only camp where permitted.
FR 599 doesn’t have any good turnarounds, so proceed with caution if you’re towing a trailer. Given the remote location here, it is very important to minimize you impact and come prepared to be self-sufficient.
Durfield BLM Dispersed Camping
Distance to Durango: 14 miles
The Durfield BLM dispersed camping area offers convenient camping located between Durango and Bayfield along Highway 160. This is a great place if you’re planning to spend the night on a longer drive, as it is an easy pull-out off the highway to access this camping area. Keep in mind that camping is only permitted from May 1st – November 30th.
The turnoff is located on the south side of Highway 160, near mile marker 97. Don’t get tricked by your GPS, which often sends would be campers around to the back of the camping area, which unfortunately does not connect.
Besides other campers your other company here will be oil and gas wells that litter this landscape. Highway noise isn’t too bad, although the wind can really pickup in this area. There is no water or other facilities at Durfield.
Missionary Ridge Road Dispersed Camping
Distance to Durango: 15 miles
Missionary Ridge Road, located northeast of Durango, provides some beautiful dispersed camping within 15 miles of town. These sites are best suited for car and tent campers, as most of the sites are just small pull outs along the road. Larger RVs and trailers aren’t likely to find a suitable spot, so should look elsewhere.
There is quite a bit of private land along the route to get here, so be sure to consult the motor vehicle use map for the Columbine Ranger District to ensure you are camping in a permitted location.
Sites tend to fill up quickly here in the summer, so be sure to arrive early if you’re hoping to secure a site for a Friday or Saturday night. There are no facilities here and given the proximity of private land it is especially important to minimize your impact, and practice Leave No Trace camping principles along Missionary Road.
Cherry Creek Rd/Gravel Pit Dispersed Camping
Distance to Durango: 16 miles
The Cherry Creek Road/Gravel Pit is a small dispersed camping area just off Highway 160 near Durango. This is a good campsite for those passing through or on their way to Mesa Verde as it has relatively easy access and is just off the highway.
The first section of road up to the camping area is a little rough with some bigger rocks/potholes, but most rigs should be able to make it. The road then opens up to a large camping are that can accommodate several groups and there are some additional spots further on up the road.
Although this isn’t the most glamourous dispersed camping option near Durango, it is certainly convenient and you’ll be only 20 minutes from town.
Madden Peak Road Dispersed Camping
Distance to Durango: 23 miles
Madden Peak Road is located north of Highway 160, just east of Mancos and offers several options for dispersed camping near Durango. These spots are very convenient for those planning a visit to Mesa Verde National Park, as you’ll be close to the main park entrance.
Madden Peak Road can accommodate larger RVs and campers at the sites closer to the road, while also providing more secluded sites further back into the National Forest. The views of the surrounding mountains are beautiful here, so be sure to secure a site with great views!
To get here from Durango, head west along Highway 160 until you pass the developed Target Tree Campground. Once past, you’ll turn right onto FR316/Madden Peak Road. Continue past the private property until you are USFS land where dispersed camping is permitted.
Forest Service Road 528/Sauls Creek Dispersed Camping
Distance to Durango: 24 miles
Located east of the town of Bayfield, FSR 528 provides convenient dispersed camping near Durango. Situated in National Forest south of Highway 160, you’ll find several spots that are easy enough to get to, even for larger rigs. You’ll enjoy some beautiful views from your campsite, and your closest neighbors are likely to be oil and gas wells.
Be sure to reference the MVUM for the area, as there is some private property on the drive in.
To get here from Durango, head east on Highway 160 and then turn right on FSR 526 signed for National Forest Access/Sauls Creek. From here, take a right on FR 527 and then stay right at the fork to get on FR 528. Pull off campsites will begin to appear from here.
La Plata Canyon Dispersed Camping (FR 795, 797, 792, 794)
Distance to Durango: 19 miles
Water: No, but may be able to pull from nearby creeks.f
La Plata Canyon offers several incredible dispersed campsites near Durango that all feature beautiful views. There are ample opportunities for free camping here, including the Miner’s Cabin dispersed campsite, La Plata campsite, and Miner’s Creek. All three of these are more formal dispersed camping areas, just off the main road.
In addition, there are several Forest Service Roads that allow dispersed camping in the area. See the map below with the relevant dispersed camping areas highlighted yellow.
La Plata Canyon is a great option for those in small cars with low-clearance, as the road is navigable for most vehicles. Given the popularity of La Plata Canyon for dispersed camping it is essential to practice Leave No Trace camping and always pack out all of your trash.
Distance to Durango: 31 miles
The Hermosa Creek Special Management Area is located north of Durango along Highway 550, near the Purgatory Ski Resort. Many of the Forest Service Roads in this area allow for dispersed camping, but the rules have recently changed so be sure to check the MVUM before picking a site. Most notably, dispersed camping is no longer permitted on Hermosa Park Road/FR578, so please be sure to obey that regulation.
We don’t recommend this are for trailers or RVs as many of the roads can get quite rough. However, as a result those who can make here are likely to find a bit more solitude.
The Hermosa Creek SMA is a very ecologically sensitive area, so it is critical that you minimize your impact and practice Leave No Trace camping. Please be sure and leave your campsite in better condition than you found it!
Have a great trip!
We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a dispersed camping trip near Durango, 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:
- Dispersed Camping Near Aspen
- Dispersed Camping Near Buena Vista
- Dispersed Camping Near Colorado Springs
- Dispersed Camping Near Telluride
- Dispersed Camping Near Leadville
- Dispersed Camping Near Silverton
- Dispersed Camping Near Breckenridge
- Dispersed Camping Near Lake City
- Dispersed Camping Near Denver
- Dispersed Camping Near Glenwood Springs
- Dispersed Camping Near Winter Park