The BEST Free Dispersed Camping Near Estes Park

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The gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, is wonderful place to explore the outdoors while also relishing in a historic and character filled town. From here you can explore the park, stroll the quaint shops on Elkhorn Ave, and enjoy any number of activities in the surrounding wilderness.  Given all of this, we think the best way to explore the area is to do some free, dispersed camping near Estes Park.

There is ample public land around Estes, although the camping regulations can vary quite a bit. We’ve created this guide of the best dispersed camping near Estes Park to make your trip planning a bit easier.

Read on to learn about our eight favorite dispersed campsites in the area and how you can plan your perfect trip!

Estes Park Dispersed Camping Guide

The Basics

The following sections contain all the basic information you need to plan a free, dispersed camping trip near Estes Park, 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 Estes Park

Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and the surrounding wilderness is all situated at elevations ranging from 8,000′ – 14,000′ above sea-level. For dispersed campers this means you’ll want to plan your trip during the peak summer season of May – September.

Keep in mind that snow will linger in many areas through mid-June and the flurries can begin as early as September at many of the camping areas included in this guide.

Summer is of course also the busiest time to plan a dispersed camping trip near Estes Park, so consider shoulder season if you can handle the cold temperatures and snow conditions allow.

Download Our FREE Dispersed Camping Cheat Sheet

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

What to Bring

The wilderness surrounding Estes Park is stunningly rugged. This means without the comforts of a developed campground, you need to come prepared.

We’re sure you’ll already have the essentials like a great tentsleeping bags, and camp chairs, but below are some of our favorite items specifically for dispersed camping near Estes Park:

  • 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 two map pack for the area surrounding Estes Park.
  • 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

Many campers planning a dispersed camping trip near Estes Park are hoping to explore Rocky Mountain National Park, but were unable to secure a campsite within park boundaries. If that is you, you’re in luck as none of the camping areas in this guide require a permit or have any fees to be paid!

However, it is always a good idea to do a quick internet search or check with the local field office before setting out.

Your best bet is to contact the Canyon Lakes Ranger District or Boulder Ranger District for the most up to date information.


Seasonal fire restrictions and fire bans are very common in the wilderness areas surrounding Estes Park. It is critical that you check and obey any and all fire restrictions. The surrounding wilderness has seen several devastating wildfires in recent years, so please only have a campfire if it is allowed.

You can check fire restrictions at this website before heading 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.

Other Considerations

  • Environmental Impact: Dispersed camping near Estes Park seems to get more popular every year, especially as the number of visitors to RMNP increases. As a result, there is an ever increasing impact on the fragile environment. It is important to be a good neighbor and steward to keep these areas open for dispersed camping. That means carefully observing private property and always practicing Leave No Trace principles, and leaving a 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 Estes Park

Dispersed Camping Near Estes Park

The following list contains the 7 best dispersed camping areas surrounding Estes Park, Colorado.

For more ideas, we recommend checking out the Motor Vehicle Use Maps for both the Boulder and Canyon Lakes Ranger Districts. They show all of the Forest Service Roads that permit dispersed camping, including a few we chose not to include.

Check out the Motor Vehicle Use Maps here.

Additionally, our Guide to Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park is a great resource for those looking to camp in or near the park.

Finally, the map below gives an overview of each site’s location with a full description included in the following section. Enjoy!