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 Best Dispersed Camping Areas Near Estes Park
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!
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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
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.
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!
Forest Service Road 119
Distance to Estes Park: 6 miles
Forest Service Road 119 is situated just south of Estes Park. The road here is incredible rough, so 4WD and high clearance are essential. While the road used to connect through to County Road 82 E on the south end, this is no longer the case after the road was damaged in the 2013 floods.
FR 199 isn’t the most spectacular, but it does provide very convenient dispersed camping near Estes Park. Given how rough the road gets, FR 119 tends to be a little less crowded than some other options in the area.
You’ll be close to not only Estes Park, but also the Peak to Peak Highway, making this a great option for exploring the area. There is no water or other facilities here, so you’ll need to be self-sufficient.
Parachute Hill/Johnny Park Road
Distance to Estes Park: 15 miles
Located on opposite sides of County Road 82E, Parachute Hill Rd (FR329) and Johnny Park Rd (FR118) offer ample dispersed camping opportunities in close proximity to Estes Park. Parachute Hill Rd, on the north side of 82E, is a short and steep Forest Service Road with a handful of good roadside campsites.
Johnny Park Rd, to the south, offers a rough road that heads back into National Forest for several miles. The further back you head the better your views will get, but be sure your car is equipped for this rugged road! This area is quite popular, so expect to share it with other campers.
These camping areas are convenient if you’re looking to explore Rocky Mountain National Park from the Longs Peak trailhead.
There are no services at either Parachute Hill or Johnny Park Rd, so be prepared to pack out all of your trash and practice Leave No Trace camping.
Pole Hill Road
Distance to Estes Park: 6 miles
Pole Hill Road dispersed camping is only for experienced drives with a high-clearance 4WD vehicle. You’ll only be 6 miles from central Estes Park here, but the road up to the dispersed camping area is incredibly rough. Proceed with caution!
For those who can make the trek up here, you’ll be rewarded with a great campsites in close proximity to RMNP, Estes Park, and the surrounding wilderness. Be cognizant of where you camp here, as there are several homes located along the road and camping in closer proximity to them is prohibited.
You’ll also want to come prepared with everything you need for your stay here as there are no services and the drive back to down is a difficult one!
Hell Canyon Road
Distance to Estes Park: 7 miles
Another dispersed camping area near Estes Park is Hell Canyon Road. Situated south Pole Hill Road along Highway 36 into Estes Park, Hell Canyon Road is slightly easier to navigate, although we still recommend 4WD.
You’re just 7 miles from Estes Park here and also have easy access to the popular Lion Gulch Trailhead if you’re looking for a hike not in the National Park.
Hell Canyon Road is surrounded by private property at its base, so be sure to continue up high enough to be on National Forest land. You’re best bet is to consult the Canyon Lakes Ranger District MVUM before setting up camp.
Button Rock Road
Distance to Estes Park: 14 miles
Located adjacent to the Coulson Gulch Trailhead, Button Rock Road offers several great dispersed campsites near Estes Park. Also known as Forest Service Road 118.1, Button Rock Road can be accessed via US36 from the east, or by continuing along Johnny Park Road from the west. Either way, 4WD is recommended as the road can get quite rocky.
Not only are you just a stone’s throw from Estes Park, but you’ll also be able to explore many of the highlights of the surrounding wilderness from here. Given that there are only a handful of sites here, your best bet is to try and arrive early on summer weekends.
There are no services near Button Rock Road, so please come prepared and pack out all your trash!
Allenspark/Ski Road Dispersed Camping
Distance to Estes Park: 18 miles
Water: No, but may be drawn from Rock Creek
Outside of the small town of Allenspark on the Peak to Peak Highway is a lovely dispersed camping area along Ski Rd/CR 107. You’ll be less than 20 miles from Estes Park here and also have easy access to many of the areas popular trailheads, including St. Vrain Mountain.
The road is generally passable for most vehicles at the beginning, so this makes a great place for those hoping to dispersed camp without the hassles of a rough road. Of course, the further back you head, the rougher the road gets and the less busy the campsites get.
This is one of our favorite places for dispersed camping near Estes Park.
To get here, head to the town of Allenspark and then head west along Ski Road. The road crosses private property for the first few miles before entering Roosevelt National Forest, where dispersed camping is permitted. There are no services here so be sure to practice Leave No Trace camping.
Beaver Reservoir Road Dispersed Camping
Distance to Estes Park: 28 miles
Located a bit further from Estes Park than some other options in this guide, Beaver Reservoir Road offers great dispersed camping if you’re looking to explore the Indian Peaks Wilderness in addition to visiting Estes Park. Just a short distance off the main highway, the road here is well-graded and suitable for most vehicles.
The campsites here are clustered mostly on the right-hand side of the road before reaching the reservoir. Keep in mind that the reservoir is private-property, so don’t try to pull your water from here. The campsite is close to the popular Brainard Lake area and also provides easy access to Rocky Mountain National Park.
There aren’t any facilities here, so be prepared to bring all of your water and pack out your waste.
Have a great trip!
We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a dispersed camping trip near Estes Park, 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