The college town of Fort Collins in northern Colorado offers a classic mix of nearby mountains, beautiful plains, and a thriving downtown. A visit here is almost certain to include hiking, biking, and a trip to one of the many breweries in town. Doing some dispersed camping near Fort Collins is a great way to explore the area and see some of the beautiful surrounding wilderness.
To make your trip planning a bit easier, we’ve compiled this handy guide of the seven best dispersed camping areas near Fort Collins.
Fort Collins Dispersed Camping Guide
- The Basics
- The Best Dispersed Camping Areas Near Fort Collins
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The following sections contain all the basic information you need to plan a free, dispersed camping trip near Fort Collins. Everything from when to camp to what to bring.
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 Fort Collins
Although Fort Collins is firmly located at the base of the foothills, many of the dispersed camping areas are in the mountains west of town. This means that the camping season generally aligns with the summer months of May – September. Some of the higher elevation sites will have a shorter season, while for the lower elevation areas you can add a month on either end.
For Pawnee National Grassland, located to the east of Fort Collins, you’ll be able to camp all summer as well as into April and October. Keep in mind that summer highs can consistently reach over 100 degrees in this area!
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
- 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 west of Fort Collins.
- 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 – We can’t recommend Yeti enough!
Our dispersed camping checklist has everything you need.
Want to know the essentials for your next camping trip?
Our dispersed camping checklist has all the camping essentials plus specific items for dispersed camping.
Access & Regulations
One of many camper’s favorite things about dispersed camping is the lack of need for any permits or fees to be paid. Dispersed camping near Fort Collins is no different, and none of the dispersed camping areas in this guide require a permit or have any associated fees.
However, it is important to check local regulations on dispersed camping before setting out. This ensures you are camping in an area that permits dispersed camping.
Most of the campsites included in this guide are in the Canyon Lakes Ranger District, which provides several excellent resources for dispersed camping near Fort Collins:
- Dispersed Camping Overview: This helpful page contains resources on where camping is allowed.
- Motor Vehicle Use Maps: These maps show where dispersed camping is allowed. Typically designated by dots on either side of a specific road. The Canyon Lakes Ranger District provides a map for both the north and south sections.
- Alerts & Notices: Check here for up to date information on fire restrictions, area closures, and other information that may impact camping availability.
Seasonal fire restrictions and fire bans are very common in the mountains west of Fort Collins. 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!
- Environmental Impact: The Fort Collins and Red Feather Lakes area is incredibly popular for dispersed camping. As such, many campsites are often left filled with trash, human waste, broken glass, and other nuisances. Please always practice Leave No Trace camping and leave your campsite in better shape than you found it in.
- Wildfire Impacts: The Cameron Peak fire devastated many of the areas west of Fort Collins in 2020. Recovery and revegetation is still underway, so be sure to check current regulations before setting out.
- Water: None of the dispersed camping areas in this guide have a dependable water source. As such, it is important to bring all the water you’ll need, or have a plan for how you’ll get it.
Dispersed Camping Near Fort Collins
The following list contains the 7 best dispersed camping areas surrounding Fort Collins, Colorado.
The Fort Collins dispersed camping map below gives an overview of each site’s location with a full description included in the following section. Enjoy!
Heading up towards Rocky Mountain National Park? Our guide to dispersed camping near Estes Park has all the info you’ll need!
Find Your Next Dispersed Campsite
Our online video course will teach you everything you need to know to find your next free, dispersed campsite.
Learn how to find the best campsite locations BEFORE you head out. No more showing up to crowded sites with all the spots taken!
In this course, we’ll show you how to research free, public campsites, read USFS maps, locate public land, and plan your next dispersed camping trip.
- How to find areas that allow free, dispersed camping
- How to use public maps to narrow down your search
- How to use online apps to identify where camping is permitted and view the surrounding terrain
- How to view your exact location in relation to camping opportunities when you’re out looking for a site – even without cell phone service!
- Confidently plan your next camping trip
Buckhorn Road Dispersed Camping
Distance to Fort Collins: 41 miles
Buckhorn Road is located in the foothills west of Fort Collins and offers several opportunities for dispersed camping. You’ll want to consult the Canyon Lake Ranger District Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) as camping is not permitted along the entire length of Buckhorn Road.
The location we’ve included in the map above is a large clearing just south of the road that has easy access and several fire rings. We wouldn’t recommend this road for RVs, as this area is better suited to tent camping. There is no water or other services nearby, so come prepared to be self-sufficient.
To get here from Fort Collins, head southwest out of town towards Horsetooth Reservoir. At Masonville hop on Buckhorn Road and take that for approximately 10.5 miles to the location indicated in the map above.
Pingree Road Dispersed Camping
Distance to Fort Collins: 38 miles
Pingree Roads offers tons of dispersed campsites near Fort Collins. You’ll be close to the Poudre River here as well as several excellent trailheads, making this a great weekend camping option. Dispersed camping is permitted almost immediately after turning off Highway 14, and there are several large camping areas within the first half mile.
For those looking for more solitude, you can continue up Pingree Road and find plenty of great sites. For those venturing further, you’ll want t to have a high clearance vehicle.
Keep in mind that dispersed camping is not permitted once you pass FR127, so if you don’t find a site before then you’ll want to look for other options.
There is no water or other facilities along Pingree Road, so plan to be self-sufficient when camping here.
Crown Point Road Dispersed Camping – CLOSED
Distance to Fort Collins: 41 miles
Crown Point Road branches off of Pingree Road and provides miles upon miles of dispersed camping opportunities near Fort Collins. You’ll likely need 4WD to get here given the drive can be a bit rough, but you’ll be rewarded with a decent amount of solitude and beautiful surroundings.
***Unfortunately the Crown Point Road area is closed due to impacts from the Cameron Peak Fire***
Bellaire Lake/FR 517 Dispersed Camping
Distance to Fort Collins: 48 miles
Located just southwest of Bellaire Lake is the Forest Service Road 517 dispersed camping area. You’ll be less than 50 miles from Fort Collins here and also close to Red Feather Lakes. Unfortunately, that means these sites are often crowded, although you’re still likely to find an open site most weekends.
The sites closer to the junction with Manhattan Road will be best suited to larger rigs or those in passenger vehicles. If you have 4WD and higher clearance, we recommend heading a bit further back along the road to get more privacy.
As with the majority of dispersed camping areas in this guide, there is no water or other facilities here. That means you’ll need to be prepared to practice Leave No Trace camping and be sure to leave your site in better condition than you found it!
Manhattan Road Designated Dispersed Camping
Distance to Fort Collins: 47 miles
Restrooms: No, vault toilets available at nearby trailheads
The very popular Red Feather Lakes area has some good dispersed camping options near Fort Collins. One of those is known as the Manhattan Road Designated dispersed area. These are numbered sites located along Manhattan Road, just north of the turnoff for Bellaire Lake.
The campsites here are generally well spaced out, giving you a bit of privacy in an area where camping is very popular. Keep heading up the road to reach Red Feather Lakes, which has an abundant number of recreational possibilities.
Given the popularity of the area, it is imperative to camp only in the designated sites and to pack out all of your trash. There is no water in the immediate area either, so be sure to come prepared.
Pawnee National Grassland Dispersed Camping
Distance to Fort Collins: 36 miles
For a completely different dispersed camping experience near Fort Collins, check out the Pawnee National Grasslands. Located east of Fort Collins, these National Grasslands are split into two distinct regions: east and west. The western section is closer to Fort Collins, and allows dispersed camping along many of the roads through the grassland.
It is imperative that you bring the Pawnee National Grassland MVUM with you if you’re planning to camp here, as there is a ton of private property in the area. Please carefully consult the map before selecting a campsite to ensure you are not on private property!
There is no water or other services here, so be sure to come prepared and practice Leave No Trace camping.
Deadman Road Dispersed Camping
Distance to Fort Collins: 47 miles
Deadman Road is located west of Red Feather Lakes and permits dispersed camping once you enter the National Forest. Do pay attention to this boundary, as there are several homes that line the road right up to the point that camping is allowed.
In addition to the large pull out sites located on Deadman Road, there are also several spur roads that permit camping. Be sure to check these out if you’re looking for a bit more solitude.
To get here from Fort Collins, head north to the town of Livermore and then west all the way to Red Feather Lakes. Continue past the lakes along Deadman Road until you pass into USFS land and campsites begin to appear.
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Have a great trip!
We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a dispersed camping trip near Fort Collins, Colorado 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 Steamboat Springs
- Dispersed Camping Near Breckenridge
- Dispersed Camping Near Denver