Known as one of Colorado’s most authentic mountain towns, Steamboat Springs is always high our list of places to camp. From a soak in the Strawberry Park hot springs, to a hike in the nearby wilderness, to strolling downtown Steamboat, there is truly something for everyone here. Luckily for those hoping to camp on their visit, there is tons of free, dispersed camping near Steamboat Springs.
We’ve created this Steamboat Springs dispersed camping guide to help you find the perfect campsite for your next visit to Steamboat. You’ll find all the must know information on dispersed camping, maps, and detailed campsite descriptions, all designed to help you plan the perfect trip.
Let’s get started.
Steamboat Springs Dispersed Camping Guide
- The Basics
- The Best Dispersed Camping Areas Near Steamboat Springs
The following sections contain all the must know information you need to plan a successful dispersed camping trip near Steamboat Springs, CO. 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 Steamboat Springs
Camping season in the Steamboat Springs area generally runs from late-May through early-October. Steamboat sits at an elevation of 6,700′ above sea-level, which is quite a bit lower than many of Colorado’s other mountain towns. As a result, the snow and cold doesn’t typically show up here as early or stay as late as Steamboat’s higher elevation brethren.
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. 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.
You’ll find the campsites included in this guide are busiest from June – August, so if you’re after more seclusion it is best to plan your trip outside of the peak summer season.
What to Bring
Much of the wilderness surrounding Steamboat Springs is remote and difficult to access. Often times this is also where the best dispersed campsites are located!
Given that, it is important that you come prepared to be self-sufficient, and while we’re sure you’ll already have the essentials like a great tent, sleeping bags, and camp chairs, below are some of our favorite items specifically for dispersed camping near Steamboat Springs:
- 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 Steamboat Springs/Rabbit Ears Pass area.
- 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!
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 Steamboat Springs 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 Steamboat Springs area, your best bet is to contact the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District office.
Seasonal fire restrictions and fire bans are very common in the areas surrounding Steamboat. 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.
Remember to pack out pet waste.
- Environmental Impact: The Steamboat Springs area is incredibly popular for dispersed camping. 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 Steamboat Springs, CO
The following list contains the 8 best dispersed camping areas near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. If you’re looking for additional camping opportunities in the area, your best bet is to use the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest Motor Vehicle Use Maps. They contain detailed maps on where dispersed camping is allowed.
Our Steamboat Springs dispersed camping map below gives an overview of each site’s location with a full description included in the following section. Enjoy!
Distance to Steamboat Springs: 7 miles
Restrooms: No, although vault toilets are available at Buffalo Pass trailhead
Buffalo Pass is the closest and most popular dispersed camping area near Steamboat Springs, and for good reason. You’ll have easy access to Steamboat from here, and the sites themselves are secluded and offer beautiful views of the surrounding wilderness. The Buffalo Pass trailhead is nearby and offers access to miles of hiking and biking trails as well.
To get here from Steamboat, head north out of town on Highway 36 before turning right on Routt County Road 38, signed for Buffalo Pass. Continue on 38 as it winds it’s way uphill until you reach the Buffalo Pass parking lot and the developed Dry Lake Campground.
Keep driving another half mile or so before the first dispersed campsites begin to appear along the road. You’ll continue to find great sites for the next several miles, so don’t fret if the first campsites you come across are full.
Keep in mind that the road gets progressively rougher the further back you go, so those with an RV or trailer will need to take one of the first sites or look elsewhere.
Walton Peak/Highway 40 (FR 287, 289, 290, 292, 294, 295, 298.1A)
Distance to Steamboat Springs: 10 – 12 miles
A convenient, albeit not the most private, option for dispersed camping near Steamboat Springs are a series of seven pull outs along Highway 40 (Rabbit Ears Pass) southeast of Steamboat. This area is often referred to as the Walton Peak dispersed camping, but are in actuality short Forest Service roads that allow overnight camping.
These campsites are best for a single night where you just need a convenient camp spot given the highway noise and lack of amenities. However, they are free and you’ll be close to Steamboat Springs so they certainly work for many campers. For those with a detailed map you’ll see the camping areas labeled as FR 287, 289, 290, 292, 294, 298.1A, and 295. You’ll reach the campsites in that order when coming from Steamboat as well.
As you might expect, there is no water or services here so plan to come prepared.
Forest Service Road 296 – Rabbit Ears Pass West
Distance to Steamboat Springs: 15 miles
Continuing up Rabbit Ears Pass from Steamboat will bring you to the FR 296 dispersed camping area. This is a relatively popular spot near the summit of the pass with a variety of sites to choose from. Dispersed camping is permitted along the entire length of the road, so larger rigs should plan to take a site closer to the highway while those with 4WD can head back quite a ways in hopes of find a more private campsite.
Keep in mind that these campsites are all above 9,000′ in elevation so you’ll want to bring plenty of water!
You’re only a 20 minute drive from Steamboat Springs here making this one of our favorite dispersed campsites in the area.
Forest Service Road 302
Distance to Steamboat Springs: 20 miles
Forest Service Road 302 is another great dispersed camping area on Rabbit Ears pass near Steamboat. A bit further up Highway 40 from FR 296, Forest Service Road 392 runs for several miles with dispersed camping allowed along the entire length. Some of the best sites are a bit further back from the highway, although there are good sites almost immediately after turning off Highway 40
FR302 tends to be a bit less crowded than other options in the area and the road is not particularly difficult to drive.
Most sites are dry here, so plan to bring plenty of water.
Forest Service Road 251/Rabbit Ears Pass summit
Distance to Steamboat Springs: 20 miles
Forest Service Road 251 sits opposite the large gravel parking lot near the top of Rabbit Ears Pass. The entire length of FR251 is open to dispersed camping and you’ll find several good sites soon after your turn off the highway. There is more shade here than many of the other dispersed campsites near Steamboat, so this is a good option for peak summer camping.
The road is generally passable by most vehicles, although it does get a bit narrow at times. There is no water or other facilities along Forest Service Road 251, so you’ll need to be self-sufficient while camping here.
To get here from Steamboat simply head up Rabbit Ears Pass until you near the summit. The turn off for FR251 is opposite the large gravel parking lot and is signed with an arrow pointing to Harrison Creek.
Forest Service Road 311
Distance to Steamboat Springs: 23 miles
Tucked behind the developed Dumont Lake Campground near the top of Rabbit Ears Pass is the Forest Service Road 311 dispersed camping area. Not nearly as popular as some of the other areas near Steamboat, FR 311 doesn’t have tons of sites but is well worth checking out.
You’ll drive past the formal campground before turning left onto FR 311 at the official and historic Rabbit Ears Pass marker. Take this for half a mile or so before you start to see some good dispersed campsites appear. There is also the option to branch off onto FR291 which allows dispersed camping, although the sites there are not as flat.
Rabbit Ears Pass East/Forest Service Road 100
Distance to Steamboat Springs: 21 miles
Forest Service Road 100 (also known as Country Road 19) is located on the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass, just 21 miles from Steamboat Springs. The road is seemingly endless and there are tons of great dispersed campsites dotted along it starting as soon as your turn off Highway 40. The first several miles are fairly smooth, so this is a good option for larger rigs looking for dispersed camping near Steamboat Springs.
Some of the campsites have access to Muddy Creek, but it isn’t always easy to pull water from. For that reason, we recommend coming prepared if you’re planning to camp along FR100.
The turn off from Highway 40 to get here is signed for Buffalo Park, so keep an eye out once you’re past the summit of the pass when coming from the Steamboat side.
Seedhouse Road (Closed due to Morgan Creek Fire)
Distance to Steamboat Springs: 26 miles
Water: No, but may be able to get water from the Elk Creek River.
Located a bit further afield, Seedhouse Road/FR400 offers some good dispersed camping along Elk Creek near Steamboat Springs. The majority of Seedhouse Road does not allow dispersed camping, but there is one short section along FR400.2C before reaching the formal Seedhouse Campground that does permit camping.
This is a lovely spot right next to the river with room for 4 or 5 groups. Be sure to check out some of the sites tucked back in the trees for the best river access!
***Note that this area is currently closed due to the Morgan Creek Fire. Be sure to check with Hahns Peak/ Bears Ears Ranger District for the most up to date information***
Have a great trip!
We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan a dispersed camping trip near Steamboat Springs, 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: