Camping season is here and boy, oh boy, is it going to be crowded! The pandemic has changed a lot but it hasn’t changed our drive to get out into the world and explore. People are still traveling. They’re just staying closer to home and outdoor activities such as camping, glamping, and backpacking are fun and accessible opportunities for a lot of people. Nature brings us together. It provides space away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It provides us the opportunity to simply gaze into the night sky and off into the magical distance of soaring peaks and beautifully cut canyons. It also provides a testing ground to prove your survival skills when you stray too far from the beaten path. So in a year where more people are heading out than ever before, popular campgrounds and hikes will see unsustainable levels of traffic leading to faster levels of erosion, more trash be left behind, and more intrusion on the lives of animals causing their further habituation.
The sites we picked stray from the popular areas and tend to be lesser known spots that still have some infrastructure to support campers. They range greatly, from dispersed camping in thick forests to glamping in the aspen-lined valley of Vail, from primitive filter-your-own-water and dig-your-own-hole to immaculate canvas tents and a farm-to-table dinner.
So as we continue to head full steam into the heights of summer, grab your fishing pole or your s’mores stick, pack up the car, and check out any or all of these wonderful campsites and get out there!
Please remember to always practice Leave No Trace. These principles not only protect you but they protect the wildlife and nature that we so often take for granted. So before you go, check out the links below for more information on how to recreate responsibility.
• Responsible Recreation | USDA Forest Service
• The 7 Principles | Leave No Trace
• Camping In Colorado | Free Campsites
• Best Free Campsites in Colorado | Campendium
• Free Camping In Colorado | Uncover Colorado
Primitive and Dispersed
An area with dispersed sites and no facilities just west of Nederland. Antelope Creek and Jenny Creek run nearby should you need to filter some water. From here you can continue to follow Rollins Pass Road into the alpine for spectacular views and day hikes, or head to the Eldora area for more access to the surrounding ranges. You can also head over Rollins Pass for an epic high altitude 4×4 road trip to winter park.
Head out to Tabernash and take USFS 129 all the way to Meadow Creek Reservoir. The campground is on a large meadow surrounded by forests with plenty of sites to choose from. No services. There’s a lovely hike to Monarch Lake along Mill Creek, or simply enjoy the views of the westside of the Indian Peaks.
This campground is within Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge on the Green River and is a primitive campground. Close proximity to hiking, hunting, fishing, and wildlife observation. It does have facilities and all campsites are free and on a first-come first-serve basis. There are also fire rings, pit toilets, and a boat ramp. Dinosaur National Monument is just south of here if you’re looking for some epic canyons.
Located near the Elk River in the Medicine Bow Mountains, there are thirteen sites, two vault toilets, and some picnic tables. Your closest town is Steamboat Springs. Trout fishing, hiking, and horseback riding trails are easily found at the South Fork Trailhead only a quarter of a mile away.
High up in the San Isabel National Forest, north of Lake George, a paved road will get you all the way to this secluded campground near a small reservoir. There are facilities and designated spots, and you’ll be a stone’s throw away from some of the most beautiful terrain Colorado has to offer. A remarkably quaint and quiet place to spend a weekend.
This is one of our most isolated picks. To get there you’ll want a high clearance vehicle because you’ll be on dirt roads for much of it. You can get there by heading to Bailey then heading south-east towards Wellington Lake. The campground is about a mile before the lake. Primitive camping awaits surrounded by wonderful forest.
They’re all about relaxation. They have traditional lodging, but they also have Tipis and Yurts to satisfy that outdoorsy craving. You can even camp on their property or park your RV. During the day you can wade in the pools which are naturally heated to 98F – 108F, or get a massage to replenish your mind and body. A relaxing getaway just north of the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
An adventurer’s paradise. With 12 yurts and some tent sites scattered throughout the Colorado State Forest State Park, Never Summer Nordic offers you the ability to plan your own winter or summer expedition. They come fully stock ready for you and your friends and/or family to arrive after a day full of hiking or skiing. It’s a popular place but there’s still space, so book early.
Top of the line luxurious camping offering prime gourmet farm-to-ranch dining and artisanal s’mores surrounded by aspens and high rising peaks. Spend the day fly fishing, wine tasting, or horseback riding, and finish it by gazing at the night sky counting the stars, after a wholesome BBQ experience featuring cornish hen, bison sausage, shrimp skewers, and herb goat cheese stuffed sweet peppers.
• Plan Ahead & Prepare – Knowing where you’re going and how you’re going to get there will help any traveler stay safe. Make sure you know where you’ll camp, what roads and trails you’ll take, and what supplies you need along the way. The better prepared you are the more confidence and fun you’ll have.
• Travel & Camp On Durable Surfaces – Walk and camp on the brown! To prevent the further expansion of trails and campsites, it is best to always camp and walk on already existing opportunities. Each time we camp on a patch of green or we cut the switchback, we’re aiding in the destruction of those areas. You may not destroy it, but the several hundred people behind you certainly will.
• Dispose of Waste Properly – If you bring it in, bring it out. It doesn’t smell great but the resources for others to clean up after you simply don’t exist, and we can all play a small role in keeping those wrappers and bottles off the ground and in the garbage or recycling. P.S. – This also means your feces and those orange peels that take forever to decompose.
• Leave What You Find – Enjoy the area while you’re there, but just like we shouldn’t walk on anything green, we also shouldn’t be plucking it out of the ground to take home. Multiply your actions by 1000 and it’ll be a good indication for the long-term effect. This also applies to carving your love life into a tree, or building new fire rings.
• Minimize Campfire Impacts – Fire restrictions are only getting stricter so do your part to prevent the next wildfire. Keep them contained, keep them surrounded by rocks or a fire ring, and remember to always put it out, dead out. If you can feel heat when you touch those coals, it’s not out.
• Respect Wildlife – Wildlife becomes habituated, and habituated wildlife can become dangerous and will eventually be killed. Do your part to stay away from animals and allow them space to roam. This also includes properly protecting your food so animals don’t have the chance to eat it.
• Be Considerate of Other Visitors – In times of COVID, this might mean wearing a mask and staying six feet from the other party, but it also pertains to right of way adherence, noise levels, and all around friendly behavior because everyone has the right to enjoy our public lands.