The 11 Best Places for Camping in Colorado

Whether you’re a longtime lover of the outdoors or a novice camper, you’re sure to find the perfect camping adventure in Colorado. The Centennial State boasts a number of national parks, national forests, state parks and wilderness areas with facilities and amenities for every type of outdoor enthusiast. And once you’ve pitched your tent (or parked your RV), you’ll have a plethora of outdoor offerings at your fingertips — like sand sledding at Great Sand Dunes National Park, hiking in the Rocky Mountains, paddleboarding on one of the top Colorado lakes and more.

Pack your sleeping bag and head out to these destinations for the best camping in Colorado.

Rocky Mountain National Park

With more than 260,000 acres of meadows, mountains, alpine lakes and more, Rocky Mountain National Park is a camper’s dream. Before relaxing at a campsite, drive along the scenic Trail Ridge Road — the highest continuously paved road in North America — for epic views. If you’re feeling adventurous, take an easy hike to the popular Bear Lake or traverse to stunning Sky Pond for more of a challenge. Visitors to the park can also partake in biking, horseback riding and permit-required backpacking among a plethora of other activities. Nearby Estes Park also offers plenty to do, such as touring the Stanley Hotel, one of the most haunted hotels in the U.S. and the inspiration for Stephen King’s “The Shining.”

To reserve your summer stay at the tent- and RV-friendly Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, Timber Creek and Moraine Park campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park, visit Recreation.gov. Keep in mind that reservations open six months in advance and fill quickly. The only campground available on a first-come, first-served basis in the summer is the tents-only Longs Peak Campground, located about 10 miles south of Estes Park. If you’re visiting during the winter, only Moraine Park is open on a first-come, first-served basis.

Timber Creek is located on the west side of the park, while Aspenglen, Glacier Basin and Moraine Park sit on the east closer to the more popular trails of the park like Bear Lake and Emerald Lake. Each of the reservation-required campgrounds includes tents-only campsites for a quieter stay, two or more campsites for those with disabilities, and staff on-site should you have questions or concerns. For specific features about each campground, visit nps.gov. Leashed dogs are welcome in the campgrounds but prohibited on all trails. Summer camping fees are $35 per night for individual sites, and a winter campsite at Moraine Park is $30 per night. A vehicle entrance pass is required and costs $35 for seven-day access to the park.

Note: Moraine Campground will be closed from late May 2023 to early summer 2024 for construction.

[See more of Rocky Mountain National Park: Things to Do | When to Visit | Photos ]

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Colorado doesn’t just boast the highest paved road on the continent, but the tallest dunes as well. Great Sand Dunes National Park, located in southern Colorado about 170 miles from Colorado Springs, is open year-round for hiking, sand sledding and — due to its status as a designated International Dark Sky Park — stargazing. While the park offers many campsites for permit-required backpacking, there is only one National Park Service campground for car and RV camping and an additional High-Clearance 4WD Camp. Piñon Flats Campground, open from April through October, is located a mile north of the Visitors Center and comprises a total of 91 sites, three of which are group sites.

You must make a reservation to use the campsites. Individual sites (accommodating up to eight people) can be reserved up to six months in advance, while reservations for group sites (15 to 40 people) are available up to a year in advance. There are no electric hookups, but each campsite includes a picnic table, fire ring and fire grate. The campground features flush toilets, a camp store, on-site staff and accessible campsites for those with disabilities. Campers appreciate the clean bathrooms and great views of the dunes.

Your leashed dog is welcome to explore much of the park, including the campground and the main day-use area of the dunefield, but keep in mind that the sand can reach extreme temperatures, so protecting your pet’s feet is recommended. An individual campsite at Piñon Flats costs $20 per night in addition to the seven-day $25 vehicle entrance fee. Reserve your camping trip online at Recreation.gov.

[Read: The Top Things to Do in Colorado.]

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Head west to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, otherwise known as the Grand Canyon of Colorado, for a geological spectacle on your next camping trip. The steep cliffs, formed over millions of years, provide challenging hiking and rock climbing opportunities for those brave enough to venture into the permit-required inner canyon. Parkgoers happy to admire the views from the safety of the rim can enjoy hiking trails for all abilities, scenic drives, trout fishing and wildlife-watching. Another certified International Dark Sky Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison also features astronomy education programs and even an annual Astronomy Festival.

Like the Grand Canyon, Black Canyon of the Gunnison has a North Rim and South Rim. Of the two official campgrounds in the park, the South Rim Campground is the biggest and most popular with a total of 88 campsites, 23 of which offer electric hookups. Two campsites are ADA-accessible. Travelers love that the campground is close to hiking trails and the visitor center, but warn that water is limited. Make sure to reserve your stay (at Recreation.gov) if you’re planning to camp between mid-May and mid-September; after that, however, it’s first-come, first-served.

The remote North Rim Campground is entirely first-come, first-served, and its 13 sites fill quickly in the summer. Leashed pets are welcome in both campgrounds as well as on a few hiking trails. Along with the $30 seven-day vehicle pass, fees are $16 for a standard individual site at both campgrounds, and $22 for an RV site with electric hookups at the South Rim Campground. A campground called East Portal is also accessed through the park, though it is technically within Curecanti National Recreation Area (which has 10 campgrounds of its own).

Mesa Verde National Park

It’s no wonder Mesa Verde National Park — a World Heritage Site as well as an International Dark Sky Park — is one of the best places to camp in Colorado. The national park preserves more than 4,700 archaeological sites, including its well-known cliff dwellings, built by Ancestral Puebloans. Parkgoers can explore the sites themselves with the help of downloadable podcasts and audio tours, or take a guided tour, which is offered May through October and requires tickets that can be purchased online up to 14 days in advance. Other activities include attending a cultural dance or demonstration, stargazing, and hiking.

Morefield Campground, located 4 miles from the park entrance, boasts 267 tent-, trailer- and RV-friendly campsites. The campground rarely fills; reservations are accepted but not required (though they are encouraged for the 15 full-hookup RV sites and can be made online at visitmesaverde.com). Those looking for a quieter stay can book one of the 85 tent-only campsites. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire pit, and campers can enjoy plenty of amenities including showers and a camp store, which recent guests say has everything you need for your camping trip. There’s even a coin-operated laundromat and a kennel nearby — as leashed pets are allowed in the campground but not permitted inside ancestral sites or on most park trails. Tent camping and RV camping without hookups cost $38 per night on top of the seven-day vehicle entrance fee ($30 for summer and $20 for winter). Full hookup campsites cost $51 per night.

If you want a luxury stay perfect for a romantic getaway in Colorado, consider booking a room at Far View Lodge located at the center of the park. Room amenities include a private balcony with stunning views, custom handcrafted furniture and more.

Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests

You’ll have plenty to explore in Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests. More than 3,000 miles of trails — many carved by Indigenous peoples — mean ample opportunities for hiking, biking, climbing, horseback riding and more during your camping trip. If you’re up for a bigger challenge, consider climbing one of several 14,000-foot mountains (nicknamed “14ers”) in the area such as Uncompahgre Peak, Wetterhorn Peak or Mount Sneffels.

There are 56 developed campgrounds across the GMUG National Forests. If you’d like a quieter stay, consider first-come, first-served Gothic Campground in Crested Butte ($12 per night) for unbeatable mountain biking and four-wheel driving. Alta Lakes’ no-fee dispersed camping in Telluride offers fishing in a stunning alpine setting, but note that the Forest Service does not recommend trailers or RVs. If you’re looking for more of a glamping experience, consider a cabin stay at a Forest Service Guard Station. Cabin reservations can be made up to six months in advance.

Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland

Extending across north central Colorado, the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland together span 1.5 million acres. With such a vast acreage covering Boulder, Fort Collins, Idaho Springs, Winter Park, Granby and Greeley, there’s no shortage of campgrounds. Standouts include Pawnee Campground, west of Boulder; Guanella Pass Campground, near Idaho Springs; and Kelly Flats Campground, west of Fort Collins and Loveland.

Pawnee Campground is located in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area — home to countless hiking, snowshoeing and backpacking trails — near Boulder. The campground’s 47 campsites welcome tents, trailers and RVs. Keep in mind that, at an elevation of more than 10,000 feet, the campground can be cold and wet. Reservations for the $25 campsites — equipped with picnic tables and campfire rings — can be made 180 days in advance at Recreation.gov.

Like Pawnee, Guanella Pass (located on the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway) also sits at a high elevation: 10,900 feet. While this may mean hunkering down for cold nights, campers can fill their days by hiking, fishing and exploring historic Georgetown nearby. Of the campground’s 18 campsites — each of which has a picnic table, fire ring and charcoal grill — 11 are suitable for RVs, but note that the Forest Service does not recommend large RVs on the byway. Some of the campsites are first-come, first-served, but you can book your camping trip for $23 per night at Recreation.gov up to six months in advance for the remaining campsites.

For a stay closer to town, the riverside Kelly Flats Campground is located about 35 miles from Fort Collins, and its elevation reaches 6,600 feet. All 29 campsites are first-come, first-served, and there are four walk-in tent sites. Campers can enjoy stream fishing.

Pike-San Isabel National Forests & Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands

The Pike-San Isabel National Forests & Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands cover nearly 3 million acres, including half of Colorado’s 14ers, the Continental Divide Trail and the Colorado Trail. There is plenty of dispersed camping as well as cabin rentals perfect for a romantic getaway. Of the many campgrounds throughout these forests and grasslands, Turquoise Lake Recreation Area near Leadville, Crags Campground near Colorado Springs and Angel of Shavano Campground near Salida stand out.

Turquoise Lake Recreation Area near Leadville, the highest elevated incorporated city in North America at 10,200 feet, comprises nine campgrounds, seven of which are suitable for RV camping. Most of the campsites in all of the campgrounds cost $26 per night and can be reserved up to six months in advance. The area offers a plethora of water activities, including fishing, motorized boating, paddleboarding and more.

Crags Campground’s 17 tent, RV and trailer campsites are first-come, first-served and cost $20 per night. You can hike to one of Colorado’s most famous 14ers, Pikes Peak, from camp, but expect a long and tiring day. Another first-come, first-served campground, Angel of Shavano Campground in Salida, sits in the shadow of 14ers Mount Shavano and Tabeguache Peak. This campground is ideal for tent camping and costs $22 per night.

Note: At the time of publication, the main water system in Turquoise Lake Recreation Area was down until further notice. Visitors must bring their own water. Consult the Forest Service website for updates.

White River National Forest

Home to Hanging Lake, 11 ski resorts, 10 14ers and the iconic Maroon Bells, White River National Forest should be on every outdoor-lover’s bucket list. If you’re not backpacking the popular Four Pass Loop or the Conundrum Hot Springs Trail, the Maroon Bells Scenic Area includes several campgrounds, most notably Silver Bell Campground. Choose from 14 tent-only, walk-in, and RV- and trailer-friendly campsites along the banks of Maroon Creek. Electric hookups are not offered, but campsites feature picnic tables, vault toilets and campfire rings. Pets are welcome but must be leashed. Ten of the sites are first-come, first-served for a five-day stay limit, and the other four can be reserved online up to six months in advance at Recreation.gov — but know that they fill up quickly. Fees include a $5 car pass as well as $15 per night of camping.

Recent travelers say the campground is beautiful and they enjoy the soothing sounds of Maroon Creek, but they warn that running water is lacking. For activities, campers can enjoy fishing, hiking and mountain climbing (like the challenging Maroon Bells: Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, both of which are 14ers). Or, Aspen is only a 6.5-mile drive away if you’re in the mood to leave camp and explore a world-famous ski town.

[See more of Aspen: Things to Do | Hotels | When to Visit | Photos ]

Colorado National Monument

Established in 1911, Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction works to protect not only the stunning natural features — like the canyons and monoliths — found in the area, but the human history as well. The famed Rim Rock Drive took decades to complete and can’t be missed; you can see 1.7 billion-year-old rock layers, stop at overlooks for spectacular views and stargazing at night, and explore hiking trails near the road. The drive usually takes between 45 minutes to an hour and can be challenging, especially if you’re afraid of heights — but don’t worry, as there’s plenty more to do in the monument, from bird-watching to hiking trails of all difficulties.

If you’re not backpacking (which requires a free permit), head over to Saddlehorn Campground, the only established campground in Colorado National Monument. Three loops hold 80 campsites, and one of the loops is open year-round. Each campsite has a picnic table and charcoal grill (no wood fires are allowed) as well as access to flush toilets and on-site staff, but there is not a dump station. There are also no hookups, but one campsite is paved for wheelchair access. Leashed pets are allowed at campsites and on paved surfaces, but not on hiking trails. Visitors mention the campground offers breathtaking views, clean restrooms and friendly staff. There are two fees needed to camp: a $25 entrance fee to the park (good for seven days) and a camping fee of $22 per night. You can reserve up to six months in advance at Recreation.gov.

Chatfield State Park

If you’re a first-time camper, consider a campground close to the city. Chatfield State Park is only about 20 miles south of Denver, but you’ll still feel plenty immersed in the outdoors with 26 miles of trails to hike, bike or explore by horse. The Chatfield State Park Campground boasts almost 200 individual and group campsites, 146 of which are full hookups (the rest are electric hookup only) and 12 of which are accessible to campers with disabilities. All campsites are within walking distance to Chatfield Reservoir, where you can fish, paddleboard and even water-ski. Campsites have picnic tables and grills, and facilities include flush toilets, coin-operated showers, access to laundry and more. Dogs are welcome but leashes are required except in the 69-acre fenced Dog Off-Leash Area (which requires a daily $3 pass or $25 annual pass).

Campers appreciate the spacious campsites and love partaking in the many activities available around the park. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website. Fees include a daily vehicle pass of $10 and a daily parks pass for camping — either $41 for a full hookup campsite or $36 for electric. Group campsites cost $200. (Consider purchasing an $80 Annual Affixed Vehicle Pass for unlimited vehicle access to all Colorado state parks.)

Cherry Creek State Park

For another option close to Denver, head 14 miles southeast to Cherry Creek State Park for year-round camping. The Cherry Creek State Park Campground contains 135 campsites — including full hookup sites, basic tent sites and three group sites — as well as showers and laundry facilities. Boating season runs from April to November, during which you can take a paddleboard, kayak or Jet Ski out on Cherry Creek Reservoir. If you’re not a water-lover, consider biking along 35 miles of multiuse trails or birding, as you can spot various raptor species such as bald eagles and red-tailed hawks. Your leashed furry friend is welcome in the campground, but note that dogs are not allowed in the wetlands area — stop by the 107-acre fenced Dog Off-Leash Area instead.

Recent visitors call the campsites spacious and the bathrooms clean, but some caution that the campground can be noisy due to auto and plane traffic. Daily vehicle passes cost $11, basic campsites cost $28 per day, and full hookup campsites cost $41 per day. Group sites run at $216 for 36 people and $432 for 72 people. You must call to reserve group campsites, but you can reserve individual sites online up to six months in advance at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

Why Trust U.S. News Travel

Leilani Osmundson is a digital producer with an affinity for the outdoors. A resident of Colorado, she used her own experiences along with extensive research to curate this list. She has camped and backpacked around the state (including in Rocky Mountain National Park), sand-sledded in Great Sand Dunes National Park, paddleboarded on many Colorado lakes and reservoirs, and climbed more than 30 14ers.

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The 11 Best Places for Camping in Colorado originally appeared on usnews.com

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