Colorado has some amazing campgrounds, with scenic beauty and accommodations like drinking water, restrooms, and picnic tables – all for a nightly fee that is a fraction of what a hotel would cost. But sometimes, don’t you just want to find a secluded spot along a dusty road and enjoy some privacy? Or maybe you just forgot your checkbook. With that in mind, here are 7 places to camp for free in Colorado. Please keep in mind that no fee means no cleaning or trash pickup, so for the sake of the forests, follow “Leave No Trace” principles by using existing campsites and campfire rings and packing out all your trash.
1. Chaffee County Road 390
This dirt road between Buena Vista and Twin Lakes offers stunning scenery deep in the mighty Sawatch Range, with several ghost towns and four 14,000-foot peaks to climb. Free, heavily used campsites can be found along the road. Passenger cars can make the drive for up to 12 miles along the road. There’s a large meadow near the Winfield ghost town if other sites are full, or if you have a high-clearance vehicle, you can continue on for more remote camping. This area is part of San Isabel National Forest, one of the best areas to camp for free in Colorado.
While you’re there: Tackle some 14ers. Go for Mounts Columbia and Oxford (usually done in one day), Missouri Mountain, or Huron Peak.
2. Tarryall area
These lovely Ponderosa pine forests are less than a 90-minute drive from Denver and Colorado Springs, with innumerable pull-off campsites. Park County Road 77 (also known as Taryall Road) connects U.S. Highway 285 to the north and U.S. Highway 24 to the south. Pick any public dirt road to drive down, and you’re likely to find a spot. There is also camping around Taryall Reservoir.
While you’re there: Take a hike in the Lost Creek Wilderness.
3. Oh-Be-Joyful Recreation Area
*Note: A recent report indicates that camping in this recreation area is no longer free, costing $10-20. Our contact also indicated that free camping is available along the same road. If you’re interested in finding more spots to camp for free, check out our Guide to Dispersed Camping.
It’s hard not to be joyful at this free camping area about five miles outside of Crested Butte. There are bathrooms, picnic tables and fire rings along the Slate River. After the spring snow melt-off, those with a good vehicle can find more privacy by driving across the river to more remote campsites. Across the river is also the trailhead for the Oh-Be-Joyful Trail, which leads into the amazing Raggeds Wilderness.
While you’re there: Bike into Crested Butte for lunch.
4. Old Stage Road/Gold Camp Road
This road was the original stagecoach route from Colorado Springs to the gold fields of Cripple Creek and is a great easy weekend getaway, close to the city but miles apart in terms of atmosphere. Camping is limited for the first several miles, as private property lines the road, but campsites abound as you get deeper into Pike National Forest. High-clearance-vehicle drivers will find lovely – though heavily used – campsites up Forest Road 379 in Frosty’s Park, which sits in a valley between Mount Rosa and Almagre Mountain.
While you’re there: Hike up Almagre Mountain, which at 12,367 feet is topped only by Pikes Peak in the Colorado Springs skyline.
5. Homestake Reservoir Road
Located off of U.S. Highway 24 north of Tennessee Pass in White River National Forest, this is a great place to spend a summer weekend. The road is good for passenger cars up to the last mile to Homestake Reservoir, with numerous good pull-off sites. More sites can be found along Missouri Creek Road. This is on the edge of the magnificent Holy Cross Wilderness, so if you’re not there to boat or fish in the reservoir, there’s great hiking trails for you to explore.
While you’re there: Hike to Missouri Lakes or – if you get an early start and the weather is good – you can make a loop over two mountain passes to Fancy Lake and then back to the trailhead.
6. Guanella Pass
This seasonal pass connects Como in Park County with Georgetown and Interstate 70 and tops out at 11,669 feet, offering city residents a great way to get above the clouds. For the free camping, drive the south side of the pass and look for some of the many pull-off sites. You’ll forget just how close you are to the Front Range.
While you’re there: Drive to the top of the pass and hike 14,060-foot Mount Bierstadt, which is one of Colorado’s easiest fourteeners since you can start so high up.
7. Forest Road 788 (Gunnison National Forest)
In the mountains southwest of Lake City, this wide, flat road runs past several free, lightly used campgrounds. You’ll also find any number of unofficial campsites as the road follows the banks of fast-moving Cebolla Creek. This is remote country, and even on a summer weekend you probably won’t have neighbors.
While you’re there: Hike the Cannibal Plateau Trail (trail no. 464), which runs five miles on a treeless mesa with long views of the San Juan Mountains. It’s named for Alferd Packer, who in 1874 supposedly killed and ate his companions when they became snowbound here.
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