Colorado has one of the most varied and beautiful landscapes in the whole of the United States. So, it’s no wonder you’re looking to go camping in Colorado.
Encompassing much of the Southern Rocky Mountains and the northeastern part of the Colorado Plateau, along with the western side of the Great Plains, the vast state contains uniquely varied landscapes.
There are so many options for where you should put up camp. After all, how do you choose between snowy mountains with hot springs and desert planes and all the ecosystems that come in between, all discoverable in one state?
Not only do you need to decide on which of the breath-taking landscapes you would like to be surrounded by on your trip, but you also need to choose between over 13,000 campsites! So choosing your route and the best campsite for you can seem like a daunting task.
We’ve rounded up our top 6 best camping sites in Colorado to help you make your decision easier (click to jump to detailed information):
- Base Camp at Golden Gate Canyon
- Bear Lake Campground
- Arapaho Bay Campground
- Ruby Mountain Campground
- White Star Campground
- The Sacred White Shell Mountain
But before you choose your camping destination, let us break down for you the three different types of camping grounds in Colorado,
The 3 Types of Colorado Camping Grounds
1. Private Campgrounds
There are tons of privately owned campgrounds all across Colorado. Some of the benefits of looking into these campsites are the extra facilities that they sometimes offer. So if you’re looking for more of a “glamping” experience, consider researching the privately-owned options available. Some of the places you can go for further research include: Colorado.com campgrounds listings, the Colorado KOA Owners Association, and the Colorado Campground and Lodging Owners Association. Here you can find details of privately owned campgrounds with extra facilities such as playgrounds, Wi-Fi and even hot tubs!
2. Federal Lands
A huge amount of land in Colorado is owned federally, with the US Forest Service alone managing 14 million acres in the 11 National Forests in Colorado, and 2 National Grasslands. The Bureau of Land Management also manages over 8 million acres. You can make reservations at these campsites at recreation.gov for camping grounds managed by both of these agencies. The campsites range from developed campsites with necessary facilities to pit-stops in very remote areas that you can only access by backpacking or mountain bike. These campsites are also often free! So for the more adventurous amongst you or those who are trying to save some dollar, you might want to consider the second option!
3. Colorado State Parks Camping
Colorado State Parks run forty-one parks in the state, including over 4,000 campsites. The amenities offered at each campsite range massively, from the basics to yurts and cabins to rent throughout the year for a more luxurious option.
So, to help you choose the perfect Colorado camping site for you, we’ve compiled together our favorite campsites from each of these categories: showing you options for the glamper and the off-piste adventurous hiker alike.
The Top 6 Camping Spots in Colorado
1. Base Camp at Golden Gate Canyon
If you’re looking for a privately-owned site for tent camping Colorado, and you want the best experience possible, we would recommend Base Camp. Base Camp is located in Golden Gate Canyon: a serene mountain escape 30 miles west of Denver, with over 35 miles of trails, it’s an ideal car-camping location. The landscape around here is truly beautiful, there’s enough adventuring and trailing to be done to satisfy even the most adventurous outdoors enthusiasts! With rolling hills, mountains and forests, only 30 miles from Denver, this has become a popular site for campers in Colorado. This site is a serious glamping location that is not only perfectly situated but also offers you almost all of the amenities you could possibly need. They even boast their own convenience store, which sells stores ingredients for s’mores, alcohol, and many other things – so you can create a perfect pit party around one of their designated fire pits! With all these amenities, you’re still in the heart of nature, it’s even possible to sight moose, deer or elk from the campsite!
If camping is a little too adventurous for you, or some members of your party, Base Camp has many cozy wood-lined cabins. If you’re thinking of coming in the winter months they will keep you warm – just remember your bedding! Some of their cabins offer electricity and heat, perfect for the winter months, or if you’re looking for a romantic getaway in the summer, then they also have cabins with no heat or electricity – but a double bed. So if you’re looking for a truly luxurious camping experience, you may have found your match. However, this is not the best option for those wanting a truly immersed outdoors experience, or a cheap one. Some campers complain that they can still hear the highway and byway located nearby. So this might be a great option if you’re looking for a quick and easy getaway, but for full immersion in Colorado’s stunning landscapes and scenery, take a look at some of our more adventurous campsite options.
- Convenience store
- Laundry facilities
- Gas services
- Pavilion for groups and special events
- Free Wi-Fi
- Near to Gilpin County Community Centre (swimming pool and slides for a fun family day out)
- Access great Colorado trails for hiking and mountain biking
- Located close to a highway – can be noisy
- More expensive than most other options
2. Bear Lake Campground
A similar option for adventurous campers, looking to be in the midst of nature, and not minding roughing it a bit at camp, is the Bear Lake Campground. This campground is situated right next to Bear Lake in Routt National Forest, one of the most popular destination ions for campers in Northern Colorado. This breathtaking lake is part of the Rocky Mountains National Park, which we think is really one of the natural wonders of the world, situated about 9,500 feet above sea level. For a colder climate and more rugged, mountainous and astounding views, campers flock to this location.
And Bear Lake Campground is one of the most popular destinations for these visitors to the backcountry. With about 45 different campgrounds, you’re likely to find the right location for you here. However, similarly to White Star Campground, the amenities offered are very basic. You’ll have access to toilets, water, and well-maintained camping areas for tents, trailers and big rigs, and also access to great nearby activities such as fishing and recreational trails. However, that’s about where the facilities end: no showers, Wi-Fi, electric, or laundry facilities here! If you don’t mind looking at other cleanliness options, check out our recommendations for the best camping showers. So choose the Bear Lake Campground if your number one pull-factor is location, location, location.
- Toilets and water
- Recreational trails for hiking or biking
- Stunning location and views
- Limited amenities: no Wi-Fi, showers or laundry facilities
- Rough road to access it
- Remember your mosquito repellent!
3. Arapaho Bay Campground
Arapaho Bay is the best campsite located on Lake Granby and is maintained by the US Forest Service. Lake Granby is the third-largest body of water in Colorado and boasts stunning views and scenery. The campsite is located on the eastern end of the longest arm of the lake, underneath the gorgeous Indian Peaks Wilderness. Many activities can be done from this site, making it one of the best in our eyes. From here you have access to the Roaring Fork, Monarch Bak, and Strawberry Lake trails, connecting with the beautiful Buchanan Pass, Cascade Creek, and Continental Divide Trails. It’s also easily accessible to fish from this location: for mackinaw or kokanee salmon from a boat or by the shore.
Arapaho Bay Campground has many campsites – we would recommend site 49, as it’s a one minute walk from the water, and right behind it is a big mound you can climb for exceptional views. Here you are right in the midst of nature: from the campsite, it’s possible to have lots of wildlife sightings, such as bears (from a distance!), moose and bald eagles. So, with its fishing, trailing, and wildlife sighting possibilities, this is a great option for campers looking for adventures, off the beaten path, wildlife centered trip. The prices aren’t too high as well, especially if you’re sharing a site. But for those who need a little more luxury in their lives, a campsite with more amenities would be a better option.
- Sight local wildlife – even bears, moose, and bald eagles!
- Incredible sunsets
- Basic amenities: bathrooms, trash, water
- Can rent canoes and paddleboats nearby
- Lots of fishing possibilities
- Popular location can get crowded
- Limited amenities
- $16 for a single and $32 for a double site
4. Ruby Mountain Campground
The Ruby Mountain Campground is one of many campgrounds that give you access to the Arkansas River. The Arkansas River begins in the Rocky Mountains, in the Rocky Mountain National Park, and weaves it’s way over the southeastern part of Colorado, down to the state border with Kansas. The Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area is one of the most popular destinations for tourists in the whole country, so the Colorado Parks and Wildlife run numerous campsites all around this area. The Ruby Mountain Campground is one of our favorite picks because of its location: it’s right in the midst of all of the activities you would be choosing to visit the Park for. The Campground is huge, with 22 campsites. Our recommendation would be campsite 7: it’s right next to where they drop the rafters off for white water rafting.
All of the campsites in the Ruby Mountain Campground are close enough to the river to see and hear the water. It’s perfectly situated for the outdoors enthusiast: nearby there are 4×4 trails, many hiking paths and opportunities, and the town of Buena Vista for you to collect your groceries.
If accessibility is a problem for you, this campsite is better than many but not perfect: there’s a one-lane access road to the campground that is a bit hard to navigate, as you cannot see the other person coming, but does the trick. Although you have to fork out roughly $25 per night for this campsite, it might be worth it for the available amenities – and you could even share the cost to make this option dirt-cheap. There are well-maintained picnic tables and fire rings, accessible by a path of fine gravel, and the cleanliness of the site is regularly maintained to a high level.
So, the Ruby Mountain Campground is a great option for you if you’re looking to be located right in the middle of the mountains, have ample and easy access to the Arkansas River and any activities within it (including kayaking, white water rafting, and fishing for rainbow and brown trout), and don’t mind spending a little for the available amenities.
- About 300m of river access for fishing
- Friendly hosts, help you find somewhere to camp
- Good mobile connectivity
- Hiking trails nearby, for hiking or biking
- Picnic area
- Fire ring
- Clean and well organized
- Good site for RVs
- About $25 per night to camp
- A country road leads through the middle of the camp but isn’t busy
- Not much shade, maybe not the best choice in summer
- Difficult to access
5. White Star Campground
Twin Lakes is a stunning area, situated at the base of Mount Elbert in Colorado’s Lake County. One of the benefits of camping here is just a stunning location, and the activities that come with it: bathing in the lakes, hiking, and fishing. One of the most popular campgrounds in Twin Lakes is the White Star Campground. It’s managed by the US Forest Service, and sometimes gets booked up fairly far in advance – so if you want to stay here, make sure you book ahead! Visitors to the White Star Campground have easy quick access to the famous Continental Divide Trail, which traverses 800 miles of peaks and alpine lakes and goes through some of the most incredible landscapes in Colorado. You might even want to plan your camping trip around it.
Staying at White Star Campground isn’t your cheapest option for camping in Colorado – but at only $24 a night, especially if you split the price with friends or loved ones, it definitely isn’t going to break the bank. However, this campsite isn’t for the faint of heart. With only very basic facilities, such as drinking water, toilets, and campfire rings, this campsite is missing the basic amenities of even showers. But the sites are well maintained, and if you’re willing to get a bit down and dirty, then they could be a great option for you. Especially considering the stunning landscape that the campsites are situated in: this really is the main selling point of White Star Campground, you’re in the midst of overwhelmingly beautiful parks, with views all around, a mecca for outdoors and camping enthusiasts. There’s even a designated angler fishing area on the campground, so for perfect access to the turquoise lakes, it’s really your best bet.
- Campfire rings
- Drinking water and toilets
- Picnic tables
- Self-pay station
- Lake access, recreational trips, and fly-fishing
- Limited amenities: no Wi-Fi, showers or laundry facilities
- Roughly $24 a night
6. The Sacred White Shell Mountain
The Sacred White Shell Mountain, situated on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is about six miles south of the entrance to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. The Great Sand Dunes National Park boasts some of the tallest sand dunes in North America and is a stunning sight to behold. At the Sacred White Shell Mountain, you are right in the landscape, surrounded by the scenery: this campsite has a 360-degree view of the park’s creek, dunes and the San Luis Valley, meaning you can take in the magnitude of the surrounding landscape where you set up your tent.
One of the major benefits of this campsite is that it’s free! That means you can save your money, and spend it on some of the amazing activities you can do in the Great Sand Dunes National Park, like swimming in Medano Creek or sand-boarding. So it’s a great option for campers and backpackers who are willing to get a bit down and dirty and spend a lot of their time out in nature. However, the road to the campsite is often bumpy and dirty, and there’s even a cattle guard at the beginning of it that feels a little dangerous to cross. So the cleanliness of the site isn’t exactly perfect: but if you’re looking for a free campsite with stunning views, this could be just the campsite for you.
- Access to toilets and fresh water
- Good mobile connectivity
- Tent sites close to the city of Alamosa to buy groceries
- 360-degree view
- Camping is free!
- Need a National Park pass to access the toilets and fresh water
- No Wi-Fi
- Road to the site is a little bumpy and rough
- Not open year-round
So now you’ve read our breakdown of how to find the best camping in Colorado, how can you start planning your trip? There are some things to take note of before you start planning the best possible camping experience in Colorado:
- The weather can be very unpredictable – so even in the summer months, remember to take a lot of layers, and pack the rain cover for your tent – or plan some shade in the summer months!
- As we have mentioned, there are many private lands, or federally owned acres or national parks in Colorado (check out Gunnison National Forest, San Juan National Forest, Mueller State Park, Roosevelt National Forest, and the Pike National Forest too to start your comprehensive search). If you’re entering private lands, you need the landowner’s permission, and if you’re entering one of the parks you may need to purchase a permit or pass before you enter. Make sure to research all of these details before you arrive to be prepared!
- And, as always, keep the great outdoors clean. Make sure to always leave no trace once you’ve packed up your campsite – especially if you’re staying in a rural, free campsite with little or no staff.
So, whether you’re watching the sunrise over the Rocky Mountains, or chilling by one of Colorado’s stunning Lakes, we hope that your time spent camping in Colorado is exceptional – and that your campsite only adds to the experience.