Dispersed camping – also known as primitive camping – can be defined as car camping outside of a designated campground but still within applicable regulations. You can find most of the best Colorado dispersed camping sites on federally owned lands, such as national forest and BLM lands. There are typically no bathrooms or amenities, but you get to camp free of charge. (And compared to backpacking, car camping offers an opportunity to glam it up by bringing pillows, steak, and a bottle – or two – of vino.)
Most dispersed camping areas are located along roads that can only be handled by high clearance vehicles. However, you can access a few (such as Montezuma Road and Guenella Pass) with just about any passenger car.
Please remember to respect the places you visit. And practice “leave no trace” principles by packing out everything you pack in. Now get out and enjoy Nomad Colorado’s list of some of our favorite Colorado dispersed camping areas, many of which are within two hours of Denver!
List of the Best Colorado Dispersed Camping Areas
1. Red Feather Lakes – Deadman Road (Fort Collins)
Located just an hour from Fort Collins, this area is a labyrinth of forest service roads that offer endless camping opportunities. Dispersed sites are abundant in this area. One of our favorite spots is located at the junction of Deadman Road and Forest Service Road 502.
How to Get There: The area is located up Deadman Road, northwest of Red Feather Lakes. To get there from Fort Collins, take US Hwy 287 north to Livermore, turn west onto County Road 74E towards Red Feather Lakes. Turn left on County Road 86 (Deadman Road). There are spots all along Deadman Road, which runs about 15 miles.
2. Jones Pass (Empire)
This area offers some great off-road driving and dispersed camping sites. It’s located just an hour from Denver and provides quick access to the Continental Divide. Some of the campsites have amazing views – perfect for staring down valley while roasting marshmallows over an open flame. (Be sure to check for fire restrictions in arid Colorado.)
How to Get There: Drive west on I-70 from Denver. Take exit 232 from I-70 onto US Hwy 40, and head towards Empire/Winter Park. Continue on US-40 west past Empire. Take a left on Henderson Mine Road to Jones Pass Road.
3. Caribou Townsite (Nederland)
The Caribou Townsite has 11 designated camping spots that can fill up quickly – especially on the weekend. This is an exceptional location, camping next to Colorado’s famed Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. It’s just miles away from the funky mountain community of Nederland.
How to Get There: From Nederland, follow CO Hwy 72 west for 1/2 mile from the traffic circle. Turn west on County Road 128 and follow it five miles to Five Points (identified by the five-way intersection; loosely-organized parking area and gated roads). Numbered campsites are scattered along both segments of FR 505 and its off-shoots within 1.5 miles of Five Points.
4. Guenella Pass (Grant & Georgetown)
Guenella Pass Road is one of the primary access points for hiking Mount Bierstadt (one of Colorado’s many 14ers). It also contains dozens of dispersed campsites. Even if you’re not up for hiking Bierstadt, you can access numerous other trails that begin immediately from the road. This is a great spot that is located just one hour from Denver.
How to Get There: There are two access points. The first is from the Town of Georgetown. Take I-70 west and get off at Georgetown. Follow the signs up Guenella Pass. The second access point is via Grant. Take US Hwy 285 to the small Town of Grant (located just east of Kenosha Pass). Take a right and go up Guenella Pass Road.
5. Montezuma Road (Keystone)
Camping along Montezuma Road makes our list because it’s relatively close to Denver and easily accessible with a low-clearance vehicle. You’ll be just minutes from Keystone, and there’s great hiking and exploring to be had above the small community of Montezuma.
How to Get There: Head west on I-70 out of Denver. Exit on Loveland Pass (US-6) before you get to Eisenhower Tunnel. Go over Loveland Pass, pass by Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, and then turn left on Keystone Road. Take an immediate left on Gondola Road. Next, take a right on Montezuma Road. Campsites are located on both sides of the road after going about two miles on Montezuma Road.
6. Divide Road (Grand Junction & Montrose)
Located high on Colorado’s Uncompahgre Plateau, this is a killer Colorado dispersed camping area for fall aspen viewing. At times, you’ll be able to see out for endless miles over the Colorado Plateau to the west. You can also make out notable formations such as Lone Cone and the Sleeping Ute Mountain.
How to Get There: From Whitewater on US 50 southeast of Grand Junction, head west on Colorado 141 (Unaweep Canyon) for 15 miles. Take a left onto Divide Road (FR 402), switchback up the plateau, and continue south. Divide Road stays on top of the plateau for most of its 40+ miles. You can also head up onto Divide Road directly out of Montrose.
Other Notable Colorado Dispersed Camping Sites
- West Magnolia (Nederland)
- Bill Moore Lake (Empire)
- Texas Creek (Salida)
- Pawnee National Grassland (Keota)
- Rampart Range Road (Sedalia)
- Grand Mesa (Grand Junction)
- Kebler Pass (Crested Butte)
- Flat Tops Trail (Yampa & Meeker)
Things to Consider When Dispersed Camping
- Use existing campsites. Rather than developing new areas and stripping their vegetation, try to minimize your impact by sticking to sites that have already been disturbed.
- Don’t build new fire rings. Use existing rings and pack out the ashes if you can.
- Camp at least 100 feet away from water. Wet soils & vegetation don’t hold up to wear & tear as well as dry ground. Since water is such a rare commodity in Colorado, your help is vital for the health and future of wildlife.
- Keep a clean camp. Garbage is not only an eye sore; it also attracts unwanted visitors including bears and disease carrying rodents. Bears are notorious for getting into coolers at night. Keep your family safe by locking coolers in your car.
- Control your pet. It’s not just a courtesy, but it’s for their safety, too.
- Be sure that your fire is out. Every year dozens of unattended campfires escape and spread—be sure yours isn’t one of them.
What to Bring On Your Dispersed Camping Trip
First time going primitive camping? We understand that deciding what to bring can sometimes be overwhelming. Here’s a quick gear checklist of what you will need to go car camping in Colorado:
- Ground pad
- Nylon ropes
- Duct tape
- Sleeping bags
- Sleeping pads or air mattress
- Camping chairs
- Small folding camping table
- Tools (hammer, axe, shovel)
- Lighting (headlamps & lanterns)
- Cooking stove and fuel
- Lighter or matches (use a long-reach lighter)
- Camping dishware (plates, bowls, and cups)
- Camp cooking utensils
- Biodegradable soap
- First aid kit
- Trash bags
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Sunscreen, bug spray, hand sanitizer
- Toilet paper (and shovel for digging a cat hole)
- Area maps
Did your favorite Colorado dispersed camping spot make our list? If not, please share with us below in the comments.