camping in colorado

Camping in Colorado changes by season and where you decide to camp. The differences between the Eastern Slope and Western Slope of Colorado offer camping to meet anyone’s expectations and survival skills.

The Rocky Mountain National Forest

Covering more than 350,000 acres, most of which the Forestry Service designates as wildlife preserve, the Rocky Mountain National Forest invites campers from around the world with its beauty. From the heavily forested lower elevations to the tundra stretching above timberline (11,500 ft.), you will see wildlife:

  • Elk
  • Moose
  • Marmot
  • Big horn sheep

The main road through the Rocky Mountain National Forest, Trail Ridge Road, closes during the winter months and trail heads along the route cannot be accessed.

During the spring and summer months you can pitch a tent at one of the five large campgrounds located inside the park. Each accommodates family tents with large, well-maintained tent pads. Always call to make sure the campground you want has opened and has spots available.

Camping sites in Colorado's backcountry, for the more adventurous and experienced campers, dot the forest. Backcountry camping requires a permit and costs the same ($20) as camping in one of the larger campgrounds. Pack for winter and buy a backpack tent rated for cold weather (33º F and lower) even in the summer months. The unpredictable weather in the park means planning and carrying extra gear. A light backpack tent makes the extra gear less noticeable.

Black Canyon National Park

The Black Canyon, near Blue Mesa reservoir, took more than 2-million years of running water and weather to create. The terrain takes caution to navigate but campers around Colorado's Black Canyon know the hike pays off before the tents goes up.

The waters of the Gunnison River through Black Canyon are designated gold medal and special rules apply when fishing:

  • No bait fishing, fly fishing only
  • Catch and release of all rainbow trout
  • No barbed hooks allowed
  • Every angler must have a Colorado fishing license on their person while fishing
  • No fishing within 200-yards of Crystal Dam

The two campgrounds have ample room for pitching tents. Water for campers comes in the afternoons during the spring and summer. Few campgrounds have dumpsites or provide electricity.

A growing population of Peregrine Falcons live in the canyon. Black bear and brown bear live throughout the canyon and surrounding areas. Keep all food in airtight containers locked in the trunk of your car, tied tightly in tarps from trees well away from campsites or stored in bear proof storage lockers (not provided in Black Canyon campgrounds).

Like most states, the Colorado wildlife commission tags a bear the first time it comes into human populated areas. After relocating the bear, it has two more chances to stay in the wilderness. After the third contact with humans, euthanasia ends its life. Never feed the bear.

The Grande Mesa

Towering 13,000 feet over Colorado’s Grand Valley, the Grande Mesa boasts more than 300 lakes and countless camping sites. The most popular campgrounds with flush toilets and other amenities are found along highway 65, which takes the 65-mile drive over the Grande Mesa.

Land O’ Lakes offers spacious campsites with plenty of room for pitching tents. For families, this cluster of lakes makes an ideal vacation spot. Island Lake, the largest in this section, has scenic views and good fishing for all angling levels.

Farther up the scenic byway, Vega Reservoir also invites campers to pitch a tent and fish or hike the trails surrounding the water. The number of backcountry campsites remains unknown, as camping on open range requires no permit or reservation. The Grande Mesa hosts:

  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Hunting (when in season)
  • Rock climbing
  • Fishing
  • Boating

Wildlife on the Grande Mesa includes bear, elk, dear, bald eagles, golden eagles, mountain lion and a growing population of moose. Pack for cold weather when traveling to the Grande Mesa. In the backcountry, a little lake called Never Sweat stands true to its name as some years snowfalls there in August.