12 Amazing Places To Van Camp In Colorado


Colorado has many extraordinary places to van camp from rugged mountains to vast plains, but choosing the best location can be tough. Whether you are trying to pick a weekend getaway or just a place to get shut-eye, there are many options to choose from.

Some fantastic places worth visiting for van camping in Colorado include:

  1. Forest Road 302
  2. Caddis Flats Campground
  3. Booger Red Hill
  4. Reverend’s Ridge Campground
  5. Dakota Terraces Campground
  6. Northern Plains
  7. Kelly Flats Campground
  8. Piñon Flats Campground
  9. White Star Campground
  10. Big B’s Delicious Orchards Campground
  11. Valley View Hot Springs
  12. Eureka Campground

We will cover all 12 amazing van camping destinations in Colorado in further detail in the remainder of this post. You will find everything from free campsites that are great to stay at for a night or two to places you can spend some real quality time. And, from hiking and biking in the wilderness to visiting a nearby town for a refreshing mountain brew or local history, each location has something to do.

Best Places for Free Camping in Colorado

These hand-picked, no charge campsites, are sure to bring you delight. If you are traveling on a budget—or even if you’re not—finding a free site that comes with a view is nothing to scoff at. While they might not have a picnic table or even a toilet, if you are staying in a van, then these boondock sites can be just the thing you are looking for.

Van Camping Life Tip: Be sure to come prepared; since there are usually no amenities available, you will need to be ready to bring your water and carry out all your waste.

Forest Road 302

This road ends at the top of a grass-covered hill. From there, the wide-open space allows for panoramic views during the day and splendid star gazing at night. While the most coveted sites lay up top the hill, there are sites available along the road. A few notes about this location:

  • The road’s last uphill push is very rutted. 2WD vehicles can make it, but 4WD is recommended.
  • Bring bug repellent; the resident insects are voracious.
  • These are boondock sites. There are no amenities available.
  • 3+ campsites in total. Campsites are available first-come, first-served.
  • Van camping is allowed at any site.
  • Land Type: National Forest/Grassland
  • Reservations: N/A
  • Cell Service: Possible
  • Amenities: N/A
  • Things to Do: Photography, stargazing, wildlife viewing

Location: Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest – Steamboat Springs, CO

Directions: From Steamboat Springs: Head east on US-40 for about 18.9 miles. Turn right onto Forest Road 302. Drive roughly 3.3 miles to the end of the road, staying left at the fork.

GPS Coordinates: 40.3678, -106.6899

Nearby Attractions: Steamboat Springs is less than 45 minutes away. There you can get wet rafting, dry off on a zip line, and then check out the Mountain Coaster.

Caddis Flats Campground

Right along the San Miguel River, this scenic campground is nestled in a canyon. The surrounding environment is unique, a transition from forest to desert. Riparian vegetation lines the banks of the river. There are three designated spots available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Most of the campground is gravel and is accessible to all vehicles. A few notes:

  • There is no drinking water available.
  • There is no dumpster available.
  • Three campsites in total. Campsites are available first-come, first-served.
  • Van camping is allowed at any site.
  • Land Type: BLM Land
  • Reservations: N/A
  • Cell Service: Probable
  • Amenities: Vault toilet, picnic tables
  • Things to Do: Boating, photography, stargazing, wildlife viewing

Location: Placerville, CO

Directions: From Placerville: Head west on CO 145 for 1.8 miles. The entrance is on the left. From Norwood: Head east on CO 145 for about 16.5 miles. The entrance is on the right.

GPS Coordinates: 38.0277, -108.0916

Nearby Civilization: The tiny town of Placerville is a quick 5-minute drive down the road. There you can find a post office and a general store.

Booger Red Hill

This remote camping area sits upon a hill with views of the surrounding mountains. A few trees and bushes pop out from the rocky outcrops. With plenty of open space, this location is perfect for stargazing. A few notes:

  • The drive in is on a rough dirt road.
  • Free-roaming cows in the area.
  • These are boondock sites. There are no amenities available.
  • 3+ campsites in total. Campsites are available first-come, first-served.
  • Van camping is allowed at any site.
  • Land Type: BLM
  • Reservations: N/A
  • Cell Service: Possible
  • Amenities: Fire pits
  • Things to Do: Hike, photography, stargaze, wildlife viewing

Location: Florissant, CO

Directions: Searching “Booger Red Hill” has better accuracy than going by the locations.

GPS coordinates: 38.709, -105.2757

Nearby Attractions: Cripple Creek is about 30 minutes away. There you can visit the Old Homestead House Museum, Bronco Billy’s Casino, or see a show at Butte Theater.

Best State Campgrounds in Colorado

With a total of 41 state parks, there is a lot of camping to be done in Colorado. The following three campgrounds were picked for their locations, views, and amenities, and the perks of staying in a state park include these amenities.

Flushing toilets, showers, and sometimes even laundry makes staying at a state park practically a luxury. As a bonus, most state parks have a host or ranger who is more than happy to answer any questions you have.

Better yet, you can pick up a free Colorado State Park passport to record your journey and check off these destinations from your camping bucket list.

Other Posts of Interest

Reverend’s Ridge Campground

Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a four-season park with both summer and winter activities. In the fall, this is a great park to check out the aspen trees.

Reverend’s Ridge is one of the two campgrounds in the park and the only vehicle-friendly park. The campground is tucked amongst ponderosa pines and Rocky Mountain junipers. The abundance of trees provides a sense of seclusion for each site. The Rocky Mountains peek out above the treetops. A few notes:

  • This campground is open year-round, but some amenities are seasonal.
  • 97 campsites in total. 59 of those campsites have electrical hookups.
  • Van camping is allowed at any site.
  • Reservations: Required; to reserve a spot, follow this link: Reservation Info
  • Cell Service: Unlikely
  • Amenities: Dump station (seasonal), electrical hookups, flush toilets, laundry (seasonal), showers (seasonal)
  • Fee: $28+ per night & $9 vehicle pass
  • Things to Do: Biking, fishing, hiking, photography, wildlife viewing
  • Location: Golden Gate Canyon State Park – Black Hawk, CO

Directions: From Boulder, head south on Highway 93. Turn right onto Golden Gate Canyon Road and drive 13 miles to the Visitor Center. From the Visitor Center drive west on Highway 46 until you reach Highway 119, about 5 miles. Turn right onto Highway 119 and go for about 3 miles. Turn right onto Gap Road and then turn right to stay on Gap Road. Continue for approximately 1 mile. The entrance is on the left.

Directions: from other locations are available on the park website. You can also visit this page for a map of the campground.

GPS Coordinates: 39.8753, -105.4508

Nearby Attractions: Black Hawk is a 20-minute drive away. There you will find several casinos, the Gilpin County Museum, and the Central City Opera House. You can also fill up on groceries and Starbucks coffee.

Dakota Terraces Campground

Ridgway State Park hosts two geocaches and offers equipment rentals at the Visitor Center, so don’t worry if you forgot a fishing pole or snowshoes.

A mile away from the more popular Elk Ridge Campground, Dakota Terraces is more spacious. An open shrubland ecosystem, the lack of trees provides splendid views of the San Juan Mountains.

Sites are within walking distance of the reservoir. A few notes:

  • This campground is open year-round, but some amenities are seasonal.
  • Shade will be hard to find at the campsites.
  • 79 campsites in total.
  • Van camping is allowed at any site.
  • Reservations: Required; to reserve a spot, visit this site: Reservation Info
  • Cell Service: Probable
  • Amenities: Boat ramp, dump station, electric hookups, laundry (seasonal), playground, restrooms, showers (seasonal), water spigots
  • Fee: $24+ per night (summer rates) & $9 vehicle pass
  • Things to Do: Biking, birding, boating, fishing, hiking, hot springs, Visitor Center, water recreation

Location: Ridgway State Park – Ridgway, CO

Directions: From the North: Take Highway 550 south of Montrose for 22 miles. The entrance is on the right. From the South: Take Highway 550 north of Ridgway for 4 miles. The entrance is on the left.

GPS Coordinates: 38.2162, -107.733

For a map of the campground, visit this site

Nearby Civilization: A 10-minute drive will take you to the town of Ridgway. If you need a little TLC, Chipeta Solar Springs Resort & Spa offers a variety of services. If you are looking for activities more adventurous, RIGS Flyshop offers guided trips and lessons. Follow this link for more things to do in Ridgway.

Northern Plains

Lake Pueblo State Park is a very notorious destination for boating and fishing. The Lake Pueblo Reservoir has 60 miles of shoreline and is perfect for both water and land recreation.

The campground is situated right next to Lake Pueblo and is desert camping at its best. The sites are spread apart, so even with sparse vegetation, privacy is retained.

During the summer, expect daily thunderstorms. If you end up getting there at the right time, you might even see the lightning striking over the mountains. A few notes:

  • Swimming in the reservoir is not permitted.
  • 210 campsites in total.
  • Van camping is allowed at any site.
  • Reservations: Required; to reserve, visit this site: Reservation Info
  • Cell Service: Probable
  • Amenities: Boat ramp, dump station, electrical hookups, fire pits, picnic tables, playground, restrooms, showers (seasonal), water spigots
  • Fee: $22+ per night & $9 vehicle pass
  • Things to Do: Biking, boating, fishing, hiking, water recreation, stargazing

Location: Lake Pueblo State Park – Pueblo, CO

Directions: Directions are available on the State Parks website. You can find the campground map here.

GPS Coordinates: 38.2742, -104.7752

Nearby Civilization: Less than 30 minutes away is Pueblo. If you are interested in wildlife, be sure to visit the Nature & Wildlife Discovery Center or the Pueblo Zoo. Pueblo has a rich art and history culture which includes the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center, Pueblo Heritage Museum, Weisbrod Aircraft Museum and the Rosemount Museum.

Best National Campgrounds in Colorado

Spread across Colorado are national forests, grasslands, and parks. These national gems rise above the rest for their spectacular views, ecosystems, and geology. Camping in a national park is a top choice if you like to be close to the splendor.

Also, if you decide to stop at one of Colorado’s four national parks, pick up a National Park Passport for your adventures.

Kelly Flats Campground

On the Cache La Poudre River banks, this campground holds a beautiful mix of open conifer forests and lush riverside vegetation. A few notes:

  • It is open June through mid-September.
  • It is a popular camping area on weekends and often during the week.
  • 29 campsites in total. Campsites are available first-come, first-served.
  • 25 of its campsites allow van camping.
  • Land Type: National Forest/Grassland
  • Reservations: N/A
  • Cell Service: Unlikely
  • Amenities: Drinking water (seasonal), fire pits, picnic tables, vault toilets
  • Fee: $24 per night
  • Things to Do: Fishing, photography, wildlife viewing

Location: Roosevelt National Forest – Larimer, CO

Directions: From Fort Collins: Head 10 miles north on Highway 287. Turn left and head west on Highway 14 for about 25 miles. The entrance is on the left. From Walden: Head almost 63 miles east on Highway 14. The entrance is on the right.

GPS Coordinates: 40.6807, -105.4825

Nearby Attractions: Just shy of an hour away, you will find Fort Collins. This city is a vibrant community full of food, brews, and sunshine. If you plan to spend a little bit of time in the area, you can request a visitor’s guide. Fort Collins offers something for everyone at any time of the year.

Piñon Flats Campground

Great Sand Dunes National Park possesses the tallest dunes in North America. The dunes are surrounded by grasslands, wetlands, forests, and mountains. Medano Creek flows around the bottom of the dunes and is wide and shallow. Known as Colorado’s “natural beach,” the creek is a perfect place to play.

The Pinon Flats Campground here is an oasis amongst the dunes and mountains. True to its name, it is a flat open area dotted with piñon trees. As evening arrives, shadows from the setting sun creep across the dunes. A few notes:

  • Bring bug repellent; the resident insects are voracious.
  • The busy season is late May through early June when Medano Creek is at its peak flow.
  • Firewood collection is prohibited in Great Sand Dunes National Park.
  • 88 campsites in total. Reservations are highly recommended. Sites not reserved are on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Van camping is allowed at any site.
  • Land Type: National Park
  • Reservations: Recommended, visit this site: Reservation Info
  • Cell Service: Possible
  • Amenities: Camp store, dish washing facility, dumpster, restrooms, water spigots
  • Fee: $20 per night
  • Things to Do: Educational programs, hiking, photography, sandboarding and sledding, stargazing, Visitor Center

Location: Great Sand Dunes NP. – Alamosa, CO

Directions: Directions from multiple starting locations are available on the National Parks website. You can find an interactive campground map here.

GPS Coordinates: 37.7445, -105.5058

Nearby Civilization: 40 minutes away from Great Sand Dunes National Park is the City of Alamosa. While Alamosa may be small, there is still plenty to do. Try your luck spotting wildlife at the National Wildlife Refuge or a UFO at the UFO Watchtower. After that, refuel with some farm-to-tap beer at one of the local breweries.

White Star Campground

This campground sits at the foot of Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado, and has views of Mount Massive. Scents of ponderosa pines and sage fill the air. Passing by the campground is the Continental Divide Trail, running from Canada to Mexico. The adjacent Twin Lakes are the largest natural glacial lakes in Colorado. A few notes:

  • Drinking water may not be available.
  • High altitude sickness may occur at this location.
  • There are three loops. Sites in the Sage and Valley loops are reservable. The sites in Ridge Loop are first-come, first served.
  • Sage Loop is open until the end of September.
  • 66 campsites in total.
  • 63 campsites allow van camping.
  • Land Type: National Forest/Grassland
  • Reservations: Recommended, visit this site: Reservation Info
  • Cell Service: Probable
  • Amenities: Boat ramp, dump station, fire rings, picnic tables, water spigots, vault toilets
  • Fee: $23+ per night
  • Things to Do: Biking, boating, fishing, hiking

Location: San Isabel National Forest – Twin Lakes, CO

Directions: From Leadville: head out south on Highway 24 for 15 miles. Turn right onto Highway 82 and head west. The entrance is on the left past the Mt. Elbert Power Plant.

GPS Coordinates: 39.0895, -106.3691

Nearby Civilization: Head 25 minutes northwest to Leadville, where you can eat and play. You can take a stroll on the Mineral Belt Trail, one of Colorado’s highest paved paths. Encircling the whole town and just shy of 12 miles, this is an excellent option for biking, walking, or skating in the summer or cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the winter.

Best Unique Campgrounds in Colorado

Camping can be creative. Think: sleeping beneath an apple tree, soaking in a mountainside pool, or walking in the footsteps of history. The following unconventional campgrounds will make for some very memorable times.

Big B’s Delicious Orchards Campground

Big B’s is a working farm and orchard with the campsites nestled among the fruit trees or beside the pond. There is a cider tasting room with an outdoor patio, café, and farm store. On Saturdays, live music fills the air. Before you head back onto the road, you can pick yourself some fresh produce. A few notes:

  • Open April through November
  • 50 campsites in total.
  • Most, if not all, campsites allow van camping.
  • Land Type: Private
  • Reservations: Optional – Reservation Info
  • Cell Service: Probable
  • Amenities: Café, porta-potty, single restroom, sink, store, tap room, WIFI
  • Fee: $20+ per night
  • Things to Do: Live music, U-Pick fruit

Location: 39126 Highway 133, Hotchkiss, CO 81419

Directions: From Hotchkiss: Head north on Highway 133 for about 6.8 miles. The entrance is on the right. From Carbondale: Head south on Highway 133 for about 58.6 miles. The entrance is on the left.

GPS Coordinates: 38.8581, -107.6235

Nearby Civilization: Less than 10 minutes away is Paonia. The town’s location in the valley makes it prime for growing fruit, including grapes. If wine tasting is your thing, it is worth stopping at one of the several wineries and cellars in the area.

Valley View Hot Springs

The campground operated by the Orient Land Trust has a strong focus on tranquility. Loud noises and artificial lights are frowned upon. The nights though can be bright, filled with light from the stars and fireflies. The campsites overlook the valley and are dotted with trees. Natural hot springs and soaking ponds are scattered throughout the property. A few notes:

  • Valley View is clothing optional and family-friendly.
  • No entry after 10:00 p.m.
  • 23 campsites allow van camping.
  • Land Type: Land Trust
  • Reservations: Required – Call 719-256-4315 to reserve.
  • Cell Service: Possible
  • Amenities: Dishwashing facility, kitchen, picnic table, restrooms, sauna, showers
  • Fee: $15 per night camping fee + $34 per person admission fee (summer)
  • Things to Do: Hiking, hot springs, stargazing, talks, tours, wildlife viewing

Location: 64393 County Rd GG, Moffat, CO 81143

Directions: From Alamosa: Head north on Highway 17 for about 49.6 miles. Turn right onto County Road GG. Continue for 7.2 miles. The entrance is on the left.

From Colorado Springs: Head west on Highway 50 for about 71.8 miles. Turn left and head south on Highway 285 for 26.3 miles. Turn left towards Highway 17 south and stay to the left towards County Road GG. Continue on County Road GG for about 7.2 miles. The entrance is on the left.

GPS Coordinates: 38.1922, -105.8155

For a campground map, go here.

Nearby Civilization: 45 minutes away is the City of Salida. You can stock up on needed supplies, grab a bite to eat or visit Wood’s High Mountain Distillery. If you are looking for some excitement, then head over to Captain Zipline to go on the zipline or aerial course.

Eureka Campground

This is a rustic campground hidden in a narrow mountain valley. Talus slopes and patches of pine trees rise to the rocky mountain tops. This location was formerly the town of Eureka, with the campsites located on the historic building foundations. A few notes:

  • 42 campsites in total.
  • Van camping is allowed at any site.
  • Land Type: County
  • Reservations: Optional; contact here
  • Cell Service: Unlikely
  • Amenities: Camp store, outhouses, picnic tables, electric hookups
  • Fee: $15+ per night
  • Things to Do: ATV trails, hiking, wildlife viewing

Location: 6350 County Rd 2, Silverton, Colorado 81433

Directions: Drive 8 miles north on County Road 2 from Silverton.

GPS Coordinates: 37.8788, -107.5642

You can look at a campground map on the Eureka Campground website.

Nearby Civilization: Under 30 minutes away is Silverton. Tour the area by train on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad or horseback with San Juan Backcountry. Then sit down to eat at one of the local restaurants.

Making Reservations for Van Camping

Some of the campgrounds listed above are first-come, first-serve, so arriving on a weekday or before lunch can be optimal for snagging a spot. Most state and national parks require reservations, and those can fill up fast. Other campgrounds have optional reservations, which means you can usually get a spot if you show up without one.

Final Thoughts

Van camping is a fantastic way to see all that Colorado has to offer. You can hit the road any time of year and enjoy camping regardless of the weather. However, wherever you choose to go, there are some simple rules of etiquette you should always remember to follow:

  • Leave it cleaner than you found it. Don’t leave your site dirty for the next camper. Take everything out when you go that you brought in, and if you see someone else’s litter lying around, help keep nature beautiful and pick that up too.
  • Cool to the touch. In places where the fire danger is high, fires may not be permitted at all. Other campgrounds may provide a fire pit. If you have a fire, be sure that it is entirely out and cool to the touch before leaving it. To learn more about safe extinguishing practices, check out How to Maintain & Extinguish Your Campfire.
  • Pick up after your pets. If your four-legged friends are joining you on your camping trip, please pick up after them. Pet waste needs to go into the trash, not into the toilet or the bushes.
  • Be a good neighbor. Not cutting through other campsites, respecting quiet hours, and using lowlights at night can make or break someone else’s camping trip.

Colorado is full of grand sights, adventures, and good food, and as long as you follow these tips and choose to visit one of the destinations mentioned above, you’re sure to find all these things. Get in your van and explore!

Don

I prefer the southwestern part of the USA with its mountains, high plateaus, deserts and red rock vistas. However, I still enjoy visiting the countless beautiful and dramatic places that abound across the country.

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