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Camping in Colorado: The Basics

More than 13,000 campsites in Colorado are at the ready to help visitors experience the grandeur of the state's wilderness areas. 

Camping on Trout Lake outside Telluride, CO
Camping on Trout Lake outside Telluride, CO

With so many campground locations, it’s easy to find a tranquil spot to get back to basics and revisit the simplicity of nature. Here’s a breakdown to help you decide what style of camping best suits you, as well as some basic information you’ll need to make the most of your experience.

Check out our Colorado campground listings and 11 Amazing Campsites.

Once you set up camp, you’ll soon realize that birdcalls, meandering trails and lazy afternoons are welcome distractions from everyday life.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF CAMPING IN COLORADO

There’s a wide range of different camping options to choose from in Colorado. Whether you like communing with nature or an outing with more creature comforts, we have something to suit your style. Here are several camping methods that are perfect for beginners and experts alike:

• Tent camping — The most popular form of camping. There are two main types: The first is camping at an assigned campsite with your car close at hand (also called “car camping”). Benefits include being able to take more comfort items along since you can stash them in your car. In addition, you’ll often have access to amenities like bathrooms, showers and an electricity source. The second is camping at a dispersed or backcountry campsite where you may have to hike in to a spot and won’t have access to bathrooms or power. The upside to this style of camping is that you’ll be further away from other campers in a more natural and remote setting, many times in a clearing with just an established fire ring.

Glamping — A more luxurious form of camping (the word is a mashup of “glamour” and “camping”). You’ll sleep in a tent permanently located in a scenic outdoor area, but will have an actual bed, private bathrooms and various perks, from Wi-Fi and kitchens to fire rings and mountain bikes you can use for free. 

• RV or van camping — This method is perfect for people who want to be close to nature but aren’t yet comfortable sleeping outdoors. It’s also a good option if you want to sleep on a real bed and have easy access to amenities. You’ll find many parks and campgrounds have dedicated RV sites.

• Backpacking or bikepacking — Of all the forms of camping listed here, these are the most adventurous. You’ll spend the day hiking or riding through nature until you reach your campsite. Trips can last anywhere from a night to several weeks. First timers should consider shorter trips. And regardless of experience level, you should always let someone back home know your route and expected return time.

Tip: With dispersed camping, backpacking and bikepacking, you’ll be carrying all of your supplies — including your tent, food and sleeping gear — with you. Because of this, you’ll need to be mindful of what you pack so that you have everything you need, but don’t weigh yourself down.

Picking a Campsite in Colorado

There are thousands of campsites in Colorado’s state park and public land systems and hundreds more private sites. You simply need to find the part of the state you want to visit, choose a site with the amenities you need and make a reservation.

Colorado State Parks Camping
Forty-one parks all over the state are administered by Colorado State Parks. The system boasts more than 4,000 campsites. Amenities at many parks include restrooms, full electrical hookups and shower facilities, and some even have laundry facilities and playgrounds. Yurts and cabins available for rent offer comfortable, year-round alternatives to traditional camping. Campgrounds can book up months in advance, so plan well ahead and make a reservation as soon as possible.

Federal Lands
The U.S. Forest Service manages 14 million acres of land in the state’s 11 National Forests and two National Grasslands, while the Bureau of Land Management oversees an additional 8.4 million acres. Both agencies have campsites that range from developed areas with restrooms, fire rings, water and other amenities to remote areas — with no amenities — that are reached only by horse, mountain bike or backpacking. Reservations can be made at recreation.gov.

Private Campgrounds
There are many privately owned campsites in Colorado, and they often have perks you may not find on public lands, including playgrounds, hot tubs, laundry facilities and Wi-Fi. COLORADO.com campgrounds listings, the Colorado Campground and Lodging Owners Association and Colorado KOA Owners Association are just a few places to make reservations and locate campgrounds.

What You Need to Know

• The weather can change quickly, even in the summer months. To stay comfortable, it’s best to wear layered clothing.
• Depending on location, you may be required to purchase a pass or permit. Plan ahead by reviewing the websites listed above and the information posted at campground entrances.
• Campgrounds can book up months in advance, so it’s best to make a reservation sooner than later.
• Be aware of your location and obey all posted signs and notices at campgrounds and trail entrances. If venturing onto private property, be sure to first get the owner’s permission.
• Expect to run into wildlife, from chipmunks to bears depending on where you camp. Know the etiquette of wildlife encounters and follow area guidelines wherever you go. (For example, some campsites require food be stored in bear lockers — large metal cabinets at parks that bear paws can’t get into.)
• Remember to Care for Colorado throughout your travels by following our seven principles.

Packing Essentials

Keep in mind that if you’re not ready to go all in on gear, many of these items can be rented from local outfitters.

• Tent with a rain cover 
• Down sleeping bag (even in summer, it can get below freezing in Colorado’s higher altitudes)
• Pillow and sleeping pad (keeps you warmer than just sleepin’ on the ground)
• Camp stove and/or matches to use your campsite’s fire pit
• Plenty of drinking water and food (If you’re backpacking or at a dispersed campsite, you might want to learn about water-purification tablets and methods.)
• Can opener, aluminum foil, paper plates, cups/mugs, utencils, multipurpose knife, trash bags, paper towels 
• Layers of clothing, including water-resistant coat, wool socks and long underwear
• Flashlights/headlamps/lanturns
• Sunscreen, bug spray, first-aid kit, toilet paper (Learn what to do when nature calls in the great outdoors.)

Other Trip Ideas

Lakeside Lodging
Quick Guide to National Parks in Colorado
Cabin Vacations
Unforgettable RV Parks
The Colorado Culinary Camping Guide
Sleep Somewhere Cool Blog