Karl G.
Denver, CO
Joined August 2017
Not crowded 🙌🏼

What’s great about this campground is that it is not crowded and quiet! It is also about a 5 minute drive to one of the bigger waterfalls in Colorado - North Clear Creek Falls. It has everything you need - picnic table, fire ring with grate, 2 restrooms, and water. Some sites are better than others, but since this campground isn’t very popular you can actually drive around and pick out a site you like. The best sites are the ones closest to the creek or in the southern loop (on the right when driving in).

Primitive sites near Piney River Ranch

So I am not sure if this is still a “campground” as of 2019. It is no longer marked on the forest service map for 2019. Regardless, there’s still primitive/dispersed camping in the area. I stayed at one of the primitive sites last fall and spent most of my time in Piney River Ranch. There was a wedding at the ranch when we were there, and we didn’t want to intrude on it so I don’t know much of what the ranch has to offer. I do know that there’s a restaurant and a store, as well as cabins. My guess is that there is a wedding there almost every weekend summer-fall, so that is something to take into account if you come here for the ranch.

You are allowed to hike in the ranch during weddings, so that is what we did. We hiked the trail to the left of Piney Lake. It is a great trail to do in the fall because it goes through numerous aspen groves. We took the trail all the way to a waterfall area, but the trail does continue further to Upper Piney Lake. The trail became hard to follow after the waterfall area though, so we turned back.

As for the drive up to the ranch and camping sites, it’s about 45 minutes on a dirt road from Vail. It is a beautiful drive, but it is slow. The road is also in pretty good condition - I’d say a 2wd car can do this drive if the road is dry.

Standard Campground, but Excellent Hiking

Brainard Lake Recreation Area has some really great hikes to alpine lakes, and Pawnee campground is the place to stay if you want to be the first person on the trail. Overall it is your standard large campground - the sites have grills, fire grates, picnic tables, bear boxes, and are fairly close to one another. The campground also has clean restrooms and you can book your site online.

There are a lot of moose in the area! I have been here twice and I have seen moose both times. Once was just along the road, and the other time I saw 2 moose while I was hiking to Lake Isabelle. Also, the Lake Isabelle hike is one of my favorites - I recommend coming here just to do this hike. It is helpful to stay at the campground the night before because the trailhead parking lots fill up quickly.

Free Dispersed Sites on Kenosha Pass

This is a pretty popular area for camping thanks to the Colorado Trail being in close proximity and the abundant amount of aspen trees here that turn gold come September. There are 2 campgrounds to accommodate - one on each side of Hwy 285 and they can become rather crowded on summer weekends. Luckily, there is a limited amount of dispersed camping sites here as well if you are searching for some peace and quiet to go along with your camping trip. In this area the Forest Service specifically states that dispersed camping is only allowed in designated sites along NFSR 126 and 126.A on the east side of Hwy 285.

We drove along 126 and were able to snag the last dispersed site late on a Saturday. I would say that there couldn't be more than 10 dispersed sites along 126. I did not drive down 126.A. Also, on 126 you eventually come up to a gate and the road goes through private property. The very last dispersed site is right before this gate, and that is the one we got. This site required some hauling of gear from the road down to the site, but it wasn't very far. This would not be a good site if you have a rooftop tent though, because you are not allowed to drive down to the site you have to park on the road (not all of the dispersed sites were like this though). There were actually 2 fire rings at this site too - we went with the further one from the road for privacy. Overall it was a good site and much quieter than the campgrounds. Would recommend if you are trying to stay near the Colorado Trail or want to camp in the aspens in fall.

Dispersed Campsite with Views - Gordon Gulch (4x4 recommended)

So the Gordon Gulch dispersed camping area has around 15 numbered sites that are ok… but if you keep driving further down 233.1 you will find many more unnumbered campsites. I am reviewing one of these unnumbered campsites in particular, because this one had the best view. Before you read too far, I can't guarantee you will be able to reach this campsite without a 4X4 high clearance vehicle. We got to the site with a Jeep Wrangler and Toyota Tacoma TRD so we had no problems… I can't definitely say a Subaru would make it though. In the pictures I have included a map of the Gordon Gulch trail system. Entering through the Gordon Gulch entrance and taking 226.1 to 233.1 is the hardest route - there is one very steep and washed out spot. Entering via 120J/Switzerland Trail from the Peak to Peak Hwy and then turning right onto 233.1 is the easier option. On that map I have marked the general area of the campsite with a pink dot and here are the coordinates.

DMS: 40°01'18.5"N 105°28'37.6"W

DD: 40.021814, -105.477103 - if you type this into Google Maps it will locate it

As for the actual campsite, it is a great option for spring/fall camping in Colorado. The elevation is about 8,800 ft and it is on the south side of a hill so it gets a lot of sunlight and is protected from northern winds. In terms of privacy, there are no other campsites that can be seen from this one. However, Gordon Gulch is a popular off-roading area so dirt bikes and Jeeps pass by frequently. This campsite is set up high above and away from the road though, so it is really not that bad. Another thing to point out is that this is a popular area for shooting as well, so if you absolutely hate guns it may not be the place for you. Also, as stated before, this is a dispersed campsite the only thing it has is a fire ring. Pack it in, pack it out!

Telluride Town Park

This campsite is great if you want to do Telluride on a budget - it's free. It's right next to the town and is used a lot for Telluride's summer festivals. Its more than a campground it is also where a lot of town events are held and also has sports venues. There's also grills, bathrooms, picnic tables, a dog park, and a pond. Unless you're at a festival, the campground isn't where you will want to spend your time though. The campground is very close to Bridal Veil Falls, a huge free fall waterfall. You can drive or hike up to it, and climb around on the rocks and get blasted by cold water from the falls. It's huge. There's also a bunch of awesome hikes around Telluride - the San Juans are my favorite part of Colorado.

Echo Lake

Echo Lake campground is situated off Squaw Pass Rd next to Echo Lake and the start of Mt Evans Rd. The campground has all the facilities: fire ring, picnic table, tent pads, toilets, water, firewood… there's even a lodge right next to it. This is a good campground if you're not trying to rough it. If you're looking for some peace and solitude though, I would not recommend. Being at the base of Mt Evans Rd means a lot of cars driving by and people walking around the lake. For good reason though, because the lake is beautiful and driving to the summit of Mt Evans is a must do. Overall this campsite is at a prime location because the surrounding scenery is great and there are many hikes to do nearby. There's multiple hikes to chose from of different difficulty. Ranging from nature walk status - the Echo Lake Trail, a flat 1 mile walk around Echo Lake - to quick but tough hikes like Chief Mountain Trail, a 3 mile uphill hike to the top of Chief Mountain - to rewarding day hikes like the Chicago Lakes trail, a 9 mile strenuous hike to the Chicago Lakes. Mt Evans Rd also offers great views; it is the highest paved road in North America and from the top at 14,264 ft you can see for miles. There is a per vehicle fee to drive on Mt Evans Rd.

First to Review
Silver Queen

This campground is super close to the Maroon Bells - Maroon Lake is just up the road. It has all the essential facilities - fire ring, picnic tables, toilets, water. It is set in an aspen grove and a creek runs right by it. There aren't many sites at this campground, so I recommend reserving a site especially during peak season. I've stayed at this campsite twice - it's a great spot. The Maroon Bells are super busy during September when all of the aspen trees are turning. The mountains turn gold. During peak season visitors are not allowed to drive up to Maroon Lake, there are buses you must take instead. If you're staying at this campground you're allowed to bypass the bus and drive up there in your own car. From Maroon Lake there is a trailhead. We did the hike to Crater Lake, a moderate hike to a lake at the base of a huge mountain. The Maroon Bells area is extraordinary. This campground is also very close to downtown Aspen - the location is perfect. There are 2 cons to this campground however, first is that it's right next to the road and secondly it is very touristy. If you're trying to get off the beaten path, then this is not it.

First to Review
Buckingham/Fourth of July Campground

First off, this campground is a little strange. It is owned by the City of Boulder so campers have to follow the open space and mountain park rules, as well as state alcohol laws. Only 3.2% beer is allowed and no glass. This campground also goes by two names. Buckingham, the actual name, and Fourth of July campground, the name it has in Google Maps. There are only 10 sites at this campground, but it is free and first come, first serve. The campgrounds only have picnic tables, that's it. There are toilets at the Fourth of July trailhead, which are right by the campground. Overall the campsites aren't much. The only reason you'd camp here is to get an early start on one of the trails from the Fourth of July trailhead, which is what I did. I did the hike to Diamond Lake, a 5 mile round trip hike to an alpine lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The hike was beautiful there were waterfalls, wildflowers, and dense forest. I know that you can also backpack and camp overnight at Diamond Lake with a permit.

Winiger Ridge

Gross Reservoir is not gross! It is an awesome SUPing, kayaking, or canoeing option close to Denver and Boulder. The Winiger Ridge campground is at the end of forest road 359 on the west side of the reservoir. There are around 30 well spread out campsites - some on the shoreline and some covered by forest. It is a free, first come first serve campground with minimal facilities. The bathroom is all the way up at the top of the road. While the campsites are great, exploring Gross Reservoir is the real reason to come. There are a lot of inlets to paddle into and trails to explore. However, there are some cons to the reservoir; there are a lot of rules that are strictly enforced. There is no swimming in the reservoir, which is very tempting. You can only launch your boat at the boat launch on the southeast side (far from the campground) of the reservoir that is monitored by a ranger. He requires you to have a life vest, whistle, and your name written on your boat. Violating the rules is punishable by a fine. He enforces the rules by driving around the reservoir in his motorized boat every hour or so catching people who are swimming, don't have a life vest, etc. So, it's best to just follow the rules here or go somewhere else. Besides that, it's a good spot for a little getaway from the city.

Halfmoon Campground - Dispersed

Halfmoon Campground is located at the end of Notch Mountain Rd (forest Rd 707) near Minturn, CO in White River National Forest. It has the essentials - fire pits, picnic tables, vault toilets, and lots of shade. However, I found the dispersed campsites on the way up to the campground more desirable - they were free, had a view, and had no neighbors. Dispersed camping is allowed along 707 within 300 ft of the road centerline. There are maybe 10- 20 sites - you can see the fire rings from the road. I chose a site about 2/3 the way up the road in a clearing with a view of the mountains across the valley. I could see the back side of Vail Ski Resort from there. The best part about the site were the stars at night - I saw multiple shooting stars. One thing that wasn't so great was the proximity to the road. I wouldn't say the road was busy, but a car does drive by occasionally. Especially early in the morning, because there are trailheads at the end of the road by the campground. You can hike to the summit of Mt of the Holy Cross or to various lakes from there.

Arapaho Bay - Big Rock Campground

Great place to camp if you want to do a hike from the monarch lake trailhead the next morning. The campground has fire rings, picnic tables, toilets, and water. The sites are pretty close together - not much privacy. There's also tipis you can stay in here. The best part about the campground is being near Lake Grandby and Monarch Lake, as well as the hiking trails. I did the hike to Crater Lake. It was 15 miles and took 8 hours, so it was good that we camped near the trailhead. The trail passed many waterfalls and ended at 2 beautiful alpine lakes. It was well worth the effort. You can also backpack the trail and camp at the lakes overnight. A permit is required to camp at the backcountry lakes.

Free campsites outside Dead Horse Point State Park

If you're looking for a free place to camp in Moab, then this is your spot. These campsites are just outside Dead Horse Point State Park along Long Canyon Rd. You can either drive up 313 and turn on Long Canyon Rd, or take Pucker Pass up if you have a jeep. These campsites are on state land, which pretty much has no camping restrictions besides leave no trace. Be careful to not camp too far down the road (Pucker Pass side) near the rim - it turns into BLM land that you can't camp on. We made this mistake and had the BLM Rangers visit us the next morning. We were only given a warning because we didn't know we were on BLM land. Apparently there are 'No Camping' signs when you enter the BLM land, but we obviously didn't see them. So, all of the legal campsites are along Long Canyon Rd, which is a dirt road on top of a plateau. You can see for miles out to the La Sal mountains on the CO and UT border. Although beautiful, there is no shade and it is windy. These campsites only have fire rings.

Guanella Pass - Dispersed

Guanella pass has great dispersed camping near Denver. There's a few sites beside the road but those fill up quickly. If you've got a high clearance 4x4 vehicle, turn onto Leavenworth Creek Rd (352) from Guanella Pass. Drive about 3 miles and you'll be in a valley. There's a road you can turn left on in the valley that goes through the creek. After you drive through the creek the road goes up and there are some switchbacks. There are multiple dispersed campsites back there with fire rings. Overall, awesome dispersed camping and 4x4 roads. We saw a moose!

First to Review
Wupperman Campground

Wupperman campground is on the east side of Lake San Cristobal. It has about 30 sites. Some sites are very close to one another, and others are a little farther apart which are nicer. They majority of them are situated on top of a hill overlooking the lake. The site was $15 per night. There are fire grates, picnic tables, and vault toilets. The lake is beautiful; its at 9,000 ft and on one side of it are snow capped mountains. The lake is quiet and peaceful.

Portal Campground - FREE camping in Aspen!

Portal Campground is at the end of Lincoln Creek Rd by Grizzly Reservoir in White River National Forest. You can access Lincoln Creek Rd from Highway 82 (Independence Pass) it is about 10 miles out of Aspen. Once you get on Lincoln Creek Rd there is the Lincoln Gulch campground, which is fee camping. As you proceed up Lincoln Creek Rd there are about 20 free, dispersed campsites along the road. After around 6 miles on Lincoln Creek Rd, you will reach Grizzly Reservoir and the road will lead you into Portal Campground. There are only 5 sites in the campground. There are fire pits, picnic tables, and vault toilets. It is free to camp and the sites are not reservable so get there early. Four wheel drive and high clearance is recommended on Lincoln Creek Rd. I wouldn't say you need it; there were people driving Honda Civics up that road. You could make it in a car if you just go slow and the road is dry.

Portal campground is almost at 10,000 ft so it does get cold at night in the summer, but the views are worth it. The campground and reservoir are surrounded by snow capped mountains. There are a few day hikes from the campground. One of them is 7 mile Grizzly Lake Trail that leads to Grizzly Lake. The 4x4 trail also continues up from the campground if you want more off-roading. You're also near the popular cliff jumping site Devils Punch Bowl off Highway 85 that is a must do in late summer when the water is low. If you're not into jumping off cliffs you're also near the Grottos trail off Highway 85 which has ice caves. Overall, the campsite is beautiful, free, and near a lot of things to do!

Curecanti Creek Campground

This campsite is just west of Gunnison, CO and east of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It is in the Curecanti National Recreation Area where there are multiple campgrounds and dispersed camping sites. This review is on the Curecanti Creek campground on Morrow Point Reservoir. You can locate this campsite on the map in this link https://www.nps.gov/cure/planyourvisit/maps.htm . This campground is alongside the Gunnison River in a canyon; it is beautiful and perfect for SUPing, kayaking, swimming, and fishing. This is a free campsite and is not reservable, so come claim your spot early in the day/weekend.

First thing you should know is this is a pack in or boat in campsite. When I camped here, I parked at Pioneer Point and hiked the Curecanti Creek Trail down the canyon to the river. The trail from the top to the water is just under 2 miles. It is a beautiful trail that follows Curecanti Creek. Be aware that there is a 900 ft elevation change from top to bottom; the trail is steep. The group I went with managed to hike with all our gear; none of us are avid hikers but are in our 20s. I wouldn't recommend bringing small children along, but I do recommend bringing your dog! If you want to boat in, I know that you can launch any type of car top boat at Pine Creek (refer back to that map).

Once you get down to the river there is a small campsite and very small beach area. There is room for maybe 2 tents. There is also a bear box, fire pit, and apparently a vault toilet according to the NPS website, but I don't recall there being a bathroom. Our group was too big to fit at the campsite, so we went back up the trail about a mile because there is actually another campsite up the trail that has a fire pit with a grate, a picnic table, and enough room to fit 5+ tents. I definitely recommend stopping at this campsite if you have a large group, it's a shorter haul with all your gear. This campsite is to the left of the trail and to the right of the creek. There is also another campsite called Blue Creek (refer to that map again) across the river from the first campsite I mentioned. That one is right on the river and had more space; probably enough room for 3 tents. I'm not sure what else it had because I never went over there. You would need to haul down a boat to get across the river to reach that one though.

I do recommend bringing some type of boat/raft/floatie so that you can explore the canyon. We hauled down an inflatable paddle board and paddled to Chipeta Falls (on the map) which is just east of the campsite on the river. Although the water is cold, it is calm and easy to paddle or swim in. Overall, this campsite is a little work to get to but the beauty is worth it! Not to mention, the stars at night were awesome for star gazing.