The Best Camping in Colorado for Towering Peaks, Shimmering Lakes and Everything in Between
Colorado entices travelers with tons of astoundingly beautiful places and epic hiking trails, so it stands to reason that the Centennial State has extraordinary camping, too. Snoozing under the stars beside ancient rock formations or gazing up at a cover of leafy green trees sounds stellar to us.
Before packing your bags, there are a few things to keep in mind. First off, we actually can’t recall a time in recent memory when so many people were prioritizing outdoorsy vacations. That means state and national parks, nature preserves and campgrounds are more packed than ever. So it’s essential to make reservations in advance or risk having your dreams of dozing in a tent dashed.
Something else that needs to be said, and bears repeating, is the importance of treating campsites—and, more broadly, any outdoor area you plan to visit—with the utmost respect.
Communing with nature is a privilege, not a right. If every person who steps foot on the soil (or, in some cases, sand) doesn’t do their part, these incredible places will cease to exist. Imagine a world without Maroon Bells or Rocky Mountain National Park. That’s pretty darn bleak, right? Exactly. It’s all about respecting the land, the wildlife and the people (in addition to having fun and enjoying the great outdoors, of course). Like the Boy Scouts of America always say, “try and leave this world a little better than you found it.” In other words, when it comes to camping (or even just visiting the state of Colorado), your guiding principle should be to leave no trace.
Ready to pitch a tent, build a fire (provided that’s not prohibited in the area), make ooey-gooey s’mores, tell some campfire stories and let the melodies of Mother Nature lull you to sleep? Us too! Scroll on for eight of the best camping spots in Colorado.
1. MAROON BELLS
Consistently ranked among the most beautiful places in Colorado and widely considered to be one of the most photogenic locations in the United States, the Maroon Bells is straight up breathtaking. There’s no denying the beauty of this incredible place just outside of Aspen. However, it's not as though the Maroon Bells is just Instagram gold and that’s it. Far from it! Two recognizable fourteeners (mountains taller than 14,000 feet above sea level) cut a camera-ready panorama. These towering peaks are surrounded by sparkling lakes, flower-filled meadows and forests. The best way to really soak in all the scenic splendor? Hiking. Maroon Lake Scenic Trail is the most popular route as it's pretty doable for all fitness levels. Up for a challenge? Try Buckskin Pass. If you’re keen to catch some zzzs with a natural backdrop, Aspen has some terrific campgrounds in the area of the Maroon Bells. Just keep in mind that campsites fill up really quickly (how could they not with such stunning views?), so it’s essential to book ahead.
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2. ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
One of the most visited parks in the entire country, Rocky Mountain National Park lures upwards of 4.5 million nature lovers each year! And it’s pretty clear why. Spanning 415 square miles and the Continental Divide, this northern Colorado jewel is home to pine forests, gleaming lakes, mountains and glaciers. Lest we forget ever-popular trekking paths such as Emerald Lake Trail. Prefer to drive? No prob. The iconic Trail Ridge Road passes aspen trees, rivers and countless scenic lookouts. As if we haven’t named enough impressive things about Rocky Mountain National Park, another selling point is that it has both campgrounds and over 260 wilderness backcountry camping sites! With that said, we truly can’t overstress the desirably of spending the night in this exquisite place. It’s not uncommon for people to get their sleep situation sorted out well a year in advance.
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3. GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK
Keen to experience the tallest sand dunes in North America IRL? Great Sand Dunes National Park is a thrill-a-minute destination where magnificent scenery and adventure lurks around every corner. Into adrenaline-pumping activities? Then you’ve probably already done some research and know that it’s actually possible to go sand sledding and sandboarding! OK, so picture this...you trek to the top of a massive, sky-caressing sand down and then slide all the way done. We honestly can’t imagine anything more jealousy-inducing for pals back home. (Just be sure to have someone snap some Instagram-worthy photos as proof.) Not ready to leave after an unforgettable day of sand-centric action? We’re right there with you and were over-the-moon (or, shall we say, over the dunes) to find out that you can do the whole overnight tent thing in Great Sand Dunes National Park.
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4. BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON NATIONAL PARK
Where can you come face to face with Precambrian rocks, plus some of the steepest cliffs, craggiest spires and most jaw-dropping striated cliffs anywhere in North America? (BTW that includes the Grand Canyon.) Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in western Colorado. For that, let’s all take a moment to thank the powerful Gunnison River and millions of years of weather forces. OK, enough about the geology side of things, we all know that the vast majority of visitors go to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for the activities and views. Who wants in on rock climbing, horseback riding, hiking, biking, kayaking and trout fishing? Or, why not, drive the roads along the north and south rims? Wildlife peeping is another huge draw. While traversing the myriad trails, you’re likely to spot mule deer, elk and golden eagles. The fact that it’s possible to stay overnight is an added and unexpected bonus. When it comes to accommodations, you have loads of options! There are three designated campgrounds and over a hundred sites, from those with electrical hookups, potable water and vault toilets to more primitive setups.
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5. JACKSON LAKE STATE PARK
Billed as an "Oasis in the Plains," Jackson Lake State Park boasts boundless opportunities for waterfront fun. Anyone for swimming, boating and water skiing? Fishing is another popular pursuit as wipers and walleye splash around in the reservoir. When the sun goes down, we dare say that this place gets even more awesome. You might ask how that’s even possible. Good question. Well, Jackson Lake State Park just so happens to be the only state park in Colorado to receive a Dark Sky designation. That’s a pretty big deal and also means that you’re in for some seriously amazing stargazing. Obviously, with such celestial beauty to behold, you’re going to want to stay over. Choose from 251 campsites, the bulk of which is for traditional campers, trailers and tents. But, get this...there are even hammock campsites and you can rent gear at the visitor center. Now, that’s almost too cool for words.
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6. STAUNTON STATE PARK
Located six miles west of Conifer, Staunton State Park is a relative newcomer (it opened on May 18, 2013), but that hasn’t stopped this 3,908-acre gem from making a big impression in a relatively short time. Not that we could really expect anyone to resist the allure of its geological and topographical diversity. Staunton State Park has an exceptionally varied landscape, ranging from high grassy meadows and soaring granite cliffs to streams and even a waterfall. That translates to an abundance of different plants and wildlife species. The recreational opportunities are equally robust. Climbing, horseback riding, fishing, biking and hiking—you name it! We also want to shout out the brilliant Track Chair Program that provides people with mobility limitations a chance to explore and connect with nature. Rounding out the appeal? From where we’re sitting that’d be the 25 walk-in campsites.
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7. STATE FOREST STATE PARK
Stretching along the west side of the Medicine Bow Mountains and into the north end of the Never Summer Range, State Forest State Park sprawls more than 71,000 acres and earns the coveted distinction of being the largest state park in Colorado. It’s not just massive, but also super magical with dense forests, craggy peaks and alpine lakes—and, we should add, chock full of upwards of 600 moose. The odds are very high that you’ll observe many of State Forest State Park’s famous antlered residents while hiking, biking or four-wheeling. Birdwatchers will certainly delight in glimpsing Steller's jays, black-capped chickadees and different types of finches. Winter is prime for skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding and snowmobiling. Camping setups run the gamut from RV sites overlooking the reservoir and primitive tents near the water to hike-in yurts with outhouses and cooking facilities (which are probably your best bet when the temperature drops).
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8. LATHROP STATE PARK
Lathrop State Park, located three miles west of the town of Walsenburg, has a lot going for it. Let’s start from the very beginning...literally. This historic natural wonderland, which opened in 1962 and was named after Harold Lathrop, the first director of state parks, holds the distinction of being Colorado's first state park—and the only one with a golf course (because why the heck not?). Love watersports? You’re in luck. Perhaps the most enticing attribute of Lathrop State Park is the duo of vast, shimmering lakes. Martin Lake allows powerboats for jet skiing and even offers a swimming beach while Horseshoe Lake caters to wakeless activities such as paddle boarding, kayaking and canoeing. Anglers will be thrilled at the prospect of reeling in brown trout, saugeye, catfish, northern pike and tiger muskie. Since you probably won’t want to leave, the promise of 103 campsites and three group-camping areas is great news! Whether going with a group of pals or bringing along the entire family, you’re pretty much guaranteed a good time.
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