Let’s face it: Coloradans love to camp. And visitors love to come to Colorado to camp. It’s no wonder. Our state is an outdoor playground of forests, mountains, sand dunes and everything in between.
Looking for short-term living? The opportunities are endless: Tents, RVs, cabins, yurts, teepees, skoolies, boondocking, and plenty of off-the-grid and forest campsites. Colorado has it all – you just need to know where to find it.
If the Pikes Peak region is your home base, this guide will get you started.
(Some businesses and campgrounds listed below may be temporarily closed or operating differently due to local or state guidelines concerning Covid-19. Guidelines are changing day to day. Please check the website and/or call before you go.)
National + State Parks
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Otherworldly. That’s the best way to describe Great Sand Dunes. You’re driving through the San Luis Valley, admiring the mountains on every side. Then suddenly, a patch of tan emerges from the green. Closer. Closer. Suddenly, you’re staring at the tallest sand dunes in North America. In 2019, the park was designated as among the world’s best places for stargazing – one of only 120 so-called “Dark Sky” places. And it’s just as amazing during the day. Beautiful in all seasons, it’s busiest during May and June. That’s when the surrounding mountains’ snow is melting and surging into Medano Creek. All ages gather to splash and float. Year round, visitors rent sand sleds and sand boards to rocket down the dunes. In the summer, skip the shoes and wear knee-high socks to protect your feet from scalding sand. You might even consider a bandana and ski goggles to keep flying sand out of your eyes and mouth. Camping options include on-site Pinon Flats Campground, as well as several other nearby spots. We usually stay at Sand Dunes Pool and Campground – a basic campground 30 minutes away that sports a hot-springs fed pool, on-site grille, gift shop and other amenities.
Location: Eastern edge of the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado
Cost: Pinon Flats, $20 per night. Sand Dunes, $35 per night RV with hookups; $25 per night tent; cabins also available.
Season: Park open year round. Pinon Flats camping open April-Oct.
Mueller State Park
Mueller State Park may be the worst-kept secret in the Colorado State Parks system. It’s close. It’s cheap. And it is stunning! Unfortunately, everyone knows it. That’s why my family sets an alarm six months out twice a year to book our reservations. It’s worth it. This place rocks. It has 134 campsites, including 99 electric hook-ups, group sites, a few cabins and even two equestrian sites, with a barn for horses. Fishing in the summer. Sledding in the winter. Modern playground and amphitheater. Forty miles of trails for every level of hiking, biking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and animal viewing. Just go – and don’t forget your camera! Note: Dogs are welcome in the campground and on roads, but not on trails.
Location: Between Divide and Cripple Creek
Cost: Electric hook-up campsite: $36; basic walk-in tent site: $28
Season: Year round, although sites are limited from Oct. 1-April 30
Eleven Mile State Park
Big lakes are tough to come by in Colorado. Eleven Mile State Park boasts one of the largest reservoirs in the state and it’s chock full of rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout, kokanee salmon and northern pike. Bring your boat or rent one from the well-equipped marina. This place is a stark contrast to many of Colorado’s highly forested campgrounds. Eleven Mile is rugged, shrubby, wickedly windy – and such a great adventure. My kids spent hours exploring the shoreline for treasure (brightly colored crab claws). They pretended they were the first humans to traverse the water’s edge and it wasn’t much of a stretch to believe it. We were fascinated by a resident pelican that spent half its day zigzagging back and forth, trying to steal an angler’s stringer of trout. Not into fishing? There are plenty of hiking trails, a playground and other amenities. With 335 campsites spread over nine campgrounds, there is something for everyone. Note: If you arrive at night, it is d-a-r-k. Make sure you know ahead of time where you are going, where to fill up your water tanks and where the after-hours payment drop box is.
Location: Off Hwy 24, past Divide, then turn south near Lake George
Cost: Electric site, $36; basic site $28.
Season: Year round, although sites are limited Oct. 15-March 31.
Cheyenne Mountain State Park
Want to be in nature, but close to town? Cheyenne Mountain State Park offers access to both. It’s a 10-minute drive from downtown, but feels much farther. More than two dozen miles of wilderness house 21 trails and 61 campsites. Select trails are open to dog and equestrian users and an archery range offers a static range and a walking field/3D course. And the programming is great! Beginner archery classes. Junior Ranger programs. Guided wildflower walks. Family mystery hikes. Campfire talks. Even weekly yoga! Hit the visitor center first — it’s open year round.
Location: A few miles southwest of Colorado Springs
Cost: Full hook-up site, $41; basic site, $28
Season: Year round, although sites are limited mid-October to Mid-April
Glamping: Skoolies, Tipis, Cabins + Yurts
Looking for something different? Take a peek at Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa, nestled in the northern gateway to the beautiful San Luis Valley. It offers a variety of lodging: hotel rooms with aspen wood furniture, tipis, yurts and campsites. But this place is about more than the accommodations. This retreat was built around hot mineral springs with no sulfur odor. It’s an escape from the daily routine. Native Americans, explorers and settlers took refuge in the waters. Now, it’s your turn. The current owner has been there for 21 years and says it’s her intent “to allow our mineral hot springs’ healing water and therapies to awaken the hearts and uplift the spirits of all who come.” Sounds delightful, right? The pools are kept at 98 to 108 degrees. Each overnight guest receives daily breakfast and a light dinner, as well as weekend yoga classes and daily complimentary soaking in the hot springs. Views of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range are free, yoga and massages and facials are available for purchase. Note: Wednesdays are clothing optional in the hot pool.
Location: San Luis Valley
Cost: Lodge starts at $140. Yurts start at $130. Tipis start at $80. RV sites with electricity start at $75. Tent sites start at $70.
Season: Year round
Love the idea of a tiny house, but prefer it on wheels? How about a converted school bus? Stay with me here – these aren’t ordinary school buses, friends. These are off-grid, custom rigs with renewable energy systems. If you can dream it, Chrome Yellow Corp can build it. The Arvada-based company has been transforming big and small old buses into fabulous, sustainable homes and businesses since 2014. Sound a bit too cozy? Chrome Yellow’s resident welder can literally raise the roof. Work with the fabricators or cabinet maker to create a unique space that matches your personality and lifestyle. Prices can range from around $30,000 for a small bus to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a large bus loaded with amenities. There are only a handful of people in this shop, so you’ll be dealing directly with the people who are building your dream.
Cost: Varies widely, depending on size and amenities
Season: Year round
Echo Canyon Campground
It’s a neighborhood. No… it’s a resort. Wait… it’s a campground. Echo Canyon Campground sits smack in the middle of the Royal Gorge region. What makes it different? Glamping tents with queen beds, sleeper sofas, electricity, Wi-Fi and a furnished, private deck. (The campground also offers cabins with central air and flat-screen TVs.) The location is a great home base for nearby river rafting and exploring the Royal Gorge region. Hungry? The 8 Mile Bar & Grill is just across the street and even has a menu for your dog.
Location: Canon City
Cost: Tent, $49; Glamping Tent Cabin $189 to $249; Cabin, $375 to $599
Season: Luxury Cabins are available year round. Glamping Tents are open April through October, weather permitting. The 8 Mile Bar and Grill is seasonal, May through August.
Black Tree Resort
Is luxury your thing? This is your place. No roughing it at Black Tree Resort, folks. While it might be situated in nature, you’ll enjoy all the amenities you’re accustomed to. “Tents” come complete with solar power, handcrafted furniture, electricity, high-end bedding and access to a private bathroom with everything you need. The tents are spaced apart to give each one a private feel. And staff delivers fresh, local cuisine to you for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lots of activities nearby, including Eleven Mile State Park.
Location: 80 acres of private property bordering Pike National Forest, Lake George
Cost: Starting at $595
Season: Year round
Smaller or Private Campgrounds
Barr Camp sits about halfway between Manitou Springs and Pikes Peak – a 12.5-mile hike that boasts a 7,700-foot gain in elevation. Accommodation options: Bunkhouse, cabin, three-walled lean tos, camping that includes breakfast (and optional dinner for $10) and free, dispersed camping in the national forest. The original cabin was built in 1922. It was nearly razed in the 1970s due to vandalism and disrepair, but now has full-time caretakers. Enjoy a piece of history with a stay here.
Location: Halfway up Pikes Peak
Cost: Varies from free to $33, depending on lodging.
Season: Year round
Cutty’s Hayden Creek Resort
Looking for something a bit more remote, but with plenty to do once you arrive? Cutty’s Hayden Creek Resort has you covered. Tucked away on 157 acres in the San Isabel National Forest, it’s worth the trek. The resort has indoor and outdoor swimming pools, ping pong, miniature golf, volleyball, tennis, basketball, shuffleboard, video games, and meals on weekends. Saturday nights feature bingo and karaoke. Accommodations include tent and RV sites, cabins, a bunkhouse and even a retro trailer. This campground is rustic, relaxed and fun. The resort recently added an option of golf cart rentals to help campers get around the mighty hills. Note: Bring helmets, if your kids will be riding bikes. The hills are steep in some areas and it’s easy to unintentionally pick up speed – just ask our youngest child, who missed a turn and crashed into our RV. Oops!
Location: Off Hwy 50, past Cotopaxi, near Coaldale
Cost: Ranges from $49 to $299 per night, depending on accommodation type.
Spruce Grove Campground
Great hiking and a beautiful creek? Yes, please. Spruce Grove Campground offers 27 campsites alongside large rock outcroppings on Tarryall Creek. The campground sits at 8,600 feet and includes water, fire rings, toilets and tables. It’s a great jumping off point for visiting Lost Creek Wilderness, a 119,790-acre stretch of scenic overlooks, boulders and granite arches. Lots of wildlife here, too: Mule deer, elk, bobcats, black bear and bighorn sheep.
Location: 13 miles from Lake George
Rampart Reservoir Recreation Area
Rampart Reservoir Recreation Area is heavily used and for good reason. This 500-surface-acre lake is perched upon a 3400-foot-long dam. The City of Colorado Springs uses the reservoir as storage for 13 billion gallons of domestic water, but it’s also stocked with fish. Forty campsites dot the Meadow Ridge and Thunder Ridge campgrounds and a few sites are handicapped accessible. The campgrounds include tables, fire grates, drinking water, toilets and trash collection. Hiking, fishing and mountain biking are the favorite summer activities and cross country skiing is popular in winter.
Location: Four miles east of Woodland Park
Cost: $23 for basic site
Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Salida
Whitewater rafting or kayaking? Chances are, you’re launching somewhere along the 152-mile-long Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. That means you’re close to one of the seven AHRA campgrounds along Highways 24, 285, and 50. Each one offers between eight and 25 basic campsites. Ruby Mountain and Hecla Junction are among the most popular, but check out the descriptions of each campground before deciding. The AHRA is one of the nation’s most popular locations for whitewater rafting, kayaking and trout fishing. What a treat to camp right along this mighty river!
Location: Spans 152 miles from Leadville to Lake Pueblo
Cost: $28 for basic site
Season: Year round
Cripple Creek KOA
This little gem sits at 10,000 feet above sea level, making the Cripple Creek KOA the highest KOA in the world. It’s simple, but it is just perfect for what it is: a high-mountain campground. Surrounded by an alpine meadow, this KOA boasts serene sunsets, amazing stargazing and restful nights. No hustle or bustle. Kids? There’s a playground. Forget something? There’s a well-appointed shop. Rainy day? Rent a movie to watch in your RV for $2. The campground offers tent and RV sites, as well as primitive camping cabins and a “lodge” with full amenities. There are plenty of activities nearby, including the historic gold mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor.
Location: Near Cripple Creek
Cost: Varies, depending on accommodation type.
Season: May 20-Oct. 4
O’Haver Lake Campground
Pssssttttt… Book it early. A calm, 15-acre, mountain lake with a beautiful campground? You know those 31 sites don’t last long. O’Haver Lake Campground often fills up on weekends. If you DO wait, the campground holds a few sites back as “first-come, first-served.” Worth a shot, but arrive early. ATVs must be parked at the entrance. Use the fishing pier or a non-motorized boat to fish for the plentiful rainbow and brook trout. O’Haver sits at 9,200 feet amid ponderosa pines and aspen.
Location: Southwest of Salida
Season: May 17-Oct. 14
Even if you’re not in the military, there’s a decent chance you have connections. So, I’ll just mention that the military campgrounds in the Pikes Peak region are definitely worth checking out:
- Farish Recreation Area is a-m-a-z-i-n-g. It’s like a national park without the crowds. Three ponds. Paddle boats for rent. Lots of cabins. Go, if you can. It’s near Woodland Park.
- USAFA Peregrine Pines Fam Camp sits on the edge of the United States Air Force Academy. It sports a huge playground and beautiful, forested sites. You’re in town, but you’d never know it if you didn’t hear the occasional train pass by. Stay in the fall and walk to a USAFA football game.
- Camp Falcon is Fort Carson’s campground. It offers a variety of camping options including individual and group campsites with fire rings and gravel tent spots. A nature trail winds through mature trees, open meadows, and an old creek bed with plenty of chances to view wildlife.
- Peterson Air Force Base plans to break ground on a Fam Camp in 2020.
Colorado offers dispersed camping practically everywhere! We have millions of acres of publicly owned land and many of those acres are open to camping, as long as you follow the “leave no trace” rule.
Once you know where you’ll be staying, search online for “dispersed camping” in that area. There should be no shortage.
Closest to the Pikes Peak region is the 1.1-million acre Pike National Forest. It covers six counties including El Paso. Some areas are accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles, horseback or foot. Look up the rules here, pitch a tent and enjoy the solitude.
Want to save a little money? Try boondocking. Call it what you choose – dry camping, free camping, wild camping – but there are options other than Walmart parking lots and off-the-grid these days.
Take Boondockers Welcome. It’s built by RVers, for RVers. These folks believe that RVing brings out the best in people. They think making friends on the road often ends up being the best part of any story.
To that end, they have assembled a website that links RVers at home and willing to host with RVers on the road and needing a place to stay for a night or two. No money exchanges hands – it’s a simple pay-the kindness-forward system.
Give it a look. There are dozens of hosts in Colorado and thousands beyond. Maybe you’ll end up making some new friends along the way.
Tips and Tricks:
Many Colorado campgrounds start taking reservations six months out. Plan early, especially if you plan to travel with others.Colorado is a vacation hotspot, so the best sites go surprisingly fast. If you’re in the military or a senior, look for discounts. Finally, many parks require you to pay for a day-use pass in addition to your camping fees. If you know you’ll be camping a few times at state parks, for instance, you might save money by buying a season pass.
Colorado by the Numbers:
42 State Parks
4 National Parks
42 National Wildernesses
2 National Grasslands
1 National Scenic Trail
4 National Historic Trails
8 National Monuments
2 National Historic Sites
2 National Recreation Areas
2 National Conservation Areas
8 National Wildlife Refuges
28 National Recreation Trails