CAMPING & CAMPGROUNDS INFORMATION FOR COLORADO AND THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
Camping is permitted on many different types of lands in the United States. Depending on who the landowner is there will be different fees, rules, and regulations. There are lots of options and it is hard to find one place that explains them all, but we’ve tried to give you a good summary below. We focused a lot of our links on Colorado-specific websites, but if you search you can find similar resources/websites for all of the surroundings states. There is something for everyone, from a campground that is more like a hotel with plug in power, swimming pools, and heated showers, to a secluded campsite in the middle of the forest with nothing else but you, your VW, and the stars.
CAMPING TIPS FOR YOU AND YOUR V-DUB
While you can park your VW pretty much anywhere, here are some tips from long time VW campers.
Booking campgrounds in advance:
We suggest you do so when you will be arriving somewhere late at night that is remote (and there are not a lot of campgrounds or options). We also suggest you reserve a campground if you will be camping in a popular area (yellowstone, rocky mountain national park, moab) during high season (may-sep) on a friday and saturday night. When that isn’t possible try to have at least two options for a campground, then if one is full you already know where a second one is! (we provide you with a delorme atlas for finding campsites on the road).
What kind of hook ups do I need for my camper van?
You don’t need electrical or water hookup sites for any of our campers. Everything will work just fine (even the fridge) without being plugged into shore power! If you have a full camper you can reserve a site with electrical hookups to plug your camper in for some ease of use, but it is not necessary. You will never need a site with water hookups.
What type of campsite should I reserve, RV or tent?
Always be sure to check the campgrounds regulations on what they allow in each type of campsite. When sleeping in your car is allowed at a tent site that is a great option. Tent sites are cheaper, often more secluded, and just as good. When booking in advance look for level ground (so your bed is level!) and a parking layout that you like. Since you will be camping in your ‘car’ you want to think about where you are allowed to park it. If you have to hike into the campground you could be parking between other cars.
National Parks Service are different that many campsites as they require you book the correct type of site for sleeping in your vehicle. This can be listed in a number of ways: RV, RV nonelectric, or standard nonelectric. DO NOT book a ‘tent only’ site in a National Park campground unless you also have a tent with you. Generally they are all the same price in National Park Campgrounds except for full hookup RVs or hard sided RVs which you do not want or need. Most of our vehicles have a tent pop up and therefore would not be a hard sided RV.
How do I mark my campsite if we leave with our camper for the day?
In the spring-fall seasons (the busy seasons) you can leave a lawn chair or two (which we provide) to mark your site for dispersed camping. If you have a reserved site the campground will mark it for you.
DISPERSED CAMPING / FREE CAMPING / BOONDOCKING
Dispersed camping is some of the most secluded and remote camping you will find and it’s free. It is technically camping in a National Forest outside of a campground. There are generally no facilities but occasionally you might have access to a toilet. Please utilize existing forest service roads/trails to find a campsite and do not drive on meadows. The United States Forest Service (USFS) has a webpage that explains the rules and regulations associated with Dispersed Camping and provides motor vehicle use maps to find sites. The main thing to remember is to Leave No Trace.
How do you find a good spot? We will provide you a Delorme Atlas in your car which will have forest service roads in them but you can plan ahead with these motor vehicle use maps (this site provides downloaded google earth maps!) or the ones on the USFS website. There are a lot of resources on the web and you can always ask a local or a ranger for tips. We know of some really beautiful spots and are happy to help as well, just ask us. When we take our Volkswagen Camper out, we like to have a rough destination in mind and just set up camp when we come across the perfect spot!
You can find dispersed camping, also known as boondocking or free camping, outside of the national forest as well. This is usually not as remote and sometimes can be in the middle of a city (Walmart overnight parking). Here are a couple of websites to check out: freecampsites.net, boondockerswelcome.com, and wheeling it – free overnight parking. There are a lot more website and blogs on this topic and you can check out Bussy’s Blog for recent finds.
Don’t forget there is always the potential of meeting cool locals in your Volkswagen campervan who won’t mind you popping the top and spending the night on their property. Just remember, always ask first because we do have a law here in Colorado that can ruin someone’s day. (Make my Day law).
NATIONAL PARKS – NPS
For the most part you will find pretty basic campgrounds in National Parks. Amenities might include bathrooms, fire pits, picnic tables, electrical hookups, and occasionally water and showers. You can find links to all of Colorado’s National Parks here or you can search for National Parks by State here. We are lucky in Colorado as we have some of the most amazing National Parks in our backyard. They do require a fee for entry and while there is dispersed camping allowed in some National Parks, most only provide pay campgrounds. (National Park camping regulations). You can book some campgrounds in advance here or with the National Recreation Reservation service, but most are on a first come first serve basis. Our National Parks are extremely popular in the summer and we highly recommend booking campgrounds in advance when possible. When not possible try to avoid weekends and holidays or plan to arrive before the crowds on a Friday afternoon!
If you plan on visiting multiple parks then you should check out the park passes that are available to save some money.
US FOREST SERVICE – USFS
The US Forest Service campgrounds are usually more basic than the National Park campgrounds. Most have pit toilets, picnic tables, and fire pits. Some of the best free camping (also known as dispersed camping or boondocking) can be found in US Forests. They provide a great map search for camping and other recreational activities in all of the forests. You can book some campgrounds in advance here, on the National Recreation Reservation service, or this campground list. For more information on finding dispersed camping locations see our section on Dispersed Camping.
COUNTY AND CITY PARKS
Each County and City have different rules and regulations as far as camping. Some allow it, some don’t. The more rural the county the more likely you will find a good option for overnight camping. You will find some County campsites listed on the links under our private lands camping, but otherwise your best bet is to do some online research.
STATE FORESTS, PARKS, AND WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREAS (WMAS)
There are many different types of state lands that allow camping as well. Each state is different, so it is best to research by State, but this state parks site is a great starting point. Check out these two sites for Colorado state information on camping and reservations in parks and Colorado Parks and Wildlife camping search.
Private campgrounds can be stocked full of amenities. So if you want something with a little more entertainment for the kids (pools, mini-golf, etc) or you want a nice hot shower and some indoor facilities these can be a great option. They are generally less secluded and less private, but some can be quite interesting like this one with a clothing optional hot springs on site. There are tons of private campgrounds out there (like KOA) and you can find them listed in many different places. Here are a few websites to try: Go Camping in America Website, campgrounds.com, camp Colorado (sponsored by Colorado Tourism), all stays website, airbnb lists some too, and the Colorado vacation directory. We could go on. It is best to check multiple sites as each have different listings and always check with the campground itself for current information and accurate rates. (most have their own website).
OTHER FEDERAL LANDS
You can find camping on other types of federal land including Bureau of Land Management (BLM), The Army Corps of Engineers, and US Fish and Wildlife Service lands. The National Recreation Reservation service lists campgrounds by state for all federal lands.
OTHER CAMPING RESOURCES