So you’ve booked your Overland Adventure rental campervan or overlander camper and are ready to plan your trip to Colorado!

Colorado is well known for its beautiful mountain scenery, over 300 days of sunshine a year, and an abundance of outdoor adventures just waiting to be had. Whether you consider yourself a city slicker, an adventure junkie, or somewhere in between, Colorado offers something for everyone. 

And of course, one of the best activities for travelers of all ages and backgrounds is camping! 

With thousands of established campsites across the state and millions of acres of public land waiting to be explored, Colorado is truly a mecca for backcountry backpackers and casual weekend campers alike.

But if you’re new to the area, you might get overwhelmed in your quest to find the right campsite for you. Googling things like “campgrounds in Colorado” or “RV/Car camping in Colorado” brings up thousands of results. And in those results, you might be wondering about the differences between established campgrounds and dispersed campsites, and what’s included in each type of camping.

Trust us, we’ve been there! The choice comes down to whether you’re looking for a more structured experience in an established campground or a remote adventure in dispersed campsites. 

We’ve organized the main types of camping sites in Colorado into two categories: 

  1. Established Campgrounds

  2. Dispersed Campsites

Below, we’ll guide you through the different types of camping sites in Colorado, the pros and cons of dispersed vs. established campgrounds, and how to find the perfect camping spot for your next adventure.

What Are Established Campsites?

How To Find The Best Camping In Colorado

If you’re looking for a less remote, front-country experience with more amenities, an established campground sounds like the right fit for you.

Established campgrounds usually have maintained roads leading to and around your campsite, with designated areas (which are usually numbered) for each site.

These are typically found in state and national parks, with facilities such as bathrooms, garbage bins, fire pits, picnic tables, and grills. Sometimes these even have showers and recreational areas (like volleyball, horseshoes, etc.). 

Established campgrounds are often located in gorgeous locations, where the surrounding land is well-managed and offers easy access to hiking and walking trails.

When it comes to established campgrounds, you can choose between a public or private campground

Public Campground Overview

Public campgrounds are usually located in National Parks, Colorado State Parks, or managed by other similar organizations. Reservations often need to be made in advance for most of these sites, especially during peak season (May-September). While some public campgrounds require reservations, others are first-come, first-serve. 

Pros of Public Campgrounds:

  • Good info/signs describing campsites

  • Easy to find on GPS/maps

  • Groomed roads

  • Groomed trails

  • Close to emergency services

  • Well-maintained

  • Bathroom facilities and amenities 

Cons of Public Campgrounds:

  • Closer to other campers

  • Less remote (but not always!)

  • Sometimes noisier

  • Capacity (may fill up quickly during peak season)

  • Reservation/permit necessary

  • Some fees may apply

Private Campground Overview

Private campgrounds are usually owned and managed by organizations such as Kampgrounds of America (KOA), BaseCamp, or other private entities. These are usually located near popular tourist areas in the state.

Another great option for finding private camping is HipCamp, an online marketplace that helps you discover and book unique camping experiences. Known as the “Airbnb for camping”, HipCamp allows you to search for available campsites based on location, landscape, activities, and amenities. While the app includes public parks, they also offer plenty of camping on private land, including ranches, farms, vineyards and land preserves! 

Reservations need to be made in advance for private campgrounds, and are generally more expensive than public campgrounds. 

Pros of Private Campgrounds:

  • More amenities than average campgrounds, including bathrooms, showers, and sometimes a cafe and swimming pool!

  • Good info/signs describing campsites

  • Groomed roads & trails

  • Close to emergency services

  • Typically well-maintained

  • Bathroom facilities and amenities

  • Can feel more exclusive than public sites

Cons of Private Campgrounds:

  • Can be more expensive than public sites

  • Capacity may fill up quickly during peak season

  • Reservation/permit necessary

  • Some fees may apply

  • Closer to other campers (sometimes)

  • Less remote (but not always!)

What are Dispersed Campsites?



Dispersed camping is camping anywhere in National Forest or Bureau of Land Management land OUTSIDE of a designated campground. In other words, dispersed camping is car camping on public land where you essentially choose your own campsite, often further away from other people and without amenities like a bathroom, picnic tables, or a clearly numbered site. 

Dispersed camping doesn’t mean setting up camp wherever you want — these campsites are usually sites that are used over and over again by campers each year, and are often marked by a fire ring (rocks in a circle) and located just off the dirt road. 

Dispersed camping is still car camping, just away from established campgrounds and common amenities. If, on the other hand, you want to hike off into the woods and find your own campsite, we’d call that backpacking. In that case, you’ll need to hike in with everything you need on your back, and follow state rules for building a fire outside of an established fire pit.

When dispersed camping on public land, you can stay up to 14 days in a single location within a 30-day period. You’ll then need to move at least 3 miles away to a new site, for up to 14 more days. 

You can camp up to 28 days in a 60-day period anywhere in a National Forest, but will need to leave that particular area for at least a week but with 11 National Forests in Colorado, there are plenty of options!

Pros of Dispersed Camping:

  • It’s free!

  • More sense of freedom and exploration

  • Further from crowds and tourist traps

  • Ample space and sense of privacy

  • More privacy away from noisy people and highway traffic

  • Instills a sense of adventure and confidence in your outdoor abilities

  • Greater chance of wildlife viewing

  • Lots of fun finding your own location and setting up camp

Cons of Dispersed Camping:

  • Requires more planning and effort when it comes to finding a suitable location

  • Taking care of your bathroom needs

  • Protecting your food from critters

  • Fewer (if any) facilities for hygiene

  • Further away from emergency services and civilization

  • Less cellular reception (if any)

Finding A Campground and Making Reservations


Booking a Public Campground

  • Reservations can be made online for State Parks.

  • Colorado National Parks are beginning a phased reopening at the end of May 2020. If you are looking to book a campsite at a national park such as Rocky Mountain National Park, check out this site for more information on National Park Service-managed locations across the state.

Booking a Private Campground

  • There are over 20 Kampgrounds of America certified sites around the beautiful state of Colorado and they can be reserved and researched here

  • BaseCamp is another private company that owns excellent campgrounds with some of the best camping near Denver for visitors that are looking to explore the Front Range

  • You can also find camping on private land using mobile apps like HipCamp or Tentrr (think of them as Airbnb for camping)

Tips for Booking an Established Public or Private Campsite

To book an established campsite, you often need to reserve your campsite in advance. Make sure to check availability ahead of time and understand how to pay your daily fee (some only accept cash). 

If you can’t book in advance and your spot is first-come, first served, simply drive around the campground, and look for a spot that is empty or unreserved. Fill out the registration form/envelope (located at the entrance by the information board) and follow the directions. You will need exact change to pay for your site, so bring some cash!

There are often limits on how long you can stay, and you’ll need to abide by the daily check-in and check-out times, as well as quiet hours and other courtesies. 


With so much public land in Colorado located across our State Parks, National Forests, National Grasslands, and Bureau of Land Management areas, there are thousands of dispersed camping options across the state. 

Here’s how to find dispersed campsites: 

  • The National Forest Service manages many public lands around Colorado with thousands of acres of camp-able land. Information on specific campgrounds in particular locations is available on the NFS webpage

  • Some public lands in Colorado are managed by the Bureau for Land Management and visitors are able to explore millions of acres of public lands that are camper friendly. The BLM Visit Us page is an excellent resource in order to find a campground to suit your needs in a more remote location than a private campground. 

  • More information on dispersed camping can be found at The Dyrt.

  • Dispersed campsites are typically located away from main highways, paved roads, and urban areas, and can be found on dirt/gravel forest roads and other county-maintained roads throughout National Forests and grasslands. Some of these areas may require high clearance and 4×4 vehicles.

  • Keep an eye out for signs that say private land — you can’t camp on private property without permission. Often, you simply need to keep driving until you’re back on public land. 

  • Don’t drive off the road, unless you are in a specific off-road driving area (and have a vehicle and/or rental suited for that purpose). 

  • Try to find a site that is at least 100-200 feet (70 adult steps) away from the road, trail, or water source. The “200 Foot Rule” minimizes your impact on the surrounding environment, protecting water quality and allowing access routes for wildlife. 

  • While dispersed camping is usually free, always check local regulations and the signs that are posted along the roadside.

  • Within State Parks, a day-use fee often applies to each vehicle that enters the area.

Tips for Dispersed Camping

  • Always pack out what you bring in – this means trash, food, bathroom waste, etc. Brush up on the 7 Leave No Trace principles for guidance.

  • Overnight camping is usually not allowed in picnic areas, trailhead parking, and parking lots. 

  • Bring plenty of water! If you plan to take water from a local stream or another source, you need to filter it properly or risk getting sick. 

  • Fire bans and restrictions are common in Colorado. Always check local regulations and follow safe fire practices:

    • Use a fire pit if available. If not, build your own by placing medium-sized rocks in a ring. This helps keep it contained and embers from flying all over.

    • Never leave a campfire unattended! Colorado is dry in summer and forest fires can start easily.

    • Have a plan to extinguish your fire and always make sure it is completely out before going to bed or leaving your campsite. 

Ready for Your Next adVANture?

How To Find The Best Camping In Colorado

In Colorado, there are endless options for all types of campers, regardless of your experience level. Every style of camping has its pros and cons, but each one is guaranteed to provide breathtaking views and unforgettable memories.

But let’s face it — sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming when deciding what to pack before you head out. That’s why we’ve put together a guide to help you check off the absolute essentials that every camper should bring on their next outdoor adventure. 

Discover our 10 recommended essentials for your next camp trip >