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How To Find Dispersed Camping In Colorado

  • By Kate Moore
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Dispersed camping is free, private, and does not require any permits. Colorado is a great place to go dispersed camping because the National Forests cover millions of acres.

There are also plenty of dispersed campsites to be found in Colorado Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas and on the Colorado National Grasslands. In this article, we’ll let you know exactly how to find dispersed camping in Colorado and the rules to follow.

There are 11 National Forests in Colorado:

  • Arapaho National Forest
  • Grand Mesa National Forest
  • Gunnison National Forest
  • Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest
  • Pike National Forest
  • Rio Grande National Forest
  • Roosevelt National Forest
  • San Isabel National Forest
  • San Juan National Forest
  • Uncompahgre National Forest
  • White River National Forest

You can find free, dispersed camping in each of these National Forests. They are also the perfect place for outdoor recreation such as mountain biking, climbing, backpacking, fishing, and paddling.

wildlife at a campsite in the colorado national forest

Rules For Dispersed Camping In Colorado

The rules for dispersed camping are pretty similar for all National Forests in the US. This park system is managed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The most important rules for dispersed camping are:

  • Camp within 150 feet of roadways, if possible
  • Always use existing fire rings when available
  • No camping within 100 feet of a water source
  • No camping at developed trailheads or picnic areas
  • You must move your campsite every 14 days
  • Do not leave personal property unattended for more than 10 days
  • Minimize your environmental impact
  • Leave no trace

14 Day Stay Limits

All National Forest and Bureau of Land Management Areas have a 14-day stay limit. This is to prevent excess damage to the environment. In Colorado, this means that you can’t camp in the same spot for more than 14 days within a 28 day timeframe.

That includes both consecutive and non-consecutive visits.

After you’ve reached the 14 day maximum, you must move your campsite outside of a 25 mile radius.

dispersed camping in the eagle's nest wilderness, colorado
Camping in the Eagle’s Nest Wilderness

Dispersed Camping Areas

Following these rules, you can go camping for free in most areas of the Colorado National Forest. Many places have site-specific rules to follow as well.

How To Find Exact Dispersed Camping Boundaries

The trickiest part about dispersed camping is finding out exactly where it’s legal to camp. National Forest boundaries are not clearly marked from the road.

Our #1 tip is to talk to a local park ranger. They can give you the best lay of the land, road conditions, and any special considerations that need to be taken into account.

Aside from that, the USDA offers this helpful map which accurately labels the National Forest boundaries in Colorado.

map of national forests in colorado
National Forest Map courtesy of

Google Maps

All National Forests are highlighted in green when searching in Google Maps. When we first started living in a van, Google Maps was our main way of researching dispersed camping areas. But, there are quite a few drawbacks.

  • It’s hard to tell exactly where the boundary is relative to yourself
  • You can only download offline maps (not campground information)
  • You still have to look up forest-specific rules and regulations

Finding Free Campsites With The Dyrt

More recently, we’ve switch to using The Dyrt Pro to find National Forest boundaries. Using the map layers you can easily find exact boundaries for:

  • Bureau of Land Management Areas
  • National Parks
  • National Forests

You can download the maps for offline use and see exactly when you cross into forest areas.

finding free campsites with the dyrt pro trip planner app

Our favorite part about the app is that there are thousands of user-submitted reviews that include photos, amenities, and reports about campsite conditions.

And the reviews are not limited to paid campgrounds only.

Anyone can submit a review of any area so there are plenty of free and dispersed camping sites in there as well.

campground reviews with the dyrt pro app

Camping on Bureau of Land Management Areas in Colorado

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is run by the US Department of the Interior. Dispersed camping on Colorado BLM land follows the same rules as that of the National Forest.

There are at least 69 BLM camping locations on BLM land in Colorado.

Here are just a few of the places to check out:

BLM campsites range wildly. Some come equipped with vault toilets or trash services; others will have fire rings only. You should never expect a BLM campground to be fully serviced. That’s why reading reviews can be so important!

Before committing to a dispersed camping site, we recommend stopping by one of the forest service offices nearby. The rangers there can give you the most up-to date information about the area.

dispersed camping in the Uncompahgre National Forest colorado

Camping In The Colorado National Grasslands

Once again, the same dispersed camping rules for National Forest and Bureau of Land Management areas can be followed in the Colorado National Grasslands.

You can find free campsites in these Grasslands:

kayaking in the south platte river colorado
Paddling in South Platte, Colorado

Dispersed Camping Sites With Bathrooms in Colorado

Not everyone has the luxury of traveling with a portable toilet. Likewise, not everyone wants to do their duty in the outdoors. Fortunately, you can still find campsites that are free, and come with bathrooms!

For starters, apps like The Dyrt already list campground amenities so if you’ve found one you want to visit bathrooms are easy to check.

As a rule of thumb, you should expect all dispersed camping areas to be primitive and undeveloped unless otherwise stated.

You can look up bathrooms and other amenities at specific campgrounds using these links:

For the National Forest and BLM campsites, click “dispersed camping” and you can find information including location, directions, water and restroom facilities.

Backcountry Camping In Rocky Mountain National Park

There is dispersed camping in Rocky Mountain National Park as well as many of the other Colorado National Parks.

It is often called wilderness camping, or backcountry camping.

Wilderness camping in Rocky Mountain follows a different set of rules than National Forest campsites. For one, permits are required and there is a fee. You can pick up permits at one of the visitor centers or online.

  • Beaver Meadows Visitor Center
  • Kawuneeche Visitor Center

Pets are not allowed in the backcountry campsites at Rocky Mountain National Park, and you cannot stay at one camp area for more than three consecutive nights. You can find all of the dispersed camping rules here.

tent in roosevelt national forest near rocky mountain national park
Roosevelt National Forest

Dispersed Camping Near Rocky Mountain National Park

Outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, the closest dispersed camping sites can be found in the Roosevelt and Arapaho National Forests. Check out these spots:

  • Comanche Peak Wilderness Area
  • Never Summer Wilderness Area
  • Brown Gulch Protection Area
  • Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

Thats A Wrap!

Spending the night for free at dispersed camping sites is our favorite way to travel. You get a quiet and primitive experience without the restrictions of larger campgrounds.

There are also hundreds of places to camp so you can go somewhere new every weekend. Hopefully this article will expand your horizons to all of the free camping areas that Colorado has to offer.

Happy Travels!

Kate is the lead content creator for and has spent over two years living in a camper van conversion. She has traveled through 48 US states and writes about van life, camping and RV living.

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