Ultimate Guide to Dispersed Camping near Aspen, CO

Escape to the beautiful Colorado wilderness with a dispersed camping adventure near Aspen. This historic locale was once a silver-rush hub in the late 1870s and later transformed into a thriving tourist destination for winter sports enthusiasts. But beyond the bustling streets of Aspen lies a serene wilderness that offers an abundance of dispersed camping opportunities year-round.

Whether you’re an experienced camper or new to the outdoor scene, the area surrounding Aspen is a true natural wonderland. With scenic forests, towering mountain peaks, and plenty of wildlife, you’ll find yourself surrounded by breathtaking beauty at every turn.

In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about free camping near Aspen, from the best campgrounds to the rules and regulations you need to follow. So pack your camping gear, prepare for an unforgettable adventure, and discover the beauty of the Colorado wilderness with a dispersed camping trip near Aspen.

Overview of Free Camping Near Aspen

Mountain range near Aspen Colorado

Initially, Aspen was a place frequented by folks looking for silver. Nowadays, it’s a place known for its recreation facilities, excellent ski opportunities, and camping.

Its high elevation means you cannot visit it year-round that easily, but if you get here during the summer, you can have the camping experience of your life.

The high altitude, mesmerizing views of gorgeous aspen forest covering foothills of mountains with snow-covered peaks, and a rich network of tough-to-navigate but otherwise fantastic forest service roads are what makes this part of the US so attractive to both affluent seasonal tourists with property in the town itself and outdoors enthusiasts alike.

Best Dispersed Campgrounds near Aspen

Given the immense popularity of Aspen as a vacation resort, finding dispersed camping sites around the town proper will take a bit of work. For the most part, Aspen’s become a jet-setter town of second or third properties of wealthy individuals worldwide.

While this makes Aspen a rather exciting and vibrant community, it also means you must venture further into the wilderness outside the town to pitch a tent.

I will present my five favorite campgrounds near Aspen in the passages below. The fantastic scenic passes and roads, the mountainous environment, and a labyrinth of charming forest service roads make Wyoming a must-visit for anyone who likes Aspen trees, beautiful nature, and secretive woodland campsites.

Lincoln Creek Dispersed Campground

Lincoln Creek Dispersed Campground
Photo by 1sock via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
  • Water availability: no
  • Toilets: no
  • Visitor frequency: high
  • Distance to Aspen: 11 miles 
  • Map 

Just 20 minutes from Aspen, Lincoln Creek is a medium-sized campground with 22 individual campsites. The proximity to the region’s only long-standing settlement is a double-edged sword for this campground, as Aspen sees an incredible number of tourists every year.

While a fair chunk of these visitors are high-level jet-setters who own property in the town itself, many will also seek local campgrounds during the weekend, and Lincoln Creek is one of them.

The point is that snatching a site can be tricky, but if you arrive there early, you’ll have a decent chance. You will find all the sites tucked away neatly just behind Lincoln Creek Road. Also, a few sites sit just on the edge of the eponymous creek, which is a plus if you like camping next to the water.

The nature here is beautiful, but the road to the campground is separate. You should get on board a 4×4 off-roader for best results.

A quick note: This campground has a 5-night camping limitation. Also, if you plan to arrive here by car or an RV, make sure not to park on the road, as you can get a ticket.

Portal Campground 

Grizzly Reservoir near Portal Campground, Colorado
Photo by Jim Kravitz via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • Water availability: no (you can filter some from the nearby Grizzly reservoir, though)
  • Toilets: vault toilets
  • Visitor frequency: high
  • Distance to Aspen: 17 miles
  • Map 

Located next to Grizzly Reservoir, Portal Campground represents a fantastic campground near both Aspen and Lincoln Creek Road from the above entry. There are five dispersed campgrounds at this location, so there needs to be more room for large rigs and groups of people.

The biggest reason for the relatively small size of this campground is its location. There is quite an elevation here, so coming well-prepared is an absolute must if you mean to spend any significant amount of time at this place.

Once you reach this place, the steep and demanding ascent will more than pay off (For the record, reaching Portal campground requires a high-clearance 4×4, as the terrain gets progressively tougher the further you go).

Some additional activities you can engage in besides camping include fishing and off-roading. Also, hiking represents a major attraction in these parts, and Portal Campground is a perfect starting point if you’d like to attempt to tackle some high-elevation trails in the scenic mountains near Aspen.

The visitor frequency here is medium, and it gets a tad busier during the weekends since Aspen is only 17 miles away. A couple of vault toilets are present at the location, and there is no reliable source of potable water. You can fetch water from the nearby Grizzly Reservoir with a water filter.

Pearl Pass & Castle Creek Dispersed Campground

Crested Butte near Pearl Pass Dispersed Campground, Colorado
  • Water availability: no (you can filter some from Castle Creek, however)
  • Toilets: no
  • Visitor frequency: medium
  • Distance to Aspen: 16 miles
  • Map 

Representing another major creek + road combo, Pearl Pass Road and Castle Creek represent one of the prettiest, most scenic campgrounds in Wyoming. This campground has seven campsites, and they are all dispersed along the creek.

For anyone looking for a campsite with fantastic views and the unique freshness in the air that only camping next to spring can give you – Castle Creek is where you want to be. Besides the gorgeous creek where you can relax and rest, the surrounding wilderness offers plenty of exploration opportunities. The Maroon Bells Wilderness spreads around, and reasons beyond the campground are easily accessible for anyone thirsty for adventure and discovery.

The road that leads to this campground is not just a regular road. It’s rough at every section, so bringing a high-clearance all-four off-roader would be a bright idea.

Moreover, Pearl Pass Road is a beloved destination for 4×4 enthusiasts precisely because of the shape of the road and its challenging terrain. Following this road and well past the campground, you can reach Crested Butte, a well-known local ski resort.

Woody Creek

Woody Creek Campground in Colorado
  • Water availability: no
  • Toilets: no
  • Visitor frequency: light
  • Distance to Aspen: 13 miles 
  • Map 

The small mysterious town of Woody Creek is well-known for two things – its old tavern that’s now assumed legendary status in the local community and excellent dispersed camping spots all around it. At only 13-ish miles from Aspen, Woody Creek is an absolute must-visit if you’re a fan of the Old West culture and have a taste for adventure and exploration.

As far as the campground is concerned, it covers an area that roughly follows two forest roads – Forest Service Road 523 & 534. Along these two woodland paths, you will find many excellent campsites to pitch your tent or park your car (optimally, you should approach these two roads onboard a 4×4 off-roader). You’d struggle to drive an RV up one of these campsites, as the roads are rough.

You won’t find any amenities at Woody Creek Campground, so it’s essential to come to this place fully self-sufficient.

Head west out of the town and then look for a sharp right that will take you on a rough dirt road that leads upwards into the foothills of the mountain. That’s Forest Service Road 534, and you will start encountering roadside pullout campsites once you’ve entered the national forest. Finding these campsites is a piece of cake.

Alternatively, going farther into the mountains, you can find more sites along Forest Service Road 523. Triangle Peak Overlook, a hikers’ favorite, is a nearby point of interest you can visit, too.

For those keen on exploring beyond Woody Creek’s confines, free camping spots near Glenwood Springs offer another rustic experience, blending both seclusion and scenic views. Just a short drive away, these sites become an enchanting detour for campers yearning for diverse landscapes within Colorado’s vast wilderness. With proximity to hot springs and numerous trails, it’s an excellent option for adventurers seeking variation in their journey.

Sayres Gulch

View across Independence Pass near Sayres Gulch
Photo by Daniel Case via Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0)
  • Water availability: no (you can filter some from South Fork Lake Creek)
  • Toilets: no
  • Visitor frequency: light 
  • Distance to Aspen: 32 miles
  • Map 

Last but not least, Sayres Gulch is the farthest dispersed campsite from Aspen than other campgrounds on this list. At 32 miles of distance, bringing all necessary supplies with you before you head out of the town is a must.

The sites disperse along Forest Service Road 382, so you can expect a rough forest road to get there. Head for Independence Pass, a pass high in the mountains, previously known as Hunter Pass, to get here.

Once you’ve reached the top of the pass, turn south to take Forest Service Road 391. At approximately the 1.8-mile mark, turn off into Forest Service Road 382. You will find the campsites start once you land on that road.

The upside of setting up an encampment along Sayres Gulch would be the visitor frequency, which is relatively low. Given the distance of this campground from Aspen, only a few visitors are willing to make the trip here, so there’s almost always free space for camping if you’re eager to tackle these 30 or so miles of road.

For the record, after you turn off the Independence Pass, the forest service roads get rougher, so arriving here onboard a high-clearance 4×4 is a strong recommendation.

If you are interested in exploring other parts of Colorado as well, read our guide to free camping near Denver, Co and our guide to free camping near Leadville, Co.

When to Camp Near Aspen?

Sunset over a beautiful snowy mountain in Aspen

Among the most critical facts about Aspen, Colorado, regarding its outdoor potential, is its significant elevation. This small town sits over 8,000 feet high, reflecting the surrounding landscape. Beautiful aspen trees (from which this settlement got its name) and curvy and hilly mountain roads and terrain make Aspen a true joy if you’re a driver and like passing by gorgeous natural sights en route to your campground.

That said, you’d better embark on a camping expedition in these parts during the summer months, as winters here are cold and snowy and feature solid winds and even snow storms now and again. Unless you have extensive cold weather camping experience and equipment.

In short, a rather rough climate for any long camping experience.

From late May to late September, the summer in this part of the world represents the best window of opportunity for tenting. Even if there is occasional rain, your camping experience won’t be ruined by it, as the weather during the summer season is generally warm and pleasant.

If you plan to visit an RV onboard, driving near Aspen can be a great idea, even for a few weeks past September. This additional window of opportunity lasts until the weather gets freezing and only works if you’re onboard an RV.

Last but not least, it goes without saying that Aspen represents a primary cold weather outdoor place. While there may be better ideas than dispersed camping during the cold months, there are many excellent outdoor activities you can engage in and around Aspen instead. Nordic skiing and snowboarding represent the most popular sports. Social life picks up during winter as restaurants, cabins, hotels, and resorts come to life, bustling with tourists worldwide.

Permits & Fees

Tall trees in a forest near Aspen, Colorado

One of the advantages of dispersed camping in Colorado, other than the fact that you’re establishing a connection with the surrounding nature and experiencing it the way our ancestors did, would be that it’s free of charge.

As long as you camp within limits and respect the rules of either BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or USFS (United States Forest Service) land and steer clear of private properties, rest assured you can set up your tent wherever you so desire.

Forest service roads and other woodland areas are under the jurisdiction of USFS, while other sites, including many open fields and clearings, are overseen by the BLM. 

Other Considerations

Due to the uniqueness of Aspen’s location, camping here is more than just about arriving at one of the campgrounds and setting up a tent. The somewhat rough weather during the winter, the mountainous terrain, high passes, and often demanding off-roading forest service roads – all mean that coming here takes some preparation.

As far as RVs are concerned, it is possible to get here onboard a large recreational vehicle. That said, you can only approach some dispersed campgrounds that way, as many forest service roads are too demanding and require a 4×4 vehicle.

Here are some other important considerations before visiting the broader area around Aspen, Colorado.  

Fires

Campers sitting around a campfire at night in Colorado

Given its immense richness in aspen trees and many other forms of vegetation, forest fires are a real risk in the broader Aspen region. For this reason, being extra careful when setting up campfires is a must – especially if you’ve decided to camp within a forest.

Since fires represent a seasonal peril, it is essential always to check the current instructions around setting fires and where you can and cannot go. These are issued by the Colorado Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, as it’s their job to keep the fire peril under control at all times.

Also, BLM Colorado has this interactive map that you can use to learn more about the ongoing fires in Colorado.

Pets

A friendly dog and two adults in Aspen

The area around Aspen is primarily safe for pets.

All five campgrounds I listed above are pet-friendly. That said, it is essential to always keep your pet on a leash, as they can encounter some more aggressive representatives of the local wildlife and get in trouble if you allow them to roam freely.

Also, packing out pet droppings and carrying it all with you is crucial, as practicing ‘Leave no Trace’ camping principles is vital for the broader Aspen area and includes pets.

Elevation 

While the rather long and cold winter is the typical period when the snowfall is the most prominent, near Aspen, it can start snowing anytime. 

Mostly, the area featuring campgrounds near Aspen sits at around 9,000 feet and often more than that. This elevation means that even during the summer, you need to come well-prepared for a potential bout of sudden cold weather. Of course, you don’t need to expect extreme wintertime temperatures out of the blue, but bringing warm clothes and blankets if you’re tenting is necessary.

Peaks near Aspen rise over 14,000 feet, and many hiking trails follow secretive and challenging mountain paths and passages at over 10,000 feet. 

While there aren’t any campsites this high up, the general elevation of the entire area gives you an idea of what kind of climate to expect around these parts.

Cell phone service 

Cell phone signals and high elevation typically don’t mix well together. Aspen and its broader area are no exception. You will likely get a decent signal in Aspen proper, but the surrounding region is a rather hit-or-miss deal.

The signal strength can vary significantly depending on where you wish to set up your tent or park your RV. If you must have reliable communication while in the Aspen wilderness, consider bringing a satellite phone or a similar device with an extra-strong signal.

The only hurdle that can diminish a satellite phone’s signal would be an extra cloudy sky, but modern-day sat-phones are generally technologically advanced enough to tackle even that.

Vehicle access

RV on a dirt road near Aspen, Colorado in Fall

Mountainous and featuring plenty of rugged forest service parts, the general camping-worthy area around Aspen is not exactly big rig-friendly.

While the forest service and BLM, to an extent, do their best to keep the roads in working order, the shape of the terrain and the somewhat unpredictable weather approach is entirely tricky, if not impossible, for most RVs.

If you still want to camp near Aspen onboard an RV, study the maps of forest service roads well and contact the local USFS or BLM office to learn more about the current road conditions.

Alternatively, the best overall solution would be to approach camping near Aspen in a 4×4 all-wheel drive vehicle. This way, you can rest assured that you can quickly come to any campground you want.

Wildlife

Wild horses in the wilderness near Aspen

The fauna of near-Aspen regions include coyotes, mountain lions, elk, deer, foxes, and moose. Other than these, the one giant predator you need to consider would be the bear.

Sitting pretty at the top of the food chain, Aspen’s black bear population isn’t so large that you can encounter them everywhere. More often than not, black bears in this area have more than enough food, so they keep away from humans. That said, watch for these big omnivores on the off-chance that you encounter one in nature. 

You can visit this webpage for more valuable info regarding wildlife precautions near Aspen. 

Where to Next?

All in all, if you like scenic mountain passes, where simply driving along is a fantastic experience, lively wintertime ski resorts with bustling restaurants, inns, and cabins, and a broader area where dispersed camping is some of the best in the world, Aspen, Colorado is where you want to be.

However, if you’re looking for a change of scenery or want to explore a different part of Colorado, consider camping near Great Sand Dunes National Park. This stunning natural wonder is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, and offers plenty of opportunities for hiking, wildlife watching, and stargazing. So whether you choose to camp near Aspen or Great Sand Dunes National Park, you’re sure to have an unforgettable adventure in the beautiful Colorado wilderness.

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