Free Dispersed Camping Near Denver – The Ultimate Guide

Dispersed camping near Denver, the birthplace of the cheeseburger, is an unforgettable experience.

If you were to climb the Colorado State Capitol Building, you could see over 200 different peaks from the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Some peaks belong to the world-renown Colorado 14ers, mountains that exceed 14,000 feet in elevation.

With such monumental views and the vicinity of Denver, the Denver general area recommends itself as a fantastic camping opportunity. Whether you’re a hiker, backpacker, a weekend glamper with a large RV to accommodate all your needs, or a dispersed camper, chances are – you’ll find something you like around Denver.

And to help you out, I listed all the best free dispersed camping spots near the city as well as a few tips on how to prepare for your outdoor adventure.

Overview of Dispersed Camping Near Denver

A tent at night in the Rocky Mountains near Denver
Photo by Christian Collins via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Denver is home to the longest street in the US. It’s so long, it can accommodate its annual marathon, the city of Denver is a curious mixture of the sophisticated and the outdoor.

The enormously long Colfax Avenue is one of many record-holding Denver-based curiosities regarding the sheer size. Denver International Airport, for example, is big enough to fit several other large US airports. It is also home to a demonic horse statue appropriately called Blucifer (because it’s blue and reportedly evil) that killed its creator Luis Jimenez.

Anyway, not all are giant horse statues and ‘creator-cides‘ in this city. The greater Denver area offers some of the most unique natural environments in the US.

If you like winter sports and skiing, Denver can be an exciting option, as it has a ski resort only 36 miles away. Almost every year, the first snow of the season in Denver arrives around October, when the nearby ski resort starts functioning. Less than an hour from downtown Denver, you can find the Echo Mountain Resort, where you can showcase your skiing prowess and have a proper wintertime adventure.

The most notable attraction about Denver as a camping location would be the campsites in Rocky Mountain National Park, which give this major US city its signature backdrop.

For obvious reasons, the city only offers a little room for a once-in-a-lifetime camping experience (except if you count camping at a Walmart parking lot an adventure).

Within 50 miles of the city, however, you can find several camping opportunities that will make you forget you’re only an hour’s worth of driving away from a city of more than 700,000 people.

Gorgeous mountains with meadows full of grass and blossoming vegetation, mysterious creeks, and a network of forest service roads open for exploration make this area popular among campers and hikers.

Due to the mountainous terrain, many excellent campgrounds are higher and can be tough to reach with a conventional vehicle. For this reason, campers owning a powerful 4×4 may procure extra enjoyment from camping in the greater Denver area.

The Best Dispersed Camping Spots Near Denver

A tent at dispersed camping spot near Denver

The area around Denver represents a combination of mountainous terrain with several smaller hillocks that announce the presence of the larger Rocky Mountains behind them and woodland sections with clear creeks and an intertwining network of forest service paths.

Together, these two create a unique setup for camping, as you get to experience an outdoor atmosphere that you’d struggle to find anywhere else in the US.

Imagine camping in a thicket near a creek at the edge of a forest with the vast city of Denver in the distance and the gorgeous Rocky Mountains stretching in front of you. You can experience that at no cost if you go camping in this part of the US.

The section below lists the seven best dispersed camping spots near Denver that offer you that experience.

Jones Pass Road

Grass close up at dispersed camping spot near Jones Pass Road
  • Map
  • Distance to Denver: 50 miles
  • Toilets: No
  • Water availability: no (you can get some from the nearby creek, though)
  • Visitor Frequency: Busy

Almost always bustling with tourists, Jones Pass Road is a dispersed campground that sits near the base of Berthoud Pass, just outside the rather grandiose-named town of Empire.

This campground is immensely popular among the local population, tourists, and campers from abroad. The breathtaking scenery and the fantastic photo-ops against the surrounding mountains attract many eager campers every year.

Another reason the Jones Pass campground is as popular as it is would be the proximity to Denver and easy access to all the supplies and facilities you can wish for.

The sites on the lower side of the pass are easily navigable for most vehicles – even for large family campervans. That said, to reach the ones higher up along the pass, you’d need a 4×4 car and a high-clearance one at that, too.

If you reach some of the campsites above the treeline, you will be rewarded with some truly spectacular views. What’s more, if you’re an avid hiker, you’ll appreciate the vicinity of the locally well-beloved Butler Gulch Trailhead.

Jones Pass features no toilets and no water (if you have a quality water filter, you can fetch some from nearby Geneva Creek). 

Bill Moore Lake

Lake and icy mountains near Denver
Photo by Jacob Montgomery via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  • Map
  • Distance to Denver: 50 miles
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no (you can get some from the lake, though)
  • Visitor Frequency: Moderate

Representing one of the dispersed camping spots that require a high-clearance Diesel-guzzling 4×4 to reach, Once you navigate the rugged road and endure the, at times, exceedingly bumpy ride to reach the plateau with the campgrounds, you can see that visiting Bill Moore Lake has been more than worth it.

Start from the breathtaking views you can enjoy once you’ve pitched your tent next to the lake.

Mirror-like still mountain lake water reflects the backdrop of alpine-like hills. The air is fresh and clean, and at just an hour away from Denver, you’d think you’ve magically teleported to Switzerland.

On the way to the lake, you can find even more dispersed camping spots along the rough road. Of course, these will be far from the lake itself, but they can nevertheless be an excellent option for spending the night.

Bill Moore Lake is not a campground that gets too crowded, but it does receive a higher visitor frequency on the weekends. These weekend campers typically only stay a few days as they return to Denver for work. For this reason, snatching a spot along the road as soon as you see one may be a good strategy because chances are – unless you arrive here early, the weekend backpackers from Denver will grab all the suitable areas along the lake. 

Kingston Peak

Yellow and brown grass at Kingston Peak dispersed camping spot
Photo by Glenn Harper via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  • Map
  • Distance to Denver: 48 miles
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor Frequency: Moderate

Another great dispersed camping spot not for those faint of heart would be a place called Kingston Peak, a campground that’s close to Denver and a town called Idaho Springs – a place with a rich mining and gold-prospecting history, as well as a rich network of dirt roads for off-roading enthusiasts.

You will undoubtedly need a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle to get to this place, as the rough road to the campsite demands a car that can negotiate plenty of ups and downs and a bumpy gravel road underneath.

Along the road to Kingston Peak, you will discover excellent views of several 14ers. Many visitors come to this place to enjoy the view and have a tranquil camping experience at the foothills of the mountains.

That said, a sizable percentage of Kingston Peak visitors are hungry for a high-altitude adventure, especially when it comes to hiking. Kingston Peak campground, in particular, represents a great starting place for tackling the James Peak trail, a major hiking attraction in the area.   

In terms of amenities, you won’t find any here, so total self-sufficiency is a must. Also, this is a high-altitude campground, so do expect the clearings to be windy once you reach it and don’t expect any shade trees either since the entire campground is above the treeline. 

Kenosha Pass

Dispersed camping spot at Kenosha Pass with yellow grass and green fields
Photo by Steven Martin via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
  • Map
  • Distance to Denver: 65 miles
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor Frequency: busy

Regarding approachability, Kenosha Pass features areas that you can easily access via a regular vehicle and others that are only accessible via a high-clearance 4×4. For the most part, you can only access the dispersed campsites with a 4×4, but there are also some spots along the road you can get to in a standard vehicle.

A tent symbol designates dispersed campsites here, so only access those parts of the past with the tent mark on them. The grounds closer to the highway are the ones that you can access in a regular car, by the way.

As for the other campsites in Kenosha Pass, they disperse along several forest service roads, including Forest Service Roads 126, 126 A, 811, as well as 811 A. These campgrounds will offer you a fantastic vantage point from where you can enjoy some of the most breathtaking views of the nearby South Park Basin – a vast and beautiful grassland hidden within the Rocky Mountains.

Navigating these roads will be challenging, but parking your car and pitching your tent along these forest service roads will give you easy access to exciting destinations nearby. Colorado Trail is a great hiking trail you can easily reach from any campsite along Kenosha Pass. Also, Lost Creek Wilderness National Forest is a stone’s throw away. You can find even more exciting hiking, as well as mountain biking opportunities, there.

Many people find this place interesting, so be ready for a higher frequency of visitors, especially hikers. For the same reason, stick to the Leave No Trace camping principles, as littering is a big problem in busy camping locations. 

Buffalo Creek Recreational Area

Benches and a table in the Buffaclo Creek Recreational Area near Denver
Photo by Bureau of Land Management via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • Map
  • Distance to Denver: 50 miles
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor Frequency: busy

At only about 50 miles from Denver, Buffalo Creek Recreational Area represents a central campground that tends to get quite busy over the weekends and otherwise – and for a good reason. It may infact be one of the most beautiful campsites in Colorado.

Other than the unique scenery that you get to see and enjoy, setting up a tent next to the creek will also provide you with an excellent opportunity to visit several local points of interest, including the well-known Colorado Trail, Wellington Lake, as well as several other fantastic hiking options on the hillocks nearby.

All Buffalo Creek dispersed campsites scatter along Forest Service Road 550, and camping in the specifically designated sites is a must. You can tell a designated camping site apart from one not defined by the tent sign.

This location has no amenities, although there are some vault toilets along nearby trailheads.

Buffalo Creek is a place that gets quite a few visitors, particularly on the weekends, both those who get to this place as a quick weekend getaway and those interested in tackling the scenic Colorado Trail and other nearby locations.

Guanella Pass

Guanella Pass dispersed camping spot among the forest and mountains
Photo by Lesley~B via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
  • Map
  • Distance to Denver: 60 miles
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor Frequency: busy

Guanella Pass is a mere hour away from the city, representing a prominent dispersed camping location near Denver.

The proximity of this place to Denver also makes it pretty busy, as many townsfolk flock here during the weekends and especially during holidays.

While this campground proudly carries the name ‘Guanella Pass’, there is not a single large clearing with the same name where you can set up a tent or park a car. Instead, you can pitch your tent or park your RV along the rather scenic Geneva Creek Road (also known as FR 110, in case you’re looking at a USFS vehicle map of the greater Denver general area).

Along this creek road, you will find 30 to 40 sites. The farther you advance down this road, the more privacy you can get from the sites you reach. At the same time, this also means the road gets progressively rougher.

Another quality of this place that recommends it as a fantastic camping location is its rather strategic position.

Guanella Pass represents an excellent base for visiting points of interest such as Mt. Bierstadt or simply exploring the gorgeous drive along Guanella Pass.

There are no toilets here and no water. If you carry a water filter, you can also fetch the water from Geneva Creek.

Gordon Gulch

Sunset in forest at Gordon Gulch dispersed camping spot
  • Map
  • Distance to Denver: 50 miles
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor Frequency: busy

Roughly 50 miles from Denver, you will find a dispersed campground with beautiful views but little else regarding amenities. No potable water source can be found there, and there aren’t any toilets, either.

Nevertheless, Gordon Gulch is almost always busy, thanks to its fantastic location and easy-to-access sites. Situated right next to the bustling town of Nederland, CO, you can get all your supplies here and enjoy the town’s bustling cultural scene.

Gordon Gulch camping area comprises a network of intertwined forest service roads that give off a unique woodland charm that stands as a curious counterweight to the neighboring urban areas.

For more camping areas near Denver, check out our list of the best free dispersed camping spots at Red Feather Lakes and best dispersed camping spots near Estes Park.

What to Consider When Camping Near Denver

Two tents at a forest campsite near Denver

While dispersed camping near Denver is not that different from dispersed camping at any other location in the US in terms of licensing (you don’t need one), there are some Denver-specific considerations that you should pay attention to before you head here. 

Fires

Trees burned in a wildfire in Colarado

The areas just outside Denver are prone to seasonal wildfires.

The vegetation covering vast meadows and woodland patches that disperse between the hillocks in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains is quite flammable, especially when the peak summer season temperatures come.

To avoid causing an environmental disaster, check the official Colorado Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management seasonal fire restrictions.

If you are making a campfire at your campsite, put it out before you move out.

Pets

A dog and a backpack at a campsite

The authorities in charge of the wilderness surrounding Denver don’t have anything against campers bringing their pets with them.

That said, given that the local area is full of wild animals, some of which can get quite aggressive if a wandering dog or cat approaches, it is advisable to always keep your pets on a leash and near you.

Also, be sure to pack pet waste and only dispose of it once you’ve left the territory of the dispersed campground you were staying at. 

Where to Next?

Nature and rocky hills in Colorado Springs

Representing possibly the most charming mix of civilization and nature that looks like that Central Park divide that marks the limit between the urbane and the greenery, Denver’s greater area represents a fantastic dispersed camping opportunity you must experience if you like hiking and camping.

But it’s just one of many beautiful free camping areas in Colorado. When you are done exploring the greater Denver area, check out our Colorado Springs free camping guide, Pikes Peak camping guide, and Great Sand Dunes National Park camping guide.

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