Ultimate Guide to Dispersed Camping Near Durango 

In this post, I will list some of the best dispersed campsites in this part of Colorado. Also, I will talk about campfire safety and the best season to visit this gorgeous place.

Dispersed camping near Durango offers a unique blend of adventure and history. Home to a proper Old West saloon called ‘Diamond Belle‘ that has a bullet hole in one of its table drawers behind the counter, an old-timey train museum, and the setting for the famous 1983 movie National Lampoon’s Vacation, the town of Durango is a must-visit place with a curious history. 

The area surrounding Durango offers even more in terms of its massive dispersed camping potential. Whether you look toward San Juan National Forest, the Hermosa Creek Special Management Area, local hiking trails, or weekend roadside pullouts near the highway, Durango and its broader area are a proper camper’s mecca.

Map of Dispersed Camping Near Durango

Click on any of the map icons for more information.

Overview of Free Camping Near Durango

Free Camping near Durango

Nested in the San Juan Mountains, Durango has long been a refuge for gold prospectors and a place for many old west-type shootouts. The traces of such gunslinging incidents remain in the notorious but charming Diamond Belle Saloon.

Only a few places in the US can boast such exciting history and gorgeous natural surroundings as this scenic settlement in southwestern Colorado. Nowadays, Durango is a wintertime as well as a summertime tourist paradise. 

Best Dispersed Campgrounds Near Durango 

Suppose you’re looking for an Old West atmosphere in a scenic part of Colorado, sitting at a considerable altitude. In that case, you name the setup – and the region around Durango’s got it. The list goes on for forests, canyons, mountainous terrain, creeks, and patches of land covered with nothing but gorgeous blue spruce. 

Here’s my list of dispersed camping areas near Durango.

Barnes Mountain Boondock 

Las Animas near Barnes Mountain Boondock
Photo by Jeffrey Beall via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0)
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: medium
  • Distance to Durango: 7 miles 

To reach the Barnes Mountain Boondock site, a renowned spot for dispersed camping near Durango, you’ll need to navigate a challenging dirt road filled with holes, ruts, and other obstacles. Your journey will take you past the Las Animas Lookout, after which you’ll find several miles of dispersed camping opportunities along FR 171. This area typically opens after Memorial Day and offers a variety of campsites, with the more secluded ones located further along the road.

If you’re driving a larger rig or pulling a trailer, your best bet would be the larger pull-outs found earlier on the route. To get there from Durango, head north on Junction Street, which turns into FR 171. Continue past the developed Junction Creek Campground and the Animas Overlook. Once you’ve passed the overlook, dispersed camping is permitted.

Once you’ve found and set up your dispersed camp, you’ll have easy access to numerous hiking trails in the area. One notable trail is the Animas Mountain Trail, a 5.5-mile route that can lead you to Dalla Mountain Park if you choose to venture further. The trailhead starts in the parking lot, and from there, you’ll keep making right-hand turns on the main trail until you reach the breathtaking view of the Animas River Valley.

Forest Service Road 599 

Forest area near Durango
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: low
  • Distance to Durango: 9 miles 

You will find yourself in the scenic San Juan National Forest just northeast of Durango. This place boasts a network of fantastic forest service roads with pullouts to both sides that double as primitive campgrounds. 

To reach this place, you will need to get off Highway 240. After you’ve done so, you will drive past private property for some two miles, so remember that you cannot camp on the piece of the road immediately after you get off the highway. You will know what parts of this road are a no-go zone for camping by the road signs that say either ‘No camping‘, ‘No trespassing‘, or something to that effect. 

Once you’ve driven past these initial couple of miles, you will start seeing the campsites next to the road. 

While it is possible to arrive here onboard an RV, if your vehicle is exceptionally long or you’re towing a large trailer, you may need to proceed extra slowly, as the road is rather bumpy. 

Last but not least, since there are no amenities on this forest service road, do only come here if you are ready to be entirely self-sufficient.  

Madden Peak Road 

San Juan National Forest near Durango
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: medium
  • Distance to Durango: 15 miles 

Open from late April through December, Madden Peak Road is a scenic dispersed campground sitting within the famous San Juan National Forest. This campground represents a slightly hilly area at an elevation of 8,000 feet, so you can expect clean air, spacious sites, and beautiful evergreen trees in all directions as far as the eye can see. 

The forest road zig-zagging between the sites will lead you past about a dozen individual pullouts.

It’s a dirt road, but it’s navigable enough to allow even larger RVs or cars pulling trailers. That said, those sites are smaller and more suitable for tenting, as you’d need help finding a place to park your RV comfortably. For a more private camping experience, you can traverse farther up the mountain.

Many sites feature a fire pit, so if having a campfire represents a big part of why you like camping, Madden Peak Road can be an excellent option near Durango.

That said, besides the fire pits, this place offers no other amenities. For this reason, arriving here with plenty of food and water and other items and supplies you might need for total self-sufficiency is essential. 

Cherry Creek Road/ Gravel Pit 

San Juan National Forest where Cherry Creek Road dispersed camping area is located
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: medium
  • Distance to Durango: 14 miles 

Close to the highway and the town of Durango (where you can restock your supplies), Cherry Creek Road is a beautiful campground that you have to visit if you like parking your camp trailer in the middle of a woodland area where you can see the mountains in the distance between the trees. 

Like many campgrounds in the general area surrounding the town, this campground sits at almost 8,000 feet above sea level – a respectable altitude that gives this place an air of freshness and coolness. 

A minor downside to this campground (which may even be a plus for some) would be its vicinity to the highway. Although this closeness to the street is rather convenient, the constant automotive noise nearby can chip away slightly at your overall experience. 

Some sites have evergreen trees over them, providing shade during the day, but some don’t. To snatch the best-shaded sites during the hot season, arrive early in the morning – especially during the weekends.

The Cherry Creek Road is somewhat bumpy, so tackling it onboard a high-clearance 4×4 is the best action. 

Saul’s Creek 

Bayfield near Saul's Creek, Colorado
Photo by Durango web creations via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: low
  • Distance to Durango: 20 miles 

The individual campsites feature a couple of large clearings with clear views of the surrounding mountains. Small groves of beautiful evergreen trees divide the camps. The sites are spacious, reasonably easy to navigate, and have ample room for RVs.

There are reports of RVs as long as 45 feet and with a fifth wheel quickly getting to and staying at Saul’s Creek. The farther you go down the road, the smaller the sites are.

Given the location of this campground, you can expect fewer fellow campers, which will grant you a more leisurely and private camping experience. 

If you like pitching your tent or parking your RV in an area where you can set up a campfire and enjoy your stay with only a couple of other campers in the distance and perhaps some free-range cattle grazing around – Saul’s Creek is where you want to be. You can also source the firewood locally, as there are plenty of fallen dead branches from nearby trees. 

In terms of amenities, you won’t find any here, so self-sufficiency is a must. You can get your supplies from the nearby town of Bayfield

Last, Saul’s Creek is right next to an exciting trailhead that’s quite popular among motorcyclists and hikers, so don’t be surprised if you encounter them nearby. 

Duffield Dispersed Campground 

Fall colors outside of Durango, Colorado
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: low
  • Distance to Durango: 11 miles 

Open from the very end of April through November and sitting on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) territory, Duffield dispersed campgrounds can be a fantastic boondocking destination for an owner of a recreational vehicle.

Due to its flatness and generally reliable dirt road that’s in solid condition, arriving here onboard an RV won’t be a pain in the neck. As for tenting, you can get to this campground on foot or in a car and pitch your canvas wherever you see fit. 

Staying at Durfield dispersed campground means adhering to the local BLM regulations. Though this organization has unique rules surrounding dispersed camping, they are typically reasonably lax and easy to follow. In Colorado alone, the BLM oversees over 8.3 million acres of public lands and an additional 27 million acres of mineral estate support. 

You can camp here for up to 14 days within one month. This limitation period tends to vary from office to office. For more details, check the district office of your campground. Whether you spend this fortnight in one block or a couple of days here and there with breaks – it’s entirely up to you.   

There are about ten sites on Durfield campground, and the visitor frequency is medium to low, depending if it’s the weekend or not. 

While the appeal of Duffield’s vast landscape is undeniable, there’s something to be said about the hidden gems to the north. With a similar spirit of freedom and natural beauty, areas closer to Fort Collins provide a change in scenery without compromising the sense of wilderness. Much like the rhythm between weekdays and weekends at Duffield, this northern alternative presents a refreshing change of pace for seasoned campers. It’s always beneficial to have more than one go-to spot, especially in the expansive lands of Colorado.

Missionary Ridge Road

  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: low
  • Distance to Durango: 12 miles 

As its name suggests, this campground is more of a hiking trail than a dispersed campground. However, seeing how road pullouts often double as campsites, this exciting destination close to Durango can be an excellent solution for several nights of dispersed camping. 

Once you enter this road, no campsites exist for the first 3.5 to 4 miles. However, once you’ve driven past this initial patch, the distance between mile 3.6 and mile 7 is fair game, so you can start looking for a spot. 

There is an ascent when this road is in question. If you’re into hiking, completing the 9-mile stretch can be a great way to explore this region and enjoy its immense beauty.

Some of the curiosities you might see along the way include fallen trees, water bars, rock ledges, and even some representatives of the local fauna, such as elk and mule deer. 

Remember that this road is relatively secluded, with no camping amenities. For this reason, carrying all the supplies and other items you might need with you is an absolute must. 

La Plata Canyon 

Sunset over the La Plata mountain range in Colorado
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: medium
  • Distance to Durango: 13 miles 

If you fancy witnessing some of the mountainous natural beauty of Colorado without veering too far away from the city of Durango, La Plata Canyon represents the best possible solution. 

Wedged between two sides of the continuous La Plata mountain range, this canyon gives you everything you hoped to see in Colorado and then some.

Gorgeous mountainside terrain, beautiful sunsets and sunrises, and some rather interesting dispersed camping areas are waiting for you when you visit this scenic patch of Colorado. 

To get to this place, turn off the paved road just past the town of Mayday (a mysterious ex-mining ghost town) and onto the dirt road. This road is in decent condition for the most part, but it does get muddy and slippery after heavy rainfall. After you drive past a designated campground called Snowslide, you will see roadside pullouts where you can park up or pitch your tent. 

There are three broader areas comprising La Plata Canyon – La Plata City, Madden Creek, and Miners Cabin. If you have time, hopping from one to the second to the third location can be an excellent way to spend a couple of days and get to know this region in detail. 

Once you’ve tasted the magnificence of Durango, it’s hard not to yearn for more of what Colorado has to offer. Extend your exploration further and you’ll find other landscapes just as enticing and invigorating.

Consider the stunning Turquoise Lake, for instance, which sits jewel-like amidst the rugged Rocky Mountain terrain. Take our guide and go dispersed camping near this remarkable location. Breathe in the crisp mountain air, gaze at the serene, blue-green waters, and fall asleep under the stars with the gentle lullaby of nature in the background.

Further west, you’ll find the iconic town of Telluride, once known for its rich mining history, now celebrated for its picturesque mountain vistas.

Hermosa Creek Special Management Area 

Trees and ridge in the Hermosa Creek Wilderness area in Colorado
Photo by John Sowell via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no
  • Visitor frequency: low
  • Distance to Durango: 12 miles 

Hermosa Creek Special Management Area is located between Highway 550 and the Hermosa Creek Wilderness, within Hermosa Creek Watershed, a preservation area within San Juan National Forest.

Due to its large size and diverse terrain, Hermosa Creek SMA allows for many excellent activities, including dispersed camping, mountain biking, OHV riding, horseback riding, snowmobiling, backpacking, hunting, and fishing. Fishing is available in local streams and creeks.

Following a major fire in 2018, some sections of Hermosa Creek Watershed suffered considerable damage. The residue of this fire can still present a potential hazard for visitors, as burned areas feature scorched trees that can fall at any moment, debris, and unstable soil.

To get the latest pieces of info regarding the fire situation, you can check out this link. Also, this map shows you the general pattern of fire hazards in the entire broader Durango region.

There are no amenities at this campground, and if you’re visiting this place with a motor vehicle, you must park responsibly and minimize the impact your car has on the environment.

Miner’s Cabin 

Table and benches at the Snowslide Campground near the Miner's Cabin, Colorado
  • Map
  • Toilets: yes
  • Water availability: no (you can filter some from the stream, though)
  • Visitor frequency: medium
  • Distance to Durango: 12.5 miles 

What’s more reminiscent of the Old West and dispersed camping than an old mysterious miner’s cabin? If you agree with this assessment, you’ll love this campground, as it features everything a Colorado outdoor area should have – a fire ring and a horse corral in case you’re an appreciator of these majestic animals. There are also a couple of toilets present. 

The road leading to this place is gravel and robust enough to support larger RVs and other cars + trailer arrangements. Of course, for those preferring tenting, this place will offer ample space to pitch your tent, unfold your collapsible chair, and set your mini fridge right next to it. 

A warning regarding food: Black bears are a rare sight but roam these parts, especially near the Animas River. Keeping food away from their reach is highly advisable.

If you go far enough down the gravel road, you will discover that there is a small mountain creek near one of the last campsites on the right side of the road. This small, clear body of water adds a special touch to the atmosphere of this campground. Also, you can filter some water from it, though preparing your supply beforehand is always safer.

Bay City Campground

Aerial view of La Plata river near Bay City Campground near Durango
Photo by Dicklyon via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • Map
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no (filtering some from the creek is an option, though)
  • Visitor frequency: low
  • Distance to Durango: 12 miles

Although relatively small and secluded, Bay City Campground can be an excellent option for someone looking to spend the night near Durango without paying for a hotel. 

A paved road leading to this campground makes access to vehicles a piece of cake. That said, due to the generally small size of this campground, attempting to reach this place in a large RV is not a good idea. The largest reported RV successfully parked at Bay City was some 15 feet. You might succeed in squeezing in somehow with a rig more enormous than that, though.

One of the major selling points of this campground would be the vicinity of a rather beautiful creek. You can also filter water from this creek if your supply runs out. 

Bay City has no amenities, but if you need access to toilets and water, you can get them at the neighboring campground for a small fee.

Forest Fires 

Forest fire in Colorado

One of the reasons why the city of Durango and its broader area are as beautiful as they are would be the spacious woodland areas that span large portions of the surrounding hillocks and mountains. 

Unfortunately, these parts of Colorado are particularly prone to forest fires, as the summertime temperatures can get relatively high during the peak season. Sometimes, the forest service authorities intentionally set certain local woodland sections ablaze to rejuvenate the ecosystem. 

However, areas surrounding Durango, such as the scenic San Juan National Forest, have experienced deadly and destructive forest fires in recent years. For this reason, you need to be extra careful when setting up campfires. Here are some valuable tips revolving around starting and extinguishing forest fires in areas around Durango: 

  • Keep campfires contained within fire rings. 
  • Never let a fire burn if you or someone else is not present. 
  • Use existing fire pits. 
  • Do not cut live trees for firewood. 
  • When putting out a fire, douse it with water until the embers are completely out.

You can check out this link for a more exhaustive list of tips revolving around campfires. 

Where to Next?

Mountain streams, evergreen forests, charming mesas at elevations surpassing 7,000 feet, and gorgeous mountain terrain for as far as the eye can see – the area around Durango is a camper’s and explorer’s paradise. 

But don’t limit yourself to just Durango; the vastness of Colorado’s outdoor paradise expands well beyond. Imagine waking up to the crisp, alpine air of Aspen. Dispersed camping in Aspen offers a chance to seclude yourself amidst grand mountain peaks and vibrant wildflower meadows. Set up your camp along the iconic Maroon Bells or deep within White River National Forest for an off-the-grid experience that’s quintessentially Colorado.

Alternatively, aim for the heart of the Rockies by heading to Leadville. Sitting at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, dispersed camping in the vicinity brings you face-to-face with some of the state’s most stunning fourteeners.

You can opt to camp by the Twin Lakes or within the Pike and San Isabel National Forests, a remarkable terrain painted with dense forests, craggy cliffs, and serene alpine lakes. Whichever path you choose, remember that Colorado’s beauty lies in its wild, untouched corners, so leave no trace and relish in the serenity that dispersed camping provides.

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