Ultimate Guide to Free Dispersed Camping Near Fort Collins & List of Campgrounds

Dispersed camping near Fort Collins offers an immersion into the unique Coloradoan wilderness just beyond the city’s urban environment. While the residents of Fort Collins, Colorado, have a history, like flooding their original town, Stout, and indulging in activities like craft beer-making, bicycle-riding, and repairing old city trolley cars (so far, they’ve only fixed one), the outskirts present a different charm.

Outside Fort Collins, the urbane curious practices of craft beer-chugging, bicycle-riding, and public piano-painting is the untouched, unique Coloradoan wilderness. 

Below, I will discuss the immense camping potential of the broader area around Fort Collins, Colorado. Rich in waterways, mountainous terrain, serene forests, and inhabited by cute-looking but incredibly aggressive wolverines, squirrels, and every ambiguous-looking creature in between, the Fort Collins general area is a dispersed camping mecca – a true must-visit for a camping fan.

Overview of Free Camping Near Fort Collins 

Mother and daughter hiking near Fort Collins

When they’re not busy making their favorite beverage and painting yet another unsuspecting piano, Fort Collins residents typically explore the many cool woodland hideouts and slopes around the mountainous landscape. 

Other than quite a few forests situated on hilly land, what makes this part of northern Colorado different from the rest of this high-altitude US state, would be the existence of quite a few plains. 

If you like combining a forest-bound camping expedition with some scenic driving where you can see flatlands and plains for as far as the eye can see, driving (and potentially) off-roading around Fort Collins, Colorado, is one of the best places to do it. 

Below, I list my favorite dispersed campgrounds in this scenic semi-urban part of Colorado. Also, I will talk about fire danger, the best camping season, and other important considerations.

Best Dispersed Camping Near Fort Collins 

Camping around Fort Collins, Colorado, means getting involved in a labyrinth in forest service roads, urbane settings where you can stop by for a beer, and exploring expanses of grassy flatlands to the east of the town. 

For those primarily interested in the forest region west of Fort Collins, exploring this MVUM (motor vehicle use map) of the area can reveal some of the best secretive roadside pullout-style campgrounds in rural Colorado.

Here are my favorite dispersed campgrounds in the general area around Fort Collins.

Pingree Road Dispersed Camping 

Cache la Poudre River near Pingree Road
  • Distance to FC: 38 miles 
  • Toilets: No 
  • Water availability: No 
  • Visitor frequency: High 
  • Map 

If you fancy camping next to a local river and finding a spot you can use for a quick weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of urban life – Pingree Road can be just the place for you. 

The scenic Cache la Poudre River that passes through Fort Collins runs past this campground, too. Surrounding this unique alpine river are steep canyon cliffs, curious rock formations, and ponderosa pines and aspens that serve as sentries on its banks. 

Pingree Road campground is so large, and you can’t possibly miss it. 

After you turn off Highway 14, dispersed camping is immediately available, with several large campgrounds within the first mile. If you’re an RV enthusiast and need a quick stop en route to or from Fort Collins, picking a spot along Pingree Road is a good idea.  

If you have an off-roader, venturing farther down the road can be a great way to find some spots that offer a more private experience. 

There are no amenities along Pingree Road, so total self-sufficiency is a must. 

Crown Point Road Dispersed Camping 

  • Distance to FC: 41 miles 
  • Toilets: No 
  • Water availability: No 
  • Visitor frequency: Medium 
  • Map 

Crown Point Road Dispersed Camping is a curious, elongated mountain campground that bifurcates from Pingree Road and roughly follows Bennett Creek. Crown Point Road offers endless miles of nothing but high-quality roadside pullout-style campgrounds. 

The thing with this place, however, is that it requires a 4×4 off-roader to navigate some of the rougher patches of the road. If you own one of these exquisite vehicles, you can enjoy some of the most impressive rural Colorado views of the surrounding woodland. 

Unfortunately, for now, this campground is closed as the authorities are still dealing with the consequences of the devastating Cameron Peak fire. You can find updates about the condition of the road and if the campground is open on this website

Once this place reopens, the sheer length of this campground and the rough road conditions will mean that few visitors will venture to come here. This means more privacy for whomever is brave and persistent enough to reach the more remote nooks and crannies of this patch of Colorado wilderness. 

Amenity-wise, you won’t find anything of use at Crown Point. Self-sufficiency is an absolute must.

Buckhorn Road Dispersed Camping 

  • Distance to Fort Collins: 41 miles 
  • Toilets: No 
  • Water availability: No 
  • Visitor frequency: High 
  • Map 

Buckhorn Road features one section of the road which is suitable for dispersed camping and some others which are not. Buckhorn Road is a place that you don’t want to miss out on if you want to explore the area around Fort Collins but remain within the foothills of the western mountains that surround this city. 

To be on the safe side and avoid getting shouted at by angry locals whose private lands you’ve infringed on, consulting an MVUM can be a great way to learn about the immense camping potential of this region and where you can and cannot go. 

There are several patches of Buckhorn Road where you can camp, and a part of it consists of roadside pullouts. The other part comprises of large clearings that are more accessible and easier to reach even without an off-road vehicle. Still, Buckhorn Road can only be considered RV-friendly for some positions. 

There are no toilets and potable water anywhere, so total self-sufficiency is necessary. 

Allenspark Dispersed Campground 

Snowy mountain top near Allenspark, Colorado
Photo by Ediedbdbd via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • Distance to FC: 27 miles 
  • Toilets: No   
  • Water availability: No 
  • Visitor frequency: Low 
  • Map 

Representing possibly the smallest campground in the region around Fort Collins, Allenspark is a proper mountain gem you must see to believe. 

The views around this place could be more spectacular, but you are still surrounded by beautiful nature on a scenic hillside in rural Colorado. This place doesn’t have majestic views. However, it makes up for it with privacy.

There is only room for about one or two parties of campers, and that’s about it.

Using an MVUM to study the local grid of forest service roads can be a great way to acquaint yourself with the nature around these parts and get a better chance of finding this somewhat secretive place from the first shot. 

Amenity-wise, you won’t find anything around these parts, so total self-sufficiency is necessary. 

If Allenspark doesn’t quite fit the bill, consider exploring free campgrounds near Breckenridge. These sites offer a unique blend of breathtaking alpine landscapes and cozy camping vibes. Being just a stone’s throw from a popular mountain town, they provide a perfect balance between seclusion and accessibility. It’s another great way to experience Colorado’s diverse camping opportunities while still keeping the budget in check.

Deadman Road Dispersed Camping 

Red Feather Lakes near Deadman Road
  • Distance to FC: 47 miles 
  • Toilets: No 
  • Water availability: No 
  • Visitor frequency: Medium 
  • Map 

Featuring a curious name, Deadman Road dispersed campground is quite close to the famous Red Feather lakes.

Deadman Road is located just west of these lakes, and dispersed camping is permitted once you enter the National Forest. The Deadman Road is a roadside pullout-style campground, and there are large clearings close to the road that you can use to park up your RV or pitch a tent. 

If you’re looking for a more private camping experience, you can also check out some of the local spur roads to find even more excellent camping spaces a bit farther back. 

Amenities are away from Deadman Road, so only come here if you plan to be self-sufficient. 

A quick note: Deadman Road is closed from December till July, so avoid heading for this campground during the off-season.

Pawnee National Grassland

An Evening at the Pawnee Buttes, part of Pawnee National Grassland
  • Distance to FC: 36 miles 
  • Toilets: No 
  • Water availability: No 
  • Visitor frequency: Medium 
  • Map 

If you’d like to take a break from forest service roads and high-altitude Colorado patches, east of Fort Collins you’ll find the Pawnee National Grassland

The grassland is extensive and split into two major sections – east and west. The western section is considerably closer to Fort Collins and has a network of roads with ample room for dispersed camping.

There are several private properties in the area. To discern the fine lines between personal and USFS property throughout the grassland, it’s best to consult the official MVUM of the region. 

There are no amenities or services anywhere in this sizable area, so carrying everything you need is an absolute must.

Bellaire Lake Dispersed Camping 

Table and benches at Bellaire Lake Dispersed Camping
  • Distance to FC: 48 miles 
  • Toilets: No 
  • Water availability: No 
  • Visitor frequency: Medium 
  • Map 

Also known as Forest Service Road 517, Bellaire Lake dispersed camping area is located south of the eponymous lake and roughly follows the forest service road 517. A significant attraction around these parts would be the Red Feather Lakes, which are visitors’ favorites. 

The visitor frequency around Bellaire Lake tends to be higher than other campgrounds on this list – primarily because of the vicinity of Red Feather Lakes. That said, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding the right spot for you during the weekdays. This campground tends to get more occupied during the weekend. 

The first few miles feature large clearings suitable for RVs and larger vehicles. The farther you go down the road, the rougher the road conditions get, but the sites themselves tend to offer more privacy and seclusion. If you have an off-roader, finding a place for yourself down the road can be quite a great way to discover a patch near Bellaire Lake to have all to yourself.

When to Camp Near Fort Collins 

Nature near Fort Collins in the summer

As a general rule of thumb, the window of opportunity for dispersed camping typically corresponds with the altitude in a somewhat predictable way. 

The equation goes like this: the higher the altitude, the fewer months you can pitch a tent and not get frozen to death or blown away by torrential winds. 

Fort Collins represents a unique mixture of high and low-altitude camping, a rare combination, especially in Colorado. The city is situated in the foothills of the mountain, so the weather is pleasant from mid-April and well past September.

The area west of Fort Collins, where most of the dispersed campsites are, is a high-altitude region, and the camping season is considerably short – from mid-May to mid-September (if you have an RV, and can tackle forest service roads and the rough, hilly terrain, can help you add a couple of weeks at either end of this spectrum). 

East of the beer capital of Colorado, you’ll find the vast Pawnee National Grassland – a major flatland with great weather from early April into October. That said, the heat here can easily reach 100 degrees during the peak summer season, so come prepared for this cold-and-hot weather switcheroo.

Permits & Fees 

Camping sign with sky in the background

The boon of dispersed camping is the absence of fees or having to file requests or get specialized permits. 

The area around Fort Collins offers plenty of room for a proper dispersed camping expedition. Whether you plan to hop from campground to campground onboard an RV and explore the enormous Pawnee grassland, or you want to find a unique corner in the forested area west of Fort Collins, rest assured you will not have to pay a dime. 

However, sometimes, camping in the area is not allowed when there is a danger of forest fires.

To stay on top of all the latest development around Colorado that can affect your camping trip, visit the Canyon Lakes Ranger District website to learn more.

Checking out this up-to-date online forest order bulletin can be a great way to stay away from temporarily closed areas, forest service roads under construction, and other parts of the forest that are either temporarily or altogether not camping-friendly. 

Every now and again, USFS authorities will close down forest service roads to get rid of dead trees, fix the bumps, or due to fires, so checking their condition in advance is essential. 

Fires & Other Considerations

Colorado and wildfires don’t mix well together. 

This high-altitude US state has seen some of the most devastating forest fires in recent years, and the authorities do not like the idea of having yet another one because someone forgot to turn their camping stove off or was fidgeting with their lighter. 

This potential fire peril applies to all areas in rural Colorado, but the heavily-forested area just west of Fort Collins is affected the worst. In 2020, the infamous Cameron Peak fire burned for more than four months and spanned just short of 210,000 acres of dense woodland. 

Campfires are generally allowed, but the local USFS officials urge campers only to start fires within existing fire rings. Also, for every fire you start, you must put it out entirely before you leave the campground. 

Colorado’s Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management issues fire warnings online. Visiting it and getting informed about the current state of the potential flammability of your campground is always a wise move. 

Other important considerations include reducing the environmental impact by practicing Leave No Trace camping principles and ensuring not to alter or attempt to ‘improve‘ the already-existing campgrounds. 

Where to Next?

If you’re a fan of beer, bicycles, mountainous dispersed camping, or at least two out of three (beer and camping, let’s say), visiting the general area around Fort Collins can be just the thing for you.

Whether you feel like exploring the vast grassland that stretches to the east of this Colorado settlement or navigating the patchwork of forest service roads to find the most secretive corner of the forest, Fort Collins and its broader outdoor region will provide you with altitudes high and low and an adventure of a lifetime.

If, however, you’re yearning for a change of scenery and a deeper dive into Colorado’s untouched wilderness, consider the dispersed campgrounds near Lake City. Just a drive away from Fort Collins, these camping spots present another layer of Colorado’s charm. Offering the raw beauty of nature, you’ll find tranquility beside shimmering waters with the added allure of untouched landscapes.

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