Guide to Dispersed Camping Near Glenwood Springs

Dispersed camping near Glenwood Springs offers a gateway to a town with a storied past.

Initially called ‘Defiance,’ Glenwood Springs was a town beloved by gritty miners, gamblers, gunslingers, and outlaws.

Not precisely a university hub of prestige and honors, but at least the local authorities can brag that none other than Doc Holliday visited the town in 1887 to cure his tuberculosis. The local hot sulfur-rich hot springs have helped many people heal from various diseases. 

Not Holliday, though. He died in November 87′.

Even though this place killed Doc Holliday, camping in a broader area around the perimeters of this rustic Colorado mountain settlement can be a treat. Below, I will describe my favorite dispersed camping spots near Glenwood Springs and mention the rules surrounding permits, fees, and other considerations.

Overview of Free Dispersed Camping Near Glenwood Springs

Trees in Glenwood Springs

A true mountain gem with a curious series of unique geothermal springs, Glenwood Springs started attracting curious visitors as soon as the shootouts, saloon brawls, and tuberculosis epidemics died down towards the end of the 19th century. 

Nowadays, Glenwood Springs is a proper tourist hub. While most of the properties already have their function, and there’s little land up for purchase, the broader area around this settlement offers many fantastic dispersed camping opportunities. 

If you like mountains, a bit of mining and gunslinging history, and gorgeous nature wherever you turn – visiting Glenwood Springs and pitching a tent somewhere on one of the campgrounds I will describe below is a warm recommendation. 

Best Dispersed Campgrounds Near Glenwood Springs

Do you like canyons? Do you like driving up a challenging ascent to reach secretive roadside pullout-style campsites that overlook the said canyon? 

Do you fancy going through all this to find no toilets, no water, and only a few disinterested local animals roaming around – like a true outdoorsman? 

If the answer is ‘YES,’ Glenwood Springs, Colorado, is where you want to be. Well, the broader outdoors sections around Glenwood Springs, really. 

The areas surrounding Glenwood Springs closely resemble the terrain you’ll find walking around this Colorado mountain town. The only difference is – a couple of miles away, you can set up tents, watch bald eagles nest in the distance, navigate rugged, challenging roads in your Toyota pickup, and not get asked to leave. 

So, you’ll find greenery, woodland charm, mountainous terrain to explore, and, most importantly – plenty of dispersed camping opportunities. 

Below, I will list some of my favorite campgrounds in this unique part of Colorado.

Lyons Gulch Boat Launch Camping

Forest Path in Lyons Gulch Boat Launch Camping
  • Distance to Glenwood Springs: 22 miles 
  • Water availability: no (you can filter some from the river) 
  • Toilets: vault toilets 
  • Visitor frequency: low (high during the summer) 
  • Map 

Sitting right on the river’s edge, Lyons Gulch is a campground perfect for anyone who fancies skipping stones on the scenic Colorado River and possibly catching some unfortunate fish. 

Lyons Gulch represents one of the most visitor-friendly dispersed campgrounds I’ve seen in Colorado, as it is fully equipped with toilets and has more than enough parking space to land a jumbo jet – and then taxi it around to position it for another takeoff. Your RVs will have plenty of space, too. 

Tenting at Lyons Gulch is a joy. The sites are spacious next to the water and not far away from where you parked your car, and each features plenty of shade from the overhanging tall trees. 

The campground is first come, first served, which means some hefty competition during the busy summer months. As locals and weary travelers veering off the I-70 for a quick break flock to this free campground, the only way to snatch a site would be to arrive before everyone else. 

These are walk-in sites. Arriving here in an RV is an option, but you will only make it a short distance from the parking lot. Luckily, the distance from the parking lot to the riverside sites is only a short walking distance (If you have a separate RV tent onboard, that could work like a charm), 

Coffee Pot Road Dispersed Camping

Coffee Pot Road Dispersed Camping
  • Distance to Glenwood Springs: 33 miles 
  • Water availability: no  
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: medium 
  • Map 

A bit farther away from Glenwood Springs, at some 30-ish-odd miles from the settlement, you will find a coffee pot… road. This cheekily-named place is sitting on the other side of the Glenwood Canyon and, as such, offers fantastic views of the surrounding valley and its lush nature. 

One other incredible location that you can find around these parts would be the Deep Creek Overlook – a place with a gravel parking lot and a fenced-off cliffside with a handrail that prevents curious visitors from taking a 2,300-foot tumble down the Deep Creek Canyon.

Accessing Coffee Pot Road is a tad easier if you come from the east, as you can come off I-70 and get to coffee sooner rather than navigating curvy and treacherous canyon roads leading to this place from the west. 

You can find the campsites spread along the road. There are no amenities around these parts, so total self-sufficiency is a must. 

More on the topic of driving toward Coffee Pot Road: There’s a steady elevation involved, so driving carefully is a must, and arriving in a truck or an off-roader is a good idea. Some of the sections of the road include clearings with no trees to the sides, which means exposure to, at times, violent gusts of side wind.

While Coffee Pot Road offers its unique charm, if you’re on the hunt for a cost-effective camping experience, free camping near Lake City might just be your cup of tea. Situated a bit further out but worth every mile, Lake City’s free camping spots are a treasure for nature enthusiasts. Not only do they provide a serene escape, but they also allow you to immerse yourself in the beauty of the Colorado wilderness without the price tag.

Transfer Trail/ Forest Service Road 602

Flat Top Wilderness near Transfer Trail/ Forest Service Road 602
  • Distance to Glenwood Springs: 6 miles 
  • Water availability: no  
  • Toilets: no  
  • Visitor frequency: high 
  • Map 

If you are a proud owner of a high-power Diesel-guzzling 4×4, visiting Forest Service Road 602 can be a great adventure only 6 miles from Glenwood. The road leads into a massive scenic wide-open Colorado outback called Flat Tops Wilderness.

Adding to the exhilarating nature of this challenging drive would be that this place has zero toilets and no potable water. What it does have is quite a few visitors that would like to put their Suzuki hairstyler’s mini off-roaders and big powerful Fords and Range Rovers to the test. 

Once you’ve tackled many ups and downs and portions of the road, you will discover that this place comes with several pullouts where you can park up whatever is left of your vehicle. Also, you can pitch a tent or set up a hammock between two trees (Other combinations, such as a tree + your car’s bumper, also work fine). 

Campsites can be found along this forest service road from where you enter the national forest and onward. In case you’d like to have a quieter respite after what will inevitably be a bumpy ride, you can take one of the many smaller, off-road paths to find secretive campsites not too far away from the main dirt road. 

There are even a couple of small ponds in the area. 

To learn more about the location of the best campsites, you can consult this site to check out the motor vehicle use maps of the area. 

Four-Mile Road

Carbondale near Four-Mile Road, Colorado
  • Distance to Glenwood Springs: 17 miles 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: medium 
  • Map 

If you can do without access to clean, potable water, Four-Mile Road will reward you with some rather exciting views that will make you wonder if you were teleported to Japan in the foothills of Mt. Fuji.

Four-Mile Road is situated southwest of Glenwood Springs and close to a town called Carbondale, where twin-peaked Mount Sopris dominates the horizon and where you can rent an entire park for a wedding or similar event (The guy to talk to is Jamie Wall. No prank calls, please). 

If you like to test your mountain bike every once in a while, setting up camp near Four Mile Road can be a great way to explore the local bike routes. Hiking trails are also extensive here, although no marked trailheads are nearby. 

Driving down the four-mile road is generally easy, but be warned – the road gets progressively more bumpy the farther back you go.

For those seeking a different camping experience, dispersed camping near Steamboat Springs offers a delightful alternative. Not too far from Glenwood Springs, this hidden gem promises serene landscapes, making it an excellent spot for campers and nature enthusiasts alike. If Four-Mile Road’s views transport you to Japan, then the vast open spaces near Steamboat will surely take you on another enchanting journey.

Coal Creek Road

White River National Forest where Coal Creek Road is located
  • Distance to Glenwood Springs: 30 miles 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: no
  • Visitor frequency: medium 
  • Map 

About half an hour from Glenwood Springs, there is a creek and a corresponding road called Coal Creek. As mentioned, this place is closer to Carbondale than Glenwood, but if you have the time and willingness to traverse all the way there, the location will be well worth it.

The only danger that awaits you around Coal Creek is getting spoiled by the level, smooth gravel road. There are only around five-ish campsites, so the competition for the best spot can get rough, if not physical, when the weather is nice. During the weekdays and off-season, finding a spot is considerably more manageable. 

Once you’ve snatched a spot along this creek and pitched your tent, you could sit back in your folding chair and squeeze in another entry on your bucket list for the broader Colorado area. All updated, your list can now look like this:

  1. Find a campsite, set up a tent,
  2. Don’t fall into the creek with socks on,
  3. Avoid eye contact with elk, and
  4. Visit Redstone, Colorado

This old-timey town has memorabilia about the old times, such as antler creations. The general store offers what it did 200 years ago – bread, candy, and liquor.

Buford-New Castle Road

Lake in Glenwood Springs near Buford-New Castle Road
  • Distance to Glenwood Springs: 23 miles 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: low 
  • Map 

Representing a woodland-based roadside dispersed campground, Buford-New Castle Road is a place you do not want to miss out on – if you have a high-clearance 4×4 (Other vehicles will have a tough time navigating the terrain, so attempting to tackle this road aboard a regular sedan or similar two-wheel drive machine will probably get stuck). 

Amenity-wise, Buford Road will give you nothing but miles of forest and road – no toilets or water. Packing everything you need into your car’s trunk is a must, especially since getting stuck around these parts means walking back to Glenwood for 20-plus miles across rough terrain. 

The payoff for these potential (but not too terrible) roadside hazards would be fantastic views of the surrounding woodland and fresh forest air. Also, this road features many campsites that disperse for miles on end, so the chances of arriving here only to find a congested road full of visitors with no place to park – are relatively low. 

Hubbard Mesa OHV East

Colorado River Valley where the Hubbard Mesa OHV East is located
  • Distance to Glenwood Springs: 27,5 miles 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: medium 
  • Map 

Wide-open spaces, some errant shrubbery here and there, and elevated mesas that represent perfect vantage points for capturing some genuinely mesmerizing photos of the expanse of land below… the list of fantastic points that make Hubbard Mesa a must-visit goes on. 

Besides the excellent, photo-op-worthy terrain, Hubbard Mesa is also where you can ride your off-roader to your heart’s content. Not only is there more than enough space for you to do so, but thanks to the variety in terrain, you can also get access to many muddy patches of the road and push your off-roader to the limit. For those looking for more of a quiet ride and a couple of roadside campsites to pitch their tent, on the other hand, Hubbard Mesa, OHV, is where you want to be, too. 

Lastly, biking is also an exciting activity around these parts, so if you own a bicycle and are willing to tackle the mud, the grit, and the gravel riding your trusty two-wheeler, packing the bike in your trunk can be an exciting option.

“For those who might fancy a change of scenery after soaking in the vistas of Hubbard Mesa, free camping near Aspen, CO offers a refreshing alternative. Nestled amidst the towering peaks and verdant forests, it provides a serene escape from the rugged terrains of the mesa. This Aspen hideaway can be the perfect setting for those desiring a blend of mountain elegance and the untamed wilderness.

Yeoman Park

Hikers in Yeoman Park with an RV in the background
  • Distance to Glenwood Springs: 35 miles 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: vault toilets 
  • Visitor frequency: medium 
  • Map 

Representing a significant campground near Glenwood Springs that features many helpful camping amenities, Yeoman Park is disability-friendly, has plenty of ground squirrels you can watch fight over nuts and berries, and is RV-friendly. 

Yeoman Park rests at a considerable elevation of 9,000 feet. The result of such a steep altitude of this place is a unique ecosystem consisting of a large meadow and an edge of a mostly spruce forest. This combo of wetland and woodland gives this place a unique atmosphere you’d struggle to find anywhere near Glenwood. 

What creates problems in this area occasionally is droughts. As a result, nearby ponds and forest creeks tend to diminish, making finding water in nature an arduous task. 

Another, more notable byproduct of a typical Yeoman Park drought would be plenty of thirsty, hungry, disoriented, and potentially aggressive bears. Keeping food in specially-designated storage containers and suspended at least 10 feet off the ground is a must. 

Amenity-wise, Yeoman Park has it all. More than 24 sites have picnic tables and fire rings, and about half feature elevated tent platforms. Also, many sites can accommodate RVs and similar large vehicles. Visitors with disabilities will also have access to some sites, which have been redesigned recently for this purpose. 

Last but not least, if you like to watch beavers hacking away at trees and biting into the fallen logs – head to Brush Creek, near the park’s entrance, with binoculars.

Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness

the first snow of the year on Maroon Bells
  • Distance to Glenwood Springs: 35 miles 
  • Water availability: no (you can filter some from the nearby creeks, though)
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: high 
  • Map 

If you fancy carrying a large backpack and tackling a steep ascent full of pointy rocks that tend to get reasonably hot underneath the summer sun, Maroon Bells wilderness is a must-visit – whether covered in snow as its name suggests or snowless.

It’s important to mention that this wilderness area features dispersed camping but requires reservations. Due to the high visitor frequency, the local White River National Forest authorities require visitors to have permits and reservations. You can get your permit from Recreation.gov

There are no toilets, running water, and other facilities. The only thing this area has in abundance is hungry bears, so keeping your food and important belongings in a bear-proof container is essential. 

There are multiple water sources in the wild, but none is potable. To make it so, you can use a filtration contraption. 

The campsites themselves are rather far apart and offer a fairly private experience. While getting to some of these sites (especially those at higher elevations) does mean negotiating high mountains and mesas, you can rest assured that the fantastic views of the surrounding nature will be well worth the arduous clambering.

For those looking for a different pace and perhaps a bit less of a steep challenge, free campgrounds near Fort Collins offer a delightful alternative. While Maroon Bells captivates with its rugged beauty, the areas around Fort Collins provide a mix of gentle terrains and stunning landscapes. These spots are perfect for those who wish to enjoy the wild without the reservations or the bustling crowds. It’s an experience that complements the intensity of Maroon Bells, giving campers a wider range of Colorado’s scenic repertoire.

Cow Creek

Sign at the entrance of the Cow Creek Campground
  • Distance to Glenwood Springs: 37 miles 
  • Water availability: no  
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: low 
  • Map 

Featuring no cows and a small pond acting as a creek, Cow Creek may have a slightly misleading name. Still, it represents a tremendous dispersed camping option near Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

The easily-negotiable terrain around these parts means you can access this area in a number of different ways. First, you can get here onboard an RV and drive to the spot where you plan to set up your encampment. On the other hand, you also have the option to park a bit farther away, at the parking lot, and then enter the campground itself on foot carrying a backpack. 

Tenting and RV-ing are both options in this part of Colorado, so you can enjoy the surrounding area whether you’re an owner of a large minibus with a kitchen and toilet onboard or you prefer to set up a tent and experience Cow Creek the way old-timey cow herders, miners, and prospectors did back in the early days when Glenwood Springs was still called ‘Defiance.’ 

Regarding amenities, you will find something here other than a seasonal source of creek water, which isn’t potable per se, but can be filtered. 

The surrounding nature is quite beautiful, with the campground being a sizable clearing and the mountains providing an attractive visual backdrop.

For those looking to venture a bit further from Glenwood Springs, free camping near Denver offers another exciting escape. Just like Cow Creek, areas around Denver let you immerse yourself in Colorado’s raw, scenic beauty. And, if you’re keen on blending urban exploration with rustic relaxation, the proximity to the Mile High City ensures the best of both worlds.

Paradise Divide

  • Distance to Glenwood Springs: 42 miles 
  • Water availability: no 
  • Toilets: no
  • Visitor frequency: medium 
  • Map 

A bit farther away from Glenwood, you will find a place with the word ‘paradise’ in it – and for a good reason. Functioning on a first-come, first-served basis, Paradise Divide is a place that features both developed and dispersed campgrounds. 

The dispersed campgrounds feature several sites you can access on foot or by driving straight to them. The sites themselves feature fire rings and many excellent trails nearby. You can gather your friends or pets, explain to them the hiking route you’ll be taking, and then proceed to get to know this scenic part of Colorado up close and personal. Once you’re tired of all the exploration, return to the campsite, start a campfire, and enjoy the sunset while roasting marshmallows. 

But be aware – this place has no water and no place to buy marshmallows, so you must bring both of these essential outdoor consumables with you.

Each of the sites features a fire ring, though, and the location of these places is a story for itself. Suffice it to say you will need help finding a place in Colorado to camp for free and observe this level of natural beauty. 

Deep Lake Campground

Camping table at the Deep Lake campground
  • Distance to Glenwood Springs: 16 miles 
  • Water availability: no (you can fetch some from the lake, though)
  • Toilets: no 
  • Visitor frequency: medium 
  • Map 

With its location to the northeast of Glenwood Springs, Deep Lake is a place that sits at an elevation of more than 10,500 feet. If you’re interested in camping at a destination that will make you think you’ve been teleported to Switzerland and are sitting next to one of its scenic lakes, hopping in your car for a quick 16-mile drive from Glenwood to this lake should be an entry to add to your weekend to-do list. 

The list of fantastic views that you can witness in this area goes on and on. The campground itself is snugly wedged within a spruce and fir forest. Quite a few subalpine meadows lead away from the lake and are also a place where a significant portion of the Deep Creek canyon starts. 

Deep Lake is a sizable body of water, covering some 37 acres – a considerable surface at such an elevation. The dispersed campground closely following the borders of this lake features 35 sites with amenities such as picnic tables and fire rings. 

The roads leading to this place are made of high-quality gravel, so big rigs are welcome. As long as they don’t surpass 35 feet because some sharp turns on the road will make a giant RV look like an elephant in the porcelain store as you trample local roadside vegetation with chunky tires.

White River National Forest – special section

Two hikers in White River National Forest in spring

Home to many excellent campgrounds in this part of Colorado, White River National Forest is where you will find a network of forest service roads not for those faint of heart and of poor off-roading skills. 

In many patches of this mountainous forest, owning a 4×4 off-roader means the difference between glorious exploration and embarrassing sat-phone calls for a rescue party to pick up your sorry behind.

White River is a large forest; not all campgrounds are near Glenwood Springs. That said, those offer many fantastic camping options that you want to take advantage of. 

Here is a site with White River MVUMs (Motor Vehicle Use Maps) that you can use to orient yourself in the labyrinth of forest service roads in this gorgeous, if, at times, tough-to-navigate national forest.

While White River National Forest offers unparalleled beauty, if you’re looking for a change of scenery, free camping near Breckenridge is a hidden gem worth exploring. Nestled just a short drive away, Breckenridge boasts pristine landscapes that rival those of White River. With fewer crowds and equally challenging terrains, it’s an adventurer’s dream come true. So, if you’re in the mood for a unique camping experience, Breckenridge might just be the spot for you.

When to Camp Near Glenwood Springs 

Glenwood Springs in winter

Well-known for its rather polarizing climate, expect Glenwood Springs to be hot and sunny during the summer and cold and snowy during the winter, with considerable out-of-season climate surprises being rare. 

The best time of the year for camping is May through September. If you’re an RV enthusiast, add a couple of weeks before May and after September to this equation. 

Mind you, Glenwood Springs being a mountain town means when it’s cold here – it’s properly cold. Bringing warm clothes and knowing how to warm up your RV is a must before heading here during the winter or thereabouts. 

For more detailed info, it’s always best to consult the local ranger district and learn more. 

Forest Fires 

Seeing how this part of Colorado is made exclusively out of dense woodland, forest fires are the bane of the existence of locals and forest service authorities. 

There was even a fire so massive recently that it received its name. You can observe the burn map and the debris from the great Grizzly Creek Fire of 2020.

Forest fires are a constant peril, so you need to be extra careful with starting campfires. You can see the latest fire alerts for this part of Colorado here

Pets & Other Considerations

Hikers on a rocky trail in Glenwood Springs

As a general rule of thumb, pets are welcome at all dispersed campgrounds around Glenwood Springs. It is essential to keep them leashed so they don’t wander off into the wilderness, fall off a cliff, or get picked up by a passing bald eagle. 

Also, you might run into an elk. 

Other considerations to think about before exploring this area: 

  • Virtually all the dispersed campgrounds are first-come, first-served.
  • Some of the dirt roads can get quite rough in some areas, as the White River National Forest sits on a significant mountain.
  •  The local authorities recommend practicing ‘Leave no Trace’ camping principles to reduce the negative impact of the steady increase in visitor frequency to the general Glenwood Springs area. 

Where to Next?

Glenwood Springs is a must-visit if you like mountains, hot springs, and Old West stories. 

On the other hand, if you hate the guts of Glenwood for some reason (maybe Doc Holliday is your distant cousin), going away from this place and into the nearby wilderness can be a great way to vent some of the negative feelings you might harbor for this place, too.

A hidden gem to consider is free camping near Durango. Nestled among the peaks, it offers an authentic Colorado escape, away from the tourist trails. The serene backdrop of Durango can be the perfect remedy for those who wish to distance themselves from the bustling vibes of Glenwood Springs, immersing themselves in the heart of nature instead.

Leave a Comment