Complete Guide to Dispersed Camping Near Steamboat Springs & List of Campgrounds

Dispersed camping near Steamboat Springs offers a unique experience steeped in local lore. What makes Steamboat Springs so attractive, despite their notable steamboatlessness, would be the immaculate mountain nature that surrounds this Colorado settlement. 

Below, I will talk about the many great dispersed camping opportunities near Steamboat Springs and discuss some related questions, such as fees, permits, and the best time of the year to set up a tent around these parts. 

Overview of Free Camping Near Steamboat Springs

Lake in Steamboat Springs

Well known for its skiing slopes, excellent biking trails, and cattle ranches, many of which are over 100 years old, Steamboat Springs is a mountainous community that’s always full of Norwegian ski jumpers with crossed-out o’s in their long surnames, local bicycling lovers looking to get some fresh air and shed a couple of pounds, and last but not least – sheep.

This place is not a one-trick tourism pony, either. The local commerce is done rather well, too. 

‘Outfittin’ the West for over 100 years’ (or 118 as of 2023, to be preciseF.M. Light & Sons is a famous must-visit hat and outfit shop from Steamboat Springs that’s still open today. 

If you visit this curiously antiquated attire boutique, you will undoubtedly learn a lot about the local history and hear many stories of who-shot-who over this dispute and the other. 

Also, if you stick around long enough to measure your head, you may receive a hat. 

Anyway, hat or no hat, visiting this part of Colorado also means gaining access to various fantastic campgrounds. Whether you plan to dip in one of the many local hot springs or fancy setting up encampments along the local woodland road pullouts, rest assured that Steamboat Springs will not disappoint.

Best Dispersed Campgrounds Near Steamboat Springs

There are few places in the U.S. where so much history, natural beauty, and overwhelming tourist potential are combined into one place, the way it is in and around Steamboat Springs. 

This place garnered such an admirable touristy reputation because of its unique and immaculate mountainous surroundings, with a bunch of thermal springs being the centerpiece of everyone’s attention and admiration. 

The list of great camping spots you can enjoy goes on and on. I will present my favorite free campgrounds near Steamboat Springs in the paragraphs below. 

Mostly, these campgrounds are forest service roadside pullout-style clearings, so do expect a predominantly woodland atmosphere when you first come to this place. To find even more forest service road campgrounds, check out the local Motor Vehicle Use Maps.

Walton Peak/Highway 40

Aerial view of Walton Peak
  • Distance to Steamboat Springs: 11 miles 
  • Toilets: No  
  • Water availability: No 
  • Visitor frequency: Medium 
  • Map 

If you are okay with getting voluntarily entangled in a small but rather diverse network of scenic forest service roads spread across an area just off Highway 40, the Walton Peak campsites are where you want to be. 

This is an overnight hangout place where you can park up your recreation vehicle or pitch your tent for a night of not-so-sound but ultimately possible sleep (the highway noise does not let up during the night, let’s just put it that way). 

This curious area just south of Steamboat, collectively known as Walton’s Peak, is ultimately a series of engaging interconnected mini-forest service roads. If you want to explore these in more detail by visiting the official USFS MVUM for this area, the roads that make up this network are called: FR 287, 289, 290, 292, 294, 298, as well as 295. 

There are no amenities here, so come here with bottled water and plenty of instant noodles.

If, however, the hum of the highway isn’t your ideal backdrop, consider the serene beauty around Buena Vistfa, Colorado. This charming town offers breathtaking views of the Collegiate Peaks and numerous free camping spots, providing a tranquil escape and a memorable mountain experience for those keen on a quieter, more pristine setting. Just ensure you’re geared up, as it too requires a self-sufficient camping approach.

Buffalo Pass

Road leading to Buffalo Pass dispersed camping area
  • Distance to Steamboat Springs: 7 miles  
  • Toilets: No (you can access vault toilets at Buffalo Pass trailhead, though) 
  • Water availability: No 
  • Visitor frequency: High 
  • Map 

Suppose you’re looking for a dispersed camping experience that will take you only a short distance from Steamboat Springs and into the skunk and raccoon-infested wilderness of the greater Colorado outback. In that case, Buffalo Pass is the right destination. 

At just 7 miles from the steamboat-less but otherwise gorgeous town, Buffalo Pass is a place wedged into the secretive woodland patches of the neighboring forest. Setting up a tent around these parts means enjoying a lot of privacy amidst a busy tourist destination. The nearby developed Dry Lake campground that you will drive or trek past on your way to Buffalo Pass will give you some idea of how popular this general area is – especially during the peak summer season. 

For those planning to explore Buffalo Pass from onboard an R.V., the rough news is that the road does get progressively bumpier the farther you traverse it. To save your recreation vehicle’s tires, suspension, and kidneys, consider parking somewhere in the Buffalo Pass parking lot and then proceeding on foot with a backpack.

Alternatively, you can try tackling the forest dirt road onboard your R.V. but only consider the first few sites. Venture further at your own risk. 

Rabbit Ears Pass West (FSR 296)

Two young does up on Rabbit Ears Pass, Colorado
Photo by Poole.kelli19 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • Distance to Steamboat Springs: 15 miles
  • Toilets: No 
  • Water availability: No 
  • Visitor frequency: Medium 
  • Map 

If you’ve prepared to put your R.V. to the test and see how its motor tackles a rather challenging elevation of more than 9,000 feet, heading to the Rabbit Ears West Pass will give you the high-altitude motoring adventure of your life.

A 20-minute drive from Steamboat will take you close to the mountain’s summit, where you can spot dispersed campgrounds across the entire road length. The ones closer to the highway tend to be bigger and rig-friendly (because of the space, not amenities). In contrast, the sites farther away from the route offer more beautiful views and more privacy – but are reachable by only the pluckiest of 4x4s. 

This spot does get rather crowded during the peak season. Also, no amenities, so come fully prepared.

If the Rabbit Ears West Pass feels a tad too bustling for your liking, consider the serene wilderness near Telluride for a quieter getaway. The untouched landscapes of Telluride provide pristine spots for primitive camping, with breathtaking views that rival any high-altitude site. It’s a picturesque alternative, perfect for those who yearn for a closer connection to nature without the crowds.

Forest Service Road 302

Yampa River near Steamboat Springs near Forest Service Road 302
  • Distance to Steamboat Springs: 20 miles 
  • Toilets: No 
  • Water availability: No 
  • Visitor frequency: Medium 
  • Map 

Another woodland pathway that bifurcates from the famous Highway 40, Forest Service Road 302 gives you a couple of miles of excellent pullout-style campgrounds that you can visit – whether you’re a tenting or hammocking aficionado or an RV-dwelling camper on wheels. 

As with pretty much every highway off-shoot around these parts, the best-dispersed campgrounds are the farther back you go. With the improved appearance of the campgrounds, of course, the road also gets progressively more challenging to tackle, so you first have to slay the tire-fattening, kidney-rearranging dragon of the forest service backroad, to get to the beautiful vista-rich gold of a campsite. 

However, before you embark on this mission, bring plenty of water and other necessities such as food and sunscreen. 

The slightly greater distance from Steamboat of FSR 302 also means more privacy and a generally lower number of visitors – a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of Steamboat Springs. 

Rabbit Ears Pass Summit (FSR 251)

Rabbit Ears Pass Summit in Colorado
Photo by Mcoffey via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  • Distance to Steamboat Springs: 20 miles
  • Toilets: No 
  • Water availability: No 
  • Visitor frequency: Medium 
  • Map 

If you happen to find a hole in your calendar in the middle of the very peak of summer and you fancy dedicating those couple of days to finally visiting the broader Steamboat area, heading to the very summit of Rabbit Ears Pass would probably be the best idea, as the dispersed camping area is almost entirely under a series of tall, shade-providing trees. 

The forest service road 251 that leads towards this summit is along its entire length, suitable for dispersed camping. You will even encounter some relatively decent sites immediately after you turn off the highway. 

The the road is generally passable for most vehicles – including heavy R.V. rigs. The road sometimes gets narrow, so proceed with caution if you have a large car.

Finding FSR 251 is a piece of cake. Drive up Highway 40 until you reach the Rabbit Ears Pass Summit, and then look for a large gravel parking lot that will likely have a couple of vehicles on it already. You will also see a sign showing where the nearby Harrison Creek is. When you arrive, turn the opposite way and land on forest service road 251. 

No amenities, self-sufficiency required – you know the drill.

If, however, the Rabbit Ears Pass area is too crowded or you’re looking for a change of scenery, consider venturing towards Lake City. This hidden gem offers equally captivating dispersed camping spots, with the added allure of serene lakeside views. Much like the Steamboat area, Lake City’s dispersed camping sites are nestled amidst nature, providing an authentic wilderness experience. And if you’re a fan of fishing or simply enjoy the tranquility of water, the proximity to the lake is an added bonus.

Rabbit Ears Pass Summit (FSR 100)

  • Distance to Steamboat Springs: 21 miles 
  • Toilets: No 
  • Water availability: No 
  • Visitor frequency: Medium 
  • Map 

At 21 miles from Steamboat and to the east of Rabbit Ears Pass, you will find the beginning of a long, long forest road officially called Forest Service Road 100. Unofficially, this rather long dirt road is also called Country Road 19.

This long and winding dirt road offers the most significant number of individual roadside sites in the general area around Steamboat Springs. The spots start appearing immediately after you turn off the highway, and the first couple of miles have the smoothest patches of the road. These initial sections just off the route can be a perfect overnight choice for RV-ers, as you don’t have to drive too far away from the main highway and can still find plenty of room to spend the night at one of the roadside pullouts. 

Some sites along this rather long road also have access to the nearby Muddy Creek, which can be a lovely visual backdrop for setting up a tent.

You would need an elaborate water filter to make it potable, so carrying your water supply with you is a strong recommendation (The creek is called ‘Muddy’ a reason).

Also, no toilets and no other amenities are present at these campsites.

If you’re looking for another gem of a location, consider free camping near Silverton. It’s another captivating destination, offering breathtaking views and a tranquil escape similar to the vistas around Steamboat Springs. The untouched beauty and vast wilderness near Silverton can make for an unforgettable camping experience.

Seedhouse Road

Man fishing Elk River on a beautiful day
Photo by Jeffrey Beall via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0)
  • Distance to Steamboat Springs: 26 miles 
  • Toilets: No 
  • Water availability: No (you can extract the water from the nearby Elk Creek River, though) 
  • Visitor frequency: High 
  • Map 

First, I have to start with the unfortunate news: Seedhouse Road is closed until further notice due to the terrible Morgan Creek fire.

The Seedhouse road leads away from Steamboat and towards the developed Seedhouse Campground. For most, dispersed camping is not allowed along this road, save for a small but gorgeous section along FR400.2C – just before you reach the developed campground.

This campground is unique because it disperses along the river bank, giving you access to about four to five campsites that offer plenty of space to park up or pitch a tent.

For the best experience, be sure to explore the tree line that’s adjacent to the riverside. It may take tackling some shrubbery, but it will be well worth it when you gain a view of the river.

To see the current status of this campground, be sure to check out the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District Office official website.

Amidst the closure of Seedhouse Road, it might be a good time to consider other captivating locations. There’s a whisper among camping enthusiasts about the dispersed campgrounds near Fort Collins, offering a serene change of scenery. Just like Seedhouse’s riverside allure, these spots too have their own magic waiting to be discovered. It’s always refreshing to find new horizons while waiting for old favorites to reopen.

Allen Basin Reservoir Dispersed Camping

Aerial view of Allen Basin Reservoir Dispersed with the surrounding forest
  • Distance to Steamboat Springs: 26 miles 
  • Toilets: No 
  • Water availability: No 
  • Visitor frequency: Low 
  • Map 

Representing a fantastic dispersed camping opportunity near a significant hiking trail, Allen Basin Reservoir is only accessible via a specialized ATV/OHV-only road or for hikers and backpackers if you mean to enter it on foot. Due to the rough road, getting here onboard a larger vehicle is not an option. 

However, once you reach this sizable woodland clearing, you will see why all the backpack-wearing and risking falling off your quad was worth the hassle. If you’re coming here during the winter, you better have those tennis racket-looking thingies for your feet or a snowmobile to tackle what will inevitably be deep snow-covered terrain.

Allen Basin Reservoir offers plenty of space to set up campfires in a woodland area, making you think you are in one of those wilderness movies about Alaska with remote log cabins and serene northern forests.

Amenity-wise, all you will find here are a couple of fire rings, so don’t look for toilets. Also, potable water is not a thing here, so bring your supply.

If you want to learn more about this unique campground, visit the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland for more references.

For those who find Allen Basin Reservoir a tad too remote, dispersed camping near Breckenridge offers a delightful alternative. Nestled amidst the majestic Rockies, Breckenridge provides a blend of wilderness charm and easier accessibility. It’s a haven for campers who crave a mix of mountain adventures and a touch of civilization. If Allen Basin’s rugged allure isn’t quite your style, Breckenridge might just be the perfect spot for your next camping escapade.

When to Camp Near Steamboat Springs

Cloud reflection on a lake near Steamboat Springs

For Colorado’s high standards, Steamboat Springs finds itself at only a moderate elevation of some 6,700 feet above sea level. Mountain goats can jump higher than that in this mountainous U.S. state. 

From the perspective of a U.S. state or some other low-elevation place in the world, however, Steamboat Springs still offers an unmistakably mountainous outdoor experience.

The weather around Steamboat Springs follows a typical high-altitude mountainous climate. Compared to some of the higher Colorado peaks not too far away from these springs, however, Steamboat Springs has somewhat milder winters and generally less snow than some of the other nearby locations. 

Camping around these parts is generally best from late May to early October, when the weather is still relatively warm, and the conditions on the ground are negotiable for vehicles and on-foot backpackers. 

A quick note: Winter camping around these parts is a thing, too, but know that cold weather season on a mountain is not the same as setting up a tent on a Miami beach.


Wherever there is a forest at a high elevation, there is a forest ranger nervously looking at how hot the star will shine that day and checking if any suspicious-looking teenagers are loitering around armed with lighters and firecrackers. 

Forest fires are a significant problem in Colorado, and the general area around Steamboat Springs is no exception. 

In recent years, forest fires destroyed large chunks of the local woodland area, devastating trees, squirrels, and wolverines. 

The local rangers are good sports, though, and understanding just how important campfires are for a complete camping experience, you can start a fire inside a fire ring in a campground. That said, you have to ensure it’s put out before you leave – which means pouring Earth, water, blankets on it, stamping it out like a rhino, whatever it takes.

Make sure to check the current fire restrictions.

Pets & Other Considerations

Hiker hiking in Steamboat Springs in the winter

I’ll be frank – Steamboat Springs general area does have its predatory animals, and, yes, I predominantly mean aggressive and largely unpredictable wolverines. Routinely attacking squirrels, birds, bugs, shrubbery, other wolverines, and even animals as large as bears and elk, wolverines tend to leave humans alone mercifully. 

That said, if your pet were to get off the leash and started nosing around, or God forbid, marking territory, you might be looking at the prospect of finding only the leash and not much else than some fur when you start looking for your four-legged companion.

Not all is bleak for the folks who want to bring their pets along for a proper Colorado camping experience. Pets are generally welcome and will be safe as long as you keep them leashed and keep a watchful and protective eye on them.

Dispersed camping near Steamboat Springs is free. If some rules change, the authorities will publish a heads-up beforehand.

To learn more about these updates, the guys to talk to are at the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District Office.

Where to Next?

All in all, whether you’re interested to find out what made the ancient French fur trappers stop by this Colorado settlement and give it a funny, inappropriate, but ultimately kind of cool-sounding name, or you just like camping in a mountain, Steamboat Springs will provide you with both remarkable stories from the Old West frontier and a bunch of forest service roadside pullouts to look forward to exploring.

And if you’ve got an itch for more mountain adventures, consider dispersed camping near Glenwood Springs. Just a drive away, it offers a refreshing alternative for those seeking solitude amidst nature, without the price tag. An experience so raw, it feels like a secret the ancient trappers might’ve kept to themselves!

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