Best Car Camping in Colorado

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The Rocky Mountains are well-known for their excellent options for camping and for car camping in particular. It’s handy to be able to drive right up to your campsite, stow your gear before bed at night (to be bear aware) and not have to haul your gear for miles before you can get to roasting s’mores and telling tales around the campfire. We’ve created a list of some of the best camping Southern Colorado and the Pikes Peak region have to offer – plus a few extra recommendations from other parts of the state.

The Rocky Mountains are well-known for their excellent options for camping and for car camping in particular. It’s handy to be able to drive right up to your campsite, stow your gear before bed at night (to be bear aware) and not have to haul your gear for miles before you can get to roasting s’mores and telling tales around the campfire. We’ve created a list of some of the best camping Southern Colorado and the Pikes Peak region have to offer – plus a few extra recommendations from other parts of the state. 

Dispersed Camping Near Pikes Peak

Dispersed car camping simply means that you are camping at a site that is outside of a designated campground but still allowed under the law. It’s one of the best ways to get free car camping in Colorado because most dispersed sites do not have a fee. While you cannot car camp along the Pikes Peak Highway, there are several locations for dispersed camping in the region surrounding the famous fourteener. 

You can, of course, camp at Barr Camp along Barr Trail on the way to the summit. However, you’re going to be in a fair bit of trouble if you try car camping in an area without roads. You’ll likely have to pay Honest Accurate a visit after you’re towed out. So, we’ll just stick with sites you’re allowed to drive to. 

The Crags 

33 miles from Colorado Springs | Water available | Vault toilets | Leashed pets allowed

The Crags are located west of Colorado Springs off of Teller County Road 62. It’s just 3 miles south of Mueller State Park and a brief drive to Cripple Creek (feel free to take a cruise along the scenic Gold Belt Scenic Byway while you’re up there). You’ll take Highway 24 west into Divide and turn left on Highway 67. The road to the Crags is rough, so make sure you’ve got the tires and shocks to withstand washboard and washouts. 

The Crags is smaller, with just 17 tents and small trailer campsites. As with all dispersed sites,  campsites are first-come/first-served. It is best to get there early for weekend camping. You can try sending someone up early in the afternoon or the day before if your heart is set on camping there.  Experienced hikers can hike to the top of Pikes Peak on the west slope (13.1 miles), or access other hiking trail loops that are shorter distances. Make a reservation. 

Reservation Camping in the Pikes Peak Region

Not everyone likes the risk of trying to claim a site the day of their trip and that’s where reservation camping in the Pikes Peak region can be really helpful. 

Eleven Mile State Park & Eleven Mile Canyon Recreation Area

39-64 miles from Colorado Springs | Water available | Vault toilets | Pets on leash allowed

Eleven Mile State Park and Eleven Mile Canyon Recreation Area have some of the best camping in Colorado for lake and stream fishing and handy amenities like water and camp toilets! Eleven Mile Reservoir is over five miles long, and is known for having cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout, and northern pike. Kokanee salmon can be found in the river flow, also referred to as the “Dream Stream,” on the north side of the reservoir.  More than 300 campsites are available for trailers and tent camping.  Numerous hiking and biking trails are also accessible. 

Check your reservations carefully before committing. Some sites are car camping sites and others are sites meant for parking and hiking to the site. In the canyon, the sites are reasonably close to the parking area and can be accessed with a wagon or a crew to haul gear. The state park also has hike-in and boat-in camping and they are not easy to access unless you pack light or can get a boat ride to the side. 

Make reservations at Eleven Mile State Park. 

Make reservations at Eleven Mile Canyon. 

Car Campgrounds in Southern Colorado

Southern Colorado is an expansive region with lots of places for car camping Colorado Springs residents can enjoy throughout the season. Here are a few places that are a little bit different than your traditional campsite. 

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve – Piñon Flats Campground

166 miles from Colorado Springs | Potable water | Flush toilets | Leashed pets allowed

Camping in Colorado is not all about the forest, as evidenced by the famous and fantastic car campgrounds located in the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It is a little further away than some of the other great places to car camping in Colorado, but it’s worth the drive! Hike to the top of the tallest dunes in North America, then go sand-sledding down the dunes! 

There are 88 sites available at Pinion Flats (National Park Service campground, just north of the Visitor Center). Reservations (online) are recommended well in advance for the peak season (May-September), although there may be first-come, first served sites available if not filled. There are also several private campgrounds available within 20-40 miles of the dunes.

Reserve a Sand Dunes campsite. 

La Vista Campground

87 miles | Potable water | Vault toilets | Leashed pets allowed

La Vista Campground is a relaxing place in the Wet Mountains to camp, fish and hike.  The campground sits next to 40-acre Lake Isabel reservoir, which is regularly stocked by CO Parks and Wildlife. The reservoir is wakeless, with no motorized boating allowed. That means you can fish, paddle board and kayak without getting drowned in the wakes of marauding speedboaters from sun-up to sundown.  Nearby St. Charles Creek is available for stream fishing also.  

While you are in the area, be sure to check out Bishop’s Castle just seven miles to the north of the site. It’s a quirky Colorado treasure that builder Jim Bishop has been creating for nearly 60 years. It’s a wild location that everyone should check out at least once. It is an “enter at your own risk” attraction, so remember that before you venture out onto the catwalks and curving staircases. 

Reserve with La Vista Campground.

Best Campsites in Colorado for Car Camping North/Northwest of Colorado Springs

Camping in Southern Colorado is a great time, but Northern Colorado is no slouch in the awesomeness department. Some of the best camping sites in Colorado (that are still somewhat close to home) are located just northwest of Denver and the Pikes Peak region. 

May Queen Campground

133 miles | Potable water | Vault toilets | Leashed pets allowed

Although there are several campgrounds along the eastern edge of Turquoise Lake, be sure and check out the best places to car camp on the western side of Turquoise Lake.  It is a little further to get to, but worth the drive. There is easy access to boating, fishing and hiking. The views of Holy Cross and Mount Massive Wilderness areas from the campground are wonderful, and you can enjoy hiking over 30,000 acres of the Mount Massive Wilderness area.  More ambitious and in-shape hikers may want to tackle the 14,421 ft. Mount Massive peak! There is also the Timberline Lake trailhead (two-mile hike to the lake), which can be accessed ½ mile up the road.

The town of Leadville is seated amongst some absolutely amazing old mining sites. Bring your bikes and you can learn all about mining on the self-guided Mineral Belt Trail. It’s uphill for about six miles with points of interest and old mining equipment you can explore. Once you’ve reached the summit of the ride, you’ll spend another six miles careening downhill on the wide, paved bike trail. Keep an eye out for Sasquatch as you ride through Colorado Mountain College. 

Camp at May Queen.

Car Camping Along the Front Range

We’ll close out this list of great places to camp in Colorado by traveling just a touch deeper into the Front Range west of Colorado Springs. 

Cottonwood Lake Campground, 

Just west of Buena Vista, off Cottonwood Pass Road, is another gem waiting to be found. Cottonwood Lake Campground has 25 sites and is open into the fall season, giving those campers who can’t quite admit winter is coming one last hurrah before giving up the ghost for another year. Tents and trailers are welcome, although no hook ups are available for water or electricity. Hand powered boats are allowed on the lake, and fishing is available in the lake or in the South Fork of Cottonwood Creek. The Colorado Trail is nearby for hiking. Anglers really love this location, so campsites fill up quickly over the weekend. 

What are your favorite camping spots in Colorado?  We listed campgrounds that are less than three hours from Colorado Springs, but we know there are many others in Colorado that should not be missed. Don’t forget to get your car tune up and inspection before you head out. As any avid camper knows, an ounce of preparation is better than a pound of cure. Or, to put it another way, a car inspection is worth six hours waiting for a tow truck to save the day. 

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