We haven’t paid for camping in two months and why would you with views like these? We’re sharing our favorite FREE campsites throughout Colorado!
Since returning from RVing across Mexico for 5 months, we’re now exploring the Southwest of the United States. And for the last two months, we haven’t paid for camping. AT ALL. In this episode, we’ll show you the how, what, and where of free camping across Colorado. Plus, we’ll give you our favorite resources for finding epic spots like these and show you what makes the perfect spot for digital nomads working from the road.
Our Top 8 FREE Campsites in Colorado
8. Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Montrose, CO: This is no frills BLM Land (Bureau of Land Management) about a mile outside the south entrance to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. As with most dispersed or dry camping, there are no amenities such as water, electric, a dump station or trash cans. However, we had good internet (Verizon LTE) and beautiful views of the farmland below. This spot is very close to the park entrance, so it’s ideal for setting up camp to explore the natural beauty Black Canyon has to offer. There is very limited space for big rigs, the most ideal spots for anything larger than 25 feet will be at the immediate pull off. When we visited in late July 2020, the two roads leading to the more scenic spots were washed out. We did see lots of smaller vehicles, truck campers and plenty of tents tucked back into the woods.
GPS Coordinates: 38.5326, -107.7167
7. Williams Fork Reservoir, Parshall, CO: Colorado has several FREE, established campgrounds that are owned and operated by Denver Water. Williams Fork Reservoir is located near the town of Parshall, about 15 minutes from Hot Sulphur Springs. This campground has established sites with fire rings and picnic tables. There are pit toilets and trash cans throughout the campground, which is split into two sides by the lake. On the south east side, we had decent Verizon LTE, however it was not strong enough for uploads. The more scenic side of the lake with trees and a small beach was a dead zone for internet or cell service, so be aware of that if you need connectivity. One of the best things about this spot aside from the gorgeous views is that there is a free dump station on site! Bonus points for that.
GPS: 40.0068, -106.2218
6. Washington Gulch, Crested Butte, CO: Located in Gunnison National Forest, this free camping is absolutely beautiful and within great proximity to Crested Butte. However, it is extremely busy! We arrived on a Tuesday evening and snagged two of the last spots in the “parking lot.” If you’re in a truck camper or tent, you’ll have a lot more options to choose from. Continue past the sign and parking area to the left, and you’ll find a ridge where we saw about 20 RVs set up. Even with the spot we were in, we loved it here. The meadows, wildflowers and mountains look like they were ripped from a painting. Our spot even had a stone fire ring that was nice to use on a chilly night. (Always make sure you check any local fire restrictions first!) There are nearby trail heads and you’re only a quick drive into town. We had pretty good Verizon LTE here as well as TMobile and we were able to work just fine.
GPS: 38.934, -107.0187
5. Shavano Wildlife Area, Poncha Springs, CO: If you’re looking for 360-degree views of beautiful Colorado mountains, look no further! Shavano Wildlife Area is BLM Land about 15 minutes outside of Salida. This area is extremely big rig friendly, we saw numerous Class As and 5th Wheels here. You will drive about a mile on a dirt road and at the time of our visit (July 30, 2020) there was one washed out section we had to crawl over. Once you reach the camping area, you’ll have plenty of spots to choose from depending on which mountain you want to face. We had excellent internet service here (all carries, Verizon, Sprint and TMobile) and were able to work with no issues. There is a dump station and water fill up about 5 minutes away at the Poncha Springs Visitor Center as well. This location also allows overnight RV parking, but if you’re looking for something more scenic, we suggest driving to Shavano!
GPS: 38.5542, -106.1177
4. Antero Reservoir, Hartsel, CO: This is another great little established campground operated by Denver Water. Pros: super fast internet (think Netflix and chill kind of speeds), beautiful lakeside views, pit toilets and trash cans. Cons: thousands of non-biting bugs in the mornings and throughout the day (they disappear closer to sunset, more annoying than anything), it can get busy on weekends with loud campers. We spent Labor Day Weekend 2020 here, arriving on a Tuesday and by Friday afternoon, it was packed. Some campers aren’t as considerate with generator usage or controlling barking dogs, but that can happen anywhere! This location is pretty great for exploring the nearby towns of Fairplay, Alma or Buena Vista and it’s about a 30 minute drive to each. Breckenridge is also only an hour away. Plus, if you’re into fishing… that’s the thing to do here! We just love taking in the views and watching the sunset over the lake. Pro tip: There are lake front sites where you can park parallel and have unobstructed views of the mountains and lake out your windows. GPS: 38.9773, -105.8946
3. Buena Vista, CO: Our campsite here is located down Forest Road 376. It took us a while to find this one and beware, the road is pretty rough. You can certainly stop earlier if spots are available and there is an established campground on this road as well, but it was full. We tend to push the limits a little if we know the payoff will be worth it and we’ll be staying put for a few days. This spot was tight to get into but had EPIC views overlooking amazing rock formations and downtown Buena Vista. We had decent Verizon internet here as well. Town was a quick 15 minute drive away. There are ATV and dirt bike trails nearby, but we only saw a handful while we were there.
GPS: 38.881778, -106.133083
2. Shrine Pass Road, Vail Pass, CO: This is a Forestry Service road located behind a rest area and is one of our favorite spots we’ve camped in! The only reason it didn’t get top honors was because the road is quite busy. But it’s a small price to pay for incredibly beautiful camping! We stayed here a full two weeks and even moved to three different spots during that time. The easiest spot is a pull off about 2 miles up the road, but it’s very dusty with cars speeding by to the nearby trailhead. There are about a dozen other spots, but some of the roads can be tricky to navigate with large holes and ruts from recent rain. There are lots of hiking trails and blazing fast internet thanks to nearby cell towers. This spot gave us some of the fastest internet we’ve had while on the road. Plus, location, location, location here! For free camping, you really can’t beat the proximity to Vail (20 minutes) or the towns of Frisco (20 minutes) and Silverthorne (about 30 mins).
GPS: 39.546032, -106.241781
1. Turquoise Lake, Leadville, CO: This takes the spot of our favorite free camping in Colorado! Located on a County Road just 15 minutes from downtown Leadville, you’ll have so many sites to choose from. I (Katelyn) spent 90 minutes driving through forest roads and had way too many options. It really comes down to how secluded you want to be and if you need connectivity. We opted for a spot on a ridge with views of the nearby snow capped mountains. Our Verizon LTE was OK here, enough to get minor work done, but there were definitely spots with stronger service. Some of the roads can be tricky to navigate but just know your comfort level and scout them out if you have a tow vehicle before taking your rig down. Our spot was down into the second pull off on the left in the woods. I’m not kidding when I say there are HUNDREDS of rigs peppered throughout the forest here, but it was still so peaceful. Beware that the elevation of Leadville is over 10,000 feet so it dipped into the upper 30’s in late August. There are nearby hikes (pictured below: Timberline Lake Trail) and Turquoise Lake for recreational activities. If you love pizza, be sure to check out Mountain High Pies, only 15 minutes from this free camping. It was some of the best pizza we’ve ever eaten, you can thank us later!
GPS: 39.244466, -106.375017
And that rounds out our favorite FREE campsites here in Colorado! Curious as to how we find these places and what we look for once we get to a location? Keep reading!
Apps & Websites We Use to Find FREE Camping
In order to find free camping, we use a variety of resources:
- Campendium: This is our go to search engine for camping because we can actually filter our locations based on cell service and connectivity, which is huge since we work from the road. It’s helpful to see reviews from other campers and you can set the filters for free camping as well.
- iOverlander: This is a great resource for not only finding camping, but the amenities you’ll eventually need after dry camping for a while. You can look for dump stations, water, even RV repair and showers on this user-generated map.
- Freecampsites.net: Another great user-generated map of camping with reviews and pictures.
- Ultimate Public Campgrounds: This is the most comprehensive list of public paid and free campsites with over 43,000 listings. You can display or hide based on operator, amenities offered, price, etc. Another great perk of this app is that you can download maps by region of the country, and once you have it loaded on your phone, you don’t need internet access to review the listings.
What We Look for in a FREE Campsite
There are certain must haves and nice to haves when we’re scouting out campsites.
- Cell service: In case I haven’t mentioned it enough, connectivity is crucial since we work from the road. When we scout out campsites in our tow vehicle, we bring our Verizon Jetpack and antenna with us and run speed tests to see if the service will be good enough for work. If it’s not… we move on. There is a free app called “Speed Test” that you can download to run the same tests we do!
- Privacy: Katelyn is a self-proclaimed introvert… the further away from people the better for her (Howard is the social butterfly) and given the current state of Covid-19, we try to find secluded spots. This often takes a bit more time and effort, but the payoff is always worth it for us. We don’t have to worry about other barking dogs (our pups really don’t like that) or bothering anyone else if we need to run our generator.
- Views: This is always a bonus and something we usually seek out, afterall… with a home on wheels, having epic scenery out your window is what it’s all about! Again, this takes a little more time and effort. But if we know we’re staying somewhere for at least 3+ nights, then it’s worth it for us to spend the time finding an ideal location.
- A level spot: While our rig doesn’t need to be perfectly level for certain appliances, like the refrigerator, to operate, sleeping on a slope doesn’t always feel good. We try and eyeball a spot for levelness. You can usually tell if it just won’t work or if you can make it better by utilizing leveling blocks, which we often do.
FREE Camping Rules & Reminders
Since we’ve been doing so much free camping, we’ve unfortunately seen the aftermath of people who don’t respect the land and follow common courtesy. The biggest rule of free camping should be a no-brainer, but sadly that isn’t the case.
- ALWAYS pack out your trash, dumping is NEVER ok. We’ve seen mattresses (!?), old camping chairs, bottles, plywood boards, cans, diapers. You name it… don’t be those people. It will ruin it for everyone. And if you can, leave the campsite better than you found it. We practice the philosophy of Leave No Trace, to learn more click here.
- Most BLM camping or Forest Roads have a 14 day limit, which is incredible! This is usually posted at the entrance area.
- And lastly, remember to be respectful of neighbors if you have them. No one likes listening to others loud music, yelling, generators or barking dogs. 😉