In the higher elevations around Colorado, snow can render many of the most iconic mountain passes impossible to traverse. But for Overlanders who love criss-crossing the peaks and canyons of Colorado, the best time of the year is quickly approaching. Around late June to early July, the snow-covered peaks finally melt to the point that roads can be reopened, enabling adventurers in 4x4 vehicles to discover remote new places and camp along the way. For those who’ve never been Overlanding in the Centennial State, there are endless camp spots that boast some of the most stunning vistas in the west. Let’s dig deeper and uncover some of the best Overland camping areas for you to explore in Colorado this summer.
Which Type of Camping Do You Prefer?
When you’re first planning your Colorado Overlanding trip, it’s good to categorize your camping spots by the type of camping you prefer. Think about what you’re looking to get out of the trip. Do you want to stay completely off-grid the entire time? Or do you want some breaks along the way in full-service sites with power and showers? Here’s what to consider when deciding which campsites to stay at each night.
Will you want to have a campfire each night? What about a hot shower to wash away the aromas of adventuring all day? If you prefer camping with all of the amenities and few discomforts, it’s best to scout out established campsites that allow campfires and provide full hookups for electricity and water. Keep in mind that many of the far-flung areas in Colorado will have burn bans in the backcountry, and some may not have any cell phone service, either. Just remember that the most primo established campsites in Colorado often need to be booked months in advance before they fill up.
For the more stalwart Overlanders who seek remote adventure through the mountains, dispersed campsites offer a unique allure. These campsites are usually free, which could save you big money on a month-long excursion when compared with staying at established (paid) campsites the entire time. One drawback to dispersed camping in Colorado is there are often burn bans to minimize the risk of wildfires. Another is wildlife, which can include grizzly bears who would love to crawl into your rig for a delicious meal. Overlanding across a chain of dispersed sites is one of the most rewarding experiences for those who love a wild time, but it’s absolutely essential to plan ahead for the worst.
Best Overland Camping Areas in Colorado
Once you’ve landed on the ideal type of camping for your Overlanding objectives, it’s time to start scouting campsites and planning your route accordingly. Establishing a well-defined itinerary is paramount to safely camping in Colorado, especially when you’ll be Overlanding off the grid. When you’re creating your list of camping stops, be sure to consider these top camping areas for Overlanding in Colorado.
If hiking to the top of a 14er is on your bucket list, Colorado has plenty to choose from. One popular summit is Mount Bierstadt, accessed from Guenella Pass Road about an hour from Denver. Along the road, you can find numerous dispersed campsites to choose from. When hiking Bierstadt is too daunting of a task for your trip, there are dozens of other trailheads to be found on the road. Note that the USFS has prohibited parking, camping, and campfires in undesignated areas within a quarter-mile of Guenella Pass road. That said, you’re still allowed to camp and have campfires at one of the five developed campgrounds on the road. There are 30 dispersed campsites, but they fill up quickly, so show up early.
On the western front, high on Colorado’s Uncompahgre Plateau, you can traverse Divide Road near Grand Junction and Montrose. Here you’ll find a designated dispersed camping area that serves up stunning aspen views in the fall and expansive vistas over the Colorado Plateau to the west. Taking a closer look on a clear day, you can even see famous rock formations including Lone Cone and the Sleeping Ute Mountain.
Jones Pass near Empire, Colorado delivers delectable off-road driving and dispersed campsites with breathtaking views. Located only an hour from Denver, this route offers fast access to the Continental Divide. Just keep in mind that this area is best for full-fledged Overlanding vehicles with plenty of ground clearance.
Ypsilon Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
When your goal is sampling some of the best that Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer, look no further than Ypsilon Lake. Venturing only a couple of miles into the heart of the park’s wilderness, you’ll find some of the most captivating natural beauty in the country, including Ypsilon Lake. You will have to lace up the hiking boots, however, as it’s a 9-mile strenuous hike to see it. This waterfall-fed lake rests pristinely below a domineering cliff face flanked by aromatic cedar forests. Just remember that up here, afternoon thunderstorms are a nearly daily occurrence, so plan to set out early on the trail to make it back safely to your rig.
Lincoln Creek Campground
Lincoln Creek Road is home to twenty-two primitive campsites located right outside of Aspen. If you’re seeking some of the gnarliest, most challenging forest service roads you’ve ever been on, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear on Lincoln Creek. The icing on the cake is snagging a secluded campsite that only those with true grit can reach. For those astro-photographers out there, you can catch a breathtaking view of the Milky Way, as light pollution out here is nearly non-existent.
Navigating to Your Overlanding Campsite in Colorado
Without a doubt, four wheeling over boulders and through mountain streams is pure bliss in an Overlanding rig. When you’re navigating the dirt roads of Colorado, keep your phone’s map in view with our astoundingly strong magnetic MagSafe car mounts. Never fuss again with complicated mounting systems that rattle, squeak, and drop your phone when you send it!