One could go camping in Colorado every weekend and not run out of places to camp and wondrous things to see and do! Just think about it. With 104,094 square miles, plus the additional miles created by winding mountainous roads in elevations from 3,317’ above sea level to nearly 14,440’ above sea level (near the top of Mount Elbert), well, the possibilities are endless!
Colorado is open all year, and adventures vary by season. Summer is the most active season for outdoors enthusiasts, with activities ranging from hiking, cycling, white water rafting, fishing, festivals … it’s truly an endless list of healthy, outdoors fun.
Spring comes gradually in the state, since it arrives earliest in the eastern half and considerably later in the higher elevations. Drive from Denver to Leadville in April and you’ll see everything from blossoms to packed snow.
Autumn begins in August in the highest elevations, and ends near Thanksgiving in other regions.
Winter is a huge outdoors and tourism season in Colorado, even for campers. That’s right! Winter doesn’t keep people from camping! Sure, many parks are closed for winter, yet many others are open all year.
The Colorado Department of Transportation plows about 6 million lane miles every year, keeps open 35 mountain passes, and monitors 278 avalanche paths. They do their best to keep everyone moving to their destinations.
So, how do you know where to begin planning for your Colorado adventures? The landscape and adventures vary not only by season but by region, from the eastern High Plains to the rock sides of Rocky Mountains to the tundra of the highest of the stretches. Consider learning a bit about each of the eight regions, as shown on this map: Plains & Canyons, Pioneering Plains, Pikes Peak Wonders, Mystic San Luis Valley, Mountains & Mesas, Rockies Playground, The Great West, Denver & Cities of the Rockies.
Northeast Colorado’s grasslands don’t offer much protection from the winds that roll off of the Rockies! Winter is very chilly and summer is hot and dry. Colorado’s earliest settlers established farms here, some of which are still in operation by descendants of those hearty early travelers.
Caution: Travelers, be careful to not unintentionally start a grass fire either by carelessness or by having your vehicle’s underside spark the grass afire.
CANYONS & PLAINS REGION
The grassy plains continue into Southeast Colorado and, like the northeast prairies, the climate is cold in the winter and hot and dry in the summer. Bird watchers usually find many pleasing sightings to photograph.
This area is home to the Mexican America trade route of the Santa Fe Trail. Authentic Hispanic and Native American cultures are found in this region
Here are some links for history buffs:
As with all of arid Colorado, be careful to not start a grass fire.
PIKES PEAK WONDERS REGION
In the center of the map, which includes Colorado Springs, you’ll find this region that runs up the slope of Pikes Peak and down the other sides to Buena Vista and Cañon City. The Royal Gorge, which is formed by the Arkansas River, offers fantastic fishing and memorable rafting and kayaking in a truly scenic setting.
Roadways lead you to places you might not expect, such as to the top of Pikes Peak. Outdoor adventures from hiking to fishing and kayaking, cultural centers, historic tours, natural formations, cuisine, local spirits, craft beverages … you will find it all in this region! We suggest you not overlook these two:
MYSTIC SAN LUIS VALLEY REGION
The central part of southern Colorado welcomes you to vast differences within its own region, from the Great Sand Dunes National Park to peaks of more than 14,000 feet above sea level. The outdoors calls people to this region!
It’s an area rich in Native American and Hispanic heritage.
We suggestion starting here:
MOUNTAINS & MESAS REGION
This region runs from Four Corners of southwest Colorado up to I-70, and it includes so much Adventureland that it’s hard to be concise in description.
Those who aren’t familiar with Colorado are often surprised to see red-rock wonders wandering this way and that, some seemingly appearing as stunning, gigantic stalagmites arising from the earth. When you pause to realize how close you are to Utah and Arizona, well, it all makes sense.
A bit of research unveils 11,000 years of history with the Ute Mountain Tribe and the Ancient Puebloans. The mining towns of the San Juan Mountains provide more recent history. Driving the Million Dollar Highway from Durango to Silverton and back down again to Ouray is a trek for the brave, and their reward is truly amazing memories. Another stellar trek is from Dolores to Telluride. The sights and scenery are unlike anywhere else!
Another portion of this region to not overlook is a trek from Montrose to Gunnison, along Blue Mesa Reservoir. Fishing is fantastic, the Bighorn Sheep might make an appearance, and the scenery will truly amaze you!
Heading north, coming out red rock canyons, the lush orchards around Grand Junction and Palisade come into view. The backdrop is Grand Mesa, the largest flat-topped mountain in the world! It stretches for 40 miles east of Grand Junction, between the Colorado River and the Gunnison River.
Unexpected by most, this is where you’ll find savory wines, microbreweries, delicious peaches, incredible farm produce. You’ll consider moving here!
Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy mountain biking, off-road vehicles, rafting, boating, fishing, canyoneering, cycling, hiking, and kayaking (to name a few).
Winter camping is available in the region, so let’s not overlook skiing and ice climbing.
Central Colorado is home to the Rockies Playground, and it’s this area that campers from around the globe flock to experience. They also come from all around Colorado because the Rocky Mountains are the playground of all Colorado residents.
Whether you’re escaping from summer’s sizzling heat or you want to feel the air up at 14,000 feet, you’re going to find many others with the same intentions. (That means you should book early!)
We invite you to enjoy this region’s hiking, mining towns, mountain towns, majestic peaks, rafting, mountain biking, nightlife, arts, festivals, museums, microbreweries, golfing, stargazing, cuisine, and, well, the list is rather endless!
Due to the early onset of winter, and its late departure, most campgrounds in this region have a shorter season. Those who book early have the best chance of getting a campsite before availability is gone, especially near summer holidays.
Some summer camping advice: pack a blanket, a jacket and long pants. Better safe than sorry!
GREAT WEST REGION
Filled with diversity from the high tundra and rolling hills to landscape you often see in Wild West films, you’ll see vast livestock ranches and maybe even some cattle drives. Independent ranchers prefer this expanse since there are no genuine population centers to speak of.
But wait! This region also includes North Park (the Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado) and Walden (home to Lake John). Moose and fishing! Fishing all year! Get your boat or your ice drilling gear ready.
Oh my, and great scenery. You will likely become a shutterbug! If you haven’t traveled from Rand to Walden brace yourself for beauty! Aside from seeing moose, it’s breathtaking to look at the incredibly towering peaks way off in the distance to the east and to the west from down in this ‘plain’ that is over 8,600’ above sea level. Just remembering the drive brings peace to the soul.
Outdoor adventures include hunting, fishing, horseback riding, kayaking, canoeing, star-gazing and off-road adventures. Of course, there’s also skiing at Steamboat Springs.
DENVER & CITIES OF THE ROCKIES REGION
There’s something magically picturesque about the Denver skyline with the Rockies Mountains in the background. Many campers want to experience the Capitol in downtown Denver, and the US Mint, as well as taking in some sporting events.
Those who camp in this region often choose a more remote or commuter location for the actual downtown activities. Residents who commute to offices in downtown often do so from as far as Fort Collins or Greeley to the north and Larkspur or Monument to the south, all along the I-25 corridor. There’s an advantage to camping in Black Hawk, to the northwest, in that you’ll be surrounded by nature yet have a fairly easy commute.
Obviously, in this region you have access to a wide range of festivals and fairs, art events, museums, cuisine, microbreweries, entertainment venues, and everything that a metropolitan city offers. The most striking difference between this metro city and all others is that it’s the gateway to Rocky Mountains!
THE HARDEST PART
So, where should you camp in colorful Colorado, the eighth largest state in the USA? Aside from not knowing your preference of camping accommodations (tent, RV, cabin, yurt, lodge, tepee, covered wagon, safari tent, or any other means of enjoying the outdoors), there are many other factors to consider. That’s why we created Camp Colorado, the state’s most comprehensive directory of campgrounds.
You can get a glimpse of all of it in our printed guide, and you can see more details about many campgrounds in our online directory, which makes it easier to narrow the list of campground to those which suit your preferences.
We know we’re biased but we’ll say it anyway. We hope you will stay a while to take in more, and that you’ll return over and over again!
Please reference our blog post on adjusting to the elevation. Even those who travel to eastern high plains can experience altitude sickness. Our blog addresses some very simple ways to avoid this very common condition.
The Colorado Tourism Office provides additional travel ideas in the regions in this post.
This publication is supported by funding from the Colorado Tourism Office, a state agency. Turn to Colorado.com for a comprehensive list of festivals, events, historic areas, itineraries, and community insight.