The yellow sunlight peeks around the clouds that streak above the eastern mountains at Eleven Mile Reservoir. The only sound is the wind in the tall grass. Our neighbors in the Cross Creek Campgrounds are still asleep.
Soon the kids in the tent nearby will be clamoring for breakfast. This is a chance to enjoy some peace, quiet and a cup of instant coffee in our beautiful, but temporary, lakefront home.
The great thing about camping in Colorado, whether it’s in a tent, trailer or tricked out RV, is that you can travel almost anywhere in the state and, if only for a few days, create your own vacation home.
Camping in Colorado
While most people consider camping in the summer, when kids are out of school, Colorado is available for camping year around. Spring and fall weather puts campers in the middle of the changing seasons. Birds are on their annual migrations and spring brings bright flowers while spectacular leaf colors come in the fall. Many campgrounds are open in the winter for the truly hardy. Just make sure to check your campsite in advance for winter accessibility.
Where to Camp in Colorado
So where should you camp in Colorado? The possibilities are more than any one article could mention, but here are some of our favorite camping spots:
Eleven Mile State Park
Located in the middle of the state, Eleven Mile State Park is a great place for a momentary lakeside home. Primarily known for fishing of rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout, the winds here also make for fun sailing and windsurfing. At 7,662 acres, Eleven Mile has eight drive-up campgrounds and one walk-in and all have water views. About half are open year-round because the lake offers ice fishing, ice skating and something called ice boating in the winter.
Lathrop State Park
Throughout Colorado are “hidden gems,” smaller parks without the crowds. Set beneath the gaze of the Spanish Peaks in southern Colorado is Lathrop State Park near Walsenburg. The trails that traverse the hills above the park have a variety of fall-blooming flowers. There are two lakes — Martin Lake allows motor boats while neighboring Horseshoe Lake is wakeless, making it perfect for canoeing and kayaking.
There are two campgrounds at Lathrop. Yucca has 21 back-in basic sites and Piñon has 82 with several pull-in sites for RVs. While the campsites are not directly on the water, walking paths will lead anglers to Martin Lake. Martin Lake also has stunning rock features on the northern side that make for spectacular photos. Visitors can walk and climb on the rocks, but they are more impressive to approach from the water on a kayak or paddle board.
Green Ridge Campgrounds at Shadow Mountain Lake
The Grand Lake area in northern Colorado is popular for camping, especially since Rocky Mountain National Park is next door. A better option, though, is to seek out some of the other lakes nearby. Next to Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Lake is available for motorized and non-motorized water activity. Part of the Arapahoe National Recreation Area, Shadow Mountain Lake has several small islands covered with trees that are home to the majestic osprey. During the fall, birds nest in the tallest trees and soar overhead searching the water for fish.
Green Ridge Campgrounds, located on the south side of Shadow Mountain Lake is worth seeking out. The campground sits behind the earthen dam so the lake is out of view, but a short walk puts you right on the water. The lake’s dam is where the Colorado River turns westward. Glimpse the occasional moose wondering through the surrounding forest and enjoy colorful sunsets by the campfire.
Jackson Lake State Park
Jackson Lake State Park on Colorado’s eastern plains has a pleasant surprise for landlocked Colorado – the state’s largest sand beach. Talcum powder soft sand lines the length of the western shore and a designated swim area is in the middle. The 2,411 acre park has 260 camp sites and the sites closest to the water have beach access on short paths. The shallow wakeless zone that follows the length of the beach makes it safe for kids to play. With access to waterfowl hunting in the fall, camping is allowed in three of the six campgrounds year around.
The town of Telluride provides a unique camping experience. This beautiful mountain town in the southwestern part of the state is surrounded by the peaks of the San Juan Mountains. Visually stunning with its gold rush era-buildings, Telluride is best known as a ski resort with a reputation as a playground for the rich and famous. What few people know is that the town has a fantastic campground next to the amphitheater with only 28 drive-up sites and a walk-in tent area with 18 spots.
Run by the town’s Parks and Recreation office, Telluride Campgrounds are popular because Telluride is known for its music and art festivals almost every weekend. Normally, all of the campsites are accessed on a first-come, first served basis, EXCEPT during festivals where camping passes can be purchased with festival tickets. For the casual weekend camper, getting a spot here is difficult. Unless you are attending a festival and purchase passes, the best way to snag a spot is to arrive mid-week before a non-festival weekend.
For those who get in, Telluride Campgrounds are charming. The San Miguel River runs behind the park with hiking to a nearby waterfall. There is also a walking/biking path that follows the river through town. The town’s trolley has a station at the park’s entrance for those covering longer distances. It’s a unique experience to be able to camp in the forested wilderness and then walk into town for dinner at a fine restaurant. Don’t worry about looking ragged either because the campgrounds have shower facilities where guests can get spiffed up. One thing is lacking, however. Because of its proximity to town, no open fires. You’ll have to roast those marshmallows over a propane grill.
What to Keep in Mind
It’s always best to reserve your camping spot in advance. Not only does that guarantee a spot, but it allows campers to reserve the best spots. Want lakefront or mountainside? Near other campers or as far away as possible? Campsite maps will help. Online reservations do incur an extra fee, usually $10, but worth it.
Colorado weather is famous for having all four season in one day. Remember whenever outdoors, the weather can change instantly and campers, no matter whether using a tent or in a cushy RV, should be prepared. Especially at altitude, where temperatures can be warm during the day, but precariously cold at night. Items that should always be packed, even in summer, are a pair of wool socks and a hat or knit cap. Happy camping!
If You Go Camping in Colorado
Eleven Mile: http://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/Parks/ElevenMile
Author Bio: Carrie Dow is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Islands, International Living and Interval World. She is currently the Local Editor of DrinkDenver, part of The Drink Nation. She is also the Founder of What’s Pawsitive where she writes about animal-based travel and animal welfare issues around the world. An occasional football widow, she is mom to a Siberian husky and a Siamese cat.