RVing in Colorado – Coyote Camping

May 23, 2012 at 5:33 am

Mark and I have been tent campers for as long as we’ve known each other. When we dirt-bagged our way between climbing areas for a summer in 2004, we actually tent camped for the whole summer. But when the baby was born, I knew this part of our lives was about to change.

Up all night with the baby - but the RV made it a lot easier

I could write an entire blog post about why we bought our travel trailer, and I might get around to doing exactly that one day. But for now, I’d like to write a series of posts that I think might be more useful to visitors of this blog. This is simply going to be a little guide to some of the best campgrounds we’ve seen for RVs in Colorado.

People look for different things when it comes to camping, and it seems the variety of options available to RV camping is even wider than your tenting options. Do you want a plush RV park, with hot tubs, full hook-ups, and around the corner access to Denver night life? Or are you looking for a completely free, undeveloped back-woods site in the depths of the Rockies? Well, Mark and I have seen both and many in between. Each one of the posts in this series will cover a different ‘class’ of campgrounds, divided up by amenities.

This post is all about Coyote Camping – free, undeveloped camping that is RV compatible. All of these sites are without hookups, fire rings, picnic tables, level concrete pads, and price tags! These are rough camping areas that work well for tenters too, and would be best for smaller RVs, camper vans, and truck bed campers. If you want to really get away from it all, here are some good places to do it.

1. Pingree Park Road, west of Fort Collins
Check out Pingree Park Road Camping in Google Maps.

The Poudre Canyon isn’t as dramatic or as popular as some of the other mountain access roads along the Front Range, and that gives it a lovely, quiet, charm. There are a number of dirt, 4-wheel drive roads that access the Roosevelt National Forest lands from this canyon, but Pingree Park Road is the best for RVs. This road runs south out of the canyon, and offers lovely views of the northern parts of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Mummy Range. From this road, you can access trails that take you into the Comanche Peak wilderness, over Mummy Pass, or up to the amazingly beautiful Emmaline Lake.

Hiking around Comanche Peak - accessible by Pingree Road

There are a number of large dirt pull-outs and spur roads from Pingree Park Road that lead to nice, free, dispersed campsites. Mark and I often drive this road in the fall to see aspens fill the hillsides with their bright gold, and there are always a lot of trailers and RVs camping along the way.

Fall Aspens along Pingree Park Road

To get there, take 287 north out of Fort Collins to Ted’s Place (a gas station) and turn left on Co-14. Drive 26 miles through the canyon and turn left on Pingree Road, or Co Rd 63E. The first mile or so is pretty steep, but once the road levels out, you can start looking for campsites all along the way. There is some private property in the area and it is usually well marked.

2. 18 Road, Fruita
Check out 18 Road Campsites and Trails in Google Maps.

As rock climbers, Mark and I used to camp in a style influenced by mountaineers – light and fast, ready to bivy or head for the summit at any minute! Ok, not really, but at climber’s camps, small tents are the way to go. Mountain bikers, on the other hand, do it RIGHT. I have never seen more beautiful RVs in a remote desert setting than I did the day we rode the 18 Road trails.

This network of trails lies about 10 miles north of Fruita, Colorado, on the vaguely named 18 Road. I think this is like 18th street, but more deserty. Wherever the name came from, this road starts in Fruita and heads north towards the sandstone mesas visible from town. The mountain bike trails are awesome, with over 40 miles of well signed and beautiful single track in every level of difficulty imaginable. We visited with my brother a few years ago, and we all three rode the “Kessel Run” at least 3 times that afternoon.

Favorite trails at 18 Road

While we were there, we checked out some of the great camping. If you take 18 Road north from Fruita, there is an unnamed dirt road that breaks left just before the trails and then heads north parallel to the main road. There are probably 15 or more campsites along this road, all open, very nice, and free. This land is part of the North Fruita Desert Special Recreation Area, managed by the BLM, and dispersed camping is allowed. There is a pit toilet, but no water or any other amenities.

Mountain Biking in Fruita!

Even if you’re not into mountain biking (but can put up with mountain bikers around), this would be a nice, free place to park your camper in Western Colorado. The surrounding areas of Fruita and Grand Junction have great recreation possibilities, especially along the nearby Colorado River, and among the many lovely fruit orchards and wineries in the area.

3. Buena Vista surrounding areas
Check out Buena Vista Dispersed Camping in Google Maps.

This area is the one that I have the least familiarity with of the three. While Mark and I have visited Buena Vista a number of times, it’s been five years since we last camped there. At the time, we did not have an RV, but we saw quite a few camping out in dispersed areas of the San Isabel National Forest. If you have a rugged RV and a taste for adventure, this is an area where you will find some beautiful free camping.

View from the free campsite along Co Rd 390

Buena Vista is an awesome small, mountain town in central Colorado. It is primarily known for the amazing local rafting on the Arkansas river. However, the town sits at the base of the Collegiate Peaks, part of the Sawatch Range that contains several of the tallest peaks in Colorado (known as 14’ers). Mark and I have camped for free along two different roads in the area, and saw trailers and RVs along both of them.

Our favorite was a free campsite just off of Co Rd 306 (aka Cottonwood Pass Road). We drove out here to hike Mt Yale, and when the National Forest campground was full, we found a nice little site just off the road. Just next to us was a little class C RV, and its owners were enjoying the aspen forests, big mountains, and free camping just like us.

We also found some nice, wide-open, free campsites along Co Rd 390, which heads west of US-24 just north of Buena Vista. We tent camped here when we climbed Mt Belford, but I’m pretty sure there are RV-compatible sites in the area too.

Buena Vista Campsite - we needed an RV!

Finally, an area worth checking out is the desert-scrub areas north and east of town, accessed by Co Rd 375. There is some bolted rock climbing in this area, and Mark and I have explored it a tiny bit. There were a lot of ATVs and some rougher roads, but lots of open space and free camping in the area. Here, what you miss in lack of shade you make up for in amazing views of the Collegiate Peaks.

Awesome views from Co Rd 375 - NE of Buena Vista

The Verdict
Beautiful, dispersed, no-amenity camping abounds in Colorado. Many of these sites are right off of a main road, and very accessible to RVs. But it will take a sense of adventure and a bit of courage to go beyond the trailer park and explore these mountains to find the best spots. Have fun!

What are your favorite spots for free camping in an RV? What places did I miss on this list?