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Planning ahead for the 2021 camping season

Article and photos by Chris Michlewicz

Photo of a happy camper enjoying the view from a free.

A happy camper enjoys the view from a free, no-reservation site near Buena Vista.

If you’re into camping and experiencing the full breadth of what Colorado’s natural lands have to offer, now’s the time to reserve those awe-inspiring campsites.

In the 1980s and 1990s, camping enthusiasts had to get in line at National Park Service offices and, ironically, camp out overnight to reserve the best spots in sought-after locales like Rocky Mountain National Park. Thankfully, online booking has made things much easier on us modern folk. However, you don’t want to wait too long and get caught hoping to find a vacant first-come, first-served spot. A little planning goes a long way for a gloriously relaxing stay in the great outdoors.

Prime camping spots around places like Turquoise Lake in Leadville are largely booked up through late July (reservations cannot be made more than six months in advance), but those who don’t mind midweek excursions still have plenty of opportunity to secure a pristine setting to make a temporary home.

For all of camping’s simplicity, it has gotten increasingly difficult to figure out the rules. National parks, national forests and state parks, for example, all have separate camping reservation systems, and varying policies for campgrounds and wilderness camping. It’s best to do your homework well in advance to determine what areas will best fulfill your camping goals, and to be aware of any COVID-19 protocols.

Camping in Colorado

A little bit of planning goes a long way for a relaxing camping experience.

As of 2020, all sites in Colorado’s 41 state parks are reservation-only and cost anywhere between $14 per night for primitive campground spots to $41 per night for full campground sites, which include hookups for recreational vehicles.

For those who like rustic surroundings but not the trappings of outdoor living (mosquitoes, anyone?), Colorado State Parks has 58 cabins and yurts that are available year-round. Book online at

There are some hotspots that can’t yet be called for, like the Pinon Flats Campground in the Great Sand Dunes National Park near Crestone, and you’ll want to be ready when they are released for public reservations. Availability is released from April 1 through July 15 on, and sites run anywhere from $20 to $80 per night.

Of course, there’s something to be said for chancing it and stumbling upon a stunning no-reservation, undeveloped (no restrooms) camping spot, like those in the Bailey area of Pike National Forest.

Dispersed camping is one of the best ways to make sure there is space between you and your neighbor, but it is important that you start the hunt for your spot on non-peak days, like Wednesday or early Thursday.



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