Photo by Ben Ridge
Living in the Front Range has its advantages. Within an hour’s drive, Rocky Mountain National Park, James Peak and the Indian Peaks Wilderness all provide an almost endless list of hiking, biking and camping opportunities. But with millions of visitors swarming these popular spots each year, it’s sometimes hard to bliss out in solitude at some campgrounds on a summer weekend. The quest for that super-secret campsite becomes the stuff of legend. Roughly sketched maps passed down from Coloradoan to Coloradoan come with vague directives like “turn left past the old, abandoned mine.” Revealing those secret locations to the masses can garner a price on your head, but there are quite a few, lesser-known developed campsites that we can tell you about without risking a fatwa.
For a quick escape from the city, cruise to the Deer Creek Campground about 10 miles northwest of Bailey. Located in Pikes National Forest less than an hour’s drive from Denver, it’s full of tall trees and running creeks surrounding sites that rarely full. Hikers have easy access from here to the Mount Evans Wilderness area. Take County Road 43 north for 8 miles off of US Highway 285. Call 303-275-5610 for info.
Just past Kenosha Pass, Lodgepole Pine Campground is part of the Jefferson Lake Recreation Area. Tucked into tall stands of pines, this campsite is rarely full in the summer and offers access to spectacular nearby mountain biking and hiking options, including a stretch of the Colorado Trail running right through the campground. Nearby Jefferson Lake is lovely and open to anglers and boaters. Turn off US highway 285 at Country Road 35. 719-836-2031
About 20 miles northwest of Pagosa Springs is Bridge Campground. Serving up exactly what you hope for in a Colorado campsite, these spots are spaced right along a river with views of meadows that fill with wildflowers in the summer. Rarely full and riddled with biking and hiking trails, this is a great spot for checking out the area. From Pagosa Springs, head west on Highway 160 and then north 19 miles on County Road 600 until it turns into a gravel forest road. 970-264-2268
The aptly named Belle of Colorado Campground sits beside Turquoise Lake just outside Leadville. As a walk-in, tent-only campsite, this area receives a lot less traffic than the stunning lake views and sandy shores warrant. Trails loop the lake and nearby Mount Elbert is a great day hike. Elevation is almost 10,000 feet, which means you’ll need warm clothes all summer long, but if you’re willing to go in June or September, you’ll have the place practically to yourself. 719-486-0749
The Echo Park Campground is an idyllic, isolated spot, which is truly surprising considering the volume of summer visitors the nearby Dinosaur National Monument attracts. Set at the confluence of the Yampa and Green Rivers, the shade of surrounding trees provides privacy here but there are also unobstructed views of the cliffs and canyons which glow red at sunset and inspire a barbaric yawp. Mountain biking and hiking options abound after a day visiting the jurassic bone pits. Sites are primitive, so bring your own water and toilet paper. Access the site by heading north about 30 miles from the Dinosaur National Monument Headquarters on Echo Park Road. 435-781-7700