This article was first published in The Denver Post Feb 6, 2019
There are two types of campers in Colorado — those who make reservations and those who don’t.
Those in the first group know, and usually get, what they want. They’re organized. They plan ahead, scoping out future sites everywhere they go.
The other group relies on first-come, first-served campgrounds and open, dispersed camping areas on National Forests or Bureau of Land Management land; they avoid camping on holidays and weekends and, generally, they hope for the best.
If you’re a planner, then you know now is the time to start clicking away at your favorite campgrounds. Most public lands campgrounds accept reservations up to six months in advance.
The trend is toward opening up more campgrounds for advance reservations. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), for example, just expanded the reservation system in 20 of their campgrounds (find the full list of reservations-only CPW campgrounds here; book by phone at 1-800-244-5613). These 20 parks now allow you to book campsites, cabins and yurts up to the minute.
“We previously had a three-day window where reservations closed three days ahead,” said Rebecca Ferrell, a CPW spokeswoman. “Now, at those 20 parks, if you are on your way to Ridgway, you can check out what’s available and book it from your phone to be sure you have a site when you arrive.”
Myself, I’m more of a non-reserver, since I have the luxury of midweek camping during the summer. Whichever way you go, here are a few campgrounds to consider as you start making plans:
Piñon Flats Campground
Located in Great Sand Dunes National Park, this 60-year-old classic campground has several loops whose outer sites have immediate trail access to the dunes. If Medano Creek is flowing above ground, plan on some high-mountain “beach” time, splashing in the shallow water at the foot of the dunes (campsites fill up more quickly when this added attraction is present).
There are 88 sites for tents and RVs up to 35 feet and three group sites for tent camping only. The sites at the north end of the loops have the best views. The group loop has three sites with dispersed tent camping. Make reservations as far in advance as possible (only for Loop 2) if going from mid-May to mid-September at 877-444-6777 or recreation.gov. The fee is $20 per night for single sites.
More info: nps.gov/grsa, 719-378-6395.
Ridgway State Park
The 1,000-acre Uncompahgre Reservoir north of Ouray has three CPW-run campgrounds, all of which are reservation-only. They are: Pa-Co-Chu-Puk, Elk Ridge and Dakota Terraces. Some people make these lakeside campgrounds their destination, while others stop here on their way to or from the southwest — the San Juans, Telluride, Silverton, Durango and Mesa Verde National Park. It’s also near several hot springs in Ouray and Ridgway.
The walk-in tent sites at Pa-Co-Chu-Puk are particularly nice, in a cool, shady, ponderosa glade. The fee is $18 per night for tents and $26 per night for RVs, plus park fees.
More info: cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/Parks/ridgway, 970-626-5822.
Pearl Lake State Park
Tucked into a narrow north-south valley at the base of Farwell Mountain, Pearl Lake is managed in conjunction with the bigger, louder and more popular Steamboat Lake to the north. There are two loops at Pearl Lake — the lower loop is lakeside, so these sites are more popular, but there is not a bad site in the park.
Only wakeless boating is allowed, and anglers must use flies or lures and are restricted to two 18-inch trout per day. The 36 campsites are closed in the winter, but the two yurts remain available by reservation. The fee is $18 per night for camping; the yurts sleep six and cost $70 per night.
More info: cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/Parks/pearllake, 970-879-3922.
River Run campground
Colorado’s newest campground will open on Aug. 1, but you can reserve a site now. It is a self-described “RV, camping, cabin rental and glamping resort,” run by Signature Sun RV Resort.
Choose from 400 RV, camping and vacation rental options with access to a zero-entry pool, two restaurants and on-site SUP, kayaking and fishing on the Colorado River.
More info: sunrvresorts.com/river-run, 1051 Summit Trail, Granby, 888-814-7202.
Dolores River Campground
This large, relaxed property is on a gorgeous, mellow stretch of the Dolores River, just north of Cortez. There are a variety of accommodations — such as yurts, cabins, vintage trailers and covered Conestoga wagons — in addition to standard tent and RV sites.
The location is ideal for accessing southwest Colorado’s greatest hits, including San Juan National Forest, Canyon of the Ancients National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park. Fees begin at $30 for basic tent sites. They accept reservations up to a year in advance, especially for the restored Airstreams, which are very popular.
More info: doloresrivercampground.com, 18680 Colorado 145, Dolores, 970-882-7761.
More camping resources
RVshare.com is a peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace (and camper vans and trailers), with more than 600 units in Colorado for rent from individual owners. They offer roadside assistance, 24/7 customer service and insurance.
Glampinghub.com is a booking platform for “unique outdoor accommodations,” which includes everything from primitive yurts to exclusive cabins, with options all over the state.
Outdoorsy.co is a “sharing community” service for campers with the mission “to mobilize the 16 million underutilized, idle RVs around the world,” meaning it has a network of RVs and campers for rent by owner. You just plug in your zip code, price range, dates of travel and class of vehicle and a bunch of local rental options pop up.
Trailermade.co is another RV and trailer rental community with unique options for Colorado.
HipCamp.com is another modern tool to help you locate camping spots on both public and private land.
“10 best RV rentals available in Denver” – article by Bill Widner