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9 Amazing Places for Primitive Camping in Colorado

There’s no feeling quite like spending time outdoors and being one with nature. Camping is a great activity for outdoor enthusiasts eager to explore, but sometimes choosing over-populated campsites can ruin the experience. From crowded areas to light and noise pollution, camping isn’t always as peaceful as we’d like it to be.

If you’ve ever been primitive camping, you know that it’s a great way to decompress and get connected to the land around you. Known for its remarkable mountain ranges, beautiful lakes, unique wildlife, and so much more, Colorado is one of the best states to do this.

Keep reading and learn about nine amazing places for primitive camping in Colorado so you can have the outdoor adventure of a lifetime.

primitive camping in colorado

Lakeside Primitive Camping in Colorado

camping by a lake

1. Priest Lake

Priest Lake is a designated spot for primitive camping in Colorado and is found within Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests.

There are nine dictated campsites within the designated primitive camping area that are all first come first served. There are also no fees for any of these campsites, which is great for anyone camping on a budget.

If you’re looking to stay busy during your camping trip, Priest Lake and the national forests themselves are home to over 3,000 miles of rugged canyon and mountain trails, perfect for hiking and exploring. There are horseback riding, mountain biking, and lake fishing opportunities nearby, as well. If you have a non-motorized boat (like a canoe or kayak), you’re also welcome to use it for boating on the lake.

Trailers aren’t allowed here, so you don’t have to worry about any loud vehicle noises during your time experiencing primitive camping in Colorado. The best time to visit Priest Lake is during the summer when the temperatures are warm and the spring blooms are complete.

2. Red Feather Lakes: Deadman Road

Just under two hours outside of Denver, Red Feather Lakes should be on your list of places for primitive Camping in Colorado. The entire area of Red Feather Lakes spans about 37 square miles. Within that, you’ll find more than half a square mile of lake surfaces.

Because there’s so much lakeshore, some areas are completely undeveloped which makes them perfect sites for primitive camping in Colorado. This outdoor area is also home to not only Pondesora Pines and Aspen Groves near the water but also massive granite boulders that are a must-see.

The elevation in Red Feather Lakes is about 8,000 feet, making the surrounding hiking trails relatively easy.

This area is also less popular than other nearby campsites (but no less incredible), allowing you to have a much quieter experience than at other places. This is a great choice for primitive camping in Colorado for anyone looking to have a laid-back and peaceful trip.

3. Carson Lake

Found within Carson National Forest, Carson Lake offers sites for free primitive camping in Colorado. If you’re looking for marked dispersed campsites, you’ll find four designated areas with picnic tables, fire rings, and vault toilets. You can also expect a daily visit from a park ranger who often makes rounds to ensure everyone’s safety and security.

However, for those looking to stay in undeveloped, lesser trafficked areas, Carson Lake also offers just that. Along Forest Roads 100, on the way toward the lake, there is an abundance of spots to fill all of your primitive camping needs in Colorado. This is an unpaved road that only allows foot traffic, helping to ensure your camping trip is quiet and has minimal noise pollution.

Nearby the designated campsites, you can find horseback riding and hiking trails, great for exploring the land and the local flora and fauna. You can also go fishing in Carson Lake for species like Northern Pike, Yellow Perch, Largemouth Bass, and Bluegill.

Although Carson Lake does have plenty of free campsites surrounding this body of water, you still have the option of primitive camping wherever you see fit so you can create your dream trip in the great Colorado outdoors.

Mountainside Primitive Camping in Colorado

A tent set up in the mountains during sunset.

4. Kingston Peak

Kingston Peak is not only a place for an amazing primitive camping in Colorado experience, but it also has unforgettable views. Located west of Alice, Colorado, this peak offers 360-degree views of what’s known as the 14ers, or the 14 tall mountains in Colorado.

The roads here are rocky and steep, so while looking for your perfect place to set up camp, be sure to take caution of the space around you. If you choose Kingston Peak for your primitive camping in Colorado adventure, your trip can’t be longer than 14 consecutive days.

It’s also important that, while camping and exploring the land, you leave no trace and be sure to throw out all trash and take your belongings with you.

Because primitive camping in Colorado means you won’t be at actual campsites, it’s also important you properly store all of your food and other personal items to prevent any unwanted wildlife, like bears, from approaching your area. For more information on bear safety, make sure to check out our post on how to keep bears away while camping so you can be properly prepared.

5. Unaweep Canyon

Unaweep Canyon is a place of beauty that’s perfect for anyone looking to go primitive camping in Colorado. What many people don’t know is that it’s also one of the best places in the Western United States for rock climbing. There are over 1,000 public routes to explore while camping around Unaweep Canyon.

This canyon is also found within Grand Mesa Uncomphagre National Forest. Unaweep is the only canyon in the world that has a divide in the middle of it with streams flowing from either end, which would make your time primitive camping here that much more unique and memorable.

The canyon is also full of rich history and includes the Nine-Mile Hill. This was a legendary wagon route, in the 1900s that helped carry supplies and radium ore into and out of this area during the time of the radium craze.

The camping here, like all of the other spots for primitive camping in Colorado, is free of charge. However, the memories and experiences you’ll gain during your in Unaweep Canyon are priceless.

6. Weston Pass

Located near Buffalo Peaks Wilderness, you’ll find the Weston Pass campground. While this area does have 14 dedicated campsites (equipped with toilets, tables, and fire rings), it also has several dispersed, or primitive, camping spots found on the west side.

Weston Pass Road is a county road that travels along the South Platte River and Big Union Creek on either side. Along this path is where you’ll find most of the spots for primitive camping. As you travel further on this road, the fewer areas you’ll find. But nonetheless, no matter where you choose to set up camp around Weston Pass, you’re guaranteed to have a quiet and peaceful time.

Some things you can expect to see on your journey in Weston Pass are vast valleys full of lush aspen groves, maintained and abandoned residential areas, ancient metamorphic rocks, and much more.

If you’re trying to plan the best time to plan your primitive camping in Colorado trip, note that the ideal times to visit Weston Pass are from late July through September, which is when you’ll safely avoid the snow.

Primitive Camping in Colorado’s National Forests

Mountain Road - An autumn day on a scenic but treacherous 4X4 trail - Black Bear Pass route, located between top of Red Mountain Pass on U.S. Highway 550 and Telluride, in San Juan Mountains, CO, USA.

7. Rio Grande National Forest

Rio Grande National Forest sits on over 1.8 million acres of land in a forested area around the San Luis Valley. It also happens to be a popular place for primitive camping in Colorado, and for good reason. It holds the tallest peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Range and the deep valleys of rugged canyons and ancient calderas.

There are also unlimited opportunities for sightseeing and recreation activities including scenic and challenging hikes.

Because this spot for primitive camping in Colorado is found within a national forest, some rules are important to be aware of for the safety of both you and the land. Make sure to read up on the rules and regulations so you can be appropriately prepared for your trip.

You should also note that while dispersed camping is allowed throughout the national forest, there are some spots where it’s prohibited. A few of these areas include North Crestone Trailhead, within 300 feet of Machin Lake, signed areas in Trujillo Meadows Reservoir, and a few others. Check the official website for more details before you go.

8. Arapaho National Forest

Arapaho National Forest is an amazing destination for anyone hoping to find the best spots for primitive camping in Colorado. Within Arapaho National Forest, you’ll find up to 20 designated areas for dispersed camping.

If you’re looking for even more remote areas, you’re welcome to explore the national forest by foot and pick any place to set up camp anywhere throughout the land except highly developed areas (like campgrounds, picnic sites, and trailheads).

Arapaho National Forest also offers endless recreation activity opportunities to keep you active during your trip. Some of these activities include hiking, biking, climbing, big game and turkey hunting, fishing, horseback riding, and more. No matter your preferences regarding primitive camping in Colorado, choosing Arapaho National Forest is guaranteed to have plenty of sights and activities for everyone to enjoy.

9. Pike National Forest

Last but certainly not least, we have Pike National Forest. It spans over 1.1 million acres of land and includes areas of beautiful pine trees, scenic reservoirs, and endless hiking trails.

Pike National Forest is a quick drive from Colorado Springs and has plenty of opportunities for fishing, camping, cross-country skiing, and of course, hiking. Some of the most noteworthy hikes with spectacular views include the trek to the top of Pikes Peak Mountain and the climb to Devil’s Head Lookout.

Primitive camping is allowed only on designated sites. Off-road driving is also prohibited to help reduce resource damage, and parking must be within 30 feet of site markers where posted. It’s also important to remember that when in the mountains and forest, you’ll be in mountain lion and bear country, so it’s crucial to take the appropriate safety measures.

Each of the designated areas for primitive camping within Pike National Forest has something unique to offer and will all make for an adventure worth remembering forever!

Time to Pack Your Bags!

With nothing but beautiful views of forests and mountain ranges, the sounds of wildlife and nature, and a night sky full of stars, your time of primitive camping in Colorado will be something you’ll never forget.

Is this your first time camping outside a designated campsite? Learn all you need to know about this outdoor experience by checking out our posts about primitive camping and boondocking for beginners.