Colorado is one of the greatest states in the heart of America for outdoor adventures. Few states boast the massive variety of terrain in this state, all while having an average size. Sure Alaska, Montana, and California boast massive wildernesses, but they’re huge states. Colorado does it all in half the size.
From the jagged peaks of the rocky mountains to the southern desert, this state has plenty of natural, breathtaking beauty. This state has the highest average elevation of any US state, with sweeping mountain ranges and broad plateaus.
This state is often referred to as a flyover state, but any avid outdoor enthusiast should keep this state on their list of places to stop. Whether you’re driving in, flying in, or already a resident here, you’ll have more than enough to keep yourself occupied.
Fans of pristine, alpine wilderness have the Rockies, while fans of rugged desert wilderness have San Luis Valley. Or you can take in the vast expanse of the great plains to the east as the state moves towards the center of the nation.
In this guide to Colorado Camping and bushcraft, we’ll cover some of the major wilderness regions of the state, what you need to bring, some of the best camping spots, and laws and regulations about camping in the state.
Major Wilderness Areas in Colorado
Like any state, Colorado is home to more than one region, each with a unique climate, terrain, topography, and wildlife. You can find entire books dedicated to explaining each of Colorado’s vast wilderness areas, but we’re only going to have time to cover just a few.
Each of these regions are packed with varying vegetation and fauna, with different types of terrain, and different climates. We’ll go over the strengths of each zone, as well as what you can expect out of a camping trip to the place.
Colorado has something for everyone, so if these regions don’t appeal to you, go ahead and look up something that does, and the state probably has it. But these regions offer a wide range of adventures, and each hold dozens of great camping spots.
The Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains are the famed range that run right through the heart of America. While the settlers may have feared them, they’re now a great place for backpackers, hunters, and hikers to really go on an adventure.
Colorado is home to dozens of Fourteeners, mountains over 14,000 feet in elevation. From the famed Pike’s Peak to the towering Mount Elbert, there are a number of challenging mountains that you can hike.
These mountains are each a massive accomplishment, though multiple hikes may be too strenuous to pack in one trip. If you’re a mountaineer and want to scale one of these beasts, then the Rockies are a must on your to-do list.
If you’re less interested in mountain climbing and more interested in clear waters and alpine forests, the Rocky Mountains are also a great place to go. Aside from the legendary skiing and resort towns here, there’s an abundance of great coniferous forest camping.
Whether it’s backpacking, camping, or hunting, this is probably the best way to get away from it all. Nothing beats hiking through dense forest only to stumble into a beautiful meadow with clear streams running around you.
That’s what’s great about this region. Whether you’re an extreme mountaineer or just want to find a great place to park and set up camp, the Rocky Mountains will suit the needs of many campers and hunters.
Expect frigid winters with dense snowfall, and expect thunderstorms and unpredictable weather in the summer. It’s a great place to practice your survival training, especially for snow. Just make sure to stay safe during the intense winters.
The Great Plains
For some outdoorsmen, they’re less interested in steep climbs and dense forests and more interested in untouched nature and vast horizons. The great plains aren’t known for their camping, but they’re absolutely worth it if you’ve never been out on the plains before.
This region connects to the flat states like Kansas and Oklahoma, and occupies a huge amount of Eastern Colorado. The 2 biggest geographic regions in Colorado are the Rockies and the Great Plains, but most people think of the mountains when they picture camping and the wilderness.
If you picture the American midwest, you think of roaming herds of buffalo on the prairie, and this region is where that used to be. It’s a little desolate compared to the lush forests of of the mountains, but there’s a surreal charm to the plains.
The weather here is characterized by hot days and powerful thunderstorms, giving survivalists plenty of outdoor training to work with. The vast expanse is perfect for hunting, giving you long ranges to practice your aim.
If you decide to camp in this region, you’ll need to make sure you’re stocked up on water. There aren’t as many natural water sources here, so it’ll be on you to bring enough for your trip, or even get your own from the ground.
San Luis Valley
If you’re a fan of arid, hot desert climates, you’ll want to check out San Luis Valley. This southern region of Colorado is a huge valley with a wide range of biomes and features. From the brush land of the north to the sand dunes of the south, you’ll have plenty of rugged, sandy terrain to explore and survive in.
This region is considerably smaller than either the Great Planes or the Rocky Mountains, and is more similar in climate to the plains. This region is more about survival practice and hunting than it is for recreational camping and backpacking.
The harsh climate and terrain are only relieved by the flat topography, making getting around by foot much easier than in the mountains. Of course, in a valley, you have mountains bordering the area, so if you want to hike, you’ll need to reach the edge of the valley.
The valley is the starting point of the Rio Grande, and part of it goes into New Mexico. So you’ll have an easier time finding water here than you would in the great plains. It’s a fun place to pull off the road and start camping.
This region actually only occupies the very southwest corner of Colorado, and the majority of this major geographic area is in other states. It’s home to massive attractions like the Grand Canyon and the Colorado river, and the section in Colorado will give you plenty to do in your outdoor adventure.
The beautiful red sandstone hills and mountains are spotted with desert vegetation. The nights are cool, with beautiful pink skies at sunrise and sunset. It’s perfect for any outdoor activity from casual camping to hardcore backpacking.
The Rockies occupy much of western Colorado, making this region one of the few areas outside of the Rockies besides the great plains. It has that iconic, breathtaking scenery that you associate with the American west.
What You Need to Bring
Now that you know where you’re going in Colorado, it’s time to make sure you have the right gear. You want a safe, enjoyable trip, and whether you’re camping, backpacking, or in it for survival, you’ll need to have the right stuff to make sure you’re safe and comfortable.
This guide isn’t going to cover the basics like what boots you need or what clothes to wear. Instead, we’ll look at the stuff you may not have or that you may need to upgrade in order to tough it in the woods.
Make sure you’re looking up the weather and climate where you’re camping. Even in the summer, higher altitude locations can drop well below freezing. Then you can make sure you have the right gear for your trip.
You have all of your stuff loaded into the car, and you’re ready to drive to the campsite. You don’t need to worry about having the right heavy equipment if you’re car camping. Just have the right tent, like this Featherstone backpacking tent. It’s extremely lightweight, making it perfect to bring both camping and backpacking.
Colorado is going to have some cold nights, so make sure you have a sub-zero sleeping bag to keep yourself warm even when it’s well below freezing. This option from Winner Outfitters will outlast even the most frigid nights, so make sure you’re bringing that out into the woods.
If you want to step it up and take your tent on the road, you want to go backpacking. Make sure you have a backpack that’ll fit all of your gear, like this 50 liter bag from NEVO Rhino. It’s affordable, but it’s going to make it easy to carry all of your gear in comfort.
To save room, don’t bring water. Instead use the AquaStiq (availible here), a portable water filter that lets you make sure you can hydrate anywhere, any time.
When you’re trying to survive in the woods, you want to make sure you’re prepared for an emergency. Maybe you’re stuck in the pouring rain, or nightfall is coming and you need some light. No matter what, make sure you’re bringing gear for emergencies.
This cool EverStryke Pro windproof match is a must for anyone in the woods. This waterproof lighter is the best way to ensure you’ll always be able to keep yourself warm.
You also want to keep the Hybeam Flashlight on you so that you can always light your way at night. I got mine free with the link above (I did have to pay shipping though) Check out more info here:
Top Camping Spots in Colorado
There are countless places you can go camping, each with stunning vistas and gorgeous views. If you’re trying to really get out and the sticks for survival or backpacking, you want to just head straight into the rockies. But if you prefer more organized camping and trails, you’ll have no shortage of places to go.
These are just a tiny amount of camping spots in Colorado, but you can really get your fill of the great outdoors at these places. Most of them happen to be extremely popular, so expect crowds during the normal camping season.
This is one of the most well known camping spots in the Rocky Mountains. It’s located a few hours from Denver, making one of the most accessible places you can camp in the state. It’s characterised by sweeping and stunning views of gorgeous valleys, as well as a number of lakes and trails to keep yourself occupied.
This camping spot is right in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park, and has a major developed camping site. This is for people who love the outdoors and want a relaxing, easy camping trip to get right into the mountains. Even seasoned backpackers will enjoy this spot for its sheer beauty.
Pike’s Peak was a famous crossing point for the settlers, and is visible as far as the border of Kansas on a clear day. It’s more of a hiking trail than a camping spot, though it’s common for people to camp on their way up the mountain. It’s a grueling 24 mile hike with more than 6000 feet of elevation gain, but absolutely worth it for the experience.
The weather at Pike’s Peak is turbulent, to say the least. This mountain attracts thunderstorms even on clear days, meaning that it can be a dangerous hike if you aren’t prepared. There’s actually a train that runs to the very top, if you decide you want to ride down once you’ve climbed up.
Maroon Bells is one of the most popular camping destinations in Colorado, and with good reason. The stunning view of these massive twin peaks is incredible, especially in the fall when the aspen blooms. It’s located near Aspen, Colorado, and actually has pretty limited access during the summer and fall.
These mountains have towering peaks, and are named Maroon and North Maroon Peak. There are plenty of lakes and meadows to enjoy, as well as denser forested areas. Any fan of the outdoors will love this area.
Bear Lake is located a bit southwest of Moraine Park, and is another massive scenic area, but more welcoming to rugged campers looking for more adventure. It sits at just under 10,000 feet, and is one of the most scenic lakes in Colorado.
While it’s home to a few easy trails, it’s also home to a number of advanced hiking trails. It’s also open year round, so if you want to really test your survival skills, try to come here during the off season for a snowy backpacking trip.
Laws and Regulations for Camping and Bushcraft in Colorado
With more than 13000 campgrounds and tens of millions of acres of wilderness overseen by several government bodies, there’s going to be a lot of regulations you’ll need to check up on.
Colorado places the preservation of it’s gorgeous parks in high priority, and so have some pretty restrictive rules. No one is allowed to stay in a park for more than 14 days, so make sure that you plan accordingly.
Different parks have different rules regarding camping in the off season, so you’ll have to also make sure that you’re checking the rules of each specific park. You also can’t have a group of more than 6 people in a state owned campsite.
Colorado’s been experiencing fires over the past few years, and so have tightened the rules around campfires. You’ll have to check if the area you’re camping in is allowing fires, since they may have bans during the peak wildfire season.
When it comes to preparing firewood, you also need to obtain the proper permits to cut down trees if you plan on doing long-term survival training. Pack your axe for long trips, and make sure you have that waterproof lighter ready in order to keep yourself warm during those frigid nights.
Vehicles have to have a special permit for entering state parks. It’s pretty affordable, and you can get them at the entrances to parks. Just make sure you’re not driving past those checkpoints.
Enjoying the Wilderness of Colorado
Colorado is a nature-wealthy state with some of the most gorgeous and stunning places you can find in the wild. From the towering peaks of the Rockies to the vast desert expanses of San Juan Valley to the broad prairies of the Great Plains, this state is truly worth your time for an outdoor adventure.
Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or just want some relaxing camping, this state will have something for you. It has long, tough hikes and serene, sparkling lakes, all you have to do is pick where to go.
Make sure you come prepared with the materials, the right types of axes and information you need to have a safe, enjoyable, and responsible camping trip. Know the laws of the area you’re camping in, and make sure that you keep safety in mind, and enjoy yourself in this natural playground.
ClutchAxes' Top 5 Axes of the Month:
[products limit="5" columns="5" visibility="featured" ]