Dispersed camping near Telluride, Colorado

The Best Dispersed Camping Near Telluride, CO

Telluride, the seat of the San Miguel County in Colorado, is undoubtedly one of this state’s most iconic mountain towns. Besides the fact that there’s always something interesting to do in this town, the wilderness that surrounds it allows outdoor enthusiasts to experience Colorado’s diverse geography in the best way possible.  

Founded in 1878 as “Columbia”, Telluride is nestled among the towering peaks of the San Juan Mountains. There are loads of places to explore here – from pristine alpine lakes to breathtaking aspen forests to magnificent meadows where sleeping under the stars is something you won’t forget any time soon. 

And the best way to experience all of these locations is definitely through dispersed camping. This kind of camping doesn’t only provide greater flexibility, but it also costs less and it allows nature lovers to fully immerse themselves in Colorado’s wild beauty. 

If you’ve decided to give dispersed camping near Telluride a try, keep reading. In this article, I’ll provide all the necessary info on 9 of the best dispersed camping spots that are within an hour of this town. But before that, let’s go over some (very important) fundamentals: 

Telluride Dispersed Camping – The Overview 

Mountain town of Telluride

Before we move on to the dispersed camping locations themselves, I think we should first cover some essential basics. Make sure to thoroughly read this part of the article before heading out into the wild. 

Below, I will tell you everything you need to know about permits and fees associated with Telluride dispersed camping, as well as about potential seasonal fires and whether or not pets are allowed inside the camping areas located around this town. I’ll also tell you when’s the best time to visit these places and what you should pack before heading there. 

When is the Best Time to Camp Near Telluride? 

Telluride in Autumn

Just like in the case of other towns in this part of Colorado, the best time to pitch your tent in the wilderness surrounding Telluride is between May and October. 

An important thing to mention here is that some locations can hold snow well into the summer. I am, of course, speaking about areas situated at higher elevations, i.e. above 10,000 feet. Therefore, folks planning to do some dispersed camping in these areas should do so between June and September. 

What about the fall months? While the months of autumn certainly turn camping near Telluride into a special experience – mostly due to the beautiful foliage colors – they also introduce cold nights. If you’re planning to camp near this town in the fall, make sure to prepare yourself adequately. 

What Should I Pack for Dispersed Camping Near Telluride? 

Getting ready for your Telluride dispersed camping adventure involves more than just selecting one of the camping areas listed down below. In fact, gathering all the equipment and packing everything you’ll need (as well as everything you might need) is far more important. 

If you’re a camping beginner, you probably know that you have to buy the basic gear – a sturdy tent, a warm and cozy sleeping bag, as well as some comfortable camping chairs. Here are some other items that you may want to consider packing: 

  • Water filter – This one is a no-brainer – never go into the wild without a good water filter. You never know what could happen and having one of these simple yet extremely convenient devices could quite literally save your life. 
  • Portable water containers – The water filter mentioned above should be used only when needed. Since you’ll almost certainly be visiting one or more of the areas listed below by car, you should still bring as much clean water with you as possible. 
  • Portable toilet – Regardless of whether there are vault toilets close to your camping area or not, you may still want to bring a portable toilet with you. Using this convenient and private option is a phenomenal way to ensure you won’t leave any traces behind yourself. 
  • Camping stove – Cooking up luxurious campsite dinners cannot be done without a good camping stove. This is an essential piece of hiking/camping gear and something you should definitely pack for your Telluride outdoor adventure. 
  • Cooler – As far as I’m concerned, having a good cooler during your camping trip is just as important as having a good portable stove, particularly if your outing takes place during the summer. 
  • Bug spray – Finally, don’t forget to pack a bug spray. Mosquitoes and other insects can easily ruin a summertime camping trip, and a good bug spray is the best weapon against these annoying pests. 

Permits and Fees Required for Dispersed Camping Near Telluride 

Camping in any of the Forest Service or Bureau for Land Management zones listed in this article requires no permits or fees. In other words, pitching your tent in any of these areas is completely free! 

However, keep in mind that some of these places are becoming more and more popular with each passing year, so there’s always a chance of authorities implementing a permit system to one of these locations in the future. For that matter, make sure to double-check everything before heading out. 

Another thing worth pointing out here is that some of the dispersed camping zones are located inside or close to designated Wilderness Areas. Since each of these areas has its own particular restrictions, make sure to check ahead of time. Here’s a handy map of the Telluride region that shows the boundaries of these areas. 

What Should I Know About Seasonal Fires Near Telluride? 

In the backcountry that surrounds the town of Telluride, Colorado, seasonal fire restrictions are common. So, before you embark on your camping adventure that takes place in the vicinity of this town, make sure to check for the latest restrictions. 

For a comprehensive list of all relevant info on seasonal fire bans in the BLM and USFS zones in Colorado, visit this website. Keep in mind that you can always contact the field office for your camping area for additional information on this subject. 

Are Pets Welcome at Telluride Camping Areas? 

Fortunately for those who often go camping together with their dogs or cats (or any other animals), pets are allowed at all locations described in this article. 

However, it is highly recommended that you keep your pet (or pets) under control at all times, i.e. to keep them leashed. If the dispersed camping area you’ll be spending time in has a lot of wildlife, this is even more crucial. 

Also, make sure to pick up and pack all of the waste left by your pets and to protect your animals from hot sun/night cold. 

Other Important Considerations 

Don't litter sign
  • Leave no trace – The only way to ensure that all of these places stay open and free for dispersed camping is by trying your best not to pollute them while spending time in them. 

Respect the wildlife in the area and be considerate of other outdoor enthusiasts. Dispose of your waste properly and minimize campfire impacts (in places where campfires are allowed in the first place, that is). 

  • Elevation – A lot of the dispersed camping zones near this town are situated at high elevations (9,000 feet or higher). As you can already guess, camping in such areas requires meticulous planning and adequate gear. 

If you decide to camp in a high-elevation camping area, get yourself a sturdy tent and lots of warm clothes. In such places, extreme weather conditions are common, so prepare yourself accordingly. 

  • Access – In this article, I will provide all relevant information on the road conditions that await you while driving to each of the 9 dispersed camping areas in the vicinity of Telluride. An important thing to mention here is that not all of these areas can be accessed by regular passenger vehicles. 

For that matter, use your best judgment while driving to these places. Always remember – there’s not a single camping spot in this world worth risking your safety for! 

  • Cell phone service – Do not expect great mobile phone reception while spending time in dispersed camping zones around Telluride. In fact, the reception in these places is often spotty at best. 

Because of this, your best bet is to download all the maps and everything else you’ll need ahead of time. Also, don’t forget to inform other people about where you’re going and when they should expect you to be back. 

  • First-come, first-served – It goes without saying, but the “first-come, first-served” principle is in the very nature of almost all dispersed camping areas. In other words, those who arrive first often take the best spots. 

So, if you want a genuinely great camping spot in the area of your choice, you will have to arrive there one or two days earlier, particularly if you’ve planned to camp there during a summer weekend. 

We also have a guide to dispersed camping in Michigan.

The Best Areas for Dispersed Camping Near Telluride 

Priest Lake 

Priest Lake, Colorado
Photo by Ralph Earlandson via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No, but you can filter some from the lake
  • Restrooms: Yes
  • Distance to Telluride: 14 miles 

The very first Telluride dispersed camping area I’ll be taking a look at is located less than half an hour away from the town. Its name is Priest Lake and it’s one of the most scenic alpine ponds in the entire region. In fact, this lake is the focal point of this entire area and a very popular destination for fishing enthusiasts. 

The lake that I’m talking about here is actually the primary body of water in a larger system that also includes two smaller lakes. Priest Lake is man-made and the area that surrounds it is full of wildlife – here, you’ll be able to see crossbills, grouse, elks, and deer. 

Those interested in horseback riding, cycling, and trekking are guaranteed to enjoy the Galloping Goose Trail, which is very close to the campgrounds. An important thing to mention here is that this dispersed camping area is small and “walk-in” – although it can be accessed by vehicles, there’s a lack of parking spaces. Finally, there are showers at the Matterhorn Campground, which is less than a mile away from the lake. 

Alta Lakes 

Alta Lakes, Colorado
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No, but you can filter some from the lakes
  • Restrooms: Yes
  • Distance to Telluride: 14 miles 

This is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most picturesque places in the entire state of Colorado. It’s a series of small alpine lakes located in an incredibly scenic region that offers views of the Silver Mountain and Bald Mountain. 

In the region surrounding the lakes, there are around 20 different dispersed campsites. Fortunately, most of these are quite spaced-out, allowing not only the aforementioned alpine views but also some privacy. Another thing worth mentioning here is that there are also some extra camping spots situated along the road that leads to the lakes. 

Even though this place is only 14 miles away from Telluride, you’ll need at least one hour to reach it due to the rugged and narrow road that leads there. I would advise against going there with an RV – your best bet is to use a 4WD vehicle. 

Be sure to read our post on the best dispersed camping spots near Flagstaff, Arizona as well.

Fall Creek Recreation Site 

Fall Creek, Colorado
  • Crowds: Moderate
  • Water: No
  • Restrooms: Yes
  • Distance to Telluride: 15 miles 

Next up on my list of the best Telluride dispersed camping areas is the Fall Creek Recreation Site, situated some 15 miles to the west of the town. It’s a very convenient camping zone and one that can be reached in under half an hour due to the easy, paved roads that lead there. 

Here, most of the actual camping spots are quite small but still well-suited for tent campers. However, one larger camping area is also available, and it can accommodate trailers and RVs. At the Fall Creek Recreation Site, you will also find a covered picnic zone and some fire rings. 

The Fall Creek itself is a very typical mountain creek – it’s as pretty as a picture and offers cutthroat and brook trout. Other things worth mentioning about the camping area itself are that it’s somewhat close to the highway – although the traffic dies down at night – and that the mobile phone service here is quite limited. 

Caddis Flats 

  • Crowds: Moderate
  • Water: No, but you can filter some from the river 
  • Restrooms: Yes
  • Distance to Telluride: 18 miles 

Despite the fact that this Bureau for Land Management camping area has only three campsites, there’s actually a lot of extra space here. This is mostly due to the adjacent woods and the nearby gravel lot, which is quite roomy. 

The Caddis Flats dispersed camping area is situated right next to one of Colorado’s prettiest rivers – the San Miguel River. Even those who pitch their tents in the parking lot will be doing so right next to the river. One thing worth mentioning here is that the campers can use the provided hand-carry boat lunch as well as the fact that one of the three campsites has a cabana. 

This particular dispersed camping area is situated just off Colorado State Highway 145 – accessing it is as easy as it gets. However, this also means that you’ll have to do deal with some traffic noise while camping there. Finally, Caddis Flats easily accommodates trailers and larger vehicles. 

Last Dollar Road 

Last Dollar Road, Colorado
  • Crowds: Moderate
  • Water: No
  • Restrooms: No
  • Distance to Telluride: 14 miles 

Behind this interesting name hides one of the state’s most beautiful hidden gems – a vast, adventurous, colorful, and bumpy road that winds through a low valley. Those who manage to make it to this scenic dispersed camping area will be rewarded with jaw-dropping views of iconic peaks and charming aspen forests. 

There’s a bunch of genuinely amazing camping spots along both sides of the Last Dollar Road. I recommend coming over here during the fall months – the unparalleled orange, yellow, and red foliage is guaranteed to leave you breathless. Visiting this area during summertime, on the other hand, brings views of lush, wildflower-dotted greenery as far as the eye can see. 

Besides the dispersed camping area mentioned above, there is also a parking lot that is situated much closer to Telluride. The last thing worth mentioning here is that the Last Dollar Road connects to the Alder Creek Trail, which is a challenging but rewarding trekking route. 

Check out our post on the best dispersed camping near Colorado Springs as well.

Lizard Head Pass 

Lizard Head Pass
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No
  • Restrooms: Yes
  • Distance to Telluride: 15 miles 

A breathtaking mountain pass that offers striking views of Southwest Colorado, the Lizard Head Pass can be reached in under half an hour from Telluride. The pass shares its names with the Lizard Head Peak, a prominent column-shaped rock located in the nearby wilderness. 

Besides camping, this region also provides outdoor enthusiasts with a chance to participate in activities such as horseback riding, trekking, and cycling. That’s because it’s close to both the Galloping Goose Trail and the Lizard Head Trail. Both of these routes offer panoramic views of the San Juan Mountains. 

The dirt road that leads to the Lizard Head Pass is quite rugged, and traversing it with a low-clearance vehicle can be quite challenging. Therefore, the best way to reach this area is by using an SUV. Also, keep in mind that there is no mobile phone reception in the region and prepare yourself accordingly.

If you would rather go beach camping, check out our post on the best beach camping spots in Texas.

Lower Beaver Recreation Site 

  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: Yes
  • Restrooms: Yes
  • Distance to Telluride: 27 miles 

Next up is an excellent camping area situated close to the San Miguel River and one that is run by the Bureau for Land Management. The only disadvantage of this dispersed camping area is that it fills up very quickly, particularly during the peak season. 

The main reason behind that is quite obvious – here, you will find only a handful of camping spots, along with limited space for the RVs and similar vehicles. Another reason why the Lower Beaver Recreation Site is always busy is that it has all the amenities that most of the other places on this list don’t. 

In other words, if you’re someone who likes to camp at places that have drinking water, picnic tables, toilets, and other luxuries, the Lower Beaver Recreation Site is one of your best options when it comes to camping near Telluride. 

Check out our post on the best dispersed camping spots near Buena Vista, Colorado and our ost on the best dispersed camping spots near Silverton as well.

Silver Pick Road 

Nature in Telluride
  • Crowds: Moderate 
  • Water: No, but you can filter some from the river 
  • Restrooms: No 
  • Distance to Telluride: 10 miles 

Truth be told, this particular camping zone is actually just a parking area located right next to Colorado Highway 145. Just like the Lower Beaver Recreation Site, which I described above, the Silver Pick Road is also positioned next to the San Miguel River, which allows campers to filter water from it and enjoy that special riverside ambience. 

Due to its size, this camping area cannot accommodate more than just a couple of tents and class C or B motorhomes. On the plus side, it is located really close to Telluride and getting to it from the town is quick and easy. It goes without saying, but the site is also accessible by all types of vehicles. 

The thing that makes this particular place so beautiful is a combination of majestic mountains, meadows, trees, and a woodland stream (Big Bear Creek, a tributary of the San Miguel River). What is more, it is close to some amazing trekking routes, such as the Rock of Ages Trailhead. 

Elk Creek Road 

Elk Creek, Colorado
  • Crowds: Moderate 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: No 
  • Distance to Telluride: 17 miles 

Those who continue past the camping area I described above and head on to Elk Creek Road (officially Forest Road 645) are bound to bump into several more spots for dispersed camping. You’ll be able to see these on both sides of the road – choose the one that suits your needs the best. 

What makes these camping spots so great is the fact that they’re ideal as starting points for climbing the peaks that are accessible from the aforementioned Rock of Ages Trail, like the El Diente Peak or the Wilson Peak. In simple terms, this camping area is a great option for mountaineers and hiking enthusiasts. 

Here’s a convenient map that shows all of the spots suitable for dispersed camping that are located along Elk Creek Road. Finally, keep in mind that camping at the trailhead is not allowed.

Before you set out on your adventure, make sure to check out our wild camping checklist as well.