Dispersed Camping Near Estes Park

The town of Estes Park – known as the Gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park – is an ideal base for anyone looking to explore this picturesque region. 

From this character-filled, historically-important settlement, you’ll be able to enjoy numerous activities in the surrounding backcountry, such as hiking and camping in the National Park. 

All this turns Estes Park into a perfect HQ for outdoor enthusiasts interested in free, dispersed camping in this part of Colorado. However, even though there’s an abundance of public land around this town, the rules and regulations regarding camping on it can vary quite a bit. 

To help you out, I researched and gathered all the essential information you’ll need for a safe and enjoyable time near Estes Park. This includes detailed descriptions of the best-dispersed camping areas in the town’s vicinity.

When Should I Camp Near Estes Park? 

 Rocky Mountain National Park in summer

The Rocky Mountain National Park and its headquarters – the town of Estes Park – are situated at an elevation of 8,000 feet (in some places, the height goes over 14,000 feet). If you’re interested in dispersed camping near Estes Park, you’ll want to do so during the warmer part of the year, i.e., between May and September. 

One crucial thing to remember here is that some areas of this region can hold snow well into June. Furthermore, light snowfall can begin as early as September, so you’ll want to prepare accordingly if you plan to come here at the beginning or the end of the peak camping season. 

The summer is when the backcountry surrounding Estes Park is the most crowded. If you can’t handle the crowds but can handle the snow and low temperatures, your best bet is to come here during the shoulder seasons.

Estes Park Dispersed Camping – The Best Areas 

Now we’ll take a closer look at the seven best dispersed camping areas in this part of Colorado. You’ll learn everything about their location, popularity, amenities, and general atmosphere. 

If you want more ideas, your best bet is to check the MVUMs – Motor Vehicle Use Maps – published by the United States Forest Service. The maps you’ll need are the ones covering the Canyon Lakes Ranger District and the Boulder Ranger District, and you can download them here

The best thing about these maps is that they don’t show only forest roads but also camping areas located alongside those roads. Dot-like symbols usually indicate them. 

Johnny Park Road / Parachute Hill Road

Longs Peak Trailhead
  • Map 
  • Crowds: Moderate 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: No 
  • How Far From Estes Park: 15 miles 

This is a combo of two dispersed camping areas situated on the opposite sides of County Road 82E – Forest Road 118 (Jonny Park Road) and Forest Road 329 (Parachute Hill Road). 

While not as close to Estes Park as some other places in this guide, both backcountry roads provide ample dispersed camping opportunities. They’re an excellent option for folks planning to explore the National Park from the Longs Peak Trailhead. 

Located on the southern side of County Road 82E, Johnny Park Road is a rugged path that goes on for several miles and leads into the National Park. The further down this road you go, the better views you’ll have, so make sure to come here with a 4WD vehicle. The Parachute Hill Road, situated on the opposite side, is steep but features several phenomenal roadside camping spots. 

Both places can be pretty packed from time to time, so be prepared to share them with other campers. Also, don’t expect any amenities, and make sure to pack out all of your garbage. 

Forest Service Road 119 

Estes Park Sign
  • Map 
  • Crowds: Moderate 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: No 
  • How Far From Estes Park: 6 miles 

If you’re looking for something south of Estes Park, Forest Road 119 is a good choice. However, one important thing to remember here is that this incredibly rugged backcountry road can’t be traversed in a regular passenger vehicle. 

Another essential thing to mention here is that the southern end of Forest Road 119 no longer connects to CR 82E. This is because it was severely damaged by floods a decade ago. 

While it certainly provides outdoor enthusiasts with good dispersed camping opportunities close to Estes Park, Forest Road 119 isn’t exactly something to write home about. At least you won’t have to deal with the crowds – not many people come here due to the road’s ruggedness. 

Those who decide to stay here won’t only be close to the town but will also have easy access to the surrounding wilderness due to the road’s proximity to the Peak to Peak Highway. Remember that you’ll have to be self-sufficient while camping at FR 119 – it features no water or other amenities. 

Hell Canyon Road 

Lion Gulch Trail
Photo by Kimon Berlin via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  • Map 
  • Crowds: Moderate 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: No 
  • How Far From Estes Park: 7 miles 

Located along Highway 36, south of Pole Hill Road, Hell Canyon Road justifies its name with its roughness – make sure to come here with a high-clearance vehicle. 

If you decide to stay here, you’ll be only seven miles away from the town. Moreover, you’ll have excellent access to several hikes outside the National Park, such as the Lion Gulch Trail. 

At its base, Hell Canyon Road is surrounded by private property. You’ll have to keep driving until you reach land managed by the United States Forest Service. I highly recommend consulting the MVUM for Canyon Lakes Ranger District before heading to the area. 

Lastly, this is a moderately-crowded area and, as such, a great option if you’re looking for some solitude. Make sure to bring a few water containers and a portable toilet, though – there are no camping facilities at Hell Canyon Road. 

Pole Hill Road 

Lake in Rocky Mountain national park
  • Map 
  • Crowds: Moderate 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: No 
  • How Far From Estes Park: 6 miles 

The next Estes Park dispersed camping area on my list should be visited only by experienced drivers with capable 4WD vehicles. While it’s pretty close to the town, the part of the Pole Hill Road that leads up to the dispersed camping zone is as rugged as it gets and should be tackled with extreme caution. 

You’ll be richly rewarded if you make it up to the campsite. All the camping spots here are surrounded by pristine wilderness, and the entire area is very close to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Several residential homes are situated alongside Pole Hill Road, and camping near households is not allowed. Also, due to the lack of camping facilities at Pole Hill Road, you’ll have to be completely self-sufficient while staying here.  For more camping spots in Colorado, see our post on dispersed camping in Colorado springs.

Ski Road / Allenspark 

Allenspark
  • Map 
  • Crowds: Moderate 
  • Water: No, but you can get some from Rock Creek 
  • Restrooms: No 
  • How Far From Estes Park: 18 miles 

Right next to the Peak to Peak Highway, outside of the small town of Allenspark, is a charming dispersed camping zone situated along County Road 107 (better known as “Ski Road”). While not exactly close to Estes Park, this place provides quick access to some of the region’s most popular trails, like the Saint Vrain Trail. 

The first section of this road can be easily traversed by regular passenger vehicles. This makes it an excellent option for folks looking to avoid the hassle of driving over rough terrain. 

However, the further ahead you drive, the more rugged Ski Road becomes. There is a benefit to this, though – this rougher section of the road isn’t as populated by campers. 

To get to this dispersed camping area, head west from the town of Allenspark via Ski Road. Before it enters Roosevelt National Forest – where you’ll be free to pitch your tent – the road crosses several private properties. As for water, you’ll be able to draw some from the nearby Rock Creek. 

Button Rock Road 

Nature in Estes Park
  • Map
  • Crowds: Moderate 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: No 
  • How Far From Estes Park: 14 miles 

The Forest Service Road 118.1 is right next to the Coulson Gulch Trailhead, where it provides outdoor enthusiasts with excellent dispersed camping spots. 

Also known as Button Rock Road, this winding pathway can be accessed via Johnny Park Road from the west and US36 from the east. No matter which side you decide to access it from, you’ll have to use a high-clearance vehicle – all the roads in this area are pretty bumpy. 

Besides being relatively close to Estes Park, those staying at Button Rock Road will also have an opportunity to explore many of the region’s natural highlights. However, I don’t think you’ll be able to secure a spot here if you arrive too late – this place can get pretty packed on summer weekends. 

You will also have to arrive prepared and ready to be self-sufficient, as there are no camping facilities near Button Rock Road.

Beaver Reservoir Road 

Indian Peaks Wilderness
  • Map 
  • Crowds: Moderate 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: No 
  • How Far From Estes Park: 28 miles 

The last Estes Park dispersed camping area is also the one furthest away from the town on my list. It’s a great option for campers wishing to hike through the Indian Peaks Wilderness and explore Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Accessing this place is easy as it gets – the road is well-graded, appropriate for all vehicles, and situated just a short drive from the main highway. Most camping spots will be located on the right side of the road, just before you reach the Beaver Reservoir. 

It’s worth pointing out that the Beaver Reservoir itself is private property – campers are not allowed to draw water from it. Also, there are no amenities of any type here, so don’t forget to bring a portable toilet and some water containers. 

Besides the fact that it provides easy access to Rocky Mountain National Park, Beaver Reservoir Road is also very close to the trendy Brainard Lake Area. 

General Information

What Should I Pack for My Camping Trip?

Camping mug in Colorado

The backcountry that surrounds this charming town is pretty rugged. Those planning to explore the wilderness around Estes Park should arrive there fully prepared, which means more than just bringing your tent and sleeping bag. 

Here’s a list of things you’ll want to pack for your Estes Park dispersed camping trip: 

  • Map – To learn more about the wilderness surrounding you and ensure you’re staying on public instead of private land, you’ll want to bring a good map. The National Geographic Society maps that cover US National Parks are typically the best. 
  • Water containers – There are no dependable water access points at any dispersed camping areas described below. You will have to bring lots of clean water in portable containers. 
  • Camping stove – The critical function of this essential piece of camping gear is portability, particularly if you don’t have a lot of storage space in your vehicle. 
  • Insect repellent – When camping, protecting yourself against the bites of mosquitoes and ticks is a necessary precaution. A quality bug spray will keep these pests at bay. 
  • Portable cooler – When camping, keeping your provisions, water, and favorite drinks cold is essential. Also, who likes drinking lukewarm beer on a hot day in the backcountry? Portable coolers – particularly the ones made by Yeti – are a phenomenal solution to this problem. 
  • Camping toilet – If popping a squat over a dug hole is outside of your comfort zone, you’ll love this piece of camping equipment. It’s a clean, comfortable, and portable alternative to answering the “call of nature” with a shovel in your hands. Don’t forget to pack some toilet paper as well! 

What About Fees and Permits? 

Even though you won’t have access to amenities typically found at developed campsites, you won’t have to pay fees or obtain permits for dispersed camping near Estes Park. 

Still, it’s never a bad idea to give a call to a local field office and get the most up-to-date information before heading out. Your best option is to contact the Boulder Ranger District or the Canyon Lakes Ranger District. Doing a quick online search won’t hurt you either! 

Can I Build a Campfire While Camping Near Estes Park? 

Campfire in Estes Park

The wilderness surrounding Estes Park is subject to regular seasonal fire bans and restrictions. 

Those planning on camping in this region must check and obey all campfire rules and regulations. The backcountry surrounding this charming town has already experienced several disastrous wildfires, so don’t build a campfire where doing so is not allowed. 

This website is the best place to check for the most up-to-date information regarding fire regulations. 

If you are permitted to build a campfire, you must put it out completely every time you’re about to go to sleep or leave the campsite for a day hike. 

Can I Bring My Pet? 

Cat in Colorado

Campers can bring pets to the dispersed camping zones described in this guide. 

You will, however, need to keep your pet under close control at all times, i.e., on a leash. Moreover, pack out the waste left behind by your furry companion and always protect the animal from extreme temperatures. 

Other Essential Considerations 

  • The seven dispersed camping areas described below operate on a first-come, first-served basis. That is why they become packed pretty quickly, particularly during the warmer part of the year. 

If you plan to stay at one of the dispersed camping zones near Estes Park over the weekend, you’ll have to arrive early on a Thursday morning. Otherwise, you may find the place packed and be forced to look for a camping spot elsewhere. 

  • This guide describes the conditions of the roads in the wilderness surrounding Estes Park. I’ve included dispersed camping areas for both high-clearance and low-clearance vehicles, so make sure to select one that suits your needs. 
  • With more and more people visiting the Rocky Mountain National Park every year, there is a steadily increasing negative impact on the region’s fragile natural environment. 

That’s precisely why each of us should do our best to preserve this beautiful backcountry, and the easiest way to do that is by sticking to the well-known Leave No Trace principles

There are 7 Leave No Trace principles, but the most important ones are that you should always minimize campfire impacts and properly dispose of waste. The goal is to leave the camping spot in the same state you found it.  If you are interested in camping in Colorado, you may also want to check out our guide to dispersed camping in Buena Vista.

The Takeaway 

That’s it – now you know all the vital info regarding dispersed camping near Estes Park, and you’re ready for the trip. 

Hopefully, the descriptions provided above will assist you in selecting a dispersed camping area whose location, popularity, amenities, and general atmosphere suit your needs.

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