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Scenic lakeside camping is in your reach at these sites. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)
Scenic lakeside camping is in your reach at these sites. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)

Against all odds, I enjoy the act of sleeping in the dirt (and have a yurt with my name on it for a fancy twist this winter). One of my friends was also generous enough to share a backpacking permit this summer for Mirror Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park — and you don’t have to lug all your clothes and food 13 miles on your back to camp in the area.

If you, too, enjoy leaving your bed behind for a poorly inflated mat in the woods, you’re in luck. It’s easy to get outdoors and camp in the mountains west of Boulder, though you might need to plan ahead with a reservation, depending on where you go.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Winiger Ridge Campground

Where: Gross Reservoir

Directions: Head west on Flagstaff Road, which turns into Gross Dam Road

Reservations: No

More info:

The campground has 26 spots, which are all first-come first-served. There are no facilities, so be ready to pack or treat your own water, and your stay is limited to 14 days (which should be more than enough). The road is closed in the winter.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Where: Golden

Directions: Head south on Colorado 93, then west on Golden Gate Canyon Road.

Reservations: Yes; backcountry is first-come, first-served

More info:

The park has numerous camping options, along with cabins and yurts that require at least a two-night stay. You can bring your dog, but have to leave your hammock at home. Group camping options are also available.

Camp Dick

Where: 6 miles north of Ward

Directions: From Ward, head north on Colorado 7, the Peak to Peak Highway.

Reservations: Yes; some sites are first-come first-served

More info:

The campground is in a glacial valley with forests, meadows and a creek. It is one of the most popular campgrounds, so it might be crowded. Keep your dog on a leash so he/she doesn’t tangle with moose in the area. The views along the Peak to Peak Highway, especially in the fall, are nice.

Pawnee Campground

Where: 5 miles west of Ward

Directions: From Ward, briefly head north on the Peak to Peak Highway, then turn left on Brainard Lake Road

Reservations: Yes, for even-number campsites

More info:

The campground is at the foot of the Continental Divide and is in a mature spruce fir forest. It can get cold and wet at any time. Trails to the west enter the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Where to post up in the snow

Most campgrounds close for the winter, but there’re a few places to hunker down and snuggle up.

Moraine Park Campground

Where: Estes Park


It’s the only year-round campground in Rocky Mountain National Park, and it’s 8,160 feet above sea level in a ponderosa pine forest. You’ll have your pick of 64 first-come, first-served winter campsites AND vault toilets and food storage lockers.

Hessie Trailhead

Where: Nederland


Only about an hour from Boulder, set up tents in the parking lot or venture in snowshoes down one of the many trails around Lost Lake. It’s also not far from Eldora, so you have a chance of getting first chair. Campfires are prohibited, and campers must stick to other Indian Peaks Wilderness restrictions.

East Portal Trailhead

Where: Rollinsville


No permits are required for setting up base camp in the James Peak Wilderness area. Although it’s not a designated car camping area, it’s a popular destination for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Take Colorado 119 to Rollinsville and turn west onto the gravel Gilpin County Road 16, continuing 8 miles to a parking area near Moffat Tunnel.

When it gets warmer

By May and June, campgrounds start reopening for the warmer months. In Rocky Mountain National Park, there’s Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, Longs Peak and Timber Creek campgrounds. In Longmont, St. Vrain State Park has 87 car camping sites across eight campgrounds. In Allenspark, Peaceful Valley Campground offers 17 tent and camper sites for $23-46 per night.