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10 of the best places to camp with kids in Colorado

Updated April 2022

A few months when I was researching a new place to go camping this summer, I was stressed out. I have lived in Colorado for 12 years and the possibilities for outdoor explorations are limitless, making the process overwhelming. So, I put it out there to the experts (you!) and received some fantastic recommendations of where to camp. My criteria is it needed to be approximately two hours from Denver, in the mountains, preferably near water and gorgeous.

That isn’t too much to ask in a fabulous state like Colorado, right?

Also, don’t miss Camping Colorado: A Comprehensive Guide to Hundreds of Campgrounds

Colorado’s Best Camping for Families

Turquoise Lake. Photo: USDA

Turquoise Lake. Photo: USDA

Turquoise Lake. With a name like Turquoise Lake you know this recreational area near Leadville has got to be beautiful. Located in the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and near the state’s highest peak, there are 8 campgrounds that are named for nearby gold and silver mines and the tycoons who owned them. The 300 campsites consist of fire rings, toilets, drinking water and picnic tables and area activities include hiking, fishing, boating and two boat-launching ramps.  For a great family hike, do a portion (or all) of the 6.4 mile Turquoise Lake Trail that parallels the shoreline of Turquoise Lake from the Dam to May Queen Campground. Turquoise Lake is about 5 miles west of U.S. Highway 24 and Leadville, Colorado.

 Camp Dick. Camp Dick is the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp that was established in the 1930s just off the Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway. The campground is situated on the banks of the Middle Saint Vrain Creek in a glacial valley surrounded by mixed conifer and aspen forests and has vault toilets, campfire rings, firewood, drinking water and grills. The Middle Saint Vrain Creek is a good fly-fishing stream where anglers cast for rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout. Many trails in the vicinity are open to hiking and biking, including Sourdough and Buchanan Pass trails. The Indian Peaks Wilderness boundary is four miles from the west end of the campground. Guided horseback riding is available at Peaceful Valley Lodge, which is just over a mile away.

Buena Vista/Salida

Buena Vista/Salida

Buena Vista/Salida.
This beautiful valley has it all: The mighty Collegiate Peaks in the Sawatch Range stand sentry at the west and host a dozen of Colorado’s famous 14ers (14,000-foot peaks). More than 100 miles of the mighty Arkansas River forms the eastern boundary and is perfect for rafting, fishing, floating or kayaking. Camping options abound in this land also famous for its hot springs. The Arrowhead Point Campground and Cabins is located on 23 acres with campsites, cabins, cottages and yurts in a mountain setting. The Buena Vista’s KOA 35-acre property boasts million-dollar views of six 14ers, while the Chalk Creek Campground in Nathrop (7 miles south of Buena Vista) lets you get back to nature with a fun twist like Summer Potlucks on Thursdays and Rubber Ducky Races on holidays. Other options include Fisherman’s Bridge Campground (between Nathrop and Salida), Heart of the Rockies Campground (10 miles west of Salida) or the Monarch Spur RV Park and Campground that is nestled in a valley only 200 feet from a trout stream.

Kenosha Pass Campground. Northeast of Fairplay on U.S. Route 295 (and just 50 miles southwest of Denver) is Kenosha Pass campground. The campground features a trail head for the Colorado Trail, which infamously starts outside of Denver and threads its way nearly 500 miles over eight spectacular mountain ranges before ending in Durango. The campground includes an interpretive area that has a wheelchair/stroller-friendly trail on the old Denver, South Park and Pacific Railways.  Facilities at the 25-site campground include water, tables, vault toilet and fire rings and if you love fall, consider returning late-September when the area’s aspen trees come to life. Hike the spine of the Front Range from Jefferson to Grant with tremendous views of 14,265-foot Mount Evans and 14,065-foot Mount Bierstadt.

Red Feather Lakes. Photo: Colorado.com

Red Feather Lakes. Photo: Colorado.com

Red Feather Lakes. Head to the Rocky Mountains northwest of Fort Collins and you’ll fall in love with this rustic mountain village that is surrounded by 612,000-acre Roosevelt National Forest. This year-round outdoor playground boasts the Cache La Poudre River, Colorado’s first designated Wild and Scenic River, and has the area’s best whitewater rafting, kayaking and fishing. Camping choices range from Archer’s Poudre River Resort on the Poudre River with a Country Store for all your grocery and fishing tackle needs to the Poudre Canyon KOA that is nestled in one of Colorado’s most scenic river valleys–a favorite for whitewater rafters and kayakers. The West Lake Campground has 36 sites in a mountainous, ponderosa pine forest while nearby Dowdy Lake’s 70-site campground is extremely popular for fishing, hiking, and mountain biking.

 Honorable Mentions

Jack's Gulch. Photo: USDA

Jack’s Gulch. Photo: USDA

State Forest State Park’s 70,838-acre park offers visitors 71,000 acres of forest, jagged peaks, alpine lakes, wildlife and miles of trails located in Jackson and Larimer counties east of Walden, Colorado. 

 Snow Mountain Ranch. The YMCA of the Rockies’ lodges and cabins near Winter Park, Colo. are well-known for family vacations with hiking, biking, swimming, roller-blading, ziplining, a summer tubing hill and more. But not to be overlooked is their campground and yurt village–all the fun at a fraction of the price.

Jack’s Gulch Campground is located 48 miles northwest of Fort Collins and is tailored to those traveling with horses. The campsites have corrals and the area is home to a network of trails amid aspen stands and ponderosa that are perfect for leisurely rides.

Colorado Summer Vacation Guide Resources

Denver Summer Activity Guide (200+ ideas)

Crested Butte’s Mountain Paradise for Families

Royal Gorge: The Ultimate Colorado Escape for Denver Families (with the coolest lodge in Colorado)

10 Best Places to Camp in Colorado

Kids Guide to Camping in Colorado’s Mountain Towns

Colorado Road Trip: 26 Scenic Byways and Small Towns to Visit This Summer! 

Colorado’s Top Five Lodging Suggestions

25 great fishing ponds in Denver

15 Fun and Quirky Roadside Attractions in Colorado

Denver’s best biking trails for kids

Winter Park in the Summertime

25 Unique Lodging Spots That Take the Colorado Adventure Indoors

Denver Mountain Parks: Family Fun for Denver Families

Best of Summer – Visit Leadville and Twin Lakes 

Top 10 Summer Adventures for Colorado Families

2019 Summer Vacation in Colorado: 75+ ideas for families

Colorado Summer Vacation Guide

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Family travel: Colorado camping expert offers tips for taking the kids

The title of expert on camping with kids should probably go to Boulder mom Helen Olsson, who authored the aptly titled “Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids” (Roost Books) in 2012.

Olsson, an adventurous outdoor enthusiast, spent her childhood camping in upstate New York, and she now spends her summers hitting campsites around Colorado with her brood, ages 8, 10 and 13.

The subtitle of Olsson’s book is “How to plan memorable family adventures and connect kids to nature.” It’s also an apt description of this guide that is one part camping primer — filled with tips, packing lists, arts-and-crafts activities, outdoor games and recipes — and one part encouragement and motivation.

Here, to inspire your next camping trip is some insight from Olsson, who blogs about her family’s fun (and funny) adventures at MadDogMom.com.

At what age can you start camping with kids?

As soon as parents feel that their babies are sturdy and healthy enough. In fact, I think camping with infants is easier than camping with toddlers. Babies aren’t mobile, so you can be assured a level of containment. Toddlers are constantly on the move, and they love to put rocks in their mouths. You have to watch them every minute, especially around hazards like fast-moving water.

What mistakes do you think most parents make when they camp with their children?

You need to manage your expectations, especially when it comes to hiking — an activity that tends to go hand-in-hand with camping. You may not hike 10 miles a day, but that’s OK. The point is to immerse kids in nature, get them unplugged from all those vexing digital games, and connect instead with the family. It’s a cliché, I admit, but camping really is an ideal way for parents to bond with the kids. You just have to try to take the day at the kids’ pace, not yours.

What’s your go-to camping food item that everyone likes to eat (besides the ever-popular makings for s’mores)?

We love to make Hobo Packs when we camp. Essentially these are individual serving sizes of ground meat, onions, peppers, carrots, fresh corn cut off the cob, small red potatoes, a little oil, garlic, fresh herbs, and salt and pepper all folded into foil packets. Roast the packets over the coals of your campfire for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the heat of the fire.

Photo courtesy of Helen Olsson

Photo courtesy of Helen Olsson

What games or activities do you bring along in case of crummy weather?

Portable games like chess and checkers are great, but it’s easy to lose the pieces in the sleeping bags. We always bring playing cards, and everyone brings a book in case we need to cuddle in the tent and wait out a storm.

What’s your favorite place to camp in Colorado?

We love Molas Lake in southwestern Colorado ( molaslake.com). It is absolutely gorgeous; the campsites are private and right on the lake. You can fish, hike and bike. It’s a hump from the Front Range, but it’s worth it. There are so many amazing places to camp in the state, especially if you’re willing to drive a little bit.

What’s the most important piece of camping gear you absolutely should not forget to pack?

With kids, never leave home without a good pair of tweezers and a magnifying glass. Kids are always getting little splinters in their fingers and prickly pear cactus spines in their toes. And duct tape. Always bring duct tape.

Any other smart items you always pack?

Bring a battery-operated nightlight for kids who are afraid of the dark. It’s dark in the woods! Another fun way to add a little glow to the tent at night is to bring glow sticks. Kids can crack them and play with them just before bed, then you tuck them into the tent’s mesh pockets as kids drift off.

What’s your all-time favorite camping memory, when you were a kid or with your own children?

That’s easy! When I was a kid, my family and I camped at the Delaware Water Gap. We were sitting around the campfire roasting marshmallows and a family of skunks came wandering out of the woods, right in our direction. We were sitting in those metal fold-up chairs and — I am not kidding — they walked right under our feet, circumnavigated the fire and disappeared back into the woods. No one took a breath for 20 minutes. I’ll never forget it.

-Kara Williams