7 State Parks, National Monuments, and Forests in Colorado to See by RV

May 4, 2022 | Travel & Destinations

7 State Parks, National Monuments, and Forests in Colorado to See by RV

Skip Colorado’s popular national parks and instead enjoy these other public lands.

By Robert Annis

Photo: Robert Annis

No matter what your outdoor interest—biking, hiking, fishing, or paddling—you’ll find a trail or stream in Colorado that’s probably the best you’ve ever experienced.

Plan your route on the eastern side of the state around the 55-mile Peak-to-Peak Highway, which offers stunning views of the Continental Divide. Spring and summer bring endless options for outdoor adventures and fall brings gorgeous foliage. Many of the campgrounds mentioned below are seasonal, shutting down for the winter, so be sure to check the website before planning to spend the night.

Related Visiting Colorado’s National Parks By RV

A hiking trail surrounded by trees, and a sign that reads "Mountain Lion trail"
Photo: Robert Annis

Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Located within 40 minutes of Golden, Colorado, Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a popular destination for hikers year-round, but especially so during leaf season. Parking can be difficult during peak visitation, so be flexible about what trails you want to experience. 

Highlights

The 4.5-mile hike up to Mount Windy can get steep in places, but the sweeping vistas of Mount Evans and other distant peaks make it all worthwhile. Despite its name, the top of it was calm and peaceful, the perfect spot to take a rest and contemplate nature.

There are about 19 miles of trails open to bikes in the state park, most rated at an expert or intermediate level. Rock climbing is one of the most popular activities for park visitors, with routes like Ralston Roost, Raven Knob, and Odin’s Good Eye. You can find more info on climbing options on the Mountain Project.

How to Get There By RV

The park lies just north of Interstate 70 and sits just off of Highway 119. Roads getting into the park are easily accessible for large RVs, but there are some areas of the park that should probably be avoided in larger rigs.

Where to Stay

Reverend’s Ridge Campground, located inside the state park has nearly 100 sites, more than half of which are RV friendly with electric hookups. 

Cold Springs Campground in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest is located within a short drive and features its own hiking and outdoor activities to choose from. Sites are primitive, with picnic tables and fire rings, but no electric hookups. The campground is open seasonally from May to September.

Other Options


A view of a pointed, towering peak with greenery and a road with cars below it
Photo: Robert Annis

Pike-San Isabel National Forest

You could spend weeks roadtripping through just Pike-San Isabel National Forest and the surrounding areas, but here are some highlights.   

Highlights

Experienced hikers who want to tackle a “14er”—a 14,000-foot mountain—should consider Mount Bierstadt. The 4-mile trail actually descends for the first mile, then steeply rises for the next 3. If you’re hiking later in the season, expect to encounter snow and ice. The last 300 yards or so involves climbing a boulder stack nearly straight up, but the reward is an incredible 360-view of the surrounding mountains. Expect to spend 4 to 6 hours on the mountain.  

If you didn’t get your fill of adventure summiting Bierstadt, you can continue across the Sawtooth Trailhead to Mount Evans, adding 3 to 4 miles. This hike is best suited for serious hikers with climbing skills. 

You can reach the top of 14,115-foot Pikes Peak multiple ways—driving or biking the road, hiking up the 13-mile Barr Trail, or via train—it’s one of the only cog railways in the U.S. Once you reach the top, you can walk around the summit, taking in the breathtaking 360-degree view of the surrounding area, and on a clear day, you can supposedly see Denver.

Located inside the Colorado Springs city limits, Garden of the Gods features amazing rock formations, with a city park vibe. Dedicate about 2 to 3 hours to walk around the park, but be sure to drop a digital pin where you park.

How to Get There By RV

Interstate 25 runs along the eastern edge of the national forest heading into Colorado Springs, and a host of state highways and county roads run throughout. This can be mountainous country, so be sure your RV or towing rig can handle steep grades and that you plan ample time to get to your destination. The 10-mile drive to the top of the Mount Evans Wilderness Area took me longer than 30 minutes in my campervan. Some roads may be closed, depending on the time of year.  

Where to Stay

The sites at Cheyenne Mountain State Park are well-spaced, and several have full hookups. The bathhouse, laundry area, and hiking trails are within walking distance to some sites. You can hear the Army’s morning routine at nearby Fort Carson. 

There’s plenty of dispersed camping in the national forest, including Tarryall CR-31 Area. Sites are large enough for larger rigs and fairly quiet. There’s also a wealth of trails nearby.

Other Options


A sign that reads "Browns Canyon National Monument" with a scenic forest backdrop
Photo: Robert Annis

Browns Canyon National Monument and Penitente Canyon Recreation Area

These two locations are 90 minutes apart and their scenery is fairly similar, so travelers can pick one or the other or visit on the same day. The rock formations in Penitente are remnants of volcanic eruptions from 20 million years ago, while Browns Canyon is mostly granite. Either is a great spot to spend a weekend, especially if you enjoy rock climbing. 

For all of the attention about overrun public lands, both areas were nearly deserted in early October. The trails are easier than many other national or state parks, and kid-friendly.

Highlights

Penitente has about 20 miles of trails, some designated for ATV use, others for equestrians, hikers, and bikers. The only time I saw another person on the trail was when I was re-entering the campground.

In Browns Canyon, the 7-mile (out-and-back) Turret Trail offers great views, bouldering opportunities, and access to the Arkansas River. Make sure you have a map and compass with you or download maps to your phone. The trails, while nice, aren’t exceptionally well marked. 

Browns Canyon is adjacent to the Ruby Mountain section of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, which is a great place to camp and fish. Only a few anglers braved the late autumn chill while I was there, but it’s hugely popular in the summer. Expect to see paddlers in the warmer months as well.

How to Get There By RV

Getting into both national monuments requires a short drive down dirt roads. The road to Browns Canyon is pitted with massive potholes that were easy to maneuver around when driving at a reasonable speed. Penitente consists of more washboard gravel and jarring when driving at speeds above 15 miles per hour.

Where to Stay

The Ruby Mountain Campground is relatively tiny, with only about 20 spots, each with standard amenities, but no hookups. The Arkansas River runs through the campground, with several spots abutting it. Spot 1303 has gorgeous views of the Collegiate Mountains to the front with Browns Canyon to the back. 

If you want solitude, the campsites in Penitente Canyon are spaced far apart and offer privacy. There are no hookups, but the pit toilets are clean.

Other Options


A fossilized tree stump surrounded by trees
Photo: Robert Annis

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Florissant Fossil Beds is a quaint park that makes for a perfect place to stop for a day or two. The hiking isn’t the leg-sapping, high-mountain climbs that you find at many Colorado parks; while there are hills, they’re doable for less-experienced hikers. 

Highlights

The Petrified Forest loop takes you along an easy 1-mile path passing multiple rocky redwood remnants, including the “Big Stump” as well as some historical signage. 

Groves of ponderosa pine and aspen line the 2.6-mile Sawmill Trail before giving way to wide-open meadows. If you’re lucky, you may see an elk or two grazing.

The Twin Rock trail is about 2.5 miles one way, allowing you to turn back when needed. You can hike up and over some interesting rock formations, then into an aspen forest. 

How to Get There By RV

U.S. Route 24 runs just north of Florissant Fossil Beds, while Colorado State Highway 9 and 67 run along the west and east sides, respectively.

Where to Stay

There’s no camping in the park, but there are plenty of options nearby. Blue Mountain Campground is a quiet option for most RVers, with 21 spots that can fit a truck and a 25-foot trailer. 

Top-rated Mueller State Park has spacious sites, mountain views, and clean facilities.

Other Options


A view from below of towering red rocks, one with a cave inside it
Photo: Robert Annis

Canyon of the Ancients National Monument

If you have kids or love history, Canyon of the Ancients is a must-visit.

Highlights

The Sand Canyon trailhead on the southern edge of the national monument has the best hiking in the park—it also allows mountain biking. I took Sand Canyon north about 3 miles to the Corn Cob and Double Cliff House ruins. Abide by the “Do Not Enter” signs, but you can take photos from a distance. A little further up, you’ll find a viewpoint of the snow-capped mountains overlooking the canyon. 

The informative visitor center offers history, culture, and more. Stick around for a short video that explains why these lands hold a special significance to the modern-day descendants of the ancient Puebloans. 

From the visitor center, drive 22 miles to the Lowry Pueblo. (Be warned that the last 3 or so miles are on a bumpy dirt road.) You’re allowed to enter this pueblo. If you have time, make a side trip to the nearby Hovenweep National Monument, located just across the Utah border.  

How to Get There By RV

U.S. Route 491 runs along the eastern edge of the national monument, with county roads servicing the interior. Some of these roads turn to dirt and gravel and can be a bit challenging.

Where to Stay

Cliff Camp offers both free dispersed camping and views. The road is a bit rough, but most vehicles should be able to manage it.

Located in the nearby town of Cortez, Colorado, Sundance RV Park is clean and offers WiFi, full hookups, on-site laundry, and a bathhouse. The campground is located within biking distance of restaurants and grocery stores.

Other Options


cars and RVs parked at a campsite under a cloudy pink sky
Photo: Robert Annis

Colorado National Monument

The Colorado National Monument is the primary western gateway into the state and has postcard-worthy views in nearly every direction. There are a wealth of biking, hiking, and paddling options around every corner, and even a few disc golf courses.

Highlights

The singletrack located outside of the town of Fruita, Colorado is easily among the best in the U.S. From the world-famous Kokopelli Trail system, you can even ride all the way down to Moab, Utah.

If you prefer milder bike rides, the Colorado Riverfront Trail runs more than 20 miles through the Colorado towns of Fruita, Grand Junction, and Palisade. The trail gives way to some on-road sections, so make sure to download a map. In Palisade, the on-road section of the trail coincides with the Fruit and Wine Byway.

The 1.8-mile Devils Kitchen Trail is a quick and moderately easy hike that offers gorgeous scenery. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, the 11.6-mile Monument Canyon Trail will take your breath away literally (nearly 1,200-feet of elevation gain) and figuratively. 

How to Get There By RV

Interstate 70 runs straight through the area. Be sure to stop by the Colorado Welcome Center to take advantage of the free dump station—check for seasonal hours and be prepared for a bit of a wait during peak times.

Where to Stay

Formerly a dispersed camping area, the Colorado Bureau of Land Management recently made upgrades to 18 Road and now charges $20 per night—less with an America the Beautiful Pass. (Don’t worry, there are still nearby places where you can camp for free.)

Each individual site has a fire pit and picnic table. The campground sits on a wide swath of desert, with views of the mountains. There’s also an ATV staging area located nearby. 

The Grand Junction KOA offers typical amenities of the campground franchise: cleanliness, friendly staff, and lots of amenities. 

The Sky Outpost, a luxury RV resort with a coffee shop and Mexican cantina located near downtown Grand Junction, should be completed later this year.

Other Options

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Robert Annis

After spending nearly a decade as a reporter for The Indianapolis Star, Robert Annis became an award-winning outdoor-travel journalist. Over the years, Robert's byline has appeared in numerous publications and websites, including Outside, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, Men's Journal, Lonely Planet, and more. If you’re looking for Robert, chances are you'll find him either pedaling the backroads and trails of the Midwest on his bicycle or hunched over his laptop in an airport bar, frantically trying to make his next deadline.

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