Ways to score a campsite on a packed Memorial Day weekend

Posted at 4:57 PM, May 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-24 18:58:31-04

DENVER – Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer, which means campgrounds across Colorado will be filled to the brim.

For those last-minute planners, finding a full-service campsite or a reserved spot will be virtually impossible. State and national park campgrounds that will be open are booked for the upcoming holiday weekend.

Additionally, the following Forest Service campgrounds will remain closed during the weekend because of late-season snow:

  • Dowdy Lake (Back Loop)
  • Meeker Park
  • Olive Ridge
  • Mountain Park
  • West Lake
  • Aspen Glen
  • Camp Dick
  • Peaceful Valley
  • Big Bend Big South
  • Jacks Gulch
  • Sleeping Elephant
  • Tom Bennett
  • Pickle Gulch

But if you are set on camping this weekend, there are other ways of scoring a campsite.

Walk-up/first-come, first-served
There are still some campsites at developed campgrounds on Forest Service land that are not available to be reserved. These first-come, first-served sites will be difficult to claim, but if you’re lucky, you may be able to score one in time for the busy weekend. Traditional camping in a developed US Forest Service campground typically offers a tent pad, covered grill and a parking spot. You may also try your luck at state parks, which offer limited first-come, first-served sites.

Backcountry camping
If you’re prepared to spend the weekend in the full outdoors without any services, then backcountry camping is for you. The National Park Service offers this alternative to traditional campgrounds. However, they suggest you understand the following guidelines before heading out with your overstuffed daypack:

  • Plan, plan, plan - It's critical to spend time developing a comprehensive plan if you want to enjoy an exciting and safe experience.
  • Test your gear before you go - You should test your equipment prior to your trip for a smooth backcountry adventure.
  • Stick to your travel itinerary - Don't change plans midway through your trip.
  • Take a companion - Accidents happen, even to experienced backcountry travelers, so the best practice is to travel with others.
  • Practice good stewardship - A common rule of thumb is to leave the area cleaner than you found it.
  • Expect any weather - Weather conditions can change quickly, especially in the mountains.

Disperse camping
Dispersed camping is a great way to enjoy the experience of camping away from the noise and bustle of campground camping. However, dispersed camping means there are none of the amenities you will find while campground camping. There are no picnic tables, drinking water, or toilets available. 

The US Forest Service has these guidelines for camping in a disperse camping area.

Private land camping
If all other options fail, you can choose to camp on private land. connects campers to property owners. The Airnbnb-like service, which launched recently and operates in Colorado, lets you book ranches, farms, vineyards, nature preserves and public sites. The site has several listings for the weekend.

However you decide to enjoy Colorado’s parks and forest land, officials remind you to:

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Colorado state Parks
National Parks
US Forest Service
How to camp