Camping in Colorado during the COVID-19 pandemic

June 30, 2020
Camping in Colorado during the COVID-19 pandemic can be a great way to enjoy nature while staying safe. A family camping on a ridge over lookign the mountains. Photo: Getty Images.
Camping in Colorado during the COVID-19 pandemic can be a great way to enjoy time in nature. Photo: Getty Images

Camping, hiking and backpacking can provide great relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, can you do it safely?

Yes, says Dr. Nancy Madinger, an infectious disease specialist at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and medical director of the University of Colorado Clinical Microbiology Laboratory.

In her spare time, Madinger always has loved spending time in the great outdoors. She went on her first backpacking trip at age 16 and recently celebrated her 64th birthday on a backpacking trip with her husband in a wilderness area near Steamboat Springs.

Camping in Colorado durnig COVID-19 can be a great escape. Photo of Dr. Nancy Madinger backpacking in the Snowy Range in Wyoming.
Dr. Nancy Madinger loves hiking and backpacking. Here she enjoys the views at a beautiful lake during a bakcpacking trip in Wyoming’s Snowy Range. Photo courtesy of Dr. Nancy Madinger.

In addition to thinking about safety concerns specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Madinger encourages people venturing into the outdoors to be mindful of precautions they should take all the time.

Bring plenty of food, water, warm clothing and first aid gear. Hike or backpack with a buddy. Tell people precisely where you are going and when you expect to return.

These basic safety measures are more important this year than ever before because hikers, climbers and backpackers don’t want to put others at risk.

“The No. 1 consideration if people are going into the outdoors is to be aware that if they run into trouble, first responders are going to have to come and rescue them,” said Madinger, who is also a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

“Everyone should be conservative in the risks they take. Please think twice about general outdoor safety because you wouldn’t want rescuers to have to be exposed to you,” Madinger said.

Camping in Colorado during COVID-19 can help you enjoy the outdoors. Here, two women high five during a bike ride in a state park.
Spending time bike riding and camping in Colorado during the COVID-19 pandemic is a great way to stay healthy. Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife/Dustin Doskocil.

Click here for tips on how to enjoy the outdoors safely this summer. Colorado tourism managers also are giving guidance to visitors here.

Planning is paramount in 2020.

“If you are going into the backcountry, what are the possibilities for finding a campsite? And some places are very crowded. For example, in Yellowstone, people are quite close together,” she said.

Even in the outdoors, Madinger says people should continue to keep their distance from others outside of their family or group. Avoid crowded parking lots, trail heads and campgrounds.

“Don’t stand right next to somebody. Wear a mask or bandanna. Remember that a mask or bandanna is a courtesy to others so you don’t spread the virus,” she said.

Camping in Colorado durnig COVID-19 can be a great escape. Headshot of Dr. Nancy Madinger.
Dr. Nancy Madinger.

And be aware that many popular places to hike, camp and backpack have special rules this year.

For instance, Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the busiest national parks in the U.S., is requiring reservations for anyone who visits the park this summer, whether you are going on a hike or planning to camp. Some U.S. Forest Service campgrounds are closed, while others require reservations.

And, some bathrooms, camp stores or other facilities may not be open this year.

“A number of backcountry ranger stations where you might normally get information could be closed,” Madinger said.

Plan to do considerable research before you head out into the wilderness. Your payback will be enjoying a great escape from the pandemic.

Camping in Colorado durnig COVID-19 can be a great escape. Here, a man kayaks at Vega State Park.
Colorado’s state parks offer great camping and other activities. Here, a man kayaks at Vega State Park. Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife/ Dustin Doskocil.

“In general, we don’t think that outdoor activities spread the virus,” Madinger said. “If you can maintain a little distance, being outdoors with the air movement should be quite safe. Any droplets (containing the virus that causes COVID-19) should get dispersed by the air movement.”

If you plan well and bring safety gear, getting out into nature this summer should bring great rewards. In addition to finding some solitude, hiking and backpacking are great for your health.

“Walking uphill is great exercise, especially with a pack,” Madinger said.

“Plan ahead. Figure out how to get out if you have a problem and do your best to stay away from people,” she said. “Otherwise it’s perfectly safe and healthy.”

Here is some specific information about camping in Colorado’s state parks, national forests and national parks.

Tips for camping in National Park Service areas

Colorado is home to 13 National Parks, National Monuments, National Historic Sites, Trails and National Recreation Areas.

Camping in Colorado durnig COVID-19 can be a great escape. Here, two women hike in Golden Gate Canyon State Park.
Getting out in nature can be a great relief as we all cope with the coronavirus pandemic. Camping and hiking is great in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife/ Dustin Doskocil.

Rocky Mountain National Park is the largest of the National Park Service sites in Colorado and one of the most popular parks in the country.If you’re

This year, to keep people safe, visitors will need reservations to enter the park, even for the day. Click here to make a reservation for a visit to hike or see the sights in Rocky Mountain. (If you are able to get a reservation for a day pass and you want information about hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, click here.)

It will be almost impossible to find a campsite in Rocky Mountain’s campgrounds this summer.

“Only Moraine Park and Glacier Basin Campgrounds partially opened on June 4, with approximately half of the campsites available for reservations.  Those sites are booked through the end of August,” said Rocky Mountain National Park spokeswoman, Kyle Patterson. “Aspenglen, Timber Creek and Longs Peak Campgrounds will remain closed for the foreseeable future.”

If you’re looking for reservations after August (or a rare cancellation for an earlier spot), click here to view availability.

Backpackers also need to plan ahead. For information on wilderness camping, click here. And, to see if there’s any last-minute availability for wilderness sites, click here to view availability by date.

“Wilderness camping permits may be available depending on dates and location,” Patterson said.

How to find camping spots in National Forest Service areas

Colorado is home to multiple national forests and national grasslands.

Some campgrounds are open and can be reserved in advance through Others are available on a first-come, first-serve base. And other campgrounds remain closed due to the pandemic. To see information about all the sites in Colorado, click here or click below to view information about the area in which you’d like to camp.

Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland

Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, & Gunnison National Forests

Manti-La Sal National Forest

Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland

Pike & San Isabel National Forests and Cimarron & Comanche National Grasslands

Rio Grande National Forest

San Juan National Forest

White River National Forest

Tips for camping in the Colorado State Parks

Camping closer to home may be a great idea this summer. And a wonderful place to do this is the Colorado State Parks.

“All of our parks that have campgrounds and campsites are now open and available,” said Rebecca Ferrell, public information and website manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Like campgrounds in national parks, campsites for the state parks can be reserved six months ahead, so it’s not easy to find last-minute spots for the most popular parks on busy holiday weekends. Ferrell suggests that you consider camping during the week. You can search by the park where you want to camp or by the dates when you are free. Click here to make a reservation. The website also has a handy tool that allows you to look for last-minute spots. Check out the Camping This Weekend feature.

Camping in Colorado durnig COVID-19 can be a great escape. Some state parks like Chatfield have great boating.
Camping and boating are popular at Colorado’s State Parks, including Chatfield. Photo courtesy of Colorado State Parks and Wildlife/ Ken Papaleo.

For an extensive overview of all the state parks, check out this online map.. It lists all 41 state parks and the amenities they offer. There’s also a great chart that shows you all that you can do in each location.

The mantra for the state parks is to “live your life outside.” To make it easy to find activities that float your boat, click here to find multiple options.

For more ideas, click here for great kayaking destinations, here for dog-friendly destinations and here for places to paddleboard in state parks. There are amazing opportunities to fish throughout the state parks. Anglers can download the fishing app. There, they can learn which fishing spots are accessible, kid-friendly, recently stocked and more, Ferrell said.

She said there are some unexpected options like the golf course at Lathrop State Park in Walsenberg.

“It also has two bodies of water,” Ferrell said.

Camping in Colorado durnig COVID-19 can be a great escape. Here, a mother and her son fish at Harvey Gap State Park.
Finding fun in the outdoors close to home is a great way to cope with the pandemic. Here a mother and her son enjoy fishing at Harvey Gap State Park. Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife/ Dustin Doskocil.

Several parks offer boating. These include Chatfield and Cherry Creek, which are both close to Denver. Other popular boating spots include Boyd Lake, St. Vrain and Barr Lake, which has a pier that’s accessible for people with disabilities.

Two other parks with wonderful water are Steam Lake State Park and Pearl Lake State Park, which is also close to Steamboat.

If you have a hankering to camp, but you can’t find a spot at Rocky Mountain National Park, try State Forest State Park.

“It’s our largest park and it borders Rocky Mountain. It offers the same views and mountain features as Rocky and there’s a reservoir there,” Ferrell said.

The park offers excellent hiking too. One of Ferrell’s favorite hikes there is Lake Agnes.

“It’s one of the most picturesque lakes I’ve been to,” she said.

So, while pandemic is causing a lot of challenges this year, enjoy a break outdoors, keep your distance from people outside your household and enjoy a great camping trip this summer.

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Coloradan. She attended Colorado College thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summers in college.

Katie is a dedicated storyteller who loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as an award-winning journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and at an online health policy news site before joining UCHealth in 2017.

Katie and her husband, Cyrus — a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer — have three adult children and love spending time in the Colorado mountains and traveling around the world.