Caring for your Campsite

A little preparation before heading out for a camping adventure can greatly improve your outdoor experience.
Colorado Landscape
Colorado is truly a camper’s paradise.

On a recent family outing to the mountains, we realized that Colorado is feeling a little more crowded than usual. In a normal year, Colorado is a popular vacation spot for outdoor enthusiasts. This year, during the pandemic, open spaces are filled with record numbers of people looking for an escape from the indoors and a dose of reinvigoration that comes from a day in nature.

People across the state and much of the country are heading into the outdoors in search of summer fun, and that includes camping. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) manages more than 4,000 campsites throughout the state. With everything from backcountry sites for those who desire seclusion to full-hookup sites with individual pressurized water, sewer and electrical connections, CPW provides camping opportunities for a record number of people. Combine CPW’s camping opportunities with camping on forest service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) properties and the state of Colorado is truly a camper’s paradise.

Theo enjoying a hike.
Even the smallest feet leave footprints.

We’ve been camping as a family since my son was a baby. And we tend to set up our campsites and enjoy our time out in the wild, not always giving thought to how we are impacting the environment. And while much of the information below may seem like preaching to the choir, our last trip made me realize that as a family, we can and need to do better to protect these valuable outdoor spaces for future use. If you are planning a camping adventure, you can minimize much of your impact by following these simple guidelines.

Before You Go

A little preparation before heading out for a camping adventure can greatly improve your outdoor experience. Two easy tasks that you may overlook but are very helpful include:

  1. Check to see if there are fire restrictions in the area you plan to camp. Campfire restrictions can occur at any time of year. There are also areas that prohibit campfires year-round.

2. Leave excess trash at home. After shopping for supplies, attempt to minimize the amount of packaging materials brought to camp. Less material means less garbage to pack out.

At Your Campsite

established camp site
Across Colorado’s public lands, hundreds of campsites have been established over the years. These sites are apparent along the many forest service and BLM roads. To minimize your impact on the landscape, use established areas whenever possible.
  • Campsites must be at least 100 feet from streams, lakes or riparian areas (narrow strips of land adjacent to streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, and wetlands).
mountain stream
Protect precious water sources.
  • Occupy as small of an area as possible. Avoid trampling grass and shrubs.
  • Do not dig a trench around your tent site.
  • Bring firewood or collect deadfall for campfires. It is illegal to cut down trees, even if they appear to be dead.
  • Unless otherwise posted, you can only drive a vehicle 100 feet off an established road to set up camp. However, you cannot drive off an established road into an area if your vehicle would cause resource damage. So don’t drive into wet areas, or in areas recently soaked by rain or snow.  
no access trail sign
Look out for and pay attention to signs along your route.
Portable Toilet
  • At camp, collect human feces in a bag or a bucket; then carry it out. Sanitary bags and chemicals are available at camp stores and on-line. Human waste at thousands of campsites is an environmental and sanitary concern. For more information, read the Etiquette of Poop.

Cooking and Campfires

Video: Care for Colorado – Campfire Etiquette. Learn how to have safe and responsible campfires in Colorado.
  • If campfires are permitted, keep fires small.
  • Put fires out completely every night.
  • Always Be Bear Aware! Bears share space with Colorado’s rapidly growing human population and they can be found all over the state. Curious, intelligent, and very resourceful animals, black bears will explore all possible food sources. And if they find food near campsites or vehicles, they’ll come back for more. Visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website for tips that will help you stay bear aware.
  • When you leave camp for the day, store all food and garbage securely inside vehicles, trailers or bear-proof containers. Leaving food and garbage out will attract animals–including bears. Animals will chew through bags and force open containers.
  • Collect all cooking grease in a can and carry it out. Do not dump it on the ground.
  • Collect “microtrash” by straining cook water and wash water. Then dump the debris in your garbage container. Small particles of food on the ground will attract unwanted insects and wildlife to the campsite.
picking up trash
Pack out all trash – even if it was left by a previous camper.
  • Do not bury trash; do not burn items that contain aluminum foil or any type of metal.
  • Pack out all trash. Inspect your camp carefully and whenever possible, leave your camp cleaner than how you found it.

Always Practice Leave No Trace

Whether heading out to camp or hike, the Center for Outdoor Ethics’ Seven Principles of Leave No Trace provides an easily understood framework of minimum impact practices for anyone visiting the outdoors.

Video: Care for Colorado – Are You Colo-Ready? These seven principles will help you get Colo-Ready. Respect the place, leave no trace — it sure would help a lot!
  1. Plan Ahead & Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Camping can produce significant impacts on our public lands. As campers, we all play an important role in minimizing our impact on the land, water and wildlife. I’m never too excited to clean up after someone has abused a camping area, but I’m realizing that we can no longer walk past someone else’s mess thinking it will not eventually be our problem.

Take care and enjoy our valuable outdoors!

For more information about hunting and camping at state parks in Colorado, Please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

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