Five Star Camping in Southwest Colorado
In the mountains of Colorado, the Rockies, camping is primarily a summertime activity. When the snow melts and the rivers run high, that's when tent campers start longing for the crisp mornings, crystal clear days, and cool nights by the campfire that are part of a Rocky Mountain camp-out. Not to mention wilderness hiking, trout fishing, mountain biking, and whitewater boating.
Tent camping in the southwestern part of the state is one way to get a classic Rocky Mountain high. Home to one of the highest concentrations of national forests in the United States, the wilderness here goes on and on and on.
North Crestone offers creekside camping in a diverse riparian forest perched against the Sangre De Cristo Mountains.
Site privacy: 5
Site spaciousness: 3
North Crestone is one of the best campgrounds in southwestern Colorado. Most other campgrounds are in a woodland with two or three tree types. Here, along North Crestone Creek, an abundance of tree types grows, especially by Rocky Mountain standards. The campground's location in a forest transition zone along a well-watered valley produces this biodiversity. Cottonwoods, pinyon pine, juniper, Douglas fir, maple, alder, and aspen conspire to form a dense forest, where campsites are nestled into nooks and crannies between streamside boulders.
Being in the foothills of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains contributes to making this a desirable place to tent camp. Craggy, barren, snow-covered peaks, alpine lakes, and far-reaching views of the San Luis Valley and mountains beyond make the hiking some of the most scenic in the state. The upper reaches of these highlands are protected wilderness.
The campground begins just after you enter the Rio Grande National Forest. On your left is a rocky, tree-studded canyon wall. To your right is the crashing Crestone Creek, shaded by all those wonderful trees. A heavy understory of younger trees and alder screens you from everyone else.
The first set of campsites are set into the woods. The camper parking spots are along the two-way road. At each site, the picnic tables and fire grates are located a short walk from the parking spots closer to the creek. A vault toilet and pump well serves these four campsites.The next set of campsites are farther up the road by a good 100 yards. These campsites are notched into flat areas among the boulders and trees wherever they can fit. There are a couple of sites that offer some sun, but expect to be in the shade most of the time in this valley environment.
The final set of two campsites is located just before the end of the road and trailhead parking. One campsite is across the road from the creekit's the only one that isn't directly next to North Crestone Creek. There is a new vault toilet and pump well up here. A vehicle turnaround and the mountains lie beyond the last campsites.
This is a popular weekend campground because it's so beautiful and has so few sites. The upside of having only 13 sites is that even when it's busy, it doesn't seem crowded. But if you want to camp here on a weekend, try to get here on Friday night or early Saturday morning. You won't regret losing a little sleep to camp at North Crestone.
The Sangre De Cristo Wilderness is just a walk away from your tent. The North Crestone Creek Trail leaves the upper end of the campground, heads up, and connects to other trails in the wilderness, enabling trips to the high country. Venable Pass is 5 miles distant, as is North Crestone Lake. The trails here are well marked and maintained. You can fish the creek, which tumbles as waterfalls much of the distance, or North Crestone Lake, where the fishing is said to be good. Wildlife-viewing possibilities include seeing bighorn sheep and bears. Speaking of bears, they are known to slip into the campground during lean years, so store your food properly.
Campers sometimes walk the mile to the hamlet of Crestone. Here they have a small general store, a tavern, and an eatery. The living is nice and slow here. No tourist traps, just nice people. While you are down there, check out a few more hiking opportunities.
If you take the road past the post office in tiny Crestone and follow it 2 miles up, you will come to the South Crestone and Willow Lake Trails. South Crestone climbs a few miles to South Crestone Lake. The Willow Lake Trail is 3 miles to Willow Lake and Willow Falls. This whole country is very photographer-friendly. I believe the Sangre De Cristos are the most scenic mountains in Colorado. Come here and rate them for yourself.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication