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What is Car Camping?

Trying to figure out what car camping is and why so many people are doing it? Here we define car camping for you in a simple way.

Car Camping Packing List for Your Microadventure

To aid in getting you set for your next car camping trip, here’s a list of essential and luxury things to pack.

Payson, AZ Free Dispersed Camping Areas

In order to help you narrow down where to camp, here’s a list of our favorite free, dispersed camping spots and areas around Payson, Arizona.

Flagstaff Free Dispersed Camping Map

To help make a decision on where to camp around Flagstaff, AZ, here’s a map of our favorite free, dispersed camping areas and spots.

Our 10 Favorite Hiking Trails in Flagstaff

Looking to go hiking in Flagstaff? Here’s a brief list of our favorite hikes and hiking trails in Flagstaff, Arizona.

A Guide to Camping in Sedona

The famous Red Rock Country city that is Sedona, Arizona. For those who haven’t visited, Sedona is a mecca for Microadventures. With miles of hiking and biking trails, climbing, and towering red sandstone views, you could spend a lifetime exploring Sedona and not see...

Durango Free Dispersed Camping Spots

The rugged city of Durango, Colorado can be found within the southwestern part of the state. While you may think that you must travel to this destination during the summer months, you must understand that any time of the year is perfect for a visit. While you are in Durango, hiking from one spectacular area to the next, you will appreciate the sights you see within the San Juan National Forest, the La Plata Mountains, and the areas filled with aspens and towering pine trees. One of the best ways to experience nature in Durango is to camp at one of the many free dispersed campsites.

If you’re ready to save some money on your next Microadventure, here are my personal favorite free dispersed camping sites and spots in and around Durango, Colorado:



Barnes Mountain – Past Las Animas Lookout

Durango-Free-Dispersed-Camping

You must drive past the Las Animas Lookout to camp out on Barnes Mountain. The ride out is not that easy since it is a dirt road filled with holes, ruts, and things you are probably not even going to want to know about. However, once you arrive, and find your campsite, you can easily access many hiking trails in the area. The Animas Mountain Trail is five and a half miles long and it will connect you to Dalla Mountain Park if you choose to continue further.  ou will begin this hike in the parking lot and once you get to the main trail, keep taking right-hand turns until you see the amazing view of the Animas River Valley.

When you are ready to return, you must be prepared for views of the La Plata Mountains from camp.

Durfield BLM Boondocking

Durfield BLM Boondocking is very close to downtown Durango, which is perfect if you need to stock up on more supplies and beer. This free camping area is very quiet, especially if you do not have anyone camping nearby. There are many wonderful hiking trails over in Horse Gulch and the Telegraph Trail is perfect if you want a long-distance hike that goes out and back again. If you are looking for shorter options, there are multiple lower loops that are each approximately three miles in length.




Missionary Ridge Road

When you begin your drive down Missionary Ridge Road, do not even start to look for a dispersed camping spot until you reach mile marker 3.6. You can then camp anywhere on the rest of the road with the exception of the areas between mile markers 6.8 through 9. The Missionary Ridge Trail is nine miles long and it can be quite difficult unless you are an experienced hiker. You may want to veer off course towards the Haflin Creek Trail, which is almost six and a half miles long. You will climb almost three thousand feet in elevation on this trail, starting at the creek itself. I recommend you spend a little time unwinding at the top because it is a good place to see the valley river from the ridge.

Madden Peak Road

Camping on Madden Peak Road is easy once you know where the private property ends, and the forest access begins. As soon as you start on Madden Road, keep an eye out for FSR 316, which is about a mile from the highway. There are a couple of good camping sites on that road within a couple of miles or you can turn onto FSR 568 and stay at one of the five campsites within a few hundred yards. A perfect hike in this area is the Madden Peak Trail, which is four and a half miles long. You can combine a climb to this summit with climbs to the top of Parrot Peak and Gibbs Peak, but make sure you start out early enough in the day and do not linger for too long along the way.

Cherry Creek Road

Cherry Creek Road is within the San Juan National Forest, but since it is right off the road, there is always a hum of cars in the background. The Cherry Creek Natural Area Trail is approximately five and a half miles long and it is an excellent hike for all skill levels. If you want a hike that is a little longer, you can combine this one with the Hidden Mesa Trail, which is another six and a half miles in length. This trail does have one steep incline, which means you will be struggling to get up it at some point during your hike.




FSR 528: Sauls Creek Area in Bayfield

This is another free dispersed camping area within the San Juan National Forest and there are usually eight campsites that are ready for campers. There are also a few others, but they are not as cleared out as the first eight. This camping area has posted signs to ensure you are aware of where you should and shouldn’t camp, while also sharing the rules that you must follow when you are there. The Sauls Creek Trail is an excellent place to begin in this part of San Juan National Forest. The trail is about five miles long but use caution because there are usually cyclists and horses out on the trail as well.

La Plata Canyon

La-Plata-Canyon-Free-Dispersed-Camping-Durango

Looking towards La Plata Canyon from County Road 124 near Mayday.

My favorite place to camp for free around Durango is without a doubt, La Plata Canyon. Nestled between the two mountain ranges that make up the La Plata Mountains, camping in La Plata Canyon is an unbelievably beautiful place to rest your head at night.

Located just west of Durango off of highway 160 and County Road 124, La Plata Canyon is an easy 45-minute drive (door-to-door) from downtown. The road is paved until you get into the canyon itself- just past the “town” of Mayday. From there, expect a compact and well-maintained forest service road- smooth enough for most sedans to drive on.

That being said, during Durango’s monsoon season, the road tends to get a little bumpy! Be prepared for some mud and bumps!

Upon reaching La Plata Canyon pas Mayday, you’ll drive past Snowslide Campground, a designated campground. From there, look out for pullouts on the left and right side of the road all while staying away from the other designated campgrounds.

While signage is hard to see along the road, the three free, dispersed camping areas in La Plata Canyon to look out for are:

  • La Plata City
  • Madden Creek
  • Miners Cabin

Expect views of the surrounding La Plata Mountains to the left and right as you sit amongst aspen trees and the La Plata River.

La Plata Canyon is truly the best place to camp for free in and around Durango.



Conclusion

While there aren’t a ton of free dispersed camping spots in and around Durango, Colorado, there are just enough to rest your head at night while not dipping into your wallet. With great hiking available from most of the camping areas on our list, utilizing some of the camping spots on our list is going to be a great way to spend your time and Microadventure in and around Durango. So get out there and camp!

 

What is your favorite place to camp in and around Durango?

 

Resources for Durango

Nick The Rambling Man
Nick The Rambling Man

Nick is the owner and regular content writer for Southwest Microadventures. When he’s not writing, you can find him rock climbing, peak bagging, mountain biking, backpacking, or drinking strong coffee.

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4 Comments

  1. PC

    Great article, thanks for the information! me and a few buddies (all early 30s) are planning a two night car camping trip near Durango in about two weeks. We have narrowed it down to the Hermosa Creek dispersed area and the missionary Ridge Road dispersed area. Given that you mention both in your article, which do you think would fit our style best? We are looking for the more private/remote area, with great views and good hiking trails nearby if possible. We don’t want to see (or hear) our neighbors or feel like our tents are in a heavily trafficked area. We will all be tent camping and in all wheel drive SUVs. Any further suggestions or recommendations based on this info would be awesome! thanks

    Reply
    • Mali Rezai

      HI, did you happen to camp out at either of these camping spots? I am also looking at those two spots (hermosa creek and missionary road). Any insight on location would be appreciated! Thank you!

      Reply
      • Nick The Rambling Man

        Hello! I’ve personally camped on all of the places on this list. In my opinion, I like camping off Missionary Road better than Hermosa Creek. Missionary Road has much better views of the Animas River Valley, Eolus/Needles mountains to the north, and the La Plata mountains to the southwest. That being said, camping off of Hermosa Creek has the benefits of water (obviously) and is deeper in a forest- great for hammocking! However, if you don’t have a 4WD car/truck, I would recommend camping off of Hermosa Creek- Missionary Road is pretty bad in certain sections. Especially recently since Durango has had a pretty wet monsoon season. Let us know if you have any other questions or want more information about camping around Durango!

        Reply
        • Mali Rezai

          Thank you, Nick! I really appreciate the response! I’m thinking we will try the Hermosa Creek spot since I am a little nervous about the roads. Would it be possible to get a little more direction on how to get to the dispersed camping area or like where exactly to start looking for spots? When I map it I am directed toward the Upper Hermosa Campground, so just need to know where to start looking for the free spots! We would love to be by the water and not around many people if possible. Also, arriving around noon on a Saturday – do you think we will be able to find a spot?

          Thanks so much! This article is very helpful!

          Reply

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