Few cities embrace the great outdoors like Colorado’s high-flung capital in the foothills of the Rocky mountains. There’s acres of mountain parkland in the city itself, but throughout the state there’s no shortage of hiking, fishing and camping options. Here’s Culture Trip’s pick of the best places to pitch your tent not far from town.
There’s nothing like unzipping your tent and being immediately among the mountains, and no mountain backdrop quite like the Rockies. Grand Lake County, a two-hour drive from Denver, is so named for its huge lake – the largest in Colorado – that reflects the surrounding Rockies on its glassy surface. There’s a small town here, Grand Lake, but camping is the most popular way to overnight. Good tent turf can be found at Elk Creek, a little closer to town, otherwise opt for Summerland Park just a short hike into the forest. Recommended by local insider Rose Corbett
With boating, swimming, year-round fishing, waterbird watching (look out for the blue herons) and even a floating restaurant, it seems that the only thing you can’t do on the water at Chatfield Reservoir is camp – and even then, there are 197 pitch sites just yards from the water’s edge. The pitches all have electric hookup; however, they don’t take walk-ins, so you’ll need to book ahead to secure a spot before getting wet and wild at this water sport haven. Recommended by local insider Rose Corbett
At an altitude of 10,000ft (3,050m), this is one of Denver’s highest camping grounds, deep in the thickets of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, so you’ll need a 4WD to traverse some of the dirt tracks. The campsite sits on the edge of a watery world of small beaver ponds and Rainbow Lake, although the quirky nearby town of Nederland is worth exploring, too. Expect cool nights with clear skies, and listen out for the call of roaming coyotes in the distance. Recommended by local insider Rose Corbett
This scenic site, deep in the San Juan Mountains, is arguably one of the most spectacular spots in the Rockies. A whopping 137 acres (55ha), it gets busy in the summer season, but is spaced out enough to still feel like you’re out in the wilderness. This is hiking territory, including a half-mile trail to a small waterfall, and although you can’t swim in the lake, you can fish – there’s even a cleaning station to help you prep your catch for dinner. Recommended by local insider Lily Shipman
Just 45 minutes from Denver, this family-friendly campground is ideal for an overnight getaway, catering for camping purists and wilderness hunters alike. Spend the weekend with a few mates exploring the region on horseback using the magnificent Harmsen Ranch as a base. Or, you can embrace a more primitive stay (with a license, of course) at one of the three-sided backcountry shelters – but you’ll have to pre-cook your grub; campfires are strictly forbidden. Recommended by local insider Lily Shipman
It’s difficult to believe that this 2,600-acre (1,050ha) lake park is only 30 minutes from Denver. It nails the Colorado mountain aesthetic: azure waters are edged with deep green pines and soothed by the shadows of snow-glazed mountains. With only 14 pitches on offer, it’s quiet, too. The lake takes its name from a troublesome black bear who caused havoc here in the late 1900s, but today’s bears are more aloof – although they do occasionally pop down to the shorefront to join you for a spot of fishing. Recommended by local insider Lily Shipman
A quick Instagram search of “Colorado mountains” often throws up images of the Maroon Bells. To snap one of these coveted pictures for yourself, book one of the few pitches at Silver Bell campsite and rise before sunrise to capture the early rays burning the tips of the mountains orange. Not pictured: the fragrant wildflowers, the fresh air and the gurgling tiny freshwater streams skipping down the mountainside. Recommended by local insider Lily Shipman