We’ve often written about the San Juan Mountains because of rugged alpine beauty, friendly mountain community, well-developed access, and the multitude of outdoor options available there. This includes backcountry hikes, one of the country’s only via ferretas, ice climbing, and a vast network of four-wheel driving routes.
Thanks to a vast wilderness that enjoys federal designation, most of the public land in the national forests around the San Juan Mountains is available for dispersed camping, and there are numerous campsites that are ideal for staging an outdoor retreat. Here’s a quick roundup of some of the region’s best.
- Town Park Campground: Within walking distance of Telluride and at the end of the gorgeous canyon in which the town is situated, the only official campground within city limits is as lavish as the mountain community it calls home. There are 28 vehicle sites and several walk-in sites with access to showers, the city park, and Telluride’s many mountain shops, restaurants, and cafes. Be aware that the campground may fill quickly due to the many music festivals that take advantage of the nearby amphitheater.
- Priest Lake Campground: South of Telluride and Mountain Village, Priest Lake is one of the closest campgrounds to town, and it’s free. There is no technical limit to the number of campers who can stay here, so there are no designated campsites—just show up and pitch a tent. Perched over Priest Lake, the backdrop is scenic and the wildlife plentiful. A fantastic alternative close to Telluride.
- South Mineral Campground: Near Silverton, South Mineral Campground is ideally located near the Ice Lakes, and it is a short drive from the trailhead to Highland Mary Lakes. Our contributors suggest the campground boasts some of the best campsite views of any campground in the West, and it’s hard to argue.
- Cayton Campground: RV enthusiasts and adventurers into the Lizard Head Wilderness and Mount Wilson should consider using Cayton Campground as a hub. Sites are well shaded and just a short drive away from the Lizard Head Wilderness trailhead, which leads to Mount Wilson and Wilson Meadows, among other sites.
- Little Molas Campground: Another of the many dispersed campgrounds in the San Juans, Little Molas is free and ideally located for those hoping to access the Colorado Trail, the final sections of which converge at the campground. Nearby Molas Lake is regularly stocked with cutthroat trout, and most campsites feature pleasant views over the lake. For those looking for a more comfortable camping experience, Molas Lake Campground is not far away.
- Haviland Lake Campground: Located on Haviland Lake, fishing is available in abundance here, and the campground is one of the few in the area to offer RV hookups. Those looking to access the Chicago Basin may find this to be the closest available campsite to the access point along the Animas River, though how direct this access is remains unclear.
- Silver Jack Campground: In the northern reaches of the San Juan Mountains, Silver Jack is a small campground with limited amenities, but the campsites are beautiful and relatively private. It is not ideal for RVs; there are no hookups available here.
- Pa-Co-Chu-Puk Campground: One of three campsites in Ridgeway State Park on the northern side of the San Juan Mountains. Not as close to the heart of the mountains like campgrounds near Ouray, Silverton, and Telluride, the campground is more central to well-stocked ponds, historic mines and hot springs, Ralph Lauren’s 55,000-acre ranch, and the one place in the nation where the Grammy award trophies are made.