Tent Camping in Durango, Colorado
Just an hour’s drive away from New Mexico’s deserts, Durango’s meadows, forests and cool mountain breezes stand in sharp contrast, providing a refreshing summer getaway.
Marvel at fields of warm-weather wildflowers poking their heads from acres of green grass, explore forested trails to bike or hike, and enjoy the sight of autumn hills blazing with yellow aspen. Campgrounds around Durango provide a base to refresh and relax between your adventures in the area.
You’ll find a variety of campgrounds where you can pitch your tent around Durango. Private campgrounds provide an array of amenities. At the Durango KOA, enjoy tent sites with or without electricity. The sites have grills or fire rings, and some have picnic tables. The park also has Wi-Fi, laundries, a heated pool, playground and two dog parks.
For a more rustic experience, head out to one of 47 campgrounds in the lush San Juan National Forest that surrounds Durango. There are basic amenities at most sites, including vault toilets, fire rings and picnic tables. Five campgrounds lie just outside the city limits near Haviland Lake, Junction Creek, La Plata River, and near the Hermosa Creek Trail.
You can set up your tent away from a designated campground as long as you are in an area that allows dispersed camping. There are 6,300 acres of public lands adjacent to Durango where you can pitch your tent for up to 14 days at a time. The San Juan National Forest also allows dispersed camping for 14 days.
No amenities are provided at dispersed sites, and the BLM and forest service have separate rules regarding locating your campsite, campfires, and disposal of human waste. For example, BLM requires you pack out all human and pet waste, while the San Juan National Forest allows you to bury waste six to eight inches deep. Pitch your tent on a vegetation-free, hard-packed surface, and use Leave No Trace techniques.
Durango lies at an altitude of 6,512 feet above sea level, but the majority of surrounding campgrounds lie above 7,000 feet. You may experience telltale signs of altitude sickness, which include nausea, fatigue and a piercing headache brought on by dehydration from your lungs working harder to exchange oxygen.
Drink plenty of hydrating fluids, and give yourself a couple of days to acclimate before setting out on any strenuous activity. The high elevation also brings a short summer camping season. Depending on elevation, developed campgrounds only may be open between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Expect freezing temperatures from September through June at higher elevations. Mid-September to mid-October brings the first frosty nights, causing aspens on the nearby hills to blaze with golden colors. You can see summer wildflowers May to early July in the area. Prepare for snow on the ground at higher elevations as late as June.
Deer and elk migrate along a corridor running between Durango and Pagosa Springs, making the area a good place to view and photograph wildlife. If you are driving this stretch during dusk or nighttime hours, be especially vigilant for animals on the road, as collisions between animals and vehicles frequently occur along this stretch.
The same area also sees a high concentrations of black bears during summer and autumn, so make bear-safe camping a high priority. The safest way to store your food, pet food, garbage and scented items is in a wildlife-proof container, available in most sporting goods stores.
Pack food in airtight containers inside, and store them at least 100 yards from your camp, preferably strapping your container to a tree or boulder. Cook your food well away from your tent, and change out of any clothes you have cooked or eaten in, storing them with your scented items.
Make sure your hands, face and hair are free of grease or food debris, as bears will investigate even the most miniscule scents of food.