As a trained outdoorsman and veteran camper who has explored countless stunning spots around Colorado to tent camp, I’m always on the lookout for those special secluded sites where you can best connect with nature away from crowds. Lucky for Denverites, some downright magical places to pitch your tent are just a reasonable drive away. From cozy forest clearings to wide open vistas perfect for stargazing, here are my top 5 picks for getting away from it all while tent camping within 150 miles of the Mile High City.
Lost Creek Wilderness
Rugged Solitude and Splashing Trout Streams Less Than 2 Hours From Denver
Nestled in the vast Pike National Forest about 130 miles southwest of Denver, Lost Creek Wilderness offers 35,000 acres of wildest Colorado. This forested Shangri La is known for its bubbling brooks and beaver ponds, making it a tent camping paradise if you seek soothing water sounds to lull you to sleep at night.
The crowds thin out the farther you get from the trailheads, so ambitious backpackers are rewarded with secluded sites. I recommend heading to the Hankins Pass area. The scenic loop trail leading to Lake Constantine and Little Haystack Mountain has several stream-side spots to make camp if you go a few miles in. Pack your fishing pole to catch trout for dinner in Lost Creek!
For even more guaranteed seclusion, obtain a permit to access the wilderness area from the roadless Wigwam Trail. Though the hike is longer at 9 miles, you’ll travel completely out of sight of all signs of civilization before reaching gorgeous Wigwam Creek. This peaceful valley boasts wildflower meadows and pools full of eager trout beneath pine forest that smells of vanilla.
What to Expect
- 35,000 acres of secluded forest with streams and small lakes
- 8 hike-in primitive campgrounds available
- Excellent fishing for trout at several small lakes and creeks
- Cool summer temps at 8,200 feet elevation
- Picturesque views of distant peaks
- Roadless access from Wigwam Trail for true wilderness immersion
I particularly love Lost Creek Wilderness for its abundance of wildlife. Keep watch for mule deer grazing streamside at dawn and dusk. Listen for elk bugling during the September rut. You stand a good chance of spotting black bears feeding on berries in midsummer. And scare up ruffed grouse along the trail as you hike. Pitch your tent near the water to drift off to the soothing nighttime chorus of frogs and crickets.
Eagles Nest Wilderness
High Alpine Splendor without Difficult Climbs
Encompassing 168,000 acres in the Gore Range northwest of Vail, Eagles Nest Wilderness has one of the most spectacular tent camping settings in all of Colorado. Deep blue alpine lakes ringed by towering granite peaks beg to be photographed at sunrise and sunset. Luckily several such spots are reachable to those without expert mountaineering skills.
My top pick is Surprise Lake. At 10,600 feet elevation, it delivers jaw-dropping scenery without a demanding hike. You’ll spend the 1.4 mile trek from the parking area oohing and ahhing instead of gritting your teeth. The area around the lake has several secluded sites to choose from. Go early in the summer to beat any crowds.
The thin air may have you huffing and puffing, but the dazzling views make it easy to ignore a little shortness of breath. Find a perch atop any number of granite boulders rising along the lakeshore. Dip your toes in the crisp water as fat marmots whistle to each other from their rocky lookouts. Sit perfectly still to spot elusive pikas gathering tundra grass among the talus slopes. At night watch the Milky Way galaxy blaze brighter than ever overhead.
What To Expect at Surprise Lake
- 1.4 moderate mile hike to stunning blue lake at 10,600 feet
- Granite peaks reflected in the tranquil waters
- Wildflowers blooming from July to August
- Several secluded sites to pitch your tent near the lakeshore
Just down the road from Surprise Lake lies Piney Lake, another worthy tent camping destination. Thanks to Piney’s larger size, more trees offer shade if you wish to disappear from view entirely. Follow any of the informal side trails around the lake to locate fantastic secluded sites. Soak up the crisp views of the Ripsaw Ridge while letting the pure mountain air fill your lungs.
And for bonus solitude, continue another 3 miles past Piney Lake on to Cataract Creek where the crowds completely vanish. Follow the delicate stream through thick forest peppered with aspen groves shimmering green in summer and gold in fall. Spot plentiful moose in these untouched meadows.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Convenience of a Campground with Backcountry Seclusion
Nestled in the foothills 45 minutes west of Denver off I-70, Golden Gate Canyon State Park packs plenty of secluded tent camping despite being so convenient to the city. The main campground does allow RVs and trailers if you don’t mind neighbors. But several hike-in spots let you disappear into thick forest.
My favorite is Mountain Lion Trail. It leads 3.2 miles to a nearly invisible site overlooking a meadow by Ralston Creek. Watch deer graze at dawn and dusk. From the trailhead it’s a steady 1,000 foot climb so the extra effort helps filter out crowds. If weather rolls in, take shelter beneath dense, towering pine trees.
Arrive early to claim one of the first-come, first-served campsites. Otherwise, keep hiking farther up the trail where spur paths veer toward other secret spots. While you’ll share the area with day hikers and perhaps other overnighters, the expansive forest allows ample elbow room. Appreciate the more established trail, foot bridges over streams, and posted maps here before you tackle more demanding wilderness terrain.
What to Expect Along Mountain Lion Trail
- 10 hike-in campsites scattered through the forest
- Stunning views of Mt. Galbraith’s sheer cliffs
- Cool summer temps at 8,500 foot elevation
- Mountain lion and mule deer sightings (from afar!)
- Nearby trail access for day hikes
Don’t miss tackling the strenuous trail to Windy Peak either in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. You’ll earn staggering 360 degree views of the Continental Divide from an elevation of over 11,000 feet. Use trails through Baby Doe Campground to access Windy Peak Trail. Then watch in awe as alpine tundra wildflowers bloom at your toes while forests and valleys unfolded for miles below.
Pitch your tent right at tree line to experience both ecosystems. Walk above and below the stark timberline margin to spot unique species that inhabit each zone. Then sit back and watch the summer monsoon storms blow in fast and furious while cozy safe inside your tent.
James Peak Wilderness
An Alpine Wonderland All To Yourself
Encompassing 14,000 acres of raw wilderness 40 miles west of Boulder, James Peak Wilderness sees few visitors despite its ample beauty. That means expansive solitude for those willing to make the lung-busting 3 mile climb to tree line. At around 11,000 feet the trail opens to reveal breathtaking vistas of craggy granite peaks in every direction.
Find a sheltered hollow to pitch your tent out of the wind, then wander without crossing paths with anyone else. Late summer has an abundance of wild berries to pick. Early fall brings blazing golden aspens scattered across hillsides dotted with elk. Watch meteors streak overhead on ink black nights, completely free of light pollution.
Make base camp near James Peak Lake just below the main summit. Rise early to have the jagged views all to yourself as frosty mist lifts from the valleys. Notice tiny alpine wildflowers blooming courageously among lichen-covered boulders still tipped with ice. Listen for the shrill alarm calls of curious pikas spying your movements. Sip coffee while watching the first rays of sunlight strike the surrounding hillsides.
What To Expect At James Peak
- Sparse pine forest and wide open tundra terrain
- Wildlife sightings of elk, deer, marmots, and pika
- Long mountain views featuring dozens of 13,000 foot peaks
- Brilliant wildflowers from July to September
- Excellent stargazing in the unpolluted darkness
Venture up toward the Continental Divide along the Saint Vrain trail network to access even more untouched meadows and soaring summits. As the path fades over the passes, you’ll feel genuine wilderness envelop you. Mark your route carefully to find your way between alpine lakes where only the whistling marmots notice your presence. Spend silent nights tucked inside glowing golden aspen groves watching leaves twirl in the faintest breeze.
West Lost Trail
Otherworldly Desert Beauty Near Grand Junction
Searching for solitude in strange yet captivating landscapes? Look no further than West Lost Trail about 150 miles west of Denver just outside Grand Junction. This sandy trail winds through a remote section of Colorado National Monument, where solid rock looks like melting candle wax frozen in time.
The punishing 6 mile hike keeps most visitors away, letting you discover boulder jungles and hidden slot canyons in absolute quiet. As an expert desert camper, I recommend camping at the base of the interpreting Tower Monolith. Watch the alien terrain shift in color from blood red to deep purple as day turns to night. This is tent camping ambience at its bizarre best.
Be ready to traverse slickrock, navigate house-sized boulders, and hop over ledges on this challenging path. But the demands deter all causal hikers, leaving utter solitude for those who push themselves. Pack ultra lightweight to travel fast and nimble through such rugged yet beautiful terrain under simply spectacular skies.
Stand atop the Tower Monolith at sunset for views into Utah’s winding river canyons over 100 miles in the distance. Then watch stars fill a black dome above you from horizon to horizon while wrapped in total darkness. Listen for the flutter of bats and skittering of collared lizards across red sand and rock while safely zipped inside your tent.
Things You’ll Find On West Lost Trail
- Barely tread desert route through a landscape like no other
- Otherwordly rock formations like Tower Monolith
- Panoramic views into Utah from high plateau
- Unique wildlife species like rock squirrels and collared lizards
- Intense darkness under the Milky Way galaxy
Since West Lost Trail sits far from any marked path, make sure to equip your tent and pack with UL-approved reflectors. This helps search and rescue locate you in an emergency. But otherwise keep electronic distractions at a minimum. Let the twisting rock maze captivate your senses as few other Colorado camping locations can match.
Thanks to Colorado’s endless diversity, spectacular seclusion awaits tent campers mere hours from Denver no matter which landscapes call to your soul. From frothy streams in thick forests to craggy peaks towering over alpine lakes, seek out the spots most others miss. Follow my guide to these 5 underrated areas for your best shot at pitch-perfect tent camping far from crowds. Just don’t tell too many people I shared the secret!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most convenient secluded spot near Denver?
For seclusion with the easiest access from Denver, check out the hike-in sites along Mountain Lion Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Reach complete forest privacy under an hour’s drive from the city.
Which pick is best for fishing and wildlife viewing?
Lost Creek Wilderness is world-famous for its excellent trout fishing in small alpine lakes and streams. Plus, abundant beaver ponds and meadows provide prime habitat for spotting elk, deer, coyotes, raptors, and other animals.
Where are the most stunning high alpine vistas?
It’s hard to beat Surprise Lake in Eagles Nest Wilderness for pure visual splendor. Sit beside the bright blue water ringed by towering 13,000 foot granite peaks for sunrise and sunset views that will take your breath away.
What is the best spot for advanced hikers seeking maximum solitude?
Experienced peakbaggers will love stretching their legs on West Lost Trail in Colorado National Monument. Count on having the twisting path through surreal rock formations and desert ecosystem nearly all to yourself.
Which destination is best for wildflowers and fall colors?
James Peak Wilderness explodes with vibrant wildflowers in July and August. Come September, the lower elevation forests and valleys feature bright golden aspens sprinkled across green meadows.