Everyone knows about Colorado’s National Parks, but did you know that there are also 43 State Parks in Colorado? These seven unique and beautiful State Parks showcase the natural beauty of Western Colorado.
7 Amazing State Parks in Colorado
We’ve lived in Summit County Colorado for over 20 years. Although there is no shortage of things to do in the summer where we live, we have always loved camping and exploring different parts of Colorado. Over the years we’ve camped all over the state. But, it wasn’t until 2020 that we really discovered the amazing state parks in Colorado. In the spring of 2020, we had plenty of free time and were ready to get out of the snow and go camping. Unfortunately, with the COVID 19 pandemic just starting, it was impossible to figure out where we could legally camp. Just when the weather was nice enough to camp, the nearby counties where we usually camped started banning visitors from out-of-town. Then, the forest service kept campgrounds and dirt roads with access to dispersed camping closed.
The first campgrounds to open in 2020 were the State Park campgrounds. We booked a camping trip at Ridgeway State Park the first day it opened and absolutely loved it. In fact, we loved it so much we booked state park camping trips through the rest of the spring, summer, fall, and even a few winter camping trips.
Colorado State Parks Map
Here are seven of our favorite Colorado State Parks-
Rifle Falls State Park
The main attraction at Rifle Falls State Park is the incredible 70-foot triple waterfall. But, there is so much more to this state park. The mist from the waterfalls makes the entire area surprisingly lush and green. Then, there is Rifle Creek. The crystal clear creek is not only beautiful but also great for fishing.
The must-do hiking trail in Rifle Falls State Park is the Coyote Trail. Coyote Trail is an easy mile and a half trail that takes you to a beautiful overlook at the top of the waterfalls. Along the way, there are limestone caves to explore and spots where you can get close enough to the falls to feel the mist.
*Parking at Rifle Falls State Park is EXTREMELY limited. Arrive early to secure a spot in the summer, especially on weekends!
Rifle Falls has one of the smallest campgrounds of any state park. There are only eleven drive-in campsites (with electricity) and seven walk-in tent sites. The eight drive-in sites right along the river are all back in with three pull-through sites across the road. All of the walk-in tent sites are along the river. Most of the sites are surrounded by trees so neighboring campers don’t seem too close.
Because of the limited number of campsites, this beautiful campground is full for most of the spring, summer, and fall (especially the drive-in sites). Book far in advance to save your spot.
Rifle Gap State Park
Rifle Gap Reservoir is a great place to boat, paddleboard, jet ski, swim, and fish. It is open year-round and is a popular ice fishing spot in the winter. The beautiful reservoir is surrounded by cedar and pinion-covered mountains and is at an elevation of 6,000 feet. The lower elevation allows you to enjoy the mountain reservoir and warmer temperatures (there are many lakes in Colorado that never get warm enough to swim in because of the high elevation).
Rifle Falls is only a ten minute drive from Rifle Gap and makes the perfect day trip. Your Colorado State Park day pass from Rifle Gap will also get you into Rifle Falls.
There are 89 campsites in five different campgrounds. My favorite campgrounds are Cottonwood and Cedar because they are right on the reservoir. You can easily walk a paddleboard or kayak from your campsite to the water in either of these campgrounds. Cottonwood and Cedar both have electric hookups and shared water. There is also a nice bathroom with flush toilets and coin-operated showers at both campgrounds.
Lakeview campground has full hookups and beautiful views of the lake but it is quite a walk from the campground down to the lake. There are also some basic tent sites in Lakeview and bathrooms with flush toilets and coin-operated showers.
The two campgrounds that are basic (no electricity or water and only vault toilets) are the Pinion and Sage campgrounds. Sage campground is adjacent to BLM land and you can ride ATVs from the campground. The views are great from Sage campground.
Ridgeway State Park
The breathtaking views of the San Juan Mountains are what make Ridgeway State Park one of my favorite State Parks in Colorado. But, the views aren’t all Ridgeway has to offer. Ridgeway Reservoir offers boating of all kinds and fishing. The day-use area to the South is the perfect place to launch paddleboards or to hang out and play in the water. To the North of the reservoir is the Uncompahgre River that offers amazing trout fishing. There are also hiking trails all over for every age and ability.
There are three different campgrounds in Ridgeway State Park- Pa-Co-Chu-Puk, Dakota Terraces, and Elk Ridge. The campgrounds are large offering 258 drive-up campsites and 25 walk-in tent sites! All campgrounds have bathrooms with flush toilets, coin-op showers and laundry, snack machines, and a playground.
Pa-Co-Chu-Puk Campground is north of the reservoir near the Uncompahgre River. This campground offers full hookups and some sites have great views of the river. This is also where the walk-in tent sites are located. Check out this helpful map provided by the Colorado State Parks department.
Dakota Terraces Campground and Elk Ridge Campground are both on the East side of the reservoir. Both campgrounds have electric hookups and shared water and the State Parks department provided a map of these two campgrounds also. Dakota Terraces Campground has views of the San Juan Mountains and is within walking distance of the swimming beach but it wasn’t our favorite because it was close to the highway. Elk Ridge looks like it’s right on the lakeshore on the map but it is actually quite a steep hike down to the lake. That being said, Elk Ridge was our favorite campground in Ridgeway National Park. The views of the lake are beautiful.
My favorite part of Ridgeway State Park is the Uncompahgre RiverWay Trail. The trail is a paved bike path from the Dallas Creek day-use area into the charming town of Ridgeway. The views of the San Juan Mountains are incredible the entire way and it is an easy bike ride for most ages and abilities.
Vega State Park
I hadn’t heard anything about Vega State Park before we booked our first trip so I wasn’t sure what to expect. This remote Colorado State Park on the edge of the Grand Mesa National Forest exceeded all of my expectations. The expansive views, calm lake, incredible fall colors, and vast access to ATV trails made Vega one of my favorite State Parks so far.
There are four different campgrounds in Vega State Park, each with different amenities.
The Early Settlers campground is the only campground with electric hookups, running water with flush toilets, coin-operated showers, and a playground. It is also the only campground with ATV access right from camp. Colorado State Parks has made this map of the campground to help you pick your perfect site. The Early Settlers campground fills up first so make sure to book in advance.
Oak Point and Aspen Grove campgrounds are on the opposite side of the lake from Early Settlers. Both of these campgrounds offer basic camping (no electric hook-ups) with vault toilets. We camped in Aspen Grove in the fall and had the entire campground to ourselves even though the Early Settlers campground was completely full while we were there.
*The State Park is open range and the cattle were all over Aspen Grove campground. They were a big hit with the kids but you might want to bring a shovel to clean up after them.
Pioneer campground is near the Early Settlers campground and offers walk-in tent sites and five rustic cabins available to rent year-round.
Besides the hundreds of miles of ATV trails and beautiful lake, Vega State Park has the added bonus of a privately run restaurant adjacent to the state park. The Vega Lodge Restaurant and bar is in a beautiful log cabin and has great views, food, and service. It’s nice to have an option to go out in such a remote location.
James M Robb – Colorado River State Park Fruita
James M Robb – Colorado River State Park actually consists of five different sections along the Colorado River. Two have camping available (Palisade and Fruita) and the other three are day-use only. Of the two camping sections, I would recommend Fruita over Palisade. Both have easy access from I-70 but the Palisade section is right along the busy interstate and the Fruita section, although near the interstate, seems to be miles away.
The James M Robb Fruita Section of the State Park offers a beautiful campground with amenities ranging from full hookups to basic walk-in tent sites. The campground is near two small lakes and the Colorado River with the Colorado National Monument’s red cliffs as the backdrop.
There are 57 campsites in the Fruita section with 22 full hookup, 22 electric, and 13 tent only. In the center of the campground is a bathroom with running water, coin-op showers, and laundry. There is also a nice playground and grassy area.
The best sites are the full hookup sites number 40, 42, and 44. If possible avoid sites 20 through 30 because they are closest to the highway. You can see the gas station and dairy queen across the street from some of these sites.
Things to See Nearby
The Dinosaur Journey Museum is within walking distance of the state park. If you have kids interested in dinosaurs you won’t want to miss this hands-on interactive museum.
Colorado National Monument is only a short drive south of the campground. Check out the scenic 25 mile Rim Rock Dive with beautiful overlook stops along the way.
Don’t forget to bring your bike! The paved 28-mile Colorado Riverfront bike trail is adjacent to the campground. There are also plenty of mountain biking trails nearby.
Steamboat Lake State Park
Steamboat Lake is a pristine mountain lake surrounded by mountains with views of the continental divide. At an elevation of 8,100 feet, Steamboat Lake never gets too hot during the day in the summer but cools off considerably at night. The lake has a great swimming beach and a marina where you can rent pontoon boats, canoes, paddleboards, or kayaks. Cabins are also available for rent through the marina.
There are 188 campsites available in Steamboat Lake State Park with a mix of electric and basic sites. The views of the surrounding mountains or lake are great from all of the campgrounds and they are spaced apart enough to provide some privacy.
The Dutch Hill Campground is closest to the marina and has a bathroom with flush toilets, coin-operated showers, and laundry. It includes the Wheeler Loop with all-electric sites and the Bridge Island loop with all basic sites and walk-in tent sites.
The Sunrise Vista Campground is on the hill overlooking the lake with a trail down to the marina. The Arnica, Harebell, and Rosecrown loops are basic sites, and the Larkspur, Lupine, and Yarrow loops all have electric hook-ups.
Sylvan Lake State Park * My Favorite State Park in Colorado
I saved my favorite for last – Sylvan Lake State Park. Sylvan Lake has it all – hiking, mountain biking, fishing, ATVing, and boating. This state park is remote, miles from the nearest town (no cell phone service), but the scenery is absolutely stunning. The pristine lake is surrounded by forested mountains, the perfect Colorado camping experience.
Sylvan Lake State Park is one of the few state parks where you can ride your OHV right from your campsite. There are miles and miles of off-road fun in the White River National Forest adjacent to the campground.
As you can see on this map, the campground at Sylvan Lake State Park is small, with only 44 campsites. But, the size of the campground is one of the best things about Sylvan Lake. Small campgrounds equal fewer crowds! The downside is that it is really hard to get a reservation here so plan to book well in advance (or hope for a cancelation).
The campsites are spread out and each has beautiful mountain or lake views.
There are two different campgrounds, Elk Run and Fisherman’s Paradise and all of the campsites in Sylvan Lake State Park are basic. Although Fisherman’s Paradise has great views of the lake, I would recommend booking a site in Elk Run instead. There are more trees so the campsites seem to have more privacy and there is a bathroom with running water. If you can, try to book sites 27, 29, and 31, right along the creek.
If you don’t want to camp there are also several cabins and yurts available to rent.
Sylvan Lake is located at an elevation of 8,500 feet. In the summer it gets nice and warm during the day but it always cools off at night. Make sure to bring a warm sleeping bag!
You really can’t go wrong with any of these 7 awesome state parks. Happy Camping!
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