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Dispersed Camping Now Shut Down in Five Areas of Colorado


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On Thursday, May 13, 2021, the U.S. Forest Service announced that it shut down dispersed camping in five (5) areas of Colorado, covering Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, claiming recent visitors had destroyed and contaminated much of these areas.

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“…National Forest visitors created thousands of new campsites as they pulled off roads and damaged resources, trampling vegetation and compacting soils with tents, campers and vehicles. Visitors built hundreds of new rock campfire rings and negatively impacted municipal water supplies with human waste and trash.”

U.S. Forest Service, public announcement
  • The shut down varies from 1 year up to 5 years depending on the area.
  • It’s expected these areas will see future management changes, possible permanent closures.
  • Day use activities are still permitted in these areas.

The Five Impacted Areas

Vasquez Creek and Little Vasquez Creek – (click here for map) – Located just south of the Town of Winter Park, Vasquez and Little Vasquez creeks serve as the drinking water supply for the town’s thousands of residents and guests. It is also a key access point to Winter Park’s famed mountain bike trail system. In recent years, Vasquez (FSR 156) and Little Vasquez (FSR 148), both narrow access roads to the Arapaho National Forest in this area, have become riddled with new visitor-created campsites, crammed between the road, the hillsides and the creek. There are no restroom facilities, trash receptacles or permanent campfire rings in this area. Public concern has been growing about the potential for a wildfire start from an escaped campfire. In addition, campers are impacting water quality by using the ground in this constricted drainage for their restroom. This temporary closure order will prohibit camping within a quarter-mile on either side of Vasquez and Little Vasquez for one year. (Read the original Forest Order)

Maxwell Falls – (click here for map) – Located southwest of Evergreen, the Maxwell Falls and Cub Creek trailheads are enormously popular launching points for a day hike through a dramatic canyon. This area also draws campers and late-night partiers who have campfires that are often left unextinguished. The proximity of residential neighborhoods at the top of the canyon walls and nearby put these communities at great risk of being impacted by an escaped campfire from below. In close coordination with local fire departments, the Jefferson County Sheriff and other local elected officials, the Forest has designated this area as “day use only” for the next five years. It is now prohibited to camp, have a campfire or be in the Maxwell Falls area between sundown and sunrise. (Read the original Forest Order)

Rainbow Lakes Road – (click here for map) – Located northwest of Nederland, Rainbow Lakes Road (FSR 116) serves two major trailheads (Sourdough and Rainbow) and a popular developed campground (Rainbow Lakes). Camping along the road has been steadily increasing, and last year the number of visitor-created campsites skyrocketed, creating an almost continuous line of trampled vegetation and visitor-built campfire rings along the Forest Service portions of road. Most of those campsites are located less than 100 feet from the North Boulder Creek, which is a primary source of drinking water for the City of Boulder. People camping for free along the road overwhelmed the concessionaire-managed campground at the end of the road by dumping trash and using its restrooms while cars parked along the road created emergency access issues. Camping will be prohibited within a quarter-mile of either side of the road for one year. Camping is still allowed in the campground and in the designated dispersed campsites at Caribou. (Read the original Forest Order)

Ceran Saint Vrain – (click here for map) – Located west of Jamestown, the Ceran Saint Vrain trail is popular with day hikers, mountain bikers and anglers. Along this 2-mile stretch of hiking trail, Forest Service staff identified more than 70 campsites created by visitors. Almost all the sites are located within 100 feet of the South Saint Vrain Creek. Trampled areas along the creek, along with human waste, are causing water quality issues in this area. Conflicts between day users who want to access the creek and campers trying to enjoy some privacy are common. Overcrowded parking at the trailhead creates emergency access issues and patrolling the 2-mile stretch of nonmotorized trail is challenging for law enforcement and the Forest’s limited crews. The area is plagued by unattended campfires and is surrounded uphill by private property. The limited size of the area doesn’t support both overnight and day use opportunities. This prohibits camping within a quarter-mile of the creek for one year, allowing the forest to focus on the quality of the day-use experience while giving the area time to recover from previous overnight camping impacts. (Read the original Forest Order)

Winiger Ridge – (click here for map) – Located west of Gross Reservoir, Winiger Ridge provides 26 designated campsites with metal fire rings. Recently, visitors have been pushing closer to the reservoir, creating new campsites along County Road 68J/FSR 68.2B, which is a rough 4WD road that is very difficult for emergency services and firefighters to traverse. In many cases, campsites have been set up on private property due to the fragmented landownership of the area. Issues with unattended campfires, trash, resource damage from off-road driving and trespassing on private property have led to the decision to close this corridor to camping for two years while Forest staff focuses on providing higher quality sites along Winiger Ridge. Eventually, more designated sites may be added along Winiger Ridge to meet higher demand. (Read the original Forest Order)

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