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Salida and Buena Vista Colorado Camping

If you are searching for a great camping location, San Isabel National Forest is the answer. Whether you are in the mood for a high mountain scenic spot or a quiet, private retreat by a fishing stream, San Isabel has it all. Fees are nominal and conveniences vary depending upon the campground. Check out the campgrounds by areas. But first, plan ahead by reading the following sections.

Leave No Trace Ethics - Area Campgrounds - US Forest Service Fire Info - Gear

U.S. Forest Service's Leave No trace Skills and Ethics


Proper trip planning and preparation are essential to a safe and enjoyable hiking or camping excursion, and at the same time, minimize  damage to natural and cultural resources. Campers who plan ahead can avoid unexpected situations, and minimize their impact by complying with area regulations such as observing group size limitations.

Proper planning ensures:

  • low risk adventures (because campers obtained information in advance, and prepared accordingly).
  • properly located campsites (because campers allotted enough time to find a camp).
  • appropriate campfires and minimal trash (because of food repackaging and proper equipment).
  • comfortable and fun experiences which match participant's skill levels.


Damage to land occurs when visitors trample vegetation or communities of organisms beyond recovery. The resulting barren areas develop into undesirable trails, campsites, and soil erosion.

A reasonable question to ask, then, is "Should I concentrate activity, or spread out?"

  • In high use areas, campers should concentrate their activities where vegetation is already absent by using existing trails and selecting designated or existing campsites.
  • In more remote, less traveled areas, campers should generally spread out. When hiking, take different paths to avoid creating new trails that cause erosion. When camping, disperse tents and cooking activities. Move camp daily to avoid creating permanent looking campsites. Always choose the most durable surfaces available such as rock, duff, dry grasses, or snow.

These guidelines apply to most alpine settings and may be different for other ecosystems.


Back-country users create wastewater and body waste that requires proper disposal. Hikers and campers also need to take their trash with them. Campers should minimize the need to pack out food scraps by carefully planning meals. Accept the challenge of packing out everything you bring.


Help prevent contamination of natural water sources by proper disposal of wastewater. After straining food particles, dispose of dish water by dispersing at least 200 feet from springs, streams, and lakes. Use biodegradable soap 200 feet or more from any water source.

Human Waste

Proper human waste disposal helps prevent the spread of disease and exposure to others. Catholes 6 to 8 inches deep and 200 feet from water, trails, and campsites are often the most practical way to dispose of feces.


Allow others a sense of discovery. Leave rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts, and other objects as you find them. Furthermore, it may be illegal to remove them. Keep in mind that good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.

  • Do not dig tent trenches or build structures. Never hammer nails into trees, hack at trees with hatchets or damage the bark and roots by tying horses to trees for extended periods.
  • Replace surface rocks or twigs that you cleared from the campsite.
  • On high impact sites, clean the area and dismantle inappropriate user-built facilities such as fire rings, log seats, or tables.


The naturalness of many areas has been degraded by the overuse of fires and increasing demand for firewood. Lightweight camp stoves make low-impact camping possible by encouraging a shift away from fires. Stoves are fast, eliminate the need for firewood, and make cleanup after meals easier.

  • If you build a fire, the most important consideration is the potential for resource damage.
  • Whenever possible, use an existing campfire ring in a well-placed campsite. Choose not to have a fire in areas where wood is scarce.
  • True LEAVE NO TRACE fires are small. Use dead and downed wood no larger than an adult's wrist. When possible, bum all wood to ash and remove all unburned trash.
  • If a site has two or more fire rings, you may dismantle all but one, and scatter the materials into the surrounding area. Be certain all wood and campfire debris is dead out.
  • Do not scar large rocks or overhangs with a fire.
  • Put campfires out completely and scatter cool ashes over a large area away from camp.


  • Quick movements and loud noises are stressful to animals. Considerate campers practice these safety methods. You are too close to an animal if an animal alters its normal activities.
  • Observe wildlife from afar to avoid disturbing them.
  • Give animals a wide berth, especially during breeding, nesting, and birthing seasons.
  • Store food securely and keep garbage and food scraps away from animals so they will not acquire bad habits. Help keep wildlife wild.


Thoughtful campers are considerate of other campers and respect their privacy. Select campsites away from other groups. Travel and camp quietly to help preserve their solitude.

  • Travel and camp in small groups (no more than the group size prescribed by land managers).
  • Keep noise down and leave radios and tape players at home. If you take a pet keep them in control and remove dog feces from trails or campsites.
  • Make sure the colors of your clothing and gear blend with the environment.
  • Respect private property and leave gates (open or closed) as found.

US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Salida Ranger District - San Isabel Campgrounds

The San Isabel National Forest is located in south-central Colorado and has campsites that range from rustic and “roughing-it” to developed and with amenities. Some campgrounds have reservable sites, and this is especially important to take advantage of during the heavy-use vacation periods of Memorial Day through Labor Day. Otherwise, it is “first-come first-served” during the open for business periods.

To reserve, go to or call (877) 444-6777.
To contact the Salida Ranger District, call (719) 539-3591.

Campgrounds in the Highway 306 Area, Buena Vista Colorado

Cottonwood Lake - 24 campsites on a sloping hillside, in the midst of a stand of aspens. Sites are mostly sunny. Located 9 miles west of Buena Vista off Hwy 306. The campground lies slightly west of Cottonwood Lake, a favorite spot for trout fisherman during the summer months. First-come first-served basis (reservations not accepted).
Internet Comments: water that is crystal clear…incredible mountain views…postcard-perfect…short 3 mile drive off the main road…

Collegiate Peaks – 56 campsites, many of which are reservable; campground is arranged in 3 loops, heavily wooded and located 11 miles west of Buena Vista on Hwy 306. Layout of campground, with ample space between sites, allows for a more private and peaceful camping experience. This campground is only 8 miles from Cottonwood Pass, over which anglers can reach the Taylor Park Reservoir for a day fishing trip.
Internet Comments: gorgeous mountain scenery…trails throughout the area…

Chalk Creek Canyon – County Road 162 Campgrounds Between Buena Vista and Salida
This picturesque area located between Salida and Buena Vista has three excellent campgrounds. To reach this area from Buena Vista, travel south on US 285 for approximately 9 miles to Nathrop. Turn right onto County Road 162 to enter Chalk Creek Canyon. If traveling from Salida, the turnoff for CR 162 is on the left and approximately 17 miles from the center of town. Chalk Creek has fine trout fishing throughout the entire year. These three campgrounds are listed in order of distance from the intersection of US 285 and County Road 162. All three sites are only a short distance from the historic mining towns of St. Elmo and Hancock.

Chalk Lake – 18 campsites, 12 reservable. Has some level pull-thrus and secluded tent sites. Located eight miles west of US 285, on County Road 162 and next to Chalk Lake.

Cascade – 21 partially-wooded campsites, reservations available for 11 sites. Located 11 miles west of US 285, on County Road 162 just past Cascade Falls.

Mt. Princeton - 17 campsites, located about 8 miles beyond Mt. Princeton Hot Springs on County Road 162 (and thus, approximately 12 miles from the intersection of CR 162 and US 285). Lacks shade due to die-off of older ponderosa pine trees from a beetle infestation.

Just Off County Road 162

Iron City – 15 campsites, located 2 miles east of historic St. Elmo at the Iron City Cemetery on County Road 292. Traveling either from Buena Vista or Salida, turn onto CR 162 and drive for 16 miles to CR 292; turn right onto CR 292, campground is only 0.5 miles further.

West of Salida on US 50 -- Monarch Pass and Beyond
O'Haver Lake – 28 campsites on the lake. From the intersection of US 50 and US 285, head  south on US 285 for about 5 miles; turn right onto County Road 200/Marshall Pass Road and travel 4 miles. The grounds are located on O'Haver Lake. Handicap/accessible fishing pier. This campground is approximately 14 miles from Salida.

Angel of Shavano – 20 wooded campsites with capacity for family or group camping. For those interested in the region’s rich mining history, there are two off-road trails in the area from which to explore the vestiges of Colorado’s mining past—one trail lies just above the campground and allows guests to visit the ghost town of Shavano; the other is a bit more extensive and leads out of the campground to mining ruins beyond. To get to Angel of Shavano, head west on US 50 out of Poncha Springs for 6 miles until you reach County Road 240; turn right onto CR 240 and drive 3 miles to reach the campground. The campground is situated on the North Fork Road and is approximately 15 miles from Salida.

North Fork – 9 campsites, located at an elevation of 11,000 feet and on the North Fork Reservoir’s northern shore. From Poncha Springs, head west on US 50 for 6 miles until you reach County Road 240; turn right onto CR 240 and drive 9 miles to reach campground. This campground is approximately 22 miles from Salida, and is 6 miles past the Angel of Shavano Campground on CR 240; it is situated among many excellent trout fishing lakes, most of which require a hike to reach. Rough terrain, high-clearance vehicles are needed to access this site.

Monarch Park - 37 campsites, 16 reservable; heavily-wooded, located at an elevation of 10,500 feet. From Poncha Springs, head west on US 50 for 15 miles until you reach County Road 231; turn south on CR 231 to reach this campground. This campground is approximately 24 miles from Salida.

East of Salida

Coaldale – 10 heavily-treed campsites on banks of Hayden Creek, most are walk-in sites. Take US 50 east from Salida for approximately 20 miles, turn right onto Hayden Creek Road/County Road 6 and travel another 3 miles to camp. This campground is just past Cutty’s Resort (private) and is approximately 23 miles from Salida.

Hayden Creek – 11 campsites at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and on the banks of Hayden Creek. Bears are common, so store food appropriately. Take US 50 east from Salida for approximately 20 miles, turn right onto Hayden Creek Road/County Road 6 and travel another 5 miles to camp. This campground is just past Cutty’s Resort (private) and Coaldale Campground, approximately 25 miles from Salida.

Colorado Trail

Bootleg Campground – tent camping on the Colorado Trail, which stretches from Denver to Durango. Fees charged from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Camping and Hiking Gear

Salida Mountain Sports
110 North F Street
Salida, CO 81201
Phone: (719) 539-4400
Fax: (719) 539-2568
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All content ©1998-2020 and Monty Content written by Rita Washko (RMW Enterprises), technical and science writer.