Travel Back in Time at these Campgrounds
Durango is in close proximity to Mesa Verde National Park, one of the world’s 27 UNESCO World Heritage sites and home to some of the best-preserved ancestral Pueblo archaeological sites. The park and the region that surrounds it are also spectacular places to camp!
Here are 10 of our favorite campsites inside or near Mesa Verde National Park:
#10 Morefield Campground
This is one of the few campgrounds that is located inside the park.
While you are here, there are several natural monuments you’ll want to check out including the Point Lookout plateau and the Montezuma Valley Overlook. Trails to these landmarks are accessible at the campground.
Located 45 minutes west on the 160, and a few more miles south on Mesa Top Ruins Rd., just before Cortez. If you’ve come this far though, you have to make the extra 15-mile journey further down into the National Park, as that region is packed with archaeological sites and the history of the ancestral Pueblo peoples. This includes the Mesa Top Sites, Balcony House, Long House, Fire and Sun Temples, Nordenskold Site #16, and of course the renowned Cliff Palace.
#9 Ancient Cedars
Do you want immediate access to all the sights and sounds surrounding the Morefield Campground, but find yourself with a full-size RV? Have no fear! The Ancient Cedars RV Park is located directly across the highway. These campgrounds offer easy access pull-through sites with full hook-ups, water, and 20/30/50 AMP electrical service. They also have spots for Class-A and 5th Wheel sections right there on grounds that have less tree coverage to allow for larger rigs. More densely wooded sites are also available for any campers wanting shade and privacy. Pool access, mini-golf, and lounging/gaming area are available as well!
#8 Mesa Verde RV Resort
Just down the street from Ancient Cedars is another RV park, the Mesa Verde RV Resort. The friendly owners and management pride themselves on keeping an organized and tidy resort, so expect clean grounds and facilities. Spacious spots offer you plenty of room to spread out, and the outdoor pool, two hot tubs, and lounging area offer the perfect post-adventure relaxation.
#7 Mesa Verde KOA
Just on the outskirts of Cortez, you’ll find the Mesa Verde KOA. If you happen to be unfamiliar with KOA, they have woven a network of campgrounds and RV parks that crisscross the entire United States. Each individual KOA will have its own distinct personality, but the KOA regulations guarantee guests a high level of quality and standard set of amenities consistent throughout every one of their grounds. The Mesa Verde KOA offers a number of unique amenities including water and fishing access to Denny Lake, a three-acre dog park, gathering room, playground, walking trail, planned day itineraries, local art, camp kitchen, and dishwashing station, plus an off-lot tent dispersal area with beautiful mountain vistas.
#6 Snowslide Campground
Located just inside the San Juan National Forest, Snowslide Campground strikes the perfect balance between accessibility and solitude. The exclusion allows one to hear the flowing river and chirps of nature. Snowslide is set up just off the bank of the La Plata Creek (which has some occasional waterfalls throughout) and has a blend of shady trees and wide-open views. Animals are often spotted here coming up for a drink, so keep your eyes peeled for critters.
#5 Kroeger Campground
A few miles further north from Snowslide, Kroeger features many of the same gorgeous views of the mountain range, but with the added benefit of being located just downstream of where Bedrock Creek and Neptune Creek meet La Platte Creek. Guests here still get some of the benefits of camping out on a managed property, but without all the clutter or cost that comes with more domestic sites. Limited campsites/slots and lack of larger RVs (25’ max size) keep noise and foot traffic to a minimum, and there are no restrooms or trash collection ( pack it in, pack it out). It will be just you, a few other humans around, and nature - but there “sure is a whole lot of nature out there,” so you will have a great time.
#4 Target Tree Campground
Target Tree Campground management really knows how to preserve the integrity of the campground. The grounds are kept clean but gravel and trails have been laid down to keep it accessible regardless of weather conditions. No bathrooms or RV hookups, but there is a dumping station. Plenty of trailheads and a wide recreation area have been designed for guests looking to stretch their legs a little bit. It is a densely wooded area, but you can find some wide-open San Juan Mountain vistas if you hike for a little.
#3 Lightner Creek Campground
Lightner Creek Campground is boxed into the mountains, surrounded by the cliffs of the Douglas fir and Ponderosa Pine, with Lightner Creek cutting right through it all (hence the name). What it lacks in the long sightlines it makes up for with its verticality and exciting hiking and biking trails, rock climbing, zip-lining, horseback riding, and more. If you are lucky with your reservation, you might be able to snag a creekside spot and wake up in the morning next to the soothing water.
And located only 10 minutes from Durango, there is no excuse for not being able “to get away for a bit.” This full-service campground has space for tents and RVs, sure, but they also offer well-stocked cabins for rent for those of you who want certain creature comforts without sacrificing access to The Great Outdoors.
#2 Mancos West Campground
About four miles north of Mancos, inside of Mancos State Park, West Campground resides at the furthest northern edge of the large Jackson Gulch Reservoir, held up by the 180-foot Jackson Gulch Damn, which dates back to the 1950s. What you’ll find here is the gold standard for any camp experience. The region is packed with activities like kayaking, hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, various winter-time activities, and environmental education programs.
The reservoir features water access, so bring your own (motorless) boat or kayak, and rentals are available nearby.
#1 Find Your Own Secret Spot: Madden Creek Road, Dispersed Camping
Disbursement camping can be intimidating to first-timers. All sorts of questions pop up regarding safety and legality when just setting up camp in any random spot on public land. Questions include: what kinds of [dangerous] local wildlife live in the area, is there emergency access, is a camping permit required, what about parking, etc. But the process isn’t as complicated as it may seem, and we have a great place for you to start.
Madden Peak Road, which is inside San Juan National Park, is easy to find: head west on 160, and turn north on FR-316, which is just past the Target Tree Campground (#4 above), and leads all the way up to the foot of Madden Peak. There is free disbursement camping all along that road with no permit required, with up to 14 days max stay per trip. The gravel road is well maintained and therefore easy to access under most weather conditions for most vehicles. Larger rigs towing a vehicle or trailer ought to proceed a little more cautiously though and keep in mind that the road does occasionally become blocked by fallen trees, heavy snow, etc. Cell signals in the area are strong for most major providers.
This is all-in-all a great location to begin your experiences with disbursement camping. Please leave no trace during your stay and be thorough in your clean-up at departure.
With this list in hand, you now have a slew of great locations for you to experience the Mesa Verde region. Whether you are looking for a quality campground with all the best amenities or just want a cozy natural location to enjoy the disbursement life, there is something on this list to cater to your desires. And from the biggest RV to the lightest of ultralight tent campers, most of these places can accommodate all adventure styles. So if you’re looking to get out and about this summer or fall, these options are all extremely affordable and just a hop, skip, and a jump from Durango.
Now you’ve just got to see if your boss will let you take off early on Friday!