Autumn Adventure: Durango Campgrounds Full of Fall Colors

Painted mountains: The San Juans in their full fiery force.
Painted mountains: The San Juans in their full fiery force. Alex Berger
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Almost overnight, the rolling hillsides and wide mountain valleys of Durango will suddenly glow with the rich, golden hues of fall. But instead of an ordinary leaf-peeping drive, why not go for deeper immersion into Mother Nature's spectacular show? Pack your camping gear and grab the camera, because this is one of the best seasons to pitch a tent in Colorado.

These Durango campgrounds are just the spot to settle in to savor the the views, which also include alpine lakes and vistas of the San Juan Mountains. Hiking through brilliant landscapes by day and cozying around the campfire at night—we can't think of a better way to welcome in autumn.

Molas Lake Campground

Molas Lake, near Silverton, CO, in the Autumn.
Molas Lake, near Silverton, CO, in the Autumn. Terry Chang

If you’re into big, dramatic mountain views and vast, sweeping sunsets, then put Molas Lake Campground on your itinerary. This private campground sits on prime real estate just below the top of Molas Pass, at 10,515 feet. From your vantage point beside the stocked alpine lake, you’ll find unobstructed 360-degree views of the San Juan Mountains. The campground has 50 tent and small RV campsites ranging in price from $18 to $45 per night. Head north on US 550 from Durango and drive past Purgatory Resort and Coal Bank Pass. The campground will be on your right, on the north side of Molas Pass, some 43-miles outside of Durango.

South Mineral Campground

Beautiful fall colors near Red Mountain Pass, just North of the South Mineral Campground.
Beautiful fall colors near Red Mountain Pass, just North of the South Mineral Campground. John Fowler

The South Mineral Campground rivals Molas Lake for its spectacular views. Located near the historic mining town of Silverton, the campground looks out onto the towering buttress-like cliffs that rise above the Ice Lake Basins. Dense aspen groves carpet the surrounding hillsides, and you might just find yourself with gold fever when the trees begin to turn.

This is a popular campground, so be sure to stake your claim early on the weekend. To reach the campground from Durango, drive north on US 550 toward Silverton. Stay left at the intersection and head toward Ouray. Take another left onto Forest Road 585 and drive to the end.

Vallecito Campground

The Vallecito Campground, on the edge of the Weminuche Wilderness, is a fantastic spot to spend a fall weekend.
The Vallecito Campground, on the edge of the Weminuche Wilderness, is a fantastic spot to spend a fall weekend. Jake Wheeler

The beautiful drive itself is worth the trip to the Vallecito Campground, which is nestled in the hills above the Vallecito Reservoir and small community. This picturesque campground sits at the trailhead of the popular Vallecito Creek Trail, which leads into the breathtaking Weminuche Wilderness. Relax in the campground or take a hike along the rushing creek where you will be sure to find plenty of photo-ops. To reach the campground, head toward Vallecito on CR 501. Follow it around the reservoir until it intersects with CR 500. The campsite sits at the end of CR 500.

Lime Creek Road Dispersed Camping

Enjoy spectacular sunsets from the old Lime Creek Road, where dispersed camping is allowed.
Enjoy spectacular sunsets from the old Lime Creek Road, where dispersed camping is allowed. Margaret Hedderman

If you have a high-clearance or 4x4 vehicle, take off down the old Lime Creek Road in the San Juan Mountain high country, where you can camp for free in several pre-established camping areas. The views of the surrounding mountains are unparalleled, and you'll take in spectacular sunsets from your own private campground. Lime Creek Road is just off US 550, past Purgatory Resort. Before you go, check in with the Forest Service to get the full details on dispersed camping.

Junction Creek Campground

Easily the most accessible campsite from downtown Durango, Junction Creek is a mere seven miles from Main Avenue. Located just beyond the trailhead for the famed  Colorado Trail , this secluded campground is a local secret. Though the campground itself is mostly surrounded by pine and scrub oak, you can drive a short distance up Forest Road 171 to catch the sunset over a brilliant aspen hillside with the Animas Valley unfolding in the distance.

If you’re short on time and can’t make the drive into the high country, it's also an excellent option to enjoy the changing fall colors. To reach the campground from US 550, head down Junction Creek Road (25th Street). It will eventually turn into a dirt road. The campground is on the left, just beyond the first major horseshoe turn.

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