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The definition of camping has evolved to mean a lot more than setting up a tent in the woods, but the good news is Steamboat and the Yampa Valley offer something for everyone when it comes to exploring the great outdoors and sitting out under the stars for a few nights, even if that means pulling up an RV and watching movies on a flat screen TV.

Whether you’re looking to make the most of your investment in #vanlife and find the farthest reaches your Sprinter van can take you, or you’re curious about which roads are best for towing that Airstream, Steamboat has it all. And if all you want to do is carry everything you need on your back, there’s a lifetime of opportunities to explore that, too.

Into the Wild

If you’re a purist and want to get as far away from civilization as possible, wilderness abounds in and around the Yampa Valley with the Flat Tops Wilderness to the south and the Mount Zirkel Wilderness to the north. Both of these areas provide endless opportunities for exploration and multi-day backpacking excursions with prime camping on the grassy banks of pristine alpine lakes, shady forests, and subalpine tundra where the wildflowers bloom and snow-fed creeks provide plenty of water.

Mount Zirkel Wilderness has a total of 159,935 acres and is home to the headwaters of the Elk, Encampment, and North Platte Rivers, as well as some 70 lakes, high mountain peaks (including the 12,180 foot-tall Mount Zirkel for which it is named), and a portion of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. It straddles the Continental Divide and encompasses the rugged Sawtooth Range, as well as portions of the Park and Sierra Madre ranges. Hikers have fifteen peaks to choose from within the wilderness, the highest of which is Mount Zirkel, at 12,180 feet. With over 150 miles of trails winding into the wilderness, all of which afford lovely scenic views and vistas, the possibilities for day hikes and multi-day trips are endless. For those looking for fishing, the Mount Zirkel Wilderness also has the headwaters of the North Platte, Elk, and Encampment Rivers.

On the other end of the valley, the Flat Tops Wilderness, named for the mountain range with its distinct flat-topped peaks, offers days upon days of beautiful hikes. As the second largest wilderness area in Colorado, the valleys and relatively gentle land above the cliffs offer over 160 miles of trails that are ideal for hiking, camping, horseback, hunting and fishing. Elk, deer, and moose visit the area in the summer. Backpackers have endless options for pristine camping, whether it’s next to a high alpine lake or deep in a forest—camping how it was originally intended to be.

Living the #vanlife.
As vehicular camping rigs get ever more elaborate, from rooftop tents and teardrop pull-behinds to compact 4WD vans, car camping has evolved into a gearhead’s art form. The idea is to pack as many comforts and conveniences as possible into a vehicle that is still agile enough to travel into the mountains. It’s also about the customization and being able to make room for those creature comforts that are the most important to you, whether that means an elaborate kitchen setup or being able to travel with all your toys—whatever floats your boat—literally. Whatever you fancy, Steamboat has ample opportunities for car camping, especially around its surrounding lakes. Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake are state parks that offer convenient car camping, as well as campgrounds on Rabbit Ears Pass along U.S. Highway 40 and Seedhouse Road in North Routt County. Buffalo Pass is a popular option for car camping with access to dozens of mountain biking and hiking trails. Campgrounds ideal for car camping include Dry Lake, Dumont Lake, Granite Campground, Hahn’s Peak Lake, and Seedhouse, and all have amenities like bathrooms and showers.

Everything and the kitchen sink.

If you’re towing the big rig and want to camp with your RV, Steamboat does have some choice campgrounds with all the amenities you need to plug in and tune out. There’s a KOA campground located right in town, but the choice spots include Stagecoach State Park where you can camp lakeside and enjoy everything this awesome beach-in-the-mountains has to offer, from paddle boarding and swimming to access for motorboats. On the other end of the valley toward Clark is the remote and beautiful Steamboat Lake State Park, which has quite the beach scene in the summer with a large sandy area that is popular with families for swimming, paddle boarding, and picnicking. There are also several established campgrounds on U.S. Forest Service lands surrounding Steamboat with amenities like restrooms and water hookups including Pearl State Park, Hinman, Routt County Fairgrounds, and Yampa River State Park. Book your spot in advance, especially during the summer months. Plan for a few extra days because you may never want to leave.

For more information on local campgrounds and campsites, visit Colorado Parks & Wildlife.