Camping Guide

[  By Katherine Nettles  ]

“In a cool solitude of trees, 

where leaves and birds a music spin, 

mind that was weary is at ease, 

new rhythms in the soul begin.” 

                — William Kean Seymour

ne glimpse at the night skies in and around Crested Butte and it’s easy to understand the draw of sleeping under the stars. Unpolluted by city lights, endless layers of stars pop out from dusk to dawn. Whether you use a tent, a camper, a truck or a van, the newly updated campgrounds of the North Gunnison Valley offer close access to trails and lakes, often nestled among softly quaking aspen groves or the protective shade of evergreens. Camping has gotten so popular across the Gunnison National Forest that some changes have been necessary in the past few years to prevent damage caused by overuse and more changes are yet to come. But overall, with some advance preparation and willingness to adapt, locals and visitors alike can expect a more straightforward and enjoyable experience than ever.

Designated camping is 

now the norm

Over the past two years the formerly dispersed camping on Gunnison National Forest land across the Slate River, Washington Gulch, Gothic Valley, Kebler Pass, Brush Creek and Cement Creek has been converted to designated campgrounds. This impressive undertaking was made possible through a partnership between the Crested Butte Conservation Corps (CBCC), the Gunnison County Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation (STOR) committee, the U.S. Forest Service’s Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison District (GMUG) and funding by the National Forest Foundation (NFF). 

The CBCC crews worked on the ground to transition these areas to more sustainable campsites, decommissioning areas that had been damaged by overuse or were too close to water. In their place they created 228 individual designated campsites complete with sign posts, designated parking spaces and metal fire rings. Most are available on a first come, first served basis.

STOR Corps, a field crew that the STOR Committee started in 2020, has been responsible for monitoring the new campsites and making contact with visitors to educate and inform them about the new way of camping in local drainages. The STOR Corps made rounds on the weekends for the past two summers, particularly during peak times to talk with people and get their input. 

According to Joe Lavorini, who is both stewardship coordinator for Gunnison County and program manager for the NFF, most people appreciate how much more straightforward the new system is. 

“Not only are we protecting the resource here, but we’re protecting the experience,” says Lavorini. “People go to the end of the road and they don’t want to be surrounded with trash and degraded resources; they want a wilderness experience.”

The program has been so successful that other neighboring counties are now following the Gunnison County model of transitioning the most heavily used camping areas to designated camping. Lavorini recalls a recent site visit along the Slate River between the STOR Corps and visiting Chaffee County officials when some local passersby stopped to express their appreciation for a more user-friendly and sustainable camping management program.  

“Coming from locals who really know the area and knew it the way it was before, that meant the world to us,” he says. 

“We’re going to be back out there again this summer,” says Lavorini. He and his crew will be in the field from late May through mid-September focusing once again on trail maintenance, outreach and monitoring campsites, while adding in some wildlife habitat improvement projects, fencing projects, “and a little bit of everything,” says Lavorini.

Limited reservations available

There is one area with reservations available in the Crested Butte area: Oh Be Joyful Campground (managed by the Bureau of Land Management) has 30 camp sites. Those reservations go fast once they are released in mid-May each year, so check the website for availability at www.blm.gov.

Designated camping locations

“All campsites are now designated across Slate River, Washington Gulch, Kebler Pass, Brush Creek, Cement Creek, and Gothic,” explains Nick Catmur, former operations manager for the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association and CBCC. “Roadside ‘car’ camping is only allowed in these sites for the entire extent of each drainage until it terminates or transitions to a different Forest Service district. If someone is camping in an area without a site post and a fire ring they are camped illegally and subject to a citation,” he says.

These sites are first come, first served this summer, so plan ahead and try to get to your preferred area early in the day with plenty of time to adjust as needed. 

Kimberlee Phillips, GMUG public affairs officer, says busy is the new normal, and some areas such as Lake Irwin campgrounds have seen a 300 percent increase in visitors in recent years. 

“We are expecting the 2022 season to be about the same,” says Phillips. “We do not anticipate a quieter season.” 

Backup choices will help ensure a successful experience under the stars in whichever drainage you choose.

Leave no trace

When camping in the new designated camping areas, Leave No Trace practices of packing out all trash, recycling and human waste apply. Make sure to walk around your campsite to “sweep” at the end of your visit and pick up any stray bits of microtrash, food or other non-native waste to ensure wildlife does not become a nuisance in the area and that the next group can enjoy a clean campsite as well. 

To dispose of trash there will be two 96-gallon recycling totes at the Four Way Stop in Crested Butte, sponsored by the Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce. The totes will be located in the wooden enclosure by the Visitor Center’s back door. 

“Chamber staff will manage these bins to be sure the recycling is clean and non-recyclables and trash is removed,” says Scott Clarkson, the chamber’s executive director. All the same, be sure to sort your own trash from all recyclables so the service can continue in the future. The town will be providing a dumpster for campers’ use at the southeast corner of the parking lot as well.

Bear country

Black bears are common in the area, and they can quickly learn to find food in campgrounds if food is not stored properly. Campers in the GMUG National Forest are required to store all food and trash in a hard sided vehicle or bear proof containers. Don’t bring food into your tent and keep your camping area free of food scraps. 

Be aware of fire hazard

Fires may not be permitted depending on the fire danger level in the area. Make sure to check conditions and only create campfires when permitted. All campfires, if allowed, must be contained within a pre-constructed metal fire ring, supervised at all times and extinguished completely with no smoldering or active coals before leaving. There is a sign at the entrance to the town of Crested Butte with daily fire danger ratings, and daily fire danger ratings can also be found at https://www.fs.usda.gov.

Campsite highlights

Whether you decide to use one of the newly designated sites, established campgrounds with facilities, reservable sites or RV sites, here are some options:

Slate River Valley

Oh Be Joyful campground– 30 campsites, including ADA access and RV sites by reservation

Slate River Road– 43 sites, first come, first served

Washington Gulch 

• Designated campsites begin five miles down Washington Gulch Road– 48 sites, first come, first served

Kebler Pass 

Lake Irwin– 32 sites, first come first served

*Lake Irwin will be open for camping this summer, but design plans will be starting to remodel the campground for 2023. The USFS anticipates the campground will go through some construction next summer and potential closures could be in place during 2023. 

Lost Lake-18 sites, first come, first served

Kebler Pass Road 36 sites, first come, first served

Brush Creek 

• Designated campsites start about six miles up Brush Creek Road– 41 sites, first come, first served

Cement Creek 

• Designated campsites begin about three miles up Cement Creek Road 

• 28 sites, first come, first served

Cement Creek Developed Campground-13 sites, first come, first served


• Gothic Road designated campsites (Not permitted June 15-August 15)-15 sites, first come, first served

Gothic Developed Campground, managed separately by a private concessionaire- 4 sites, first come, first served

Mt. Crested Butte

• Designated camping at town managed campground on Gothic Road– 26 sites, first come, first served

Crested Butte

Crested Butte RV Resort is two miles south of town-21 sites, by reservation

Taylor Canyon

• Various campgrounds, first come, first served

Campfire Ranch-19 sites by reservation


Hartman Rocks– 50 campsites, first come, first served