Colorado is home to four stunning national parks: Rocky Mountain, Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Mesa Verde. One of the best ways to experience the beauty of these parks is by camping in them — but when is the best time to do that?

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Unless you're a winter-camping aficionado, the warmer months ahead are some of the best times to brave the outdoors. However, crowds, temperatures, and reservations all impact your wilderness plans. Plus, camping is different in each park.

So, which times are really the best for national park camping in Colorado? Let's break it down:

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Rocky Mountain National Park

According to the National Park Service (NPS), Rocky Mountain National Park has four reservable campgrounds: Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, Moraine Park, and Timber Creek. They are typically open from May until September, except for Moraine Park, which doesn't close until mid-October (it's also available reservation-free in the winter).

Reservations aren't free, and they fill up fast. If you want to camp this summer, it's best to start booking now. While you'll have to deal with crowds, you'll get to enjoy a guaranteed spot and warm weather.

Rocky Mountain National Park. Courtesy of Lauren Lopes // Unsplash.
Rocky Mountain National Park. Courtesy of Lauren Lopes // Unsplash.

If you don't want to deal with reservations, you could try Longs Peak Campground. But beware — this first-come-first-serve campground also fills up fast, and you'll need a timed-entry reservation to access the rest of the park.

Our friends in the Poudre Pee Facebook group noted that the farther you hike, the more camping options there are.

Your Best Bet: Try grabbing an early fall spot in Moraine Park to avoid crowds and enjoy the autumn colors.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

According to NPS, the park only requires reservations at the Piñon Flats Campground. Open April through October, the site is busy, and reservations fill up fast. However, says it's a great option for campers "looking for easy access and plenty of nearby services."

If you're willing to put in the extra work, the park offers backpacking (with a permit) and Medano Road camping (4WD required) on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Great Sand Dunes National Park. Courtesy of Josh Gorden // Unsplash.
Great Sand Dunes National Park. Courtesy of Josh Gorden // Unsplash.

May and June are the best times to see the flowing Medano Creek, but NPS reports that September has "some of the best weather of the year...sunny, calm conditions generally prevail."

Your Best Bet: Find a friend with 4WD and snag a campsite along Medano Road in September to avoid crowds and see a great view of the Milky Way.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

According to NPS, the park has two campgrounds: South Rim and North Rim. South Rim requires reservations until mid-September, after which it switches to limited first-come, first-serve camping. North Rim is reservation-free throughout the camping season.

Although 5280 reports that Black Canyon of the Gunnison is Colorado's least-visited national park, campsites do get busy in the summer. You also have to be aware of black bears searching for food.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Courtesy of Joshua J. Cotten // Unsplash.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Courtesy of Joshua J. Cotten // Unsplash.

According to Weather Spark, the park is relatively warm and less crowded from late May to early June and from late August to mid-September.

Your Best Bet: Make an early-September reservation at South Rim to enjoy stunning canyon views without the crowds.

Mesa Verde National Park

According to NPS, there is one campground in the park: Morefield. notes there are nearby campgrounds outside of the park that may help you avoid crowds, but Morefield is the only place you can camp in the actual park.

From May to September, you can enjoy the campground's various services, which include bathrooms, showers, and a camping store. Camping is available at the beginning of October, but services are no longer available.

Mesa Verde National Park. Courtesy of MARIOLA GROBELSKA // Unsplash.
Mesa Verde National Park. Courtesy of MARIOLA GROBELSKA // Unsplash.

Reservations at the site are accepted but not required. Any Travel Tips reports that Mesa Verde sees the most sunshine in the fall months.

Your Best Bet: Try roughing it a little and visit Morefield in early October to avoid crowds and soak up some extra sunshine.

All in all, the best time to camp in Colorado's national parks depends on your experience, your tolerance for "roughin' it," and your willingness to deal with crowds. The most important thing is to plan ahead and have fun.

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Colorado is home to four national parks and eight national monuments. Our neighbors to the west, Utah, boasts five national parks and seven national monuments. Also within reach are the parks and monuments of New Mexico and Arizona.

If you're the road-trip type, they're all reachable in a day's drive from Colorado.

While the majority of tourists visiting these parks only witness the phenomenal views during the day, there's a sight to be seen under the stars.

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