A lot of free boondocking campsites are great for a night or two, but occasionally you find a prize spot that’s glorious enough to be a destination in itself!
In my book, this free campsite at East Fork Road qualifies. It’s stunningly beautiful, between towering cliffs and a lovely river. There are also plenty of cool things to do in the area. I didn’t want to leave! 🙂
Free camping on East Fork Road
Camping here is in the canyon of the East Fork of the San Juan River, along the road that’s named for it. This particular site is up a bit over the river – I could still hear the moving water from my camper, but faintly. On the other side of the clearing, the cliffs tower overhead.
This is a free boondocking campsite, so there are no facilities. The only thing you’ll find are some stone fire circles from previous campers. There is also no cell service here, thanks to its location in a canyon in the mountains. But instead of dump stations and cell service, you get glorious natural surroundings, and a free campsite to boot!
In between the river and the cliffs is a large flat area where a ton of people could camp — but they don’t. (Thank heavens!) When I stayed here in August, there were two other campers here, but it’s a big area, so I still had loads of space to myself.
One of the other campers looked like they might be settled in here for awhile… and that’s not a bad idea! There’s a 14-day limit, and this would be a delightful place to hang out for a couple of weeks.
What to do around East Fork Road, Colorado
I didn’t have as long here to explore as I would have liked, because I had to move on and meet some friends in Durango. I did see enough that I know I’d love to come back.
This goes against my general travel philosophy of keeping things as open as possible for spontaneous decisions. But it IS nice to see friends again, so sometimes a calendar commitment is worthwhile! 🙂
I spent a little time in Pagosa Springs, and talked to some people there who like East Fork Road boondocking so much that they come back here every year. I bet they’d rather if I didn’t share their favorite camping spot, but I’m doing it anyway! 😉
Here are a few things that could keep you busy:
- Fishing. I saw quite a few people camped right by the river, and some of them had fishing rods in hand. Maybe you could catch something fresh for dinner?
- Touring. This campsite is between Pagosa Springs and Wolf Creek Pass. There’s plenty to explore nearby — mountain lakes, hiking trails, scenic vistas, restaurants, shops and galleries, craft breweries, and of course the famous hot springs. The Pagosa Springs Tourist Information Center has enough listed in their brochures, that I think I could stay busy all summer!
- Four wheel driving. The East Fork Road continues on for quite a ways. The road gets worse as you go, and eventually is recommended for high-clearance, four wheel drive vehicles. If you have something capable, you can explore away!
- Hiking. My vehicle won’t handle a 4WD road, but my legs will handle anything! 🙂 You can hike up the road as far as you want, and there are also side trails that branch off, taking you to spots with great views. Trails to Silver Falls, Coal Creek, and Quartz Ridge are good possibilities.
Finding your perfect free campsite
When you turn from the highway onto the East Fork Road, it’s a pretty good gravel road at first. You’ll reach the official (paid) East Fork Campground, but just keep going. The spot you want is past this!
These are the road conditions as I found them. Your results may vary, so use your own judgment about what’s safe and wise.
The road turned from gravel to dirt shortly past the official campsite, but it remained a pretty good dirt road. Most of it was graded and smooth, and wide enough for two lanes. There were a few spots where it was just one lane wide, but those were short and simple to deal with. I ran into some significant potholes, but nothing Zennie couldn’t handle.
Soon, you’ll start seeing some campsites along the river. I kept seeing camping spots that seemed like “that would be fine”, or “this one is pretty good”. It’s tempting, I know! I saw quite a few that seemed possible, but had to restrain myself. Unless you’re into fishing and want one of those spots right on the river, keep going.
Go past the 2nd bridge, and soon you will see an area that looks like this. Pull up to one of the stone fire rings, and you’re home! This is the one that went straight to my 5-star rating. 🙂
East Fork Road – San Juan National Forest
Boondocking campsite. Free camping along this dirt road. There are numerous sites scattered for miles along the road, so don’t feel like you need to take the first thing you see. Some campsites are right beside the river, some high above it. No facilities, no cell service.
Rating: 5 *****
Altitude: 7,979 ft
GPS: 37.38963, -106.84335
Have you camped at East Fork Road, or anywhere else around Pagosa Springs, Colorado? Any experiences or recommendations you’d like to share? Please leave them in the Reply section below, and thanks! 🙂
PHOTO CREDITS: Deanna Keahey