1. Moraine Park Campground, Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk, mule deer, and coyotes often wander through the meadow near this campground, which has a backcountry feel despite its proximity to the road. The 2.3-mile Cub Lake Trail leads to a lily pad–covered pond. Leave your car behind; starting on Memorial Day, summer park shuttles provide easy access to trails. $20 (plus $20 park entrance fee per vehicle); book at recreation.gov
2. Pinyon Flats Campground, Great Sand Dunes National Park
In this park, sand dunes of up to 750 feet―the tallest in North America―are dwarfed by the 13,000-foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. During May runoff, Medano Creek becomes a virtual water park, with gentle, kid-friendly flows. $14 (plus $3 park entrance fee for adults 16 and up); no reservations; 719/378-6300.
3. Big Creek Lakes Campground, Routt National Forest, Northwest of Walden
This remote 9,000-foot haven near the Wyoming border boasts beyond-blue lakes and spiky summits near the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness. Hike the moderate Seven Lakes Trail 2 miles in; you’ll reach Big Creek Falls, where moose sightings are routine. $10; 970/723-8204; book at recreation.gov
4. Elk Run and Fisherman’s Paradise Campgrounds, Sylvan Lake State Park, Southeast of Eagle
An 8,500-foot alpine park with aspen groves, meadows of wildflowers, a 42-acre lake, and big, big mountains. Canoes, sea kayaks, and paddleboats are available for rent here from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. $14 (plus $6 daily per vehicle); 970/328-2021; book at reserveamerica.com
5. Hall Valley and Handcart Campgrounds, Pike National Forest, Northwest of Bailey
These high-country campsites are tucked into a densely forested valley punctuated with wild-flowers and aspens. The North Fork of the South Platte River is within earshot. Walk 1.4 miles to access the super-scenic 2.4-mile Gibson Lake Trail, which climbs a moderate 1,544 feet to its namesake lake. $14; 303/275-5610; book at recreation.gov
6. Rosy Lane Campground, Gunnison National Forest, Northeast of Almont
Campsites are tucked beneath tree canopies at Taylor River’s edge. Whitewater-rafting outfitters run the river daily. From $18; 970/641-0471; book at recreation.gov
7. Saddlehorn Campground, Colorado National Monument
From your campsite, spot steep-walled canyons and crimson-colored rocks. Hike the 6-mile Monument Canyon Trail to see signature rock formations. $10 (plus $7 park entrance fee per vehicle); no reservations; 970/858-3617 ext. 360.
8. Turquoise Lake Recreation Area, San Isabel National Forest, West of Leadville
Thick evergreen forest, mountains, and an 1,800-acre lake surround the eight campgrounds here, all at a cool 10,000-foot elevation. Bike the easy 12-mile paved Mineral Belt Trail loop; it starts in downtown Leadville, 4 miles east of the lake. From $14; 719/486-0749; book at recreation.gov
9. Granite Tent Campground, Gunnison National Forest, Near Crested Butte
The Taylor River flows right next to Granite Tent Campground’s seven sites in Gunnison National Forest near Crested Butte. The burbling water’s lullaby guarantees you sound sleeping and a bright-eyed morning for landing the lunkers that swim in these waters: Across the river, Harmel’s Ranch Resort stocks huge trout in its private stretch of the Taylor, and many of those migrate into the public water. $10; no reservations or potable water; fs.usda.gov/recmain/gmug/recreation
10. Apgar Campground, Glacier National Park
Campsites sit in a pine forest beside glacier-fed Lake McDonald, with Continental Divide peaks at the head of the lake. The famously precipitous Going-to-the-Sun Road over Logan Pass isn’t open to cars until June (and free public bus tours start July 1), but a portion opens to bikes and pedestrians in May. $20 (plus $25 park entrance fee per vehicle); no reservations; 406/888-7800.
11. Kintla Lake Campground, Glacier National Park
The quiet, rarely crowded campground sits by a tree-encircled lake with gorgeous mountain views, 40 miles from the Canadian border. Visit nearby Polebridge Mercantile (406/888-5105) to meet locals and try homemade huckleberry macaroons. $15 (plus $25 park entrance fee per vehicle); no reservations; 406/888-7800.